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Applied Linguistics Review

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British ‘Bollocks’ versus American ‘Jerk’: Do native British English speakers swear more – or differently – compared to American English speakers?

Jean-Marc Dewaele
Published Online: 2015-08-19 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2015-0015


The present study investigates the differences between 414 L1 speakers of British and 556 L1 speakers of American English in self-reported frequency of swearing and in the understanding of the meaning, the perceived offensiveness and the frequency of use of 30 negative words extracted from the British National Corpus. Words ranged from mild to highly offensive, insulting and taboo. Statistical analysies revealed no significant differences between the groups in self reported frequency of swearing. The British English L1 participants reported a significantly better understanding of nearly half the chosen words from the corpus. They gave significantly higher offensiveness scores to four words (including “bollocks”) while the American English L1 participants rated a third of words as significantly more offensive (including “jerk”). British English L1 participants reported significantly more frequent use of a third of words (including “bollocks”) while the American English L1 participants reported more frequent use of half of the words (including “jerk”). This is interpreted as evidence of differences in semantic and conceptual representations of these words in both variants of English.

Keywords: British English; American English; swearwords; offensiveness; emotion concepts


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About the article

Jean-Marc Dewaele

Jean-Marc Dewaele is Professor of Applied Linguistics and Multilingualism. He is interested in individual differences foreign language acquisition and use. He is Vice-President of the International Association of Multilingualism, Convenor of the Research Network Multilingualism within AILA, and former president of the European Second Language Association. He is General Editor of the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism.

Published Online: 2015-08-19

Published in Print: 2015-09-01

Citation Information: Applied Linguistics Review, Volume 6, Issue 3, Pages 309–339, ISSN (Online) 1868-6311, ISSN (Print) 1868-6303, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2015-0015.

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