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Journal of Politeness Research

Language, Behaviour, Culture

Ed. by Grainger, Karen

2 Issues per year

IMPACT FACTOR 2016: 0.522
5-year IMPACT FACTOR: 0.824

CiteScore 2016: 1.00

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2016: 0.562
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2016: 1.229

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The pragmatics of swearing

Timothy Jay / Kristin Janschewitz
Published Online: 2008-08-05 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/JPLR.2008.013


The main purpose of swearing is to express emotions, especially anger and frustration. Swear words are well suited to express emotion as their primary meanings are connotative. The emotional impact of swearing depends on one's experience with a culture and its language conventions. A cognitive psychological framework is used to account for swearing in a variety of contexts and provide a link to impoliteness research. In support of this framework, native and non-native English-speaking college students rated the offensiveness and likelihood of hypothetical scenarios involving taboo words. The ratings demonstrated that appropriateness of swearing is highly contextually variable, dependent on speaker-listener relationship, social-physical context, and particular word used. Additionally, offensiveness ratings were shown to depend on gender (for native speakers) and English experience (for non-native speakers). Collectively these data support the idea that it takes time for speakers to learn where, when, and with whom swearing is appropriate.

Keywords:: swearing; rudeness; taboo words; profanity; verbal aggression; impoliteness

About the article

Published Online: 2008-08-05

Published in Print: 2008-07-01

Citation Information: Journal of Politeness Research. Language, Behaviour, Culture, Volume 4, Issue 2, Pages 267–288, ISSN (Online) 1613-4877, ISSN (Print) 1612-5681, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/JPLR.2008.013.

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