“Swear words” and “curse words” in Australian (and American) English. At the crossroads of pragmatics, semantics and sociolinguistics
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This study seeks to show that NSM techniques of semantic and pragmatic analysis allow an integrated semantic-pragmatic approach to the use of "swear words" and "curse (cuss) words". The paper begins with a lexical semantic exegesis of the lexical items swear word and curse word. This is helpful to delimit and conceptualise the phenomena being studied, and it also hints at some interesting differences between the speech cultures of Australian English and American English. Subsequent sections propose semantic explications for a string of swear/curse words and expressions as used in Australian English, including: exclamations (Shit! Fuck! Damn! Christ! Jesus!), abuse formulas (Fuck you!, Damn you!), interrogative and imperative formulas (e.g. Who the fuck do you think you are?; Get the hell out of here!), and the free use of expressive adjectives, such as fucking and goddamn, in angry swearing. A novel aspect of these explications, with interesting implications for the relationship between semantics and pragmatics, is the proposal that the explications incorporate a Metalexical Awareness section, modelling speaker awareness of the particular words being used and ethno metapragmatic knowledge about their status in the community of discourse. The study goes on to address the issue of so-called social or conversational swearing. I propose cultural scripts to capture some Anglo ethnopragmatic assumptions about how the use of swear/curse words can be affected by perceptions of familiarity, solidarity, and mutuality. Differences between Australian English and American English in the use of swear/curse words expressions, and in attitudes towards such use, are discussed briefly. Overall, the study seeks to show how semantic explications and cultural scripts can work together to produce an integrated and explanatory account of a speech phenomenon which stands at the crossroads of pragmatics, semantics, and sociolinguistics.
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Linguistic Structures (incl. Grammar, Phonology, Lexicon, Semantics)