Swearing and perceptions of the speaker: A discursive approach

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Swearing has been shown to affect hearers’ perceptions of speakers. Existing studies show mixed effects. Some identify favourable perceptions, including: greater speaker informality, intensity, humour, and credibility. Others show negative outcomes, with swearers perceived as: less competent, intelligent, and trustworthy; and as more aggressive and socially inept than non-swearers. Most existing studies are based on experimental methodologies, typically using constructed data and directly eliciting evaluations. In this paper, using Discursive Psychology principles, I adopt a perspective that is closer to ‘real world’ processes of perception and evaluation. Specifically, I analyse online reader responses to news reports of a celebrity host’s swearing during a televised awards event. Here, the data are unelicited, discursively formulated, and produced in response to a concrete swearing example. In the analysis, I examine the meaning frameworks through which the respondents evaluate swearing; and the types of perceptions that they form about the speaker, including his motivations for swearing and his personal characteristics. I demonstrate that: (a) evaluative categories are negotiated in different ways; and (b) evaluations are inextricably linked to existing representations of the speaker, as well as contextualised judgements and expectations. The study highlights the role of socio-pragmatic concerns in swearing and speaker evaluation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-395
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date13 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2020


  • Swearing
  • Perception
  • Non-Experimental Methodology
  • Attribution
  • Speaker Evaluation
  • Discourse Analysis


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