Swearing, social interaction, and identity: Current and future directions. (Keynote paper)

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Although swearing has historically occupied a distinctive place across languages and cultures, until relatively recently, it was not the target of serious scholarship. In the last few decades, however, scholars from a range of disciplines have begun to systematically study swearing as a psychological, social, and linguistic phenomenon. The present paper aims to provide an overview of this field as well as highlighting future directions for swearing research. There will be a central focus on the functional nature of swearing, as drawn from social and linguistic analyses. From a sociolinguistic perspective, analysts have focused on key themes of frequency and perceived offensiveness of swearing, often associating these with social categories such as age or gender (Beers Fägersten and Stapleton, 2017; Beers Fägersten, 2012). In the fields of social psychology and pragmatics, swearing can be seen to fulfil a set of interpersonal and psycho-social functions that are not easily achieved by other linguistic means (Stapleton, 2010). In all of these cases, the taboo nature of swearing is a central component of its social meaning and effects. However, the specific content and nature of taboo has been shown to vary across cultures, societies, and media types. In addition, the role of context is central to the analysis and understanding of swearing behaviours. This paper, then, will provide an overview of swearing as a linguistic and interpersonal activity, with particular emphasis on its role in social interaction and identity management. It will then consider how these issues are being shaped by changing social and linguistic norms and contexts, including, especially, the growth of digital media and online interaction, as well as the spread and borrowing of swearwords across languages and cultures.

Beers Fägersten, K. (2012). Who’s Swearing Now? The Social Aspects of Conversational Swearing. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishers.
Beers Fägersten, K. and Stapleton, K. (2017). Advances in Swearing Research: New Languages and New Contexts. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Stapleton, K. (2010). ‘Swearing’. In M.A. Locher and S.L. Graham (eds) Interpersonal Pragmatics. Handbook of Pragmatics 6. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 23 Nov 2017
EventThe 5th SwiSca Symposium on Swearing (Swearing in Scandinavia). - University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
Duration: 23 Nov 201724 Nov 2017


ConferenceThe 5th SwiSca Symposium on Swearing (Swearing in Scandinavia).
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