Thursday, September 30, 2010

Very Brief Literature Review/Swearing and emotion

The topic of lexicon variation is well covered in scholarly research. It appears there is a continuing debate in regard to the reasons for lexical variations and the level of significance in these variations. There is also a continuing debate as to which framework is most appropriate for analyzing those differences.


My hypothesis required a review of available literature on the topic of the use of spoken language by males and females and how the spoken language of males and females differs. Research and data on these differences frequently focus on issues of power and relationships and on how theories for analysis have changed in recent years. Jørgensen states, “In the past decade or so, a constructionist-inspired perspective has come to the fore in sociolinguistics in general, according to which the differences in language use are less an effect of language use than a means of creating social relations.” This is characteristic of the ongoing debate which focuses on how males and females acquire and use language and is relevant to my research in that it reflects the idea that spoken communication is more than a one person-one person interaction. Spoken language is a complex task which varies and evolves over time—even minute to minute—and those changes are a response to many variables.

At the outset of my research, I was pleased to locate data that supported my hypothesis that taboo word decreased by age. Jay’s data shows that taboo word use rates peak in the teenage years and decline thereafter. Jay’s data did support the common assertion that males use taboo words with higher frequency than females; however, the gap between male and female public swearing has decreased from males accounting for 67% of public swearing in 1986 to males accounting for 55% of public swearing in 2006.

To explore the other main point of my hypothesis, I searched for data on narrative content broken down by age and gender. I was unable to locate any current research on this topic; however, I did find research that supported the connection of speaker emotion to the use of taboo words. “The primary use of swearing is for emotional connotation…two-thirds of swearing data are linked to personal and interpersonal expressions of anger and frustration which seem to be the main reason for swearing…Taboo words persist because they intensify emotional communication to a degree that nontaboo words cannot.”

It was from this analysis that I framed the remainder of my research.

Work Cited


George, Alexander. 1990. “Whose Language is it Anyway? Some Notes on Idiolects.” The Philosophical Quarterly 40:160: 275-298.

Jay, Timothy. 2009. Perspectives on Psychological Science 4:2:153-161.

Jørgensen, Norman J. 2003. “Gender differences in the development of language choice patterns in the Køge Project.” International Journal of Bilingualism 7:4:353-377.

Schmidt, Stanley. 2002. “To Describe or Prescribe.” Analog Science Fiction & Fact 122:11:4-7.

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