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PRAGMATIC KNOWLEDGE AND SUBJECTIVE EVALUATION INT THE
ACQUISITION OF ENGLISH TABOO LANGUAGE
COLIN ALEXANDER MOUAT
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA INT PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
I would like to thank Dr. Diana Boxer and Dr. Andrew Lynch for their insights and
comments, which contributed immeasurably to this study. I would also like to thank the
students who participated in this study, and the instructors within the UF Program in
Linguistics who allowed me to come to their classes to recruit participants. Finally, I
would like to thank Carlos Wiik da Costa for inspiring me to pursue the topic of this
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENT S .............. .................... ii
LIST OF TABLES ................ ...............v............ ....
AB STRAC T ................ .............. vi
1 INTRODUCTION AND LITERATURE REVIEW .............. .....................
Interlanguage Pragmatics............... ...............
Functions of Swearing ................. ...............6................
Subj ective Evaluation ................ ...............7............ ....
Acquisition of L2 Taboo Language ................. ...............9............ ...
2 RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND METHODOLOGY .............. .....................1
Research Questions............... ...............1
Participants .............. ...............13....
Role-Playing Activies ................. ...............16.................
Quasi-Ethnographic Interviews ................. ...............19......__. .....
3 ROLE-PLAYING EXERCISE AND INTERVIEW RESULTS................ ................22
Introducti on ................. ...............22.................
Role-Playing Exercises............... ............. ... .......2
Examples of Taboo Words in Role-Play Activities .............. .....................2
Reactions to Swearing ................. ...............23................
Interviews ............... ....... ...............28
Spontaneous Production ................. .. ......... ...............28.......
Pragmatic Awareness of Expressive Functions ................. ........................3 1
Pragmatic Knowledge of Social Functions .............. ...............33....
Cross-Cultural Differences in Swearing Practices .............. .....................3
Means of Acquiring Taboo Language ................. ...............42........... ...
Subj ective Evaluation ................. ...............49........... ....
Conclusion ................ .............56..................
4 DI SCUS SSION ............ ..... ._ ............... 8....
Limitations of the Analy si s............. ..... .__ ...............64..
Conclusion ............ ..... ._ ...............67...
A TRANSCRIPTION CONVENTIONS .............. ...............69....
B ROLE-PLAY EXERCISE TRANSCRIPTS .............. ...............70....
C INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTS .............. ...............91....
LIST OF REFERENCES ................. ...............203................
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .............. ...............206....
LIST OF TABLES
2.1 Demographic information for "swearing group". ........... ......................1
2.2 Demographic information for "blind group." ........... ...............15......
3.1 Taboo words and blind group responses encountered in role-playing pairs............24
3.2 Spontaneously produced English taboo words from interviews. ............. ................29
3.3 Expressive functions of swearing. ...._.._................. ........._.._ ....... 3
3.4 Social functions of swearing mentioned by interview participants..........................34
3.5 Resources used to acquire knowledge about English taboo language. ....................43
3.6 Evaluation of swearing by interview participants. ................... ............... 5
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
PRAGMATIC KNOWLEDGE AND SUBJECTIVE EVALUATION INT THE
ACQUISITION OF ENGLISH TABOO LANGUAGE
Colin Alexander Mouat
Chair: Diana Boxer, Ph.D.
Major Department: Program in Linguistics
The study of interlanguage pragmatics has provided insights into the issues
confronted by second language (L2) learners in acquiring the ability to use language to
accomplish social goals. Studies within this thread have focused upon the realization of
speech acts such as apologies, expressions of gratitude and complaints, and the
differences in realization of these acts in a learner' s first language (L l) and L2. In light of
the growing body of research on the social functions associated with the use of taboo
language, this study attempts to examine the acquisition of knowledge of English taboo
language practices with respect to the pragmatic knowledge of the social implications of
swearing and the subj ective evaluation of swearing between L1 and L2.
This study consists of two sets of activities in which L2 learners demonstrated their
knowledge of English swearing practices and their evaluation of taboo language in L1
and L2. In the first part, twelve L2 English speakers, representing a wide range of
nationalities and language backgrounds, participated in role-playing pair activities with
conversation partners who had been requested to use examples of English taboo language
in the course of the dialogue without the L2 speaker' s knowledge. An analysis was
conducted of the reactions of the L2 speakers to the use of taboo language. In the second
part of the study, quasi-ethnographic interviews were conducted with twelve L2 English
speakers from the first part of the study. In these interviews, participants discussed their
knowledge of taboo language practices in L1 and English, as well as their own attitudes
toward the practice of swearing in L1 and L2.
While the results of the role-playing pairs did not conclusively demonstrate that the
L2 English speaking participants recognized the use of taboo language in the activity, the
subsequent interviews indicated a partial knowledge of English swear words and
associated behavioral cues. Many of the participants transferred knowledge of the social
implications of swearing from L1, although some differences were noted. Participants
also expressed a preference for the mass media as a means of acquiring information about
English taboo language, and indicated that the lack of knowledge about swearing
constitutes a potential source of difficulty for L2 learners in social interactions. In terms
of subj ective evaluation, many L2 learners expressed a more neutral evaluation of
English swearing in comparison with similar practices in Ll.
The present study provides a preliminary characterization of the knowledge that L2
learners of English possess about swearing practices and the means through which this
knowledge is acquired. It also suggests avenues for future research in understanding the
formation of L2 speaker identity, and the development of a pedagogical approach in
which learners can acquire metapragmatic knowledge about swearing practices.
INTRODUCTION AND LITERATURE REVIEW
The purpose of this study is to examine the acquisition of English taboo language
in L2 as a process involving the development of both pragmatic awareness of swearing as
a socially meaningful practice and subj ective attitudes toward its use in a second
language. The study of interlanguage pragmatics (ILP) has contributed to a greater
understanding of the issues faced by L2 learners in acquiring the ability to use language
to accomplish social goals. Researchers have examined a broad gamut of speech acts
such as requests, complaints and apologies in order to determine the differences in how
these acts are realized between L1 and L2, and the resources that learners draw upon in
realizing these acts. Taboo language practices represent an area of language acquisition
that to has heretofore received relatively little attention within ILP. However, recent
research on L1 use of taboo language (e.g., Beers Fagersten, 2000) has provided an
indication of the variety of social functions associated with swearing and the variety of
factors governing its use in certain contexts. A learner of English who wishes to
communicative effectively using taboo language must acquire not only specific taboo
lexical items, but also the pragmatic knowledge to use and interpret these items in
appropriate social contexts and an understanding of the ways in which other speakers will
interpret and respond to its use. Furthermore, the use of taboo language is informed not
only by cultural standards of appropriateness in interaction, but also by the subj ective
evaluation that individual speakers confer upon it. Thus, a more complete understanding
of the process of taboo language acquisition can provide information about systematic
differences between its use in L1 compared with L2, and about the ways in which learner
attitudes toward its use vary between L1 and L2.
Kasper and Blum-Kulka (1993) define ILP as "the study of nonnative speakers'
use and acquisition of linguistic action patterns in a second language" (p. 3). This Hield
emerged out of a growing concern with examining the ways in which language use is
governed by rules of social appropriateness beyond the formal rules of grammatical
appropriateness. In his characterization of a speaker' s communicative competence,
Hymes (1971) contrasts judgments of grammaticality with those of sociocultural
acceptability, and emphasizes the limitations of a linguistic perspective that only takes
into account linguistic competence in formal terms. Canale (1983) expanded upon the
definition of communicative competence, outlining as four maj or areas grammatical,
sociolinguistic, discourse and strategic competence; sociolinguistic competence, in
Canale' s terms, comprises specifically sociocultural rules of use, and "is crucial in
interpreting utterances for their 'social meaning' for example, communicative function
and attitude when this is not clear from the literal meaning of utterances or from non-
verbal cues (e.g. sociocultural context and gestures)" (p. 8, emphasis in original).
Research within ILP focuses upon the ways in which L2 learners adapt to the
norms of the target language that govern the effective realization of speech acts to
accomplish communicative goals, and draws upon speech act theory (Austin, 1962;
Searle, 1979), which characterizes utterances as the performance of social action. The
"narrow sense" of ILP adopted by Kasper and Dahl (1991) and Ellis (1994) focuses
specifically on the comprehension and production of speech acts, which Ellis defines as
"attempts by language users to perform specific actions, in particular interpersonal
functions such as compliments, apologies, requests or complaints" (p. 159). Comparison
of speech act realization in L1 and L2 can reveal the ways in which L2 realization is
influenced by sociocultural rules of use carried over from L1, as well as the ways that it
demonstrates an intercultural style of communication distinct from those typically
observed within L1 and L2 (Kasper & Blum-Kulka, 1993).
Through this approach, it may also be possible to identify variations in speech act
realization that lead to what Thomas (1983) terms 'pragmatic failure', where
misunderstandings result from "an inability to recognize the force of the speaker' s
utterance when the speaker intended that this particular hearer should recognize it" (p.
94). The interpretation of pragmatic force depends upon an understanding of
sociocultural rules of use operating among L1 speakers of a language. Thomas identifies
two types of pragmatic failure, both of which result from lack of understanding of
cultural-specific norms of communication. Pragmalinguistic failure involves the
infelicitous transfer of L1 strategies to the production or interpretation of utterances,
while sociopragmatic failure results from inappropriate judgment of the social conditions
governing the use of language. By analyzing systematic differences in the realization of
speech acts by speakers in L1 and L2, one can provide information to enhance a learner' s
metapragmatic knowledge in order to avoid instances of pragmatic failure. Within an ILP
approach, the emphasis is on acquisition by L2 learners of norms of language use
corresponding to those held by L1 speakers; in adopting this approach, ILP contrasts with
cross-cultural pragmatics, which emphasizes the bidirectional nature of
misunderstandings resulting from lack of shared rules for language use (Boxer, 2002b).
Research methods adopted within ILP reflect a concern for the variability that
may result both from the situations in which individuals acts are realized and from the
instruments of data collection (Kasper & Dahl, 1991). The use of questionnaires and
discourse completion tasks may be used to elicit responses to hypothetical scenarios
where a certain type of speech act is desired; for example, Blum-Kulka (1982) used a
discourse completion task in her study of indirectness among L2 learners of Hebrew,
where participants were provided with sample written dialogues and asked to provide an
utterance suitable to the context. With this method of elicitation, some concerns may
arise as to the extent to which the responses provided are representative of those that
would be observed in a more natural communicative context, rather than what the speaker
believes would be appropriate to say.
The use of role-play activities has emerged as a means of creating appropriate
contexts for the realization of speech acts; Eisenstein and Bodman (1993), in their study
of expressions of gratitude by L2 English learners, state that "while written and oral
questionnaire data mirror the words and expressions used in conveying gratitude, role-
plays reveal the interactive aspects of the function more fully" (p. 75). Kasper and Dahl
(1991) distinguish between closed role plays (which do not involve interaction) and open
role plays (which involve more than one player), citing both as effective elicitation tools
for speech act behavior. Closed role plays have been used for elicitation in studies such as
the examination of request strategies and deference by Fraser et al. (1980), and Cohen
and Olshtain's (1981) study of apologies by L1 Hebrew speakers learning English as an
L2. Eisenstein and Bodman (1993) and Trosborg (1995) applied open role-plays in their
research on L2 learner strategies, respectively for the expression of gratitude and for the
realization of requests, complaints and apologies among L2 English learners. Although
both methods provide a situation where examples of speech acts can be elicited for
comparative purposes, open role play tasks in particular benefit from their dynamic
nature in simulating naturally occurring communicative interaction, and have also been
applied as a pedagogical tool; for example, Di Pietro (1987) and Lazaraton (2001) cite
role-play activities as a useful means of instruction for the realization of speech acts.
The data elicited through such techniques have provided extensive information
about the ways in which the speech acts realized by L2 learners differ from those
typically produced by L1 speakers. However, the issue of taboo language has received
little attention to date within ILP, which has primarily focused on the realization of
speech acts such as apologies, refusals and compliments. Taboo language use is by its
very nature imbued with social significance, and recent studies have contributed to a
greater understanding of the sociocultural norms associated with its use; however, the
taboos associated with swearing concern particular lexical items rather than the entire
utterance, such that the presence of taboo language constitutes a feature of a speech act
rather than a speech act per se. Research examining taboo language acquisition as an
issue of ILP can contribute information about the ways in which the functions of taboo
language use combine with the functions of the speech acts in which taboo language is
embedded; as Blum-Kulka (1982) states in her discussion of indirectness, "One of the
maj or features of the use of language in context is the fact that one utterance can serve
more than one communicative function" (p. 31). The functions most typically associated
with the use of taboo language are the expression of emotion and the display of social
Functions of Swearing
One main function associated with taboo language use is the expression of
emotion; Montagu (1967), for example, focuses on this function in his historical analysis
of swearing. Jay (2000) characterizes swearing in terms of the emotional associations that
it possesses with the speaker, and emotional responses figure heavily into his Neuro-
Psycho-Social Theory to account for swearing as human behavior. Taboo language may
emerge from such emotional associations, but its use in interaction must also be regarded
as a social phenomenon where an individual perpetrates a typically purposeful flout of
sociocultural norms in order to achieve a particular goal.
Gumperz (1971) emphasizes the role of an individual's language choice in
communicating social identity related to region of origin, socioeconomic class,
educational background and institutional hierarchy. In the case of taboo language,
individuals who practice swearing may do so in order to reinforce shared notions of
social identity. This function is also observed with slang (e.g., Eble, 1996), but taboo
language use differs from the use of slang in that the former depends on fixed
sociocultural norms understood by the maj ority of speakers of a language, while the latter
tends to be less widely understood outside of the groups that use a particular form. Chen
(1999) sought to examine the relationship between English taboo language use and
sociolinguistic variables such as gender, age, socioeconomic class and interlocutor
relationship; from the questionnaire data that she received from California residents, the
results showed significant interactions of gender and socioeconomic class in determining
self-reported use of taboo language, as well as a higher frequency of self-reported use in
interactions with friends and strangers in comparison with children, parents and
superiors. Beers Fagersten (2000) examined acts of taboo language use among University
of Florida students, determining their use in conversational interaction as a method of
affirming in-group memberships, with race and gender figuring as maj or variables in
determining patterns of use and evaluation. The use of taboo language was also observed
as an element of social identity display in Boxer and DeCapua' s analysis of speech
behavior among the male, European-American brokers at a Washington brokerage firm
(Boxer, 2002a). These studies demonstrate strong associations between the practice of
swearing and group membership, indicating the function of taboo language use as a
means of identity display vis-a~-vis the sociocultural norms proscribing such language.
Individuals who use taboo language in conversation may do so because of the
shared values regarding its use that emerge from development within a speech
community with associated norms of use; as such, one aspect of the pragmatic knowledge
associated with taboo language use involves an awareness of the social identity that it
communicates. Research within an ILP perspective can provide information about how
L2 learners perceive the differences between L1 and L2 in terms of the social and
expressive functions of taboo language use; this information can contribute to a more
complete understanding not only of the means by which L2 learners gain such an
awareness, but of the social functions of swearing in general.
Another contribution of the study of taboo language use within ILP involves the
information that it can provide about the role of language attitudes in speech act
realization. Cohen and Olshtain (1981) cite as a methodological concern in the use of
closed role-play activities the inability of such an elicitation technique to test whether a
speaker judges a situation to be appropriate for an apology. Participants in Eisenstein and
Bodman' s (1993) study of expressions of gratitude described cross-cultural differences in
the evaluation of the act of thanking, which sometimes lead to insult or social distance.
Generally, the use of a previously prepared scenario in the elicitation of speech act
performance data, as in discourse completion tasks or role-playing activities, presupposes
that the participant will evaluate the situation as appropriate for that speech act; in the
case of taboo language, the use of which is heavily influenced by individual standards of
acceptability, such a presupposition is untenable. Blum-Kulka (1991) refers to the
cultural filter in reference to request styles, indicating the process through which a
speaker evaluates the appropriateness of forms according to context: [T]he formation of
this style is affected as much by the juxtaposition of two incongruent systems as by the
particular socio-psychological perspective adopted by the learner vis-a~-vis these two
systems" (p. 256). An investigation of L2 English speakers' taboo knowledge must take
into account the role of this perspective in the realization of swearing.
Wolfson (1989) attributes most intercultural misunderstanding to "the tendency of
members of one speech community to judge the speech behavior of others by their own
standards" (p. 15). In the case of taboo language use, the socialization process that gives
rises to such standards occurs early in a speaker's linguistic development. The negative
evaluation of taboo language use may have implications to the acquisition of L2, as in the
situation cited by Saville-Troike (1982) of Turkish learners of English who avoid English
words that bear a phonetic resemblance to Turkish taboo words. However, an approach of
this issue within ILP raises the question of the degree to which standards of acceptability
regarding the use of taboo language in L1 transfer to taboo words in L2. A speaker may
associate taboo language use in L2 with a threat to positive face (Brown & Levinson,
1987), and thus perceive it as impolite on those grounds, but a full understanding of the
ways in which L2 speakers evaluate taboo language use requires a methodological
approach capable of obtaining information about those speakers' attitudes. Within ILP
research, methods of elicitation are frequently combined, typically in order to obtain
metapragmatic assessments (Kasper & Dahl, 1991).
The use of informal interviews has been employed, for example in Eisenstein and
Bodman' s (1993) study of thanking, to complement production data and provide
information about subj ective determinations of appropriateness. In the case of taboo
language acquisition, the use of interviews in conjunction with an appropriate elicitation
technique can contribute to a characterization of the evaluation of L2 English swearing as
a subj ective phenomenon, and can permit an analysis of systematic differences between
the evaluation of swearing in L1 and L2. Another additional benefit of the use of
interviews relates to methodological difficulties in the use of production-oriented
elicitation tasks to obtain information about swearing practices; since individual
standards of acceptability vary greatly across members of a speech community,
production data may reflect taboo language that a learner might not use normally.
However, the use of a role-playing activity that examines both production of and
response to taboo language, in conjunction with interviews to elicit metapragmatic
knowledge, can contribute information about differences in swearing practices between
L1 and L2 and the means through which learners become aware of these differences,
without requiring participants to engage in an activity that they would otherwise avoid.
Acquisition of L2 Taboo Language
An investigation of L2 learners' knowledge of swearing practices in English can
also provide information about the means through which those learners acquire such
knowledge, as well as the degree to which they regard such knowledge as important for
their own interactions. The taboo status of certain lexical items complicates the process of
acquiring information about them; for example, Wachal (2002) examined listings for
taboo words in 23 English dictionaries and noted considerable variability both in the
decision to include certain words at all and in the terminology used to indicate their
offensiveness. In some cases, instructional texts dealing with taboo language use may be
available (e.g., Burke, 1990), but generally taboos about language use extend to the
treatment of taboo words in the L2 classroom. Mercury (1995) argues for an increased
attention to taboo language in the ESL classroom, citing the confusion that can result
from incomplete knowledge of swearing practices. Bratt Paulston (1990) does mention
the appearance of taboo language in the ESL classroom as an area where instructors
enforce norms of behavior; although she mentions that instructors are quick to inform
students when they are using taboo language, she does not specify an established role for
instruction in taboo words and their use in the ESL curriculum. An additional
complicating factor is presented by changes in standards of acceptability; Wachal (2002),
for example, contrasted standards of acceptability as indicated in dictionary offensiveness
ratings with patterns of use demonstrated in the mass media.
Although L2 learners may have knowledge about taboo language, that knowledge
will not necessarily be demonstrated through the performance of swearing. Haas (1951)
cites the example of Thai students in the United States who avoided using Thai words
that bore a phonetic resemblance to English taboo words. Research in attitudes of L2
learners toward swearing practices may provide an indication of the degree to which
those learners feel that knowledge of taboo language is a necessary part of the L2
acquisition of English. This in turn has relevance to the role of taboo language as part of
English instruction: in light of the goals of the communicative language teaching
approach, which emphasizes the role of communicative competence (Larsen-Freeman,
2000), the failure to address taboo language practices in English instruction may lead to
disadvantages in terms of the ability of a learner to communicate effectively.
The present study involves examining the acquisition of English taboo language
by L2 learners using the methodological approach of interlanguage pragmatics,
specifically open role play activities and interviews. This method can provide information
about the differences in which acts of swearing are realized and perceived between L1
and L2; in the case of taboo language, L2 acquisition must be characterized both in terms
of the pragmatic knowledge of sociocultural rules of appropriateness and of the socio-
psychological component reflected in language attitudes. Thus, this study can shed light
on the interplay of these two elements of the acquisition process as they inform the
development of pragmatic knowledge. In addition, this method can contribute to an
understanding of the means through which L2 learners acquire an aspect of English that
has not traditionally been the subj ect of overt instruction. In the following section, the
details of this methodological approach are presented.
RESEARCH QUESTIONS AND METHODOLOGY
The role of taboo language in the development of communicative competence
among second language learners is somewhat complex, in that while it is generally
agreed that taboo vocabulary exists in all human languages, the specifics of these taboos
vary not only between languages but between individual speakers of a single language.
Speakers develop responses to use of taboo language, as well as personal patterns of use
or non-use, over the course of their linguistic and social development, and these
responses may form the foundation for responses to taboo vocabulary in a second
language. However, it is by no means a safe assumption that the practices associated with
taboo language in first and second languages will be entirely homologous. Main areas in
which these practices may diverge include the semantic content of taboo words, the
contexts in which swearing is considered acceptable, and subj ective evaluation of taboo
language by individual speakers. In order to achieve a more complete understanding of
this process, this study attempts to provide information in response to the following
* What knowledge do second language English learners have about the practices of
swearing and their social and pragmatic implications in English?
* Through what means do learners acquire this knowledge?
* To what extent is the evaluation of taboo language use in a second language
influenced by values related to taboos in a speaker' s first language?
*In what overt ways do second language learners respond to stimuli that contain
examples of taboo language?
Two sets of participants were recruited for this study. For the first part of the
study, the role-playing activity, a group of eleven undergraduate students was recruited
from an introductory linguistics course at the University of Florida in Gainesville. These
participants represented the "swearing group," who were informed of the purpose of the
study prior to participation, and who had previously both acknowledged their own
practice of swearing socially and agreed to engage in swearing with a person unknown to
them for this study. These students were offered extra course credit for participation in
this study. Of these eleven students, nine were L1 English speakers born in the United
States. The remaining two members of the swearing group were L2 English speakers
born outside of the US: one (22, F) was a native of Haiti who had moved to the US at the
age of seven, and the other (19, M) was a native of Colombia who had commenced study
of English as a second language at 10 years of age, and moved to the US at the age of
Swearing group participants ranged in age from 18 to 24 years. The median age for
members of the swearing group was 20 years. Eight of the eleven members of the
swearing group were female; one of the three male participants participated in two role-
playing activities. Table 2.1 shows demographic information for the members of the
swearing group, based on a questionnaire distributed to participants prior to the study.
In addition to the swearing group, a group of twelve graduate students was
recruited from four advanced ESL courses at the University of Florida. In one of these
courses, the students were offered course credit for participation (a total of four
Table 2.1. Demo ahc ir formation for "swearing roup"
Activity Age Gender Country of Languages studied or spoken
No. birth additionn to Englsh)
1 24 F US French, German, Arabic
2 19 F US Spani sh
3 19 M US French, American Sign
4 22 F Haiti Haitian Creole, French
5, 1 1 21 M US Spani sh
6 19 M Colombia Spanish, German, French
7 18 F US Spani sh
8 19 F US Spani sh
9 21 F US Spani sh
10 21 F US Japanese, Spaish
12 22 F US French, Russian, Hebrew
participants came from this course: Participants 7, 9, 10 and 11). These participants
represented the "blind group," who had not been informed of the purpose of the study
prior to participation and who were unaware that their conversation partners had been
instructed to swear. The twelve participating graduate students were all L2 English
learners born outside of the United States; six were L1 speakers of either Mandarin
Chinese (4) or Taiwanese (2), three were L1 Korean speakers, two were L1 Russian
speakers, and one was a L1 Spanish speaker.
Blind group participants ranged in age from 22 to 42 years. The median age for
blind group members was 28 years. Seven of the twelve participants were male. Self-
reported lengths of stay ranged from 3 months to 5 years; half of the participants had
resided in the US for less than a year, and ten of the participants had resided in the US for
two years or less. Participants were also asked to provide the age at which they had
commenced English study; these ages ranged from 10 to 24 years (median age: 13.5
years). In addition to this information, participants were asked to characterize their social
interaction with native English speakers outside of the classroom as "frequently" (five or
more times a week), "sometimes" (three to five times a week) or "rarely" (less than three
times a week); four participants characterized their interaction as frequent, while three
characterized their interaction as rare. (All members of the swearing group characterized
their interaction as frequent.) Table 2.2 shows demographic information for the members
of the blind group based on questionnaire information provided prior to the study.
Table 2.2. Demographic information fcr "blind group.
Pair Age Gender Country Languages Length Age Amount of
No. (yrs) of birth studied or of stay started social
spoken (mos) English interaction
1 28 M Taiwan Taiwanese, 7 14 Rarely
2 42 M Taiwan Taiwanese, 17 12 Sometimes
3 25 M Russia Russian, 3 24 Frequent
4 28 F South Korean, 3 14 Sometimes
5 25 F China Chinese, 3 12 Frequent
6 22 M Russia Russian, 8 16 Rarely
7 32 F China Chinese, 36 20 Sometimes
8 28 F South Korean, 19 12 Sometimes
9 30 M China Chinese, 8 12 Frequent
10 28 M China Chinese, 24 13 Sometimes
11 39 F Venezuela Spani sh, 60 10 Frequent
12 28 M South Korean, 24 15 Rarely
Role-play exercises have frequently been used as a way of accessing knowledge
about speakers' pragmatic competence. For example, Cohen and Olshtain (1981)
examined strategies used by English learners in Israel in dealing with a role-playing
situation where they were asked to provide apologies; this permitted the examination of
differences between practices of L1 and L2 English speakers, and an assessment of the
role of transfer from the L1 in such cases. Similarly, Kasper (1981) examined dyads
composed of L1 and L2 English speakers in order to examine initiating and responding
speech acts, finding that the strategies used by L2 speakers did not necessarily represent a
transfer from the Ll. With regard to the examination of pragmatic competence, role-
playing exercises offer a format where elicitation can occur in a relatively flexible way;
although the use of previously formulated scenarios and audiotaping confer a certain
artificiality to the proceedings, the L2 learner engaged in a role-playing exercise is faced
with a concrete situation to negotiate. In the case of this study, the learner is supposed to
react to the use of taboo language by using what she or he knows about sociocultural
rules of speaking.
For the first part of the study, a role-playing activity was conducted with one
member each from the swearing group and the blind group. A total of twelve such
activies, each consisting of two role-playing exercises, were carried out between March
23, 2004 and April 21, 2004. The members of the swearing group had been informed
beforehand that they were to participate in an activity that involved social swearing with
a person whom they did not know. Immediately prior to the activity, swearing group
participants were informed that their partner would be a L2 English learner who was not
aware that the activity involved swearing. They were further informed that the activity
would consist of two role-playing exercises using prepared scenarios, and that in the
second of these exercises they should use examples of English taboo words. The number
and intensity of the words were left to the participants' discretion, but they were
encouraged to use as wide a variety as possible. Participants were also asked to refrain
from using language that might be construed as directly abusing or insulting their
respective partners, but rather to use taboo language as they would in social interaction
Prior to the activity, blind group participants were informed only that the
conversational activity involved two role-playing exercises lasting fiye minutes each.
After providing informed consent, both swearing group and blind group participants were
given a questionnaire and asked to provide demographic information (summarized in
Tables 2.1 and 2.2). Once this questionnaire was completed, the first scenario was
described to the participants, verbatim as follows:
You are at a restaurant. You are expecting to meet some friend of yours, and your
partner is also expecting to meet the same friends. However, you do not know each
other. While you sit at the table, you make conversation to pass the time and get to
know each other. You can invent any background information you want to for this
situation, but make sure to keep talking for the full Hyve minutes.
This scenario was devised primarily as a rapport-building exercise, such that the
interaction of the participants might be more representative of genuine social interaction.
As such, the topic that was chosen was designed to parallel the actual interaction of
swearing group and blind group participants, i.e., conversation between two people who
did not know each other. To this end, this first exercise was occasionally allowed to
proceed beyond the specified Hyve-minute minimum period, in the interest of allowing
rapport to develop between participants (the longest such exercise lasted approximately
After this exercise, the participants were provided with the second scenario,
verbatim as follows:
You are at the library. You encounter your conversation partner, who is a student
from one of your classes. Earlier that day, you took an exam, and you are curious
about how your partner performed on the exam. Again, you can invent any
background information you want to for this situation, but make sure to keep
talking for the full five minutes.
For the second scenario, the swearing group members provided examples of
English taboo words interspersed throughout the dialogue. In some instances, this
exercise was also allowed to exceed the five-minute minimum period in order to allow
blind group members to respond to utterances that contained examples of taboo words.
After the five minutes had elapsed, the blind group participants were informed of the
purpose of the study and requested to provide additional informed consent. Activities 1
through 8 were audiotaped with a GE Cassette Recorder (Model No. 3-5364A), using
Maxell UR 120-minute cassettes; subsequent activities were audiotaped with a Sony
TCM-150 Cassette-Corder, also using Maxell UR 120-minute cassettes. Full transcripts
for all swearing pairs are presented in Appendix B.
Analysis of data from these activities consisted of categorization of the types of
utterances used by blind group members in response to utterances containing examples of
taboo language. Beers Fagersten (2000) examined reactions to swearing by interlocutors,
noting among them laughter, behavioral and lexical echoes, self-echoing, rejection and
indifference; these reactions are informed by the interpretation of the speech event by
members of a speech community. While the artificial nature of the role-playing task may
influence the types of reactions demonstrated by the participants, their responses are
nonetheless informed by their individual interpretations of the speech event as well. For
the present study, in addition to the linguistic responses represented by overt rej section or
echoing, observable non-linguistic responses were recorded through field notes.
The ethnographic interview, originating from the ethnography of communication as
described by Hymes (1964), is intended to provide the researcher with access to
knowledge possessed by members of a speech community. Differing from a more
traditional conception of the interview involving a rigidly defined set of questions, the
ethnographic interview adopts a more dynamic approach in which the researcher
cooperates with the informant in the elicitation of information; as described by Spradley
(1979), "It is best to think of ethnographic interviews as a series of friendly conversations
into which the researcher slowly introduces new elements to assist informants to respond
as informants" (p. 56). Speakers who are involved in the activity of determining what
taboos are operating within a second culture must do so as individuals with individual
experiences and impressions of said experiences; by examining the accounts of L2
learners as they formulate their own interpretations of English language values, here
specifically those related to language taboos, it is possible to observe the knowledge and
assumptions underlying the learner' s approach to these values. As Boxer (1993) states,
the ethnographic interview "seeks to uncover not only knowledge that is explicit but also
knowledge that is tacit" (p. 115). This is especially significant in the case of swearing
practices, where the avoidance of L2 taboo language may alternately be due to
incomplete knowledge of such language or to a personal decision by a speaker as
informed by her or his negative evaluation of such language.
After participating in the role-playing activity, blind group participants were
asked to participate in a quasi-ethnographic interview lasting between 30 and 45 minutes.
(Additionally, one of the swearing group participants, Participant 6, was asked to
participate in an interview; this participant was a L2 English speaker from Colombia.)
Although the preferred format for ethnographic interviewing, or any research approach
involving participant observation, would involve more than one interview, the quasi-
ethnographic interview, consisting of only one session, (Boxer, 2002) was judged to be
adequate in providing a basic characterization of the process of second language taboo
acquisition as exemplified by each of the blind group participants. A total of thirteen
interviews were carried out between March 25, 2004, and April 29, 2004. Interviews
were conducted in a linguistics graduate teaching assistant office at Turlington Hall at the
University of Florida; four interviews (with blind group participants 5, 6, 10 and 12) were
carried out while another (female) graduate student was present in the office, a situation
that in one instance appeared to be responsible for participant 12's reluctance to discuss
certain vocabulary items.
During the interviews, participants were asked to discuss their experiences with
language taboos both in their respective first languages and in English. In accordance
with the elements of the ethnographic interview as enumerated by Spradley (1979),
efforts were made to provide explicit purpose (i.e., to encourage the participants to
provide information relevant to the topic of language taboos), ethnographic explanations
(especially explanations regarding terminology; because of the variety of terms used in
English to describe the use of taboo language, terms supplied by the participants were
used preferentially), and ethnographic questions (especially contrast questions dealing
with differences between taboo language practices in English and participants' respective
first languages). In most of the interviews, participants were asked:
1. To specify whether they had recognized the use of taboo language in the
conversational activities, and if so, what reactions they had to it.
2. To provide examples of words that they recognized to be taboo in English.
3. To explain as specifically as possible, if any examples were provided, how they
came to know about the word and its taboo status.
4. To describe personal beliefs that they held toward language taboos in their
respective first languages.
5. To describe differences that they had observed between language taboos in English
and their respective first languages.
6. To provide examples of experiences in which they encountered swearing in
7. To describe their (real or hypothetical) responses to L2 learners using taboo words
in their respective first languages.
8. To determine whether not knowing about language taboos in a second language
presents a disadvantage to the L2 learner.
Additional questions were formulated in response to information offered by
participants; some of these dealt with differences depending on gender, ethnicity, region,
and socioeconomic status. The interview with blind group participant 3 was recorded
using a Realistic Minisette-15 Compact Cassette Tape Recorder, but had to be discarded
due to poor sound quality. Interviews with blind group participants 1 and 2 were
audiotaped with a GE Cassette Recorder (Model No. 3-5364A); subsequent interviews
were audiotaped with a Sony TCM-150 Cassette-Corder. All interviews were recorded
using Maxell UR 120-minute cassettes. Full transcripts of all interviews are provided in
Appendix C. In the following chapter, data from the role-playing and interview activities
ROLE-PLAYING EXERCISE AND INTERVIEW RESULTS
Reflecting the focus of this study on L2 English speakers' acquisition of taboo
language both in terms of the pragmatic awareness of swearing as a rule-governed speech
event and the subj ective interpretation through which a speaker associates taboo language
with negative, positive or neutral value, a combination of activities was used: a role-
playing activity in which participants simulated a social interaction where social swearing
was practiced, and quasi-ethnographic interviews in which participants discussed their
personal responses to language taboos both in their respective Lls and in English. The
results of these activities demonstrate aspects and issues of the L2 taboo language
acquisition and process, and reveal the interplay between individual attitudes and
knowledge about the social value of swearing.
In the first section, results from the role-playing activities are presented. These
results are discussed in terms of the observable reactions of blind group participants to
the taboo words that were produced by the swearing group participants. Their reactions
provide an indication both of awareness of the use of taboo language and subj ective
evaluation displayed when L2 English learners encounter taboo language in social
In the second section, data from the quasi-ethnographic interviews are discussed.
Interview participants discussed a wide range of issues related to the social functions of
taboo language use, individual reactions, responses to the role-playing activity and
methods of acquiring taboo language. Their responses provide the basis for a
characterization of the taboo language acquisition process, in which social practices
linked to language taboos, such as avoidance in the classroom and censorship in media or
interaction, militate against access to information about them. Interview responses also
bring into relief the relationship between L1 and L2 taboo language practices, in terms of
the transfer of pragmatic information associated with the social functions of swearing and
the transfer of attitudes toward the use of taboo language.
Examples of Taboo Words in Role-Play Activities
The goal of this study was to observe the reactions of L2 learners in response to the use
of taboo language in a situation resembling social interaction. Swearing group members
had been requested to use a variety of swear words over the course of the exercise, which
lasted for approximately five minutes. For the eleven pairs included in this study (pair 1
was excluded because of poor audio quality), swearing group members generated an
average of 7.5 taboo words per activity, with a median of 6 words. The number of
examples ranged from three (for pair 8) to fourteen (for pairs 10 and 12). A total of 84
taboo words were provided by swearing group participants. The most frequently
produced words were fuckingg' (21 examples, used as a verb in one case and as an
intensifier in all other instances) and 'shit' (19 examples), which together accounted for
almost half of the examples of taboo language.
Reactions to Swearing
In her analysis of the social functions of swearing in American English, Beers
Fagersten (2000) mentions three possible reactions to the use of swearing: laughter
immediately following the swearing utterance, rej section of the utterance, and echoing of
the utterance (either lexically, by repeating the taboo word, or behaviorally, by producing
another taboo word). Additionally, an interlocutor may not react in any noticeable way.
Beers Fagersten also mentions self-echoing, i.e., the use of more than one taboo word by
a speaker during a single conversational turn, often as a form of self-reinforcing and self-
ratifying behavior. She suggests that the use of multiple taboo words in the same turn
represents "a blatant expression of the speakers' confidence in the appropriateness of
swearing in the social context in which they find themselves" (p. 84). Several instances of
self-echoing were present during the course of the role-playing activities; however, these
examples may be attributed to the demands on the swearing group members set by the
research methodology, and as such are excluded from this analysis.
For the examples of taboo language observed during the role-playing exercises,
the reactions observed were laughter and lexical echoing, as well as the absence of any
overt response. Table 3.1 shows a list of the taboo words produced in each of the role-
playing activities, with responses of laughter and echoing indicated respectively in bold
type and italics.
Table 3.1. Taboo words and blind group, responses encountered in role-playing pairs.
Activity Taboo Words
2 Shit, assholes, shit, bullshit, damn
3 Damn, bullshit, ass, bullshit, hell, bullshit, asshole
4 Damn, fucking, fucked, shit, fucking, shit, fuck, damn
5 Shit, fucking, pisses, shit
6 Bitch, shit, shit, fucking, motherfucker, fuck, fucking, motherfucking,
fucker, fucker, fucking, shit, fucker
7 Fuck, shit, shit, asshole
8 Bitchy, shitty, shit
9 Fucking, bitch, fuck, hell
10 Fucking, shit, damn, damn, fucking, fucking, fucking, shitty, hell,
damn, fucking, goddamn, shit, dicks
11 Shit, fucking, pisses, shit, fucking, damn, shit, fucking
12 Fucking, fucking, shit, bitchy, fucking, cocksucker, fucking, shit, shit,
fuck, dick, fucking, fucking, fucking
Laughter was observed as a response six times, and occurred at least once in five of
the pairs (2, 4, 10, 11 and 12). In three of these cases, the laughter was in response to an
utterance containing the interj section 'shit':
2S: (in response to 2B's inquiry about her performance on an exam) Ah shit. [2B
laughs] Um I, I didn't do so good on that one.
10S: What did you think about that question number three? I mean shit. It was just,
awful! It was awful!
10B: I don't understand what the question is. [laughs]
1 1S: Um, did you get uh, did you get any none of the above or?
11B: Eh yeah, I actually got two.
11S: Aw shit!
11B: [laughs] But, but as I'm telling you, I don't, I'm not sure, it was such a tough,
that I think it's going to be like a () whatever grade I get here.
In the case of pair 10, the laughter may be interpreted as a response to participant 10B's
own difficulty in determining how to respond to participant 10S's statement, rather than a
reaction to the use of swearing per se. In all of these cases, the interj section 'shit' was used
by the swearing group participant to express frustration, and the response of laughter may
be interpreted as a reaction to the expression of frustration or to the use of a taboo word.
One additional example of the use of this interj section in pair 7 met with a commiserating
groan from the blind group participants:
7S: Oh shit. That' s not what I did. [7B groans]
Other utterances where a reaction of laughter was observed were the following from pairs
4 and 12:
4S: (discussing a test) It was like, FUCKED up.
4S: ( ) professor. He's a, he's a piece of shit.
12S: Wow, you're really fucking up.
The utterances in pair 4 consisted of critical remarks about the test and instructor in the
examination scenario. In the case of pair 12, participant 12S was responding to her
interlocutor' s comment about failing a course, and the laughter may be interpreted as a
self-conscious response to perceived criticism. In the same activity, participant 12S also
responded to one utterance containing a taboo word by directly addressing the researcher:
12S: I don't know how to do that shit.
12B: [pauses] Alex, the topic is very, very hard. [laughs]
Here, the participant laughs in a statement immediately following an utterance containing
taboo language, but based on the content of the statement it appears that his laughter was
related more to the self-conscious acknowledgement of his difficulties in speaking within
the described scenario, rather than the use of a taboo word in the preceding utterance.
Echoic responses were only observed in pair 6, in which the swearing group
participant abandoned the described role-playing scenario and instead discussed language
taboos in Russian, Spanish and English with his L1 Russian-speaking interlocutor. A total
of three lexically echoic responses were produced, and in all three cases they were
produced in a metalinguistic context:
6S: They also told me how to say shit but I forgot.
6S: Like shit.
6B: Shit. Well, well shit in Russian is ().
6S: Cause y'know how in English, there's like fuck and then you can say like
fucking motherfucking, fucker () or something like that.
6B: Yeah yeah yeah, yes there, you can use the word fuck pretty free, every,
This role-playing exercise was the only case in which the use of taboo words was overtly
acknowledged by the blind group participant. In addition to producing thirteen taboo
words over the course of the activity, participant 6S also used four English examples of
slang expressions for sexual acts, which are not classified as taboo words here because
they are composed of commonly used non-taboo English vocabulary words.
Outside of these examples of laughter and echoing as a response to taboo stimuli,
all other examples of taboo words did not receive any overt linguistic or behavioral
response. No rej section responses were observed in any of the role-playing exercises,
raising the question of whether this indicated a neutral evaluation of the use of taboo
language or avoidance of confrontation with swearing group members. Questions about
the evaluation of the use of swearing within the role-playing activities were presented in
the quasi-ethnographic interviews, as discussed in the following section.
With the exception of the examples from pair 6, the blind group participants did
not produce any examples of taboo language themselves, and did not produce any
obj sections to the use of taboo words by their interlocutors. In a small number of cases,
blind group participants responded with laughter to utterances containing taboo words,
although some ambiguity exists as to whether this was a response to the content of the
utterances or to the use of taboo language. In the next section, data from the interviews
are presented; discussion of the role-playing activities over the course of the interviews
provides some additional information to clarify individual participants' reactions to the
use of taboo language by their interlocutors, specifically addressing the recognition of
taboo words within the activities and the subj ective evaluation of their use.
This study focuses on the pragmatic and subj ective components of English taboo
language acquisition; participant knowledge of swearing practices is characterized in
terms of awareness of individual English taboo words, awareness of the social functions
associated with swearing, and attitudes of participants toward the practice of swearing.
The first section includes examples of taboo words spontaneously produced during the
course of the interviews, i.e., words which were not previously mentioned by the
interviewer and which are therefore judged to represent individual speaker knowledge.
The second section includes participant contributions dealing specifically with pragmatic
awareness of the expressive functions of taboo language practices both in English and in
the participants' respective first languages, while the third section examines pragmatic
awareness as it relates to social functions of swearing. The fourth section deals with
cross-linguistic differences in the use of swearing as described by the participants. The
fifth section presents an overview of the main resources that interview participants
reported using in their acquisition of English taboo language. The sixth and Einal section
focuses on subj ective evaluation of taboo language use in terms of the attitudes that
participants expressed toward swearing practices in their respective first languages and in
English. Data for participant 3B were excluded from the analysis due to poor audio
As mentioned in the previous section, no examples of taboo language were
observed among the participants in the role-playing activity, except in the case of pair 6
where the swearing group participant deviated from the suggested scenario and discussed
taboo language practices with the blind group participant. During the interviews, eleven
of the twelve participants produced at least one spontaneous example of an English taboo
word. (Other examples were discussed in the course of the interviews, but are not
included here because they were first mentioned by the interviewer.) Participant 2B was
the only participant who did not produce any example; he was also the oldest participant
in the study (42). The most frequently produced word was fuckk', produced
spontaneously by five of the participants; additional derived forms with the root fuckk'
fuckingng' and 'motherfucking') were produced by two other participants. Table 3.2
shows the spontaneously produced forms for each of the interview participants.
Table 3.2. Spontaneously produced English taboo words from interviews.
Participant English taboo words) used
IB Shit, bullshit, fuck
5B Fuck, son-of-a-bitch
6B Fuck, blod
6S Balls, damn, shit, bitch, fuck
7B Fuckin, asshole, dick
8B Goddamn, fuck, son-of-a-bitch
12B Fuckin, motherfucking
In over half of these cases, these words were provided in response to a direct
request by the interviewer for an example of an English taboo word. Two participants
gave the term 'F-word' in response to a request for an example, indicating awareness of
the existence of the root fuckk' if not necessarily its full phonological form; another
participant cites the term 'F-word' as an example of a cross-linguistic difference between
Spanish and English, in that she had not encountered such oblique references in Spanish.
Other spontaneously produced taboo words represented reported speech, either of a non-
native or native speaker whom the participants had heard using taboo language or of a
hypothetical speaker; participant 6S provided the euphemized form 'eff you' as reported
speech of a hypothetical speaker. Participant 6S also provides three examples ('balls',
'damn' and fuckk') as translations of particular Spanish words or expressions, and
discusses 'shit' and 'bitch' in terms of their respective phonetic similarities to 'sheet' and
'beach'. All examples of taboo words except one were mentioned in a metalinguistic
context, i.e., the word itself was the obj ect of discussion; the only exception was 'pissed',
used by participant 11B to describe her mood.
Although these spontaneous produced words indicate the participants' awareness
of the words associated with swearing practices in English, it may also be the case that
participants produced certain words without being aware of their taboo status. For
example, participant 4B expressed uncertainty about the taboo status of expressions that
she had heard from her adviser:
4B: And when I came here, that situation is strange, is kind of strange, so uh when
he is, his feeling is bad, he just yelling that the all around, oh my God! [laughs] Or
holy moley! What, what the hell?
I: What the hell, yeah.
4B: What the hell, God. Uh I'm scared [laughs], you know is so bad, so I, I shr-,
sometimes I shrink, I shrink that, yes.
I: Is it, is it because you think he's really angry?
4B: Yes when he's really angry, some, always, always she be yelling the, what the
hell? The hell is the kind of slang?
I: Yeah, well that' s a, some people consider it to be a taboo word.
4B: Ah the hell a taboo word.
In other cases, participants provided an example of a taboo word and expressed an
awareness of its taboo status, but also stated that they did not know what the word meant
or what the relative strength of the associated taboo was. Despite the ambiguity presented
by such examples, in most cases the participants appeared to be aware that the words that
they provided were indeed English taboo words. In two cases in particular, participants
monitored their own production of examples: participant 5B whispered the example of
'son-of-a-bitch', and participant 12B said that he could not provide the example of a
word that he had encountered, gesturing toward a female graduate student present in the
room where the interview was taking place. (The same student was also present during
the interview with participant 5B.) In contrast with the role-playing activities, where
examples of taboo words were not produced by blind group participants, the interview
data demonstrate that learners are willing and able to produce examples at least within a
Pragmatic Awareness of Expressive Functions
In addition to providing examples of English taboo words, interview participants
discussed the functions of taboo language both in their respective first languages and in
English, both in terms of the motivations underlying the practice of swearing and the
social consequences of engaging in such practice. With regard to the expressive aspect of
taboo language, participants cited the use of swearing to indicate anger most frequently,
followed by humor, insults, surprise, and strong emotions or opinions. Table 3.3 shows
the most frequently cited expressive functions of swearing.
Some participants provided responses indicating the importance of being able to
communicate strong emotions through the use of swearing:
1 1B: Yeah if it' s, y'know like, if it' s too much, if you realize it, because I think
Table 3.3. Expressive functions of swearin.
Expressive Function # of Participants Number In Comments
Anger 12 10 10 of 12 participants associated
swearing with anger or
Humor 12 5 Associated with interactions
involving joking between friends
Insult 12 4 Participants noted gender
associations with insults
Strength of emotion 12 7 Participants discussed positive
and negative emotional reactions
including surprise and strength
those words, they really have a more, a ( ) emotion, so if you're using that for
11B: I mean.
I: So so why d'you think=
11B: =I would say, I mean, there is nothing like a s-, a swear,
when you really need it, so.
12B: I don't think, TV' s not bad, TV's not bad word, because l usually said taboo
in Korean, and it is a kind of, um, good expression to express my mind, and, so.
For some speakers, the expressive abilities of taboo language may also be linked to
feelings about the aesthetic qualities of language. Participant 6B mentioned the example
of swearing in Russian as a way of impressing others with one' s command of the
language, stating "you practice to use this language really, really beautifully". This
participant also mentioned the preference of his group of Russian friends for English
taboo language as opposed to Russian. However, generally the participant responses also
indicate the use of taboo language as an expression of personal emotion is less likely in
English because the English taboo words lack the emotional associations of taboo words
in participants' respective first languages. In cases where participants would feel the need
to express strong emotions, they generally expressed a preference for L1 taboo language.
For example, participant 9B discusses the hypothetical situation of a bus driver braking
9B: I think it, yeah, I think only the native language can express the, this feeling. If
you say the, the other language, maybe it' s (), how to say this. It' just, it's not,
yeah I'm not familiar to use the second language to express feeling, to expression
feeling with uh, this kind of a words. Especially some, somebody told me the, yeah
some words is really difficult to change, just like the, in the, when you, when you
encounter the situation you don't ( ) expect it, just you, mm, you take a bus, it's
crowded and many people there, and the driver stopped like.
I: Yeah really suddenly.
9B: Yeah, s- suddenly, and you will, you will [fall down.
I: [Everybody falls.
9B: You will say, the most, I think the most people will say their native language
Participant 1 1B, a L1 Spanish speaker, provides a similar account of her own behavior,
noting that the use of L1 taboo language might even occur in a situation where she is
having internal dialogue using English:
11B: I don't feel, no, no. No actually, if I have to do it, I'm alone and I'm working
and, I may be thinking in English for some reason, but I still swear in Spanish.
Pragmatic Knowledge of Social Functions
In addition to the expressive functions of taboo language, participants also
recognized social functions of group identity, establishment of informality, and exclusion
of out-group members as related to the practice of swearing; in addition, participant
responses indicated that differences in swearing practices contribute to regional and
gender-based identity, as well as the identification of a speaker' s education level. Table
3.4 shows the main social functions described by the interview participants.
Table 3.4. Social functions of swearing, mentioned by interview participants.
Social Function # of Number In Comments
Informality 12 11 Swearing is characteristic of
interactions between friends and
Regional Identity 3 3 2 L1 Spanish speakers cited
different language taboos between
Educational 12 6 6 of 12 participants associated
Level swearing with lack of education
Gender-Based 7 7 All felt that men generally swear
Identity more than women
Group identity and informality. Eleven of the twelve participants mentioned the
use of taboo language as associated with group identity, as between friends or classmates.
Six participants mentioned the use of swearing between close friends as an indication of
intimacy, especially when used in a humorous way. Generally, participants who noted
this function of swearing stressed that it should only occur in established relationships,
and not with individuals that one has just met. Participant 2B discussed this function of
swearing practices in Taiwan and the United States:
2B: Yes, and some time, in some, some situations, people speak some, y'know
normally forbidden y'know just words, only try to y'know show that affection.
2B: Or it' s a marker, I think it' s a marker y'know to show the belonging, I mean to,
to the same group.
2B: That happened in Taiwan as well, just, so as I say, I think it's a part, it' s a kind
of register of subculture.
In contrast to the use of swearing as an indication of in-group membership, it may also be
used to exclude those who do not understand the words that are used. For example,
participant 8B mentioned that in recent years younger Korean women have adopted slang
expressions to refer to sexual relationships, and this participant suggested that these
women use these expressions to avoid being understood by older speakers.
Participant 6B also noted that the use of swearing can be used in formal
environments to provide an element of levity to classroom interaction, although it is not
clear from the interview whether this participant was referring to use between students or
between students and instructors.
6B: Well it depends on how this ( ) language is used, as for me. Because I heard
that, for example, I was studying in, in, I was studying math, physics
6B: Kind of exact sciences, rigid sciences, and sometimes it' s much easier when,
it' s much more fun and much more relaxed and when they're talking about this uh
science stuff, using bad language.
I: Oh yeah.
6B: It' s really amazing, y'know. It' s a refreshing thing to talk like that
In this situation, the use of swearing represents a conscious effort to achieve informality
within a formal context.
Regional identity. The use of swearing was also associated in some cases with
regional identity. For example, participant 12B indicated that residents of certain regions
of South Korea were considered more likely to swear. Participant 11B made a similar
observation with regard to regional practices in Venezuela, where different regions have
dramatically different standards of acceptability:
11B: No, this is a particular region where, where they, and I brought that because
of the example, of using words that for, for the rest of the country are very very
very bad and they, they use it in normal, even with kids.
The two participants who were L1 Spanish speakers observed that differences in
acceptability for certain words between countries where Spanish is spoken has frequently
led to unanticipated misunderstandings. In such cases, differences in the association of
these words with taboos constitute part of the interlocutors' respective regional identities.
Educational level. Another aspect of the social functions of swearing involves the
characterization of people who engage in the practice. While such characterization is
closely tied to individual speaker' s subj ective evaluation of individual acts of swearing, it
also communicates information about general standards of acceptability operating within
a particular culture, and the awareness of potential reactions to swearing constitutes an
aspect of pragmatic knowledge as well. Participants stated that people who swear may be
perceived as impolite, indecent and/or uneducated. The latter was noted most frequently,
as six of the participants expressed the belief that swearing was less likely to be
encountered among educated people, although participant 8B qualifies this somewhat:
8B: U:h, not economic, just from the situation or the educational level, because,
that' s the same thing in Korea, because the high, highly educated person does not
I: =supposed, not supposed to use.
8B: Yeah, supposed not to use. So they, they ( ) on using the words, so, uh, that' s
just, not, uh, sometimes based on economic a little, but using the education level
decides their words.
This relationship with educational level was not noted in all cases; some participants
observed that swearing between students was fairly common in their experience, and
associated the use of swearing with student interaction. For example, participant 11B
responded to the use of English taboo language in the role-playing activity with the
1 1B: Well I was con-, but I thought it was just a student thing, not like
I: Oh OK, so it was just kind of=
11B: =Yeah, so that' s the reason, I, I wasn't planning to
interrupt anyway, I thought well, that' s the way students talk so.
Here, the association of the avoidance of taboo language with higher education level is
complicated by the generational and group identity of the speakers who practice
Gender-based identity. Seven of the interview participants made reference to
gender differences in swearing practices in their respective first languages; most
expressed the belief that men generally engage in swearing more often than women, and
use taboo words of greater intensity. For example, participant 4B discussed swearing
practices in Korean:
4B: Yes, I think, yes, I think men, men use the kind of taboo? More than woman.
I: Oh OK.
4B: I think because the men, the relations between men is the kind of tough, and I
think without the taboo, they can't, they, there is, there is, there can be, there cannot
be relation between the man.
I: Oh OK.
4B: But between the womans, there is, there is no, there, the slang don't need to,
there is no need.
Another Korean female participant (8B) discussed the gender disparity in somewhat
different terms, emphasizing the ways in which taboo language practices contribute to a
construction of feminine identity:
8B: If I do use the words, words like that, that means I'm a bad girl, so [laughs].
But I think the Korean girls, especially Korean girls as educated as a very, usually
the Korean girls should be honest and kind to other peoples. Especially they, I think
just a little bit brainwashed but [laughs].
One Korean male participant (12B) also expressed the belief that swearing among women
is more common in the United States than in South Korea, indicating the culturally
specific nature of the gender identity communicated by the use of taboo language.
Cross-Cultural Differences in Swearing Practices
Appropriateness in the classroom. Among the differences observed by
interview participants between swearing practices in their respective first languages and
in English, the use of taboo language in the classroom was cited by participant 2B, who
said that he had encountered taboo language in a classroom setting in the United States,
but not in Taiwan. However, participant 12B reported encountering taboo language in the
classroom both in the United States and in Korea, and participant 6S observed that people
were generally more accepting of taboo language in the classroom in Colombia than in
the United States.
Frequency in L1 and L2. Other differences cited by interview participants
involved the frequency and variation of taboo words, the positive or negative
connotations of particular words, the use of taboo language by women compared to use
by men, censorship practices in the media and the use of euphemisms. Many participants
expressed difficulty in judging the frequency of taboo words in English because of what
they perceived to be limited exposure to casual interaction with native speakers. For
example, participant 8B said that the frequency of taboo words in English was
comparatively low in casual interaction, and was more frequently encountered in
television programs. In contrast, participant 6B said that swearing was much more
frequently practiced in English than in Russian, a situation that he attributed to political
repression in which the use of taboo language was specifically targeted.
Connotation. Differences in connotation were especially noted by the L1
Spanish-speaking participants, who noted that direct translations of expressions did not
carry the positive or negative sense associated with the untranslated forms. For example,
participant 6S recounted his experience using the Spanish word 'huev6n' with English
6S: Also there's this one, huev6n, Spanish, like, a person with big balls.
6S: And in English people thought it was the greatest thing if I called them that. Oh
yeah yeah. But in Spanish it just means dumb.
This participant also recounted the experience of being called 'dog' by an American
speaker, and observed that the Spanish translation 'perro' was used as a deprecatory term,
contrasting with the intended American use as an affectionate form of address in that
context. Similarly, participant 1 1B observed the use of taboo words to convey a positive
sense as a difference between Spanish and English.
11B: So for example, there are words w- that you would use to swear but also you
would say ch, oh this is awesome! Awesome!
11B: There is a, a word that you use to swear in, in Spanish, but you still use it for,
so, did you know kind of like a double standard, you can use them, you still don't
use them with kids, but you still use them among friends and they are not
considered bad words. Bu:t you know that there, that depending how you use them,
when. And I don't think in English, I I don't think that happens that much.
Apart from these examples, other participants said that taboo words and expressions were
similar between their respective first languages and English. For example, participant
10B discussed the use of the word 'bitch' in English in comparison with its Chinese
10B: It is, I think in English, this word usually refer, will refer to somebody's
mother. Yeah. And in my country, the same way.
Participant 12B also cited similarities in reference between taboo expressions in English
and Korean, although he mentioned feeling that Korean taboo words exhibited more
variety in comparison to English.
12B: Actually, it' s the same between the, taboo between the English and Korean. Is
related to, like suck and mother and, related to kind of body.
Taboo avoidance practices. The use of taboo avoidance measures such as
censorship in media and self-censorship through the use of euphemisms was also cited as
a difference, especially by L1 Spanish-speaking participants. Participant 6S recounted the
experience of watching Spanish language television in the United States and being
surprised at the censorship of the words 'carajo' and 'pendejo', as well as the censorship
of Engish taboo words in the mass media. Participant 1 1B expressed her amusement at
the use of euphemisms such as 'the F-word':
11B: It' s very funny the way kids refer to the words, cause they say y'know the eff
word and, and I, in Spanish we don't have, so I found that very funny.
Metapragmatic knowledge. These interpretations of similarities and differences
provide some indication of a tendency to transfer practical and referential information
from the learners' respective first languages. A speaker may be inclined to assume that a
taboo expression from English is equivalent in meaning and connotation to a similar
expression from her or his L1, and interpret its use accordingly. However, many
participants stated that they felt their knowledge of English swearing practices was
incomplete, and thus that they did not know how to engage in such practices themselves.
For example, participant 6B, a L1 Russian speaker, mentioned that he was merely likely
to use English taboo words with Russian friends, giving the following explanation:
6B: I don't, I don't know, mm which is the right place, which is the right words to
6B: Because again, expression, myself, is not that simple to use ordinary language
because sometimes I feel some, I'm short with words.
6B: And um, this is a kind of, you should um learn, you should know language
quite a bit to use swearing.
Participant 9B commented that he felt that the present research study should focus more
on students who have spent a long period of time in the United States, adding that "if I
live here four or five years, I will more things to tell you." Participant 11B, who at the
time of the study had lived in the United States for five years, said that her knowledge of
English taboo words was fairly comprehensive, but expressed a preference for swearing
in Spanish because of the stronger emotional associations, stating that she did not "know
what point when you're learning a language you get, that you feel really comfortable
using those words".
Because the use of spontaneous examples of swearing and the perceived cross-
linguistic similarities indicated at least some knowledge of English taboo language
practices, the absence of taboo language examples in the role-playing activity may be
partially attributable to the conscious avoidance of such words as a result of beliefs about
the appropriateness of swearing between people who are not close friends. Participant
responses indicate that beliefs about the social functions and referential qualities of taboo
words in English are strongly influenced by L1 knowledge, but also that learners must
contend with differences in practice and reference. Participant accounts indicate that the
process of negotiating these differences may take several years, such that a speaker may
feel unable to express herself using taboo language because of what she perceives to be
inadequate pragmatic knowledge.
Means of Acquiring Taboo Language
While pragmatic transfer can account for some of the L2 English learners'
knowledge about swearing practices in English, specific information about examples of
taboo words and the ways in which they are used in interaction must be acquiring through
exposure. The taboo status of certain words is manifested by their absence from the EFL
or ESL classroom, requiring L2 English learners to depend upon exposure through media,
interactions with other speakers, and occasionally specialized resources such as books
that provide information about the translations of taboo expressions. However, reliance
on such resources can result in incomplete or contradictory information about taboo
language. Table 3.5 shows the most frequently mentioned sources for acquiring
knowledge of English taboo language.
Classroom exposure. In accordance with the traditionally marginalized role of
taboo language in the EFL classroom, none of the participants discussed encountering
examples of English taboo words in their previous English instruction. Two participants
(2B and 8B) said that they had been instructed about the use of taboo language in English
classes, but only insofar as they had been told to avoid it; both participants said that the
teachers had not provided examples of taboo words in the course of such instruction. One
participant (7B) discussed a situation in which her English instructor overheard a student
using a taboo expression in English:
Table 3.5. Resources used to acquire knowledge about English taboo language.
Resource # of Number in Comments
Mass media 12 12 Most widely cited resource,
including television and
Interactions with L2 English 12 8 Includes interactions witlun
Speaers and outside US
Listening to L1 English speakers 12 6 Participants overheard use
of swearing in public
Contextual and behavioral Cues 12 9 Paralinguistic and
associated with taboo
Intonation 12 6 May include faster or louder
Facial expression 12 3 Used to determine if an
utterance is intended as an
insult or a joke
Reactions of other people 12 2 Reactions may include
laughter or anger
7B: And OK, and one of my, one of my classmates, also my classmates, she also
works there. And one day, she, she told, she shouted, I think we are picnic outside.
And she shouted, suck my asshole or something.
I: Oh jeez! That' s pretty graphic!
7B: Yeah I heard it, but I have no emotion, and my husband have no emotion too.
But the, the English, English teacher was really cannot stand this, so she shouted.
In this case, the instructor demonstrated the taboo nature of the utterance through her
reaction, but did not actually teach the word as a vocabulary item. None of the other
participants mentioned any situations in which the use of taboo language was discussed
in the EFL classroom; one of the participants (5B), when asked about resources available
to L2 learners who wanted to learn about taboo language, laughed when she suggested a
class focusing on taboo words.
Mass media. Each of the participants cited mass media as a source of exposure to
English taboo words. The degree to which media were deemed integral to the process
varied across the participant group; some participants felt that movies and television were
the most effective resource for the acquisition of taboo language, while others stated that
they did not recognize or pay attention to the English taboo words that occurred in the
media. Generally, participants felt that they were exposed to more taboo language
through the media than through social interaction with L1 English speakers. Specific
genres of movies were cited, in particular action and crime films. Six of the participants
mentioned having encountered English taboo words in films because they came to the
United States, and in some cases determined which words were taboo by comparing them
to their respective L1 translations. One participant (7B) noted that these translations are
not necessarily accurate or close to the original.
Some participants noted differences between the way that expressions were used
in social interaction compared to mass media, including the use of informal and taboo
language. For example, participant 4B described a situation in which an international
student friend used the expression 'go pee', which he had encountered in a television
4B: So but a sit-, a sitcom conver-, sitcom talking, saying? Is kind of, there are,
there are lot of slang.
4B: Word. So I'm not sure that it, I can use the expression with the TV program.
This example demonstrates the need to examine vocabulary words encountered in mass
media in terms of their suitability for formal and informal interaction. Some participants
mentioned that they consulted with other L2 English learners in order to determine the
meaning or acceptability of a term that they had encountered; for example, in the
situation mentioned above of 'go pee', participant 4B was unfamiliar with the expression
and asked her friend about it:
4B: But I'm, I didn't recognize th- that is the slang or not, if there' s a ( ) or not, so I
didn't know that. But my friend said you don't need, you don't need to say that.
Only one participant (6B) mentioned encountering a book providing the translation of
taboo expressions; however, he judged the translations (from English to Russian) to be
inadequate, since he did not recognize the corresponding Russian translations as
expressions with which he was familiar. Participant 12B expressed an interest in buying a
book related to language taboos, but did not mention having encountered any prior to the
Interactions with L2 English speakers. Interactions with other L2 English
learners constituted another means of taboo language acquisition for some of the
participants. A total of eight participants mentioned interactions with L2 English learners
as a resource for learning about English swearing practices; these interactions were
reported to take place not only within the United States, but outside as well. For example,
participant 12B reported encountering English taboo words in a part of Seoul with a large
population of Americans, and said that Koreans often imitated the words. In the case of
participant 6S's experience at a bilingual school in Colombia, he recounted that students
at these schools frequently use English taboo words, and that Colombians of lower
socioeconomic status often also use such words in an attempt to imitate the speech
patterns of those of higher socioeconomic status:
6S: It' s mostly people, actually, all kinds of people, just it differs in the
pronunciation. If you go to a bilingual school, then you are going to use the words
but pronounce them a little better.
I: Oh OK.
6S: But if you also, if you also belong to a lower class, lower income sorry, you
may also use uh dirty words in English, but pronounce them like really bad.
I: Oh OK.
6S: Cause they listen from our people, from our groups, adopt them. Or even from
TV, because a lot of people watch TV in, in English, translated.
Other participants mentioned the use of English taboo language among L2 learners within
the United States. Participant 7B mentioned two classmates, a Greek male and a Russian
male, who routinely use English taboo words with each other in her presence. While
participant 6B characterized the use of English taboo words as fairly rare in Russia, he
said that English taboo words were more common in his encounters with Russian
students in the United States than Russian taboo words:
6B: Uh so, yes, we do use these, and I could say that, when we're swearing, when
we're swearing uh among all Russian guys, we're more, more probably will use uh
I: Oh OK.
6B: Right? Because [laughs] well, because, I don't know, because more express,
we feel more comfortable when we use foreign swearing.
In another case, participant 5B described a situation where Chinese classmates mixed the
English taboo word fuckk' with a Chinese expression after encountering difficulties in the
l ab oratory :
5B: And sometimes the people, they make some, (unlucky thing).
5B: And perhaps today their experiment is not very smooth, they will so, oh today
is too, today is too fuck! We, except for the fuck word, all the other word is in
Interactions with L1 English speakers. Most participants did not report
encountering taboo language in their interactions with L1 English speakers, but five of
the interview participants mentioned encountering taboo language use by L1 English
speakers in some context. Some participants mentioned overhearing the use of taboo
language in interactions between two L1 English speakers, as in the case of participant
7B, who heard her neighbor swearing and asked her Chinese classmate to explain the
meaning of the word that she had encountered there. In another case, participant 8B
mentioned a fight in which an L1 English speaker was arguing with an L2 speaker:
8B: So their (usual response), one of guys shouting, using that word=
I: = Yeah=
8B: = So
the other guy's pretty upset about this, so. But they're, the other guy is not
America, so he didn't understand the situation.
As well, participant 11B discussed an argument that she had had with an L1 English
speaker, noting that this was a situation where she felt she could have used English taboo
words. When asked if they would request an explanation of taboo words that they
encountered in interaction with L1 English speakers, participants showed some variation
in their responses: four stated that they would not feel comfortable or would otherwise
avoid doing so, while four others expressed a willingness to ask for an explanation under
the right circumstances.
Use of contextual and behavioral cues. Nine of the participants reported the
analysis of contextual and/or behavioral cues as a means of determining whether a word
was taboo. Intonational cues mentioned included a louder and/or faster rate of speech as
an indication of anger; six of the participants mentioned the use of intonational cues in
determining the presence of taboo language. Three of the participants also mentioned
using facial expressions to determine whether an interlocutor was using taboo language;
however, participant 10B notes that facial expressions can be misleading:
10B: Maybe sometimes say these kind of words to me, and they're smiling, and I
think [laughs] that's ().
I: OK, so so you do rely on like facial expression and things like that to:, to=
they use wrong facial ex-, facial, facial, yeah expression?
10B: To fool me! [laughs] And I don't want to be fooled.
In addition to these cues, some participants mentioned the reactions of people who
encountered swearing as a way of determining when taboo language is used. Participant
11B described her experience visiting family members in California as a child, saying
that she knew when taboo language was used because of the response (laughter or anger)
that it received. In another instance, participant 5B mentioned the reaction to taboo
language as a difference between media representations of swearing and its presence in
5B: Sometimes I ( ) from their feelings, if a person just uh, speak the dirty word to
another boy, another one, another one is all surprised and stared at him.
5B: I don't know, it' just the two words I knew is very serious in English, I don't
know why that is very serious, from the TV I think, perhaps it's not very big deal.
Such cases indicate the role that media may play in informing a learner's perception of
the behavioral cues associated with certain types of language practice.
In the absence of formal instruction in the EFL classroom on the subj ect of
language taboos, learners depend on a variety of means for determining which words in
English have taboo status. These means include the use of behavioral cues such as
intonational, laughter and facial expressions, as well as discussion of vocabulary items
with other learners or with L1 English speakers, and comparison of words encountered in
mass media with their translated L1 equivalents. The information obtained through these
means is occasionally unreliable, with the result that several learners feel uncertain about
using taboo language with L1 English speakers. However, participants provided several
accounts of L2 English learners using or discussing English taboo words with each other,
indicating a willingness on the part of learners to exhibit the knowledge that they have
acquired in a suitably accepting environment.
The practice of swearing in English depends not only on pragmatic knowledge of
taboo words and the suitability of their use in particular social contexts, but also on the
individual's personal attitudes toward their use; a speaker may have a thorough
knowledge of the social factors governing the use of swearing and elect to avoid using
the language because of negative evaluation of the practice or consequences of its use.
Referring back to Thomas's (1983) distinction of sociopragmatic and pragmalinguistic
failure, a speaker may have appropriate sociopragmatic awareness of the social
conditions for swearing and pragmalinguistic awareness of the pragmatic force of taboo
words, and in such cases the evaluative component may be the maj or determining factor
in use or non-use. Interview participants represented a wide range of attitudes toward the
practice of swearing in their respective first languages, but in many cases participants
characterized their subjective evaluation of L1 vs. L2 swearing differently. Table 3.6
shows significant trends in evaluation observed among interview participants, including
self-reported use in participants' respective first language, the lack of emotional
associations with L2 swearing, the evaluation of swearing by L2 learners of participants'
respective first languages, and the degree to which participants considered the lack of
knowledge of taboo language as a disadvantage.
Table 3.6. Evaluation of swearing by interview participants.
Evaluation # of Participants Number in Comments
Self-reported use in L1 12 7 7 of 12 participants
acknowlde swern in L1
Lack of emotional 6 5 L2 taboo language described
association with L2 as less naturaL, but may be
used instead of L1 swearing
Sweaigb L2 learners is:
Funny 9 4 Fewer than half the
participants stated that L1
speakers would find this
Surprising 9 3 Only 3 of 9 participants stated
that they would not expect to
Requiring Correction 9 2 2 of 9 participants indicated
that they would correct a L2
speaker who swore
Perceived disadvantage in 12 8 Disadvantages include
not knowing taboo words inability to interact socially
and to avoid incorrect use
L1 swearing evaluation. Seven of the twelve interview participants acknowledged
swearing in their respective first languages, although four of them said that they do so
only rarely. For example, participant 11B said that her use of swearing is restricted to
driving in heavy traffic, while participant 6S, who had participated in the role-playing
activity as a member of the swearing group, stated that he rarely swears in Spanish, but
not because of any conscious obj section to the words. Citing his strict upbringing,
participant 9B said that he seldom swears in Chinese, but that if he were to swear, he
would use Chinese taboo words instead of English words. Participant 8B remarked that
she would only use taboo words if she were upset and wanted to communicate that she
was angry; she describes herself as "conservative" because of her educational
background. The remaining three participants (6B, 10B and 12B, all male speakers) did
not express any reservations about their practice of swearing in their respective first
languages, although participant 12B remarked that he had been surprised once to
encounter taboo words in the context of a formal presentation in Korean.
Of the five participants who either do not swear or did not acknowledge swearing
during the course of the interviews, two expressed negative feelings about taboo language
use in their respective first languages. Participant 7B discussed male Chinese classmates
who swear with each other, which she described as "funny". When asked to elaborate,
she offered the following:
7B: I think uh, it is, it is, why is funny. Because it's too direct, direct.
I: OK, it's very direct.
7B: Yeah If he, if he tell this word to me, I will sue, sue him! [laughs]
She later said that would react with anger if sworn at. Participant 5B, also a Chinese
female, expressed a more tolerant attitude toward the use of swearing, stating that she did
not feel that anyone had the right to judge people who swear, but adding that she does not
personally approve of it. Another participant (4B) said that she is sometimes bothered by
Korean swearing, but generally does not care.
L2 English swearing evaluation. In comparison with the evaluation of swearing in
their respective first languages, participants expressed less negative responses to English
swearing. Five of the twelve interview participants remarked that they did not regard
English taboo words as personally meaningful:
5B: So sometimes, perhaps it' s not very serious to me, because to me ( ) of the
foreign language, I have, I have no personal emotion in it.
6B: Well it' s mm, of course it' s different uh when s- someone who' s not Russian
speaker tell these words because maybe, uh even, even when I use um swearing in
English, it' s different for me because I know that' s, that these words means nothing
for me but, () means nothing for someone I'm speaking to.
6S: Some words, before I, whenever I didn't want to say a cuss word in Spanish, I
would just say it in English, and it would, it wouldn't have the same meaning to
me, I would just say, oh blah.
7B: Yeah I heard it, but I have no emotion, and my husband have no emotion too.
11B: It' just I, I don't think I would feel them naturally.
Participant 9B, in contrast, stated that he would be offended to encounter English swear
9B: If I think it' s really curse word, I will really feel unpleasant.
Other participants did not express any positive or negative evaluation of English swearing
practices. Two participants, 6B and 11B, did not find English taboo words personally
meaningful, but felt that American media contain too much swearing. Participant 6B,
discussing American films in comparison with Russian films, said that English speakers
"go too far" using language. Participant 1 1B mentioned the excessive use of taboo
language in television programs both in English and in Spanish:
11B: They're supposed to be, yeah, and sometimes they just exceed about the use.
So it' s too much, unnecessarily, so, and that also happens in Spanish, I have seen
that people, they think that it' s a joke to use many.
11B: And get to the point that it's not funny any more.
Participant 6S, who had lived for three years and attended one year of high school study
in the United States at the time of the study, noted that he had recently been developing
emotional associations to the use of English taboo words, which he attributed to the
interpretation of contextual cues about whether the words are being used aggressively:
6S: But now I say some words and I'm, I sometimes watch what I'm saying around
other people, or when I hear a word I'm like uh!
6S: So that' s kind of contradicted what I said before, that I don't care. Well I guess
it, it' s all situational, you know. Like if a person that I don't know calls me that, I
take it as an insult. I'm taking it as an aggression. Where ( ), if a friend tells me that
I wouldn't really care.
I: Would it have more to do with the content of the word or-
6S: Not the content, the context, I would say.
I: Yeah, OK. So, and so you say this is a fairly recent thing?
6S: I, I have actually, I noticed it one day, I remember it was like I guess some
months ago that I just got conscious like, oh, these words are affecting me more
and, but before that, I have no idea when, when exactly it was, but I've been here
for almost three years, three years in August.
The possibility that exposure to taboo language at a younger age might lead to more of an
emotional response was also mentioned by participant 7B, who expressed that it was
difficult to develop a strong emotional response having arrived in the United States after
the age of twenty:
7B: Well, it depends if, if I was, if I was brought to American as a teen, at the age
of ten, maybe I can respond this quickly. But now I come here after, after twenty,
after twenty. It' s very hard.
These descriptions from the interview participants suggest that emotional responses to
taboo language are generally strongly tied to L1 taboo words, but weaker or lacking with
regard to L2 taboo words.
Role-play responses. Participants were also asked to discuss their responses to the
role-playing activity, and none of them voiced a negative response to the use of swearing
in the activity. Some did express a negative response to the topic of the conversation:
participant 7B said that she did not notice the use of taboo language in the activity, but
found her partner' s critical remarks about her teacher and about the Philippines to be "a
shock". In the case of pair 6, in which the swearing group participant deviated from the
planned scenario and instead discussed foreign language taboos with the blind group
participant, participant 6B stated that he was surprised by the topic change, but did not
express any negative opinion about the use of taboo language in the activity. Participant
5B did express surprise at the use of swearing by her male conversation partner:
5B: And for the other people, perhaps, we, especially for the girls I think, for the
girls in Chinese, they're too shy to [laughs] speaking that word. Actually I was, I
was very surprised for my conversation partner, when they speak the dirty words. I
thought is this (habit)? [laughs] ( ), she' just mean to do it, do it, because you told
him to do it.
Evaluation of swearing by L2 learners. Another topic mentioned in the
interviews dealt with the participants' experiences with the practice of swearing by L2
learners of their respective first languages. This topic was introduced in order to examine
the participants' perceptions of L2 taboo language use as a general phenomenon; nine out
of the eleven participants who were asked about this said that they had encountered L2
learners swearing (the two who said that they had not encountered this type of situation
were both Chinese males, participants 9B and 10B). Four of the nine participants who
had encountered L2 learners swearing described the situation as "funny" or said that L1
speakers would laugh if they encountered this; one of the participants (10B) who had not
encountered this situation said that he would find it funny if he did. Three participants
said that the probable response would be surprise, and two participants said that they
would attempt to correct an L2 learner who used taboo language.
Participants attributed the humor to incorrect pronunciation or inappropriate use
of vocabulary. Participant 4B said that L2 learners of Korean "don't know how to use the
taboo". Participant 11B discussed an American cousin who was learning Spanish and
frequently used Spanish taboo words:
11B: They wanted to of course, because they were in that age when they really
wanted them, they were just showing off about, about using those words, but it was
very funny, the pronunciation, and the context when they used them.
Participant 6S, also a L1 Spanish speaker, produced a similar response, saying that he had
encountered L2 Spanish swearing "quite a bit", and that the accent and inappropriate use
were sources of humor. The same participant also recounted an experience where his
pronunciation of the word 'sheet' as 'shit' in a mathematics class caused his teacher to
become very upset. Two L1 Chinese speaker participants also described the use of
swearing by L2 learners as popular or fashionable. Additionally, participant 8B
mentioned a double standard in the workplace, where employers tolerated swearing in
Korean by L2 speakers but not by L1 speakers:
8B: But the Korean boss understands because he he or she's a foreigner, but in case
of Korean, o:h! Maybe they fire them.
I: Oh so they're more tolerant, if it' s somebody who' s learning.
8B: Yeah, because they understand. They they () suppose, he's, he's a foreigner, so
he didn't know that the words, what it means, but actually he knows! [laughs]
Disadvantages of incomplete knowledge of L2 swearing practices._Participants
were also asked whether a learner who does not know taboo words in a second language
is disadvantaged in any way. Four of the participants said that lack of knowledge of
English taboo words did not present any disadvantage to the L2 learner. The remaining
eight participants did feel that lack of knowledge of English taboo words presented at
least some disadvantages; two participants (5B and 6S) said that although it was not
necessary to be able to use taboo language, learners should at least be able to recognize it
when they hear it. As participant 5B stated, "If you don't want to speak it it' s OK, but at
least you know it." This participant also remarked that a learner might unwittingly mimic
taboo words that she heard being used by L1 speakers, and that knowledge of taboo
words was necessary to avoid such situations. Participant 11B expressed her feeling that
lack of knowledge of taboo words places learners at a social disadvantage in interactions
with L1 English speakers, reflecting the functions of swearing as an indication of group
identity. Participant 7B also mentioned the situation of a Greek classmate who used
examples of English taboo words, and attributed his use of swearing to personality type,
indicating the importance of taboo language for individuals who want to interact socially
in a second language environment:
7B: I think uh for the social people, they are very open, and they more likely use
Additionally, participant 6B felt that a learner without knowledge of taboo words would
not be able to express herself freely or adapt to informal situations. Participants 2B and
12B mentioned that swearing was part of the general cultural knowledge that a learner
needs to be able to interact effectively in a second language environment.
The purpose of this chapter has been to examine the data obtained through role-
playing activities and quasi-ethnographic interviews in order to gain a more complete
understanding of the ways in which pragmatic knowledge about language taboos is
acquired despite the paucity of instructional resources, and of the ways in which
subj ective evaluation interacts with such pragmatic knowledge. Data from the role-
playing activities and interviews demonstrate that while transfer of pragmatic information
from L1 frequently influences the interpretation of taboo stimuli, transfer of subj ective
evaluation and emotional association frequently does not occur, and many learners do not
find L2 taboo language use to be personally meaningful. In the role-playing activities, L2
learners generally did not demonstrate any observable response to the use of taboo
stimuli, and did not produce taboo language themselves; in the context of a metalinguistic
discussion of taboo language in the quasi-ethnographic interviews, most participants were
able to produce examples of taboo language, indicating that they have at least partial
knowledge of English taboo words. The avoidance of taboo language may be attributable
to lack of confidence in one's pragmatic knowledge or expressive abilities, absence of
emotional associations with the language, or expectations that L2 learners will avoid
using taboo forms. For some learners, incomplete knowledge of taboo language
represents an impediment to communication and understanding in a second language
English-speaking environment. In the following section, these results are discussed as
they relate to issues in interlanguage pragmatic research and research on the social
functions of swearing.
The methodology adopted for this study differs somewhat from the traditional
interlanguage pragmatic approach of examining L2 speaker production of speech acts and
the ways in which the forms generated differ from those generally produced by L1
speakers of the target language. Instead, recognition of and reactions to English swearing
were elicited; this approach was adopted primarily because any analysis of L2 speakers'
practices of swearing should take into account the role played by cultural values in the
decision to use taboo language. Previous research in interlanguage pragmatics has
invoked the role of learner attitudes towards performing speech acts in certain social
situations (e.g., Cohen & Olshtain, 1981), and in the case of the potentially face-
threatening performance of swearing, learner attitudes are one of the main determining
factors in the choice to produce examples of taboo language at all. As such, a production-
oriented task would depend upon assumptions about the appropriateness of the use of
swearing in certain social context, where individual judgments of appropriateness weigh
heavily on the decision to produce examples of taboo language.
This attention to recognition and reaction also informed the decision to withhold
from the blind group participants information about the use of swearing in the role-
playing activity. The role-playing activity was designed in part to create a situation where
a learner might feel comfortable using her knowledge of taboo language; thus efforts
were made to use a relatively inoffensive scenario and establish rapport between
swearing group and blind group participants. However, in the situations where the
participants adhered to the scenario provided, the blind group participants did not
produce any examples of English taboo words. In the situation where the swearing group
participant 6S deviated from the scenario and discussed taboo language practices
explicitly with his blind group interlocutor, three examples were produced, but only in
self-referential discussion of specific words. Informing the blind group participants that
the activity involved swearing may have resulted in the elicitation of more examples, but
even in those cases considerable question remains as to whether those examples would be
representative of natural language use.
Participants also did not voice any obj sections to the use of taboo language during
the role-playing activities, and subsequent interview responses indicated that many of
them did not evaluate the use of taboo language in these activities negatively. Most of the
taboo words used by swearing group participants met with no overt reaction from the
blind group participants. Out of 84 total words produced, six received a response of
laughter, three an echo response in self-referential context, and 75 no observable
response. In the case of the laughter responses, it is unclear whether the laughter should
be construed as a response to the use of taboo language or to the topic of discussion. In
light of such ambiguity, it may be the case that the use of role-playing activities alone
does not provide definitive information about individual reactions to the performance of
swearing insofar as they compare with the reactions of L1 speakers. The effectiveness of
such a methodological approach can be enhanced by a more complete understanding of
the ways in which L1 speakers react to the violation of taboos according to specific types
of interaction. In the absence of a reliable measure of nativelike performance, the use of
role-playing activities may instead be more suitable for elicitation of production data for
specific speech acts, where differences between L1 and L2 performance can be more
clearly observed. Such a measure may be developed through the observation of L1
performance and through the analysis of the contextual and demographic factors that
influence individual reactions to taboo language use.
The quasi-ethnographic interviews provided more detailed information about the
interplay of attitudes and pragmatic knowledge in the acquisition of English taboo
language. The role-playing activities did not demonstrate conclusively that the blind
group participants were able to recognize the use of taboo language; however, all but one
of the participants spontaneously produced at least one example of an English taboo word
in the interview, indicating an awareness of specific words associated with swearing
practices. Although many participants described their knowledge of specific English
taboo words as incomplete, they were able to identify certain words and thus had the
necessary vocabulary to engage in some acts of swearing.
The interviews also provided information about the pragmatic knowledge that
learners possessed regarding the expressive and social functions of swearing. Among the
expressive functions cited most commonly were anger, humor and general strength of
emotion, and in the case of expressive functions, the lack of emotional associations with
L2 taboo language may result in a preference for L1 taboo words for expressive purposes.
Participants also discussed their perception of the social functions of swearing, indicating
most frequently its association with informal interaction, but also mentioning its role in
establishing regional, gender-based and education-based identity. The use of taboo
language is generally viewed as a characteristic of relatively intimate interactions, and is
often identified with male speakers and speakers with a lower education level.
Participants did not note significant functional differences between swearing in L1
and L2. With regard to swearing in English in comparison with swearing in their
respective first languages, participants discussed different attitudes toward acceptability
in the institutional contexts such as the classroom, as well as differences in the frequency,
variation and connotation of words used. Differences in acceptability and connotation
especially are relevant to Thomas's (1983) discussion of pragmatic failure: different
attitudes about suitability in an academic context may result in sociopragmatic failure,
while the reliance of direct translation as a guide to connotation may result in
The primary sources for acquisition of information about English taboo language
mentioned by interview participants were the media, interactions with other L2 English
learners, interactions with L1 English speakers, and interpretation of contextual and
behavioral information. At least for this participant group, the classroom has not been a
significant source of information about taboo language practices. Information gained
from the mass media was cited by all participants, while only a small number of
participants mentioned encountering swearing in the course of their interactions with L1
English speakers; this provides some indication of the influence of the media
representation of social interaction on the development of second language (and second
culture) practices. Discussion of interactions with other L2 English learners revealed an
expanding use of English taboo language in EFL environments and a willingness on the
part of some learners to engage in English swearing practices outside of interaction with
L1 English speakers. While the role-playing activity did not produce any examples of
social swearing by the blind group participants, accounts provided during the interviews
indicate that NNS-NNS interactions may be a more likely setting for the use of English
taboo language by L2 learners.
Participants also discussed the role of contextual and behavioral cues to the use of
taboo language. The data from this study indicate that speakers use information about
intonation and facial expression in determining the presence of taboo language in a
conversation. Further research within an interactional sociolinguistic framework may
provide greater detail about the contextualization cues associated with swearing in
English and differences related to such cues in speakers' first and second languages. This
study provides an indication of the role of such paralinguistic and extralinguistic features
in a learners' interpretation of language stimuli.
The evaluation of swearing differed among participants for L1 and L2 taboo
language. Five of the twelve participants mentioned feeling a lack of emotional
association with taboo language in English in comparison with their respective first
languages. In line with previous ILP research that demonstrated the emergence of
intercultural style of communication due to the juxtaposition of L1 and L2 norms, this
provides information about the interaction between socio-psychological factors and
practical knowledge in stylistic choices in L2. In some cases this neutral evaluation of
English taboo language was also linked to patterns of use between L2 learners, as in the
case of one participant whose group of Russian friends uses primarily English swear
words; although most of the participants in this study did not acknowledge using English
taboo language in their own interactions, a more complete understanding of this
intercultural style can be obtained by examining those learners who do practice English
swearing. Furthermore, the issue of evaluative differences also raises the question of a
learner' s ability to anticipate reactions to use in social situations. Additionally implicated
in patterns of use among L2 learners were attitudes towards swearing specifically among
L2 speakers, in that a number of participants expressed surprise and amusement at the use
of taboo words among L2 speakers of their respective first languages.
In this regard, the avoidance of taboo language may be linked to a perception of the
infelicity or unexpectedness of L2 swearing among learners in general. Thomas (1983)
discusses the problematic role occupied by the L2 learner in relation to the flouting of
pragmatic principles, in that "learners are rarely permitted the luxury of a flout" (p. 96).
The data from the interviews provide some information about the ways in which
avoidance of taboo language may be linked to the identity of a speaker as an L2 learner;
however, they also implicates generational differences in patterns of use and substantial
changes in the sociocultural norms of swearing practices both within and outside of the
United States. These changes, as seen for example in the increased acceptability of taboo
language in mass media in the United States or the relaxation of governmental
restrictions against taboo language use in Russia cited by one participant, may be
accompanied by changes in the evaluation of taboo language use by L2 speakers.
Additional research can contribute to determining whether such changes have occurred
and, if so, what attitudes characterize L1 speaker perception of L2 swearing and inform
the interpretation of pragmatic force and social appropriateness of utterances that contain
taboo language. Such information can help to predict the factors that determine taboo
language use and avoidance by L2 speakers, reflecting Schachter's (1974) emphasis on
the combination of a priori and a posteriori approaches. In addition, this information may
contribute to the Hield of cross-cultural pragmatics, in that mutual misperceptions in
interactions between L1 and L2 speakers may be attributed to the L1 speaker's
stereotypes as to pragmatic failure on the part of the L2 speaker.
Most of the participants expressed the feeling that lack of knowledge about English
taboo language places L2 learners at a disadvantage. Potential problems cited by
participants included the unwitting imitation of taboo language, the lack of awareness of
relevant contextual information for interpreting a situation, and the inability to interact
effectively with L1 speakers in social situations. These problems provide evidence of the
need for additional resources to aid learners in their understanding of English taboo
language practices, as well as to complement the mass media as a means of instruction.
While multiple factors inform a speaker's decision to practice L2 swearing, the interview
data suggest that speakers would like more information to allow them at least to
recognize the meaning and force of English taboo words.
Limitations of the Analysis
Some limitations in the methodological approach adopted in this study may be
addressed in future research. While the role-playing format was intended to provide a
flexible and dynamic situation in which participants could demonstrate their knowledge
of language taboos, it presents something of a dilemma in that the need to observe
reactions to a variety of stimuli must be reconciled with the fact that use of taboo
language tends to be relatively infrequent in social interactions by those who practice it.
A number of swearing group participants stressed the difficulties of consistently
producing taboo items over a five-minute period; some others did not mention anything
about such difficulties, but used progressively fewer tokens as the dialogue proceeded.
This is a consequence of the constrained nature of the audiotaped interaction, and
although efforts were taken to mitigate the differences between the role-playing
simulation of social interaction and genuine social interaction (e.g., the rapport-building
exercise), the resulting dialogues may not be entirely representative of the highly
contextualized responses that would occur in an authentic swearing situation.
The participant group for this study consisted entirely of university students, who
represent only a small subset of the L2 English learners living in an ESL environment.
This aspect of the participants' backgrounds may have influenced both the resources used
in the acquisition of taboo language and the attitudes held by learners toward the use of
taboo language, especially with regard to its use in an educational context. Furthermore,
the learners who participated in this study represented relatively short lengths of
residency in the ESL environment, and information about pragmatic knowledge and
subjective evaluation may be substantially different among L2 learners who have spent a
longer period of time in such an environment.
Another concern with the demographic makeup of the participant pool in the role-
playing activities involves age and gender differences between the swearing and blind
groups. The swearing group consisted of undergraduate students who were significantly
younger than their blind group counterparts; the greatest age difference (23 years)
occurred in the second role-playing activity, in comparison with the age difference of
three years between the participants in the fourth and sixth activities. While it may be the
case that social swearing does occur in interactions with such a large age difference, it
may also be qualitatively different from that used between interlocutors who are closer in
age. With regard to gender, the swearing group primarily consisted of female speakers
(eight of eleven), while the blind group had a maj ority of male speakers (seven of
twelve); of the resulting dyads, five were same-gender dyads (three female-female, two
male-male), and seven were mixed-gender dyads (six involved a female swearer, one a
male swearer). Originally, a more even distribution of gender was planned (six female
speakers and five male speakers), but two scheduled male swearers were unable to
participate, one because he did not come to the scheduled activity and one because his
blind group partner did not come to the scheduled activity. In both cases, a female
swearer substituted for the male swearer when the activity was rescheduled. Because
gender differences in attitudes toward taboo language play a role both in English
swearing practices and L1 swearing practices for many blind group members (as attested
by interview responses), it is difficult to determine how these differences may have
interacted in blind group members' responses to taboo language stimuli.
Another question raised by the research methodology deals with the accuracy of
self-reported information in describing patterns of use and evaluation among L2 learners.
Although the collection of naturally occurring data on L2 swearing may meet with some
difficulty due to the relative infrequency of taboo language in general and expectations
about L2 learners' avoidance of swearing in particular, research based on English taboo
language use as it is actually practiced in interaction by L2 learners can provide more
specific information about the transfer of pragmatic information from L1 and the types of
pragmatic failure that may occur in context. As well, it may be possible to refine a
measure of subj ective evaluation that depends less on self-reported information and more
on demonstrable subj ective reactions to taboo language use among L2 learners.
The ethnographic interview format depends upon the use of ethnographic
explanations; in the case of ethnographic interviews in which the interviewer is a L1
speaker of the L2 learner' s target language, this creates a potential difficulty in that the
interviewee frequently requests clarifications of terminology, and such clarifications may
have an effect on the interviewee's interpretation of language-related behavior. Although
efforts were made both to use the interviewee's preferred terminology in reference to
taboo language and to avoid questions that might be perceived as directed toward
achieving a specific response, the potential still existed for interviewees to give responses
that reflected the interviewer' s conception of language taboos rather than the
These factors may impose some limitations on the interpretation of the data
obtained through the role-playing and interview activities. However, these data
nevertheless provided some indication of the knowledge of and beliefs about English
swearing practices that the participants possess.
The current study provides information both about English taboo language use as a
rule-governed and socially meaningful practice and about the role of language attitudes in
the approaches that L2 learners adopt in learning about such practices, but more research
is necessary to understand the ways in which these attitudes differ qualitatively from
previously existing attitudes based on L1 practices. However, the data from this study
provide an indication of the complexity inherent in the process of acquiring L2 taboo
language, and the difficulty of determining whether patterns of taboo language use or
avoidance among L2 learners can be attributed to a lack of pragmatic knowledge or an
intercultural style resulting from the juxtaposition of L1 and L2 norms related to
swearing. Moreover, the data demonstrate the resources that L2 English learners draw
upon in acquiring knowledge of language practices in the absence of formal instruction.
This study also contributes to the growing body of knowledge on the functions of
swearing as a communication of social identity, both by emphasizing the ways in which
differences in these functions are made salient within the L2 English acquisition process
and by highlighting the role of expectations of L2 speaker performance in the
interpretation of utterances containing taboo language. Finally, an understanding of the
degree to which L2 speakers regard knowledge of taboo language as important can
inform a pedagogical approach in which metapragmatic knowledge about swearing
practices can be appropriately addressed.
The transcriptions of the role-playing pair exercises and interview data employ the
following conventions, as described in Schiffrin (1994):
* Period following a word (Example.) indicates falling intonation
* Question mark (Example?) indicates rising intonation
* Comma (Example, ) indicates continuing intonation followed by a short pause
* Exclamation point (Example!) indicates animated tone
* Dash (Example- ) indicates self interruption with glottal stop
* Colon (Exa:mple) indicates lengthened syllable
* Word in all capital letters (EXAMPLE) indicates emphatic stress
* Brackets (Ex[ample) indicates overlapping speech from two participants
In addition, parentheses are used to indicate unintelligible speech. A word in
parentheses represents the transcriber's guess. The spaces between parentheses indicate
the length of the passage of unintelligible speech; one space ( ) indicates a passage of
approximately one or two words, two spaces ( ) indicate a phrase-length passage, while
three spaces ( ) indicate a sentence-length passage.
ROLE-PLAY EXERCISE TRANSCRIPTS
Pair 2. (March 23, 2004)
2B: Hey, [name deleted].
2S: Hi, how are you doing?
2B: Fine, and you?
2S: I, I'm doing pretty good, I guess.
2B: Pretty good.
2B: How did you finish the exam?
2S: Ah shit.
2S: Um I, I didn't do so good on that one.
2B: I didn't do good either.
2S: Yeah, so um did you spend a lot of time studying?
2B: Ye:s. I mean, I spent almost five hours last night.
2B: But I don't think I did a good j ob, y'know, this morning.
2S: Yeah. Well, I, I didn't spend that much time studying. But I was, I was at my
apartment and the assholes upstairs, they just, they played their music so loud, it was, I
couldn't really concentrate, so I probably got about a hour in.
2B: Mm-hm. My wife also asked me to help her y'know, doing washing.
2S: Oh, I know how that is.
2B: It's a man' sjob.
2S: [laughs] Yeah. I wish I had a man around.
2B: Uh-huh. Someday you will. You'll catch one.
2S: [laughs] Oh if only it was that easy. U:h yes, but, but it was definitely hard. I just, I
don't understand her teaching style.
2B: Yeah, so I mean, I, I'm trying () get so used to, y'know, the way she teach us, a:nd,
I, I don't know how they mean sometimes, y'know sometimes sounds like a blur when
ask the questions.
2S: Yeah I know. And, and the notes are just so:, so not straightforward I guess.
2B: That's right. The handwriting is awful, awful bad.
2S: I know.
2B: I can hardly recognize it.
2S: I know, it-. She writes like a retard, I don't know.
2S: Um but yeah, that' s rough. Um so yeah, I don't know, I sit in class and sleep, it' s so
hard to work and everything. I, I can't handle those early classes.
2B: Mm-hm. So by the way, can I ask you one question?
2B: So:, d'you think you, you can get a high score, on this uh exam? The exam we had
2B: So, so did you do a good j ob?
2S: O:h, no. I bombed that, like I. I definitely, got like probably about a sixty or
2B: You sure?
2S: I, I think so, I mean, that shit was hard.
2B: It' s hard to believe, you are so smart.
2S: Yeah I know, well, I must just radiate intelligence, cause I don't know how I do it,
because I really didn't do good on this one.
2B: Uh most of the time I, I ( ) y'know steal the show. You are so responsive to the
2S: [laughs] Yeah, well most of it' s just a bunch of bullshit. I just y'know, I fake it a lot.
I, I'm good at making stuff up, that' s all.
2B: Mm, that's quite discouraging.
2S: Yea:h, well I mean, I, I'm better at answering questions in class than I am at writing
things down on paper.
2B: Mm-hm, uh, not good at just, wri-, that kind of testing, when asked, just write with
uh limited time, () a problem as well.
2S: Yeah. So but, uh, how do you think you did?
2B: Uh. Not good.
2B: No. I, I think it' s my problem, just, I cannot understand what he, what she say, her
idea, but when it comes to, the exam, I always feel y'know frustrated, just, my problem is
uh, I can't y'know, just write as good as, y'know, as others. Sometimes, I can hardly
understand what she means.
2S: Damn, that must suck. Um I mean I, I don't, I'm not very good at, at, like, at
understanding the concepts that she puts forward, because, I don't think that she presents
them in a way that it' s easy to, for me to memorize. Um, but I think if she, if she just
gave us FACTS that would be much better, but she just, she uses so many examples that
it' s hard for me to remember all of them.
2B: So what' s your favorite part of this course?
2S: I, I guess, I actually like the subj ect.
2S: Um the subj ect, it' s a very interesting subj ect to me. And I think um, if it was taught
differently I, I'd do really well in this class.
2B: Mm-hm. Yeah maybe you can give me some advices that I, which can y'know, uh
help me y'know just, on this subj ect.
2S: Yeah well, I mean, I'm still not doing so well myself, so, maybe y'know if I, I, we,
we should talk to maybe someone who' s doing a little bit better to see if they can help the
both of us.
2B: You can maybe ask Alex.
2S: Yeah. [laughs]
2B: I heard he's the most modest, () in this class. [laughs]
2S: I think so too. He, he always used to do so well on the exams. I wish I was as smart
2B: So: have you got his uh telephone number?
2S: No:, I don't have it. We should, we should definitely go and talk to him though.
2B: Oh now I remember, I got, I got e-mail from him. Maybe I can e-mail him and
y'know, ask him () his telephone number.
2S: Yeah, well I have his e-mail too. Yeah we should definitely do that.
2S: Yeah, but it' s so hard for me to study in my apartment. It' s j-, there's just so many, so
much around me, y'know?
2B: I know someone, it' s, I guess, this apartment is (). The guys in the ( ) live upstairs,
they're so wild.
2S: I know!
2B: They have party at midnight.
2S: Yeah? Yeah. All the time, every night they're having a party. And, y'know, they
don't even invite me, it's really rude.
2S: They keep me up all night and they don't even invite me to their stupid freaking
party. [sighs] I don't understand.
2B: So that is so tough, yeah.
2S: It is. It is. I have to stay up all night, I have to get up early in the morning, I don't
understand. I'm so bitter.
2B: Just trying to survive. If only we can survive the winter, we can survive the whole
Pair 3. (March 24, 2004)
3S: Um, so we had the English exam today, uh, how d'you think you did on it?
3B: Pretty bad. I think.
3S: Yeah I don't know. I didn't do too good, it was, it was really really hard. I uh, I don't
know, I, I had problems with it, but, y'know, it's, I, I don't know. I guess I didn't study, I
didn't study too well for it. But it was, some of the uh, the questions, they were really
really damn hard! I mean I just, I, I, being an English speaker you'd think I'd have no
problem whatsoever, but really I found it to be, y'know, really difficult, but y'know, I
don't know. That' s bullshit, but, I don't know. So but, is there certain parts of it that you
had problems with? Was it-
3B: () I didn't do anything at all. [laughs]
3S: You didn't?
3B: This is a regular problem for me.
3 S: Really. It' s kind of a pain in the ass when you have, cause I know you've had, your
other classes you're working on, and I'm sure you're, doing English is a waste of time,
3B: Yes, English classes eat off of my time actually.
3S: Yeah, that's too bad. That's bullshit.
3B: So two classes every day I take. It' s too many.
3 S: How are you doing in like the rest of it? Like cause I know after this exam, how do
you think you reach, gonna get an A, a B, C?
3B: Hm? B. Would be enough for me.
3S: B. Yeah. Kind of, I'm right in that area too, with that, it's, it' s, I don't know, I ( ), I
didn't study either, I just y'know, I, I had no desire to y'know study English at all that
day, y'know, I had my mind on other things, y'know, so, um, I don't know. So hopefully
I'll get a B in the course, but, I'll have to do extra credit, but uh.
3B: I don't know, I don't care about, never care about that, grades.
3S: Yeah, right. I don't know. I always thought y'know, what the hell's the reason why
we have to, have grades and everything and, y'know, it's beyond (), I think. I don't
know. I think professors should just tell the students, y'know just, just write something
3 S: And make your own grade in a way. Cause y'know, I think that' s, instead of this
bullshit that they, they put everything through, quizzes, y'know, little attendance,
y'know, things, but how do they do that in your other class? D'you have a () or is it just
this one class?
3B: Hm, other class is pretty good.
3B: I don't know, actually, uh, I don't study at all, but somehow I get good grades. I
don't know. [laughs]
3 S: [laughs] It' s unfair. Yeah.
3B: So I don't know. Not ().
3S: That's good. () the professor.
3B: For me it' s difficult, because, I feel what, my education is already over.
3S: I see.
3B: And uh, when professor give me some problems, and he just () this problems, and
this is not real problems. For me it' s difficult to switch on to this.
3B: Because I, I've got real problems in my lab and I try to solve it, and this problem's
not too easy.
3B: And for me to switch from this to this, it' s a little bit difficult and.
3S: Yeah. Sounds like he' s being a real asshole. But y'know, it' s just, it's just me, I don't
know. I've asked a couple people about the class and they're not real happy with it, but I
know what you mean, cause it' s like, it' s, it's pointless cause you have so much other
things going on around.
3B: Yes, so. And this is just requirements, I, as a Ph.D. I should take several classes.
3B: I don't want to take them.
3B: But I have to.
3B: And so I just, I'm trying to ( ) avoid any kind of troubles, but, ( ) any kind of, I don't
want to work on these things.
3S: Yeah I see your point. Yeah I always wondered why they did that, why you have to
take all these requirement classes. It' s ridiculous. But uh, hopefully it'll be all right, I
mean I got () grades back.
3B: I don't know and I don't care.
3S: Yeah I know, you don't care.
Pair 4. (March 30, 2004)
4S: How'd you do on the exam?
4B: Um. I haven't () actually. [laughs] I have another exam tomorrow. So. I work ()
because this is my second () exam. And because I have to get more grades. [laughs] In
my first three classes are, I get a less grade than I ( ), so I wanted, I'm disappointed. ()
get a high grade. So I have to get more grades.
4S: Yeah, I failed mine. I mean damn! [laughs] I failed it.
4B: O:h. I don't ().
4S: You don't understand? I said I fucking failed it. Failed. Did not pass, did not do well.
It was like, FUCKED up.
4S: Um, I don't know. ( ) professor. He's a, he's a piece of shit.
4S: Y'know, especially at UF. Anything so fucking difficult.
4B: Yeah sometimes I um, difficult to understand the professor's lecture. Yeah.
4S: Well they have lectures, and like, and it' s totally irrelevant, to ( ). Or they're just
reading the book.
4S: ( ) come to class. Um. I don't know. I can't wait for ( )
4B: I remember I'm ( ), I would go to class ( ).
4S: So you don't go to class? You just-
4B: No! I, uh, I go to class but, it was, sometimes I can't understand the professor' s
4S: See, I heard, like if you couldn't go to his office hours, ( ) might know ( ) help you.
4B: I always try to record, record the professor lecture. But, uh, um, () to re-, record the
lecture (). [laughs]
4S: You know you can get in trouble for that shit if you don't ask, for permission. Some
people they get upset. They don't like that at all. Yeah, you have to ask them first.
4B: I have () professor. It is um, ( ) [laughs].
4S: Unuseful. [laughs]
4S: A lot of them are. They're useless. I mean, I, I don't know. I agree with you on that
4B: Um, () I borrow, I borrowed the questions.
4S: Does that help you, or?
4B: It is ( ).
4S: I didn't use much ( ). I mean, I don't know, it doesn't work. I mean, you can
compare, it might help, but I mean. I still say your notes ( ), I mean. Don't, like don't you
know what to write down in the lectures, and what not to write down? Or what you think,
what you think is important to remember?
4S: Like I'm saying, um. What I'm saying is this. The professor' s lecturing, he's like ()
on. Like, you know what to, what you need to write down. Um, I don't know, ( ). How
much time, how long did you study for the exam?
4B: One day.
4S: One day? A whole day?
4B: Uh-huh. () for one week.
4S: Fuck that! One week! Uh-uh.
4B: I have to, [laughs] I have to prepare.
4B: I have to prepare the ().
4S: Oh my God, () before. () studied, to do poorly.
4B: How, how long, how long for ()?
4S: Me? The night before. Or the morning of.
4B: What? [laughs]
4S: Why sit there and waste my damn time-
4B: The night before?
4S: The night before, the eve of. I don't even ( ) the night before.
4S: Any time I'll be disappointed, like I'll feel I know I deserved it.
Pair 5. (March 30, 2004)
5S: Hi there, how're you doing? You're in my chemistry class.
5B: Yeah, I know you.
5S: Yeah I know. Um, I think I saw you at lunch today, I'm. Um, so how'd you do on
that chemistry test?
5B: Oh, () very good. [laughs]
5 S: No, it was hard.
5B: It's horrible.
5S: () was hard.
5B: I don't know what' s wrong with the professor, because um, he does not, the content
on the test is totally have nothing to do with the content he () us.
5S: I know, sometimes I can't believe these people, it just pisses me off sometimes. What
pisses me off is when teachers, y'know, prepare you for teaching the book, and then their
questions are completely different, it's just, where () coming from?
5B: It' s so awful. Have you ever met a teacher like that?
5 S: Yeah, I mean I've had a couple classes in the business school that just, shit, they're
insane on some. They don't really teach you anything in class, they just teach, answer a
few questions, and then the test is frickin multiple choice.
5S: Um, but I have a friend who's a chemistry, or he takes, he wants to be a doctor, so
he's taking a lot of, all this stuff. () hard ALL the time. I mean they really, he'll say what
you said, () about it, it's just ridiculous.
5B: I think the way, all ( ) difficult.
5S: I mean, he'll tell me about tests where the class average was a sixty. So I mean, that's
pretty bad. The class average in my accounting class, the last one was, like I don't know,
low sixties, there was a sixteen point curve.
5S: So that, that tells you how freaking hard that class is.
5B: I don't know, if it fails, what can we do?
5 S: Tell off that teacher?
5S: But uh, I mean I'm just gonna have to study like a dog, really fucking hard, because
that class really ( ). So I don't want have my parents yelling at me, what the heck did you
think you were doing? So.
5B: Me either. Um, anyway () this class. It is bad for them, we have so many extra
points, y'know these extra points?
5 S: Um, I don't know if I got any. Did you get any of those?
5B: I have the, I have some extra points because I answered the questions during the
5S: Oh! You got participa-, she counts that?
5B: I think so, yeah.
5S: I mean I guess I can just start participating more, I guess that' s easy to do.
5B: We still have a test ( ), we still have an exam.
5S: U:m, did you do the extra credit?
5B: Extra credit? What is, what does it mean extra credit?
5S: U:m, I think you do a science experiment.
5S: I just feel so (), I just can't find the time to do it, but uh it' s coming up.
5B: But if you really want, you can go to talk to the professor and ask if you can do some
experiment for ().
5S: Oh OK, that would, cause I sit there, and I have no idea, and it just pisses me off. The
whole class, I mean it' s not my forte, class, I find it very difficult. So that' s kind of why
5S: So uh what, what do you need to get at the library today?
5B: The library? I just want to, uh relax and study.
5S: Ah OK.
5B: What about you?
5S: U:m I'm checking out some things for some books, y'know political science books,
um and I've gotta go home and just read all night. Take good notes.
5B: You just finished the exam.
5S: Yeah I know, I'm tired, I don't know what to tell you. It' s like, shit, couldn't they
give us a break, for one, y'know one week? The university had a rule, I think it's like you
have, you can have up to like three exams in one day. That doesn't happen often, but I
think it' s just as hard if you have three exams in one week.
5B: That' s the ( ), all the exams just come together.
5S: Yeah cause you know everybody's gonna have a test like, four weeks in, eight weeks
in. Y'know what I mean, like it's gonna be around the same time for everybody, so.
Pair 6. (March 30, 2004)
6S: Wow well I just had an exam, I bet you did too, y'know it was a Russian exam
6B: Russian exam?
6S: Yeah. So basically I failed because I just kept, kept putting suk, suka, suchka and
everything, and they just didn't like it, I don't know why.
6S: I dunno, I've heard of like funny words, but I don't really know.
6B: Is it Russian ()?
6S: I don't know, the suka, what does, I heard it's like bitch or something like that?
6B: Well yes, it has this meaning uh.
6S: Or like a female dog or something like that.
6B: Oh yeah yeah yeah, actually, this name goes for both, both female dog and y'know,
6S: To abuse someone?
6B: Yes. But usually, y'know, I know that many people, who are, uh indecent Russian
words, particularly the guy from Greece, they can pronounce our Russian words pretty
good, so. They always uh joking about something.
6S: Yeah yeah-
6B: Usually, yeah, y'know well-
6S: They also told me how to say shit but I forgot.
6S: Like shit.
6B: Shit. Well, well shit in Russian is ().
6S: It exists?
6B: Yeah, well of course it exists.
6B: Because Ru-, well you know Russian has a lot of, very, very developed language for
y'know these kind, so actually we, we think that it' s the most developed in the word
6S: Oh really?
6B: Yeah because we have for example-
6S: Well can you say for example like fucking motherfucker or something like that in
Russian? Cause y'know how in English, there's like fuck and then you can say like
fucking motherfucking, fucker () or something like that.
6B: Yeah yeah yeah, yes there, you can use the word fuck pretty free, every, everywhere,
but you know when I, in Russian we can also explain everything using just a few words,
like three at most. And you don't even need to know what the word is, it's just, because if
you know how to express each other you can use it, any sound, any word you know. But
6S: I just find it amazing how in English you can like put so many curse words together.
6B: Well Russian also can.
6B: Yes. Well I think each language has this, actually, most people do not use uh too
well, too developed, that language. But they just ( ) words.
6S: Cause yeah in Spanish, I don't know, it' s like ( ) puta malparida mierda and just a lot
of stuff put together and, I don't know if that' s developed or not but it just sounds funny
6B: Well, uh Russians usually put a specific accent on () words, just to express, just
y'know, to put too much words together but rather put some, put some energy in them,
you know? And sometimes it um beautifies the language if, if well, if it' s not done to
abuse someone but just, to y'know, to accelerate one's speech, so it' s, sometimes, well
many people, many people think that it' s, they shouldn't do this. Like well, there are such
6S: How is it with porn?
6S: Like, do you use like really, I mean how do people speak? Like d- do they say for
example instead of, um, saying cunnilingus do they say to eat out or something like that
or, like, double fisting, or I don't know.
6B: Well, well, uh, you know I, I can't say that I know pretty much direct Russian
translations of this stuff, because well my ( ), because here in this country it' s more
6S: By far yeah.
6B: Yeah of course.
6S: You just say, you're walking the street and they're like yeah, (slaps hand) fucker or
something like that. They're like, they're feeling like-
6B: Well you know uh, now in Russian many people use also English, English language.
6S: Oh so adopting all the curse words or-
6B: Yeah but, but, but usually well it's more ( ), not being seen as, people use well, kind
of ancient, y'know traditional Russian bad language, and many people just think, English
is really the second language to most Russian people, so they can use it. But uh, actually
we do, uh, we are proud that we have such (laughs) y'know such such words of
communication which can express everything, it's just (). Because sometimes, is a
problem among modern, among Russian teenagers, that they um just use the
simplification of language and forget about, normal words.
6S: I mean there was uh, they have translations, for example in German there's a word
(wischsa), and it means like serial masturbator but it's supposed to be like a really bad
insult, and it doesn't exist in Spanish or in English. Is there an example of a word that in-
6B: Well I think, I think, that Russian has some translations of this and, but, we, it' s not,
it' s really not common in Russian because uh, here people the, well, the poverty, the level
of life is much () in Russia, as they maybe do not have such, they have much more
6S: There' s () fucking in Russia.
6B: Well yes. Maybe. Maybe. I'm not quite sure about all this stuff. Because it, it really
depends, because I was born in, it' s not a big city, but then I moved to Moscow, and then
it has changed lots of people, the big city really changed people. And maybe in Moscow,
y'know, this, this is supposed to be the place where people, girls ( )
6S: Oh yeah, I think I like hear, girls in like ( ), are like I'm gonna finger myself or
something like that, they're always like, and I'm like oh what are they saying there? And
I don't know, it' just funny.
6B: But you know in Russia they do not speak just the bad words, yeah, just for fun,
because it' s, it' s kind of, we have a lot of history with, when ( ), y'know the ( ) period, no
one, no one was allowed even to talk about it. And now they finally get used to the, to the
freedom of saying ( ), and uh I, I don't know much about this because I was not the, I did
not have much friends to talk about freedom, just kind of, such ( ). What, what in
Europe, do you know what-
6S: Oh yeah, I'm sure, everyone's like having sex in the streets and everything. They're
like doing drugs and everything. It's like, very common I guess, they're like oh shit, and I
don't know, people are more liberal, I guess, do, don't you know it' s more liberal to just
like cuss anywhere?
6S: Just be like, if you could go up to your teacher and say you're such a fucker because
you just gave me a aD or something like that.
6B: Well it' s a real situation. In Russia it' s a real because well, people, people do not, do
not um believe ( ). And some people think the ( ), so you just have a y'know
educational level, you're not allowed to say such words, and teachers are not expected to
( ), but well y'know in schools where, in schools, not universities, in universities it' s
6S: I, I don't really think that-
6B: Yeah, in schools some guys, some guys, that's the ().
6S: So it' s p-, it' s good for guys to like say let's go toss some salad but it' s not really
good for girls to say it or something like that?
6B: We:11 um, () university, but usually guys are more, they're trying to understand who
they are in the world.
6S: So there's a gender double standard?
6B: Yes yes, kind of uh, kind of to, to break the rules of the world, to break the rules of
society and to understand who they are.
6S: How is it with social class, is it-
6B: Well, social class is, we all have social classes, it's just, different level of life.
6S: I guess y'know if you're upper class you have money to buy a dildo or something
like that, I mean, if you're in like uh working class you have to use like your broom or
6B: Well we don't have such a distinct working class, ( ) now, because there are maybe
five percent of people in Russia, who are really rich, have money, and other people, they,
they couldn't, couldn't adjust themselves to the changes that happened after (). So in
Russia they have things now-
6S: Oh yeah. Politics.
6B: Yeah of course. Even in politics, even in politics, it is too, y'know people just can't
understand what we should do because we have freedom and we don't know what to do
Pair 7. (March 30, 2004)
7S: How'd you do on that calculus exam?
7B: I think just so-so.
7S: So-so? I'm worried that I bombed it. I mean, I really shouldn't have stayed up last
night. Y'know, I stayed up too late, and I didn't study, and I was just like hanging out
with my friends, and Einally, y'know I started to study and then I was like, y'know what
just fuck it. I'm not gonna worry about it. Cause, I mean, I've got Hyve () and I can drop
one of the exams, so I Eigured, y'know why the hell worry about this one. I'm just gonna
drop it, so. I mean, how are you doing in the class?
7B: Um basically, I, I'm the person that' s always worried about everything. So I'm not
sure, I'm not sure what actually, but um, I really consider that one of the problems as I
was doing wrong, very wrong.
7S: Oh, was it that one where, y'know, you have, it was like, the integral of like x times e
to the negative x squared? Cause, THAT one was just weird, and I knew that you had to
do integration by parts, but, I mean, I looked at it, and I was just like o:h shit! I remember
doing this in my homework but, I just, I completely blanked on it, I was like oh crap oh
crap oh crap oh crap. So I looked at it and I was like, um, I don't know, I was just like, I
did it in my homework and now I can't remember it! And I was like why!i So I wasn't
sure, what did you get for that answer? Cause I wasn't sure.
7B: U:m the last problem, the last problem actually. I'm sure I, I, uh, I didn't ( ). But uh,
really, I'm not sure, but another problem, that, the integral function of (), draw the graph
of this function.
7S: Oh, the graphs.
7B: This, we should take the, the second ( ) integral of that function. But I miss, I got
some mistake, and so this is one of, one of the problems ( ) local, the local minimum and
I consider this the local maximum, so the total graph is wrong.
7S: Oh shit. That' s not what I did.
7S: Oh God. [laughs] OK well, y'know I'm gonna drop that test, everything'll be Eine.
So, anyway. Um. I don't really know what to do now. Now that I think about it, I did bad
on the other test so, I don't know what I'm gonna do. I hope this one's not as low as the
last one. I don't wanna drop the class, cause dropping the class is just ( ).
7B: After all we have another, another class, another examination, so we can make up,
work hard for that examination.
7S: Yeah. Well hopefully I can pull up my grade cause, I really don't wanna get a bad
grade in that course. But I think I'll be fine with, with a C. As long as I don't have to take
it again. Cause I don't think I can go again ( ), cause ( ) don't know j ack. Cause I know
HE knows all this stuff, but when it comes to teaching, I think he had his day back (). I
don't know, I just think he's just not a really good teacher, he doesn't care about the
students and I just, I don't like him. So if I DO end up taking the course again, y'know
maybe I'll ().
7B: I think we should ask the TA for help.
7S: See that' s the thing, the TA is just, like never around, and y'know you call him up,
and he's always talking about advance notice, and then, y'know, he doesn't even, he
doesn't, he doesn't even care. He says y'know, OK I want X amount of time before we
meet for um, like a discussion or help or tutoring. And then, so I'll write him an e-mail,
and then he doesn't respond, he doesn't give me an OK, and the date already comes and
passes, y'know, and sometimes I'll be in his office, and I'll just be waiting there and
waiting there and waiting there, and no one comes, and it' just like, y'know, y'know,
that just sucks. It, it' s not fair, y'know, he tells us all these rules and he won't even give
us the time of day. It' s like, y'know, like I'm chopped liver or something. And it' s just so
stupid. I mean I don't know if you've ever had to work with a TA, but he' s just a
complete asshole. I don't even know why he even bothers teaching it. So anyway, I'm
just venting. How about you?
7S: I mean I don't know if you've ever tried getting a TA, I mean have you ever worked
7B: Yeah. And I think, I think because the TA are also human being, I can get some
benefit from, from him, so () bring some candy to him. [laughs]
7S: OK all right, I haven't tried that yet. I mean with my luck, I mean I'll have to come
up and ( ) a roast beef dinner or something. But he's actually helped you? I mean I'm
surprised you actually got through to him. What'd you do? Just like, stop him or
7B: Yeah! Um also ( ) TA are foreigners, so, they really want to know the culture, about,
about the life, so we can tell something about () they really interested. And that' s the
way you come, how you really talk, really tell someone how to study.
7S: I guess I'll have to try that next time.
7B: Yeah. Because () this TA, sometimes I have over, maybe two hours, three hours with
one student, talking about the life, the courses, the scores, something like this. Yes it is
really time, work so hard, but, but after all we can learn something about our course.
Pair 8. (March 31, 2004)
8B: How was your test?
8S: Oh man!
8S: I'm, I'm not very good at math. And I hate statistics. And, wow, I just. I don't know,
I don't know how I did. How about you?
8B: Yeah. Maybe () but I think, the test is really easy.
8S: Oh it is?
8B: Yeah. Uh actually we learned lots of things in the high school, so not so hard to ( )
today. I also had () high school, I start, I start long time. Because it's () for science I
8B: Yeah! [laughs]
8S: Yeah I walked out of the test, I was just like, oh my God, oh my, oh God, that test
was so bad. Like, wow. I don't know. I hope, what d'you think, d'you think she's gonna
grade it hard, d'you think she' s gonna give partial credit for some of the answers?
8B: Yeah, yeah I think so. Because uh, she, she talk about the question.
8B: () focus on something ().
8S: Say that again?
8B: If you write something.
8S: Oh write down the words and stuff! Yeah, yeah. I hope she's not too bitchy about it,
we'll see. So, are you gonna go to class tomorrow?
8B: Mm yeah.
8S: Maybe the day after the test, I'm like I need a break, I don't need to go to class the
day after the test, we'll just be going over the test.
8B: [laughs] I think we have LONG way to go, ( ) taking a break.
8S: So, uh. OH! Did you do the extra credit option we had?
8S: Um she' s gonna give extra credit, um, if you researched a statistical problem?
8B: Oh really? [laughs]
8B: I'd like to.
8S: Yeah, I'm gonna (). So what are you looking for in the library?
8B: Um, the different (), basically () now available.
8S: Yeah, uh, yeah I was looking, I'm doing a paper on Emily Dickinson, for another
class. And so, I was looking, trying to Eind any articles on her, but there' s nothing. Like I
mean, there' s this biography, but not like criticism, valid criticism of her work. So. Um
I'm search for criticism, trying to Eind something that' s not too shitty, something I can
use. [pause] Um so, so what, so when is, so what type of research did you say you were
8B: Plant pathology.
8B: It sounds hard I know. [laughs] It' s pretty difficult, with the, lots of work ( ). I have
to know, I should know the, about the, ( ) paper.
8S: So d'you, d'you have to like write a paper on it, are you just researching?
8B: I have to write review paper.
8S: OK, and how long does it have to be?
8B: Writing, writing is pretty hard.
8S: Yeah. Yeah.
8B: Especially with mine, I have to criticize a problem with paper, it' s a big problem.
8S: Good luck with that. [laughs]
8S: So are you worried about the Einal exam in this class?
8B: Maybe. [laughs] Uh yeah. Actually ( ) dealing with ( ), because we ask about the
method and ( ) of this paper, and I have to understand the whole paper and memorize it.
8S: All right, that sounds like some hard shit.
8S: Uh so what are you doing tonight?
8B: Mm, maybe I have to read a paper for tomorrow' s class. The class ( ) everything, so,
I have to ( ), she pick up our name, and then ask to the person.
8S: Just to get them to read it?
8S: Oh wow. [laughs] See, I think I would be more upset if I wrote it and she didn't call
my name to read it.
Pair 9. (March 31, 2004)
9S: What' d you think of the math test.
9B: Uh the math is, some people think it' s, it's difficult, but the other people think it's
9S: It was easy for you?
9B: I think so, it's not hard for me.
9B: A lot of-
9S: I need you to tutor me, it was really fucking hard. [laughs] I don't think I did good.
9B: Um yeah.
9S: I don't think the teacher' s, explains it well. Whenever I ask her for help she' s kind of
a bitch to me. She's very like, I don't know, she doesn't explain, make you understand.
9B: Sometimes, sometimes the math is, is hard to explain, cause it' s, you cannot see it,
and you have to think it.
9B: According to logic.
9B: But one semester, there are so many problems, so they make the courses more
9S: Mm-hm. So how do you study?
9B: How do you study?
9S: Mm-hm, so that you do well? Do you just go over all the worksheets?
9B: Oh just-
9B: Just go over the ( ) and the, read the textbook, and, that' s ( ) to think about it. The,
there, many, there are lot of homework in the class. They have the, all of the ( ), you
have to do a lot of exercise, you cannot ( ).
9S: I know, I always think I know it, and then I go in to take the test and I blank out, I'm
just, I don't know what the fuck to do with the problems. [laughs] I'm just, I don't know,
I don't remember.
9B: How do you ( ) in this class?
9S: Um do I study?
9S: Mm maybe I should go to a study session or something, cause I always study by
myself. () problem but, [laughs] doesn't come easily to me.
9B: You prefer to study alone?
9S: Yeah, but it' s not working. [laughs] You did well on the last one also?
9B: Oh I don't know.
9S: You don't know how you did? [laughs] I failed that one. I might drop the class.
9B: There's supposed to be another class semester, is related to this, this kind of class. Do
you, do you have some requirement to take this course?
9S: U:m I'm gonna try to get out of it. [laughs] I went in to talk to my counselor the other
day and I told her that there's, no way in hell I'm gonna go through another semester, I'm
an English maj or, I don't need to take more math so, we'll see ( ).
9B: () not necessary to take so many math class?
9S: Exactly. ( ) courses that I need. [laughs] So what maj or are you in?
9B: I study zoology.
9S: Oh OK, so you're a math and science kind of guy.
9B: Um, I think so. [laughs]
9S: [laughs] So does this school make you take a lot of English courses too?
9B: First my, my spoken English, is, need to be improved.
9S: See I can SEE why they would make you do that, but for me, it' just, [laughs] it's
not right, I'm not gonna need math in my life. I know I can count, I can do my taxes, and
that' s all I need. [laughs] I don't know. So maybe we should study some time. Do you
think you'd be a good tutor?
9B: Mm yeah, I think so. But maybe it takes time, to explain something. This is not my,
personally, () something and takes many time to explain.
Pair 10. (April 7, 2004)
10B: Hi [name deleted], nice to see you.
10B: How was the exam?
10S: Oh, that exam was fucking impossible. How about you?
10B: Me too, I did awful. I think I should do better than I actually. I made a lot of
mistakes on the exam.
10S: I always make a lot of mistakes. I mean man, she just gives us the worst tests. She' s
10S: [pause] What did you think about that question number three? I mean shit. It was
just, awful! It was awful!
10B: I don't understand what the question is. [laughs]
10S: The question was. [laughs] She's, I don't know, all of her questions just seem to be
so damn hard, I just can't, wrap my mind around em, y'know?
10S: I can't understand what she's asking, and I hardly speak Japanese at all, so. [laughs]
10B: Yeah, yeah. And I think he didn't explain question well, he didn't give good lecture,
I couldn't follow his lecture.
10B: Maybe because he's not come from Japan. And sometimes, compared to my
Japanese friend, his Japanese is much 1- worse than my friend. I don't know [why-
Japanese is a lot better than mine! So. Um, I don't know, I mean last year, we had a
teacher I thought that taught us a lot better, so. This year I just have a lot of trouble,
10B: So, do you like Japanese?
10S: Oh. Not any more. l used to like Japanese, but I mean, God, if she' s just gonna,
make it so embarrassing for us to come to class, it's just not even worth it, y'know what I
mean, it's just, so damn hard, I just, can't do it.
10B: Yeah I think, it might be a good idea to invite some Japanese friend to our class, and
give us more, opportunity to practice our Japanese.
10S: Yea:h well they want us to do that fucking Pacific bridge thing but, it' s just so hard
to get there, cause they sent out the e-mails like half an hour before the meeting, y'know,
surprise! There' s a meeting in half an hour, it' s two thirty, so we'll see you guys at three?
And I just, I mean I can't fucking do things like that, I just, y'know it doesn't work for
10B: Yeah, me too.
10S: My schedule's really full. What about you, what else are you talking?
10B: Uh I'm taking Java programming, a course from computer science. I like computer,
so. I like playing () game, and sometimes I want some tools to () the game, to crack the
game, so I can get very high credit. Yeah I mean, I'm very, uh, I really want be a hacker!
10S: A hacker. [laughs]
10B: But I know, that is not possible. [laughs] I don't have that much time to start so
many stuff for computer.
10S: I had a friend who worked for the Alachua County School Board, and he was one of
their computer pros and uh, and he figured out a way to hack into their system, and he
told em about it, and they fucking fired him! For knowing how to do his stuff y'know,
cause they thought, they were afraid that he would tell somebody and hack into the
system, I don't know what.
10B: Yeah, that's dangerous.
10S: It seemed like kind of a shitty deal to me, y'know?
10B: So he or she was ().
10S: Yeah, he's really good with computers, he fixed mine, all the time, mine's just a
piece of trash, it' s, it' s the worst thing ever. My mom gave it to me, but I think I should
give it back to her! [laughs] Because, it just makes my life a living hell.
10B: So, have you ever been Japan?
10S: No, I haven't been to Japan. I don't know if I wanna go either, cause I probably
wouldn't understand a damn word they said, ever. So. What do you think?
10B: Uh actually I, I went back to China, fly from China to America, I have to transfer in
10B: Yeah. The capital of Japan.
10S: Mm-hm, yeah.
10B: I like this country, kind of, a lot of Chinese working here, and some friends in
10S: Well that's cool. So you have some friends you can visit, y'know hang out with.
10B: Yeah, right.
10S: Go get drunk or. [laughs] Seems to be what they do all the time. I had a friend who
went to Japan, and he couldn't, understand a goddamn thing that they wrote, I mean, he
just, he didn't speak any kanji, so he couldn't find any restaurants, cause they don't have
em like, signs out on the street, they, they're inside other buildings apparently, and things
like that, so he almost fucking starved to death over there. It was horrible.
10B: Is that, is that possible to communicate in Japanese and English?
10S: He had a lot of trouble, I think, doing, but a lot of that might just be pride. He, he
can be a bastard about that kind of stuff, y'know, so. And yeah, what about you, you have
any plans to stay, have an extended stay in Japan?
10B: I'm sorry?
10S: Do you have any plans to stay in Japan for a long period of time?
10B: No. I enj oy a lot Japan, but I don't think Japanese ( ) me.
10S: Why not?
10B: There's kind of conflicts between Japanese and Chinese, so.
10S: So you think they'd be racist or, I mean what' s the deal?
10B: I don't know, [because we have a history.
10B: I think.
10B: Yeah, bad history.
10S: Didn't they like invade China, like ( ) times? [laughs]
10B: Yeah [laughs].
10S: Is that where all this goddamn kanji come from?
10B: ( ) afterwards.
10S: Wow, I don't know. I have a hard time studying Japanese, cause of all the kanji, I
just, I can't even imagine a writing system that was totally devised around that, it's just
so weird to me. But, I don't know, I guess you grew up with it so, probably makes a lot of
10B: But I, if I have chance I will travel to Europe, such as France, England. You know
the professor from the ( ) department, his name is John Bro. You know him?
10S: No, I don't know him.
10B: Actually he is my instructor right now.
10B: And he will move to France.
10S: To France?
10B: And he give, he give us a lot of pictures, they're beautiful. A lot of house, uh a lot
of house are built, maybe three or, a lot, several hundred years ago, not like in America.
You American like to destroy one building=
10S: =Yeah, and build a new one. ( ) like to leave
things lying around, just go to shit or whatever. I don't know, I guess I have the same
problem with France that you would have in Japanese, because, what I hear is French
people are just dicks with Americans, man. I had some friends who went over there and,
they got kicked out of some store by some guy who was just screaming at them, calling
them all kinds of names and, I mean he was just a bastard, that' s what they said.
10S: Maybe England, though. Although it rains all the time over there, so. I don't know. I
guess I'll just stick with America. [laughs] Home sweet home.
Pair 11. (April 13, 2004)
11S: Man, I wonder what I got in this class, it was a pretty hard test.
11B: What are you doing here in the library after the test? That sounds like-
11S: Oh, they're gonna post the test answers, didn't you hear?
11B: O:h! OK I didn't know that.
11S: And uh hopefully they'll post them here soon. Man that was a hard test. What did
you, d'you think you did well?
11B: Yeah. Well, kind of. I'm not sure. It was a hard test also.
1 1S: I just really felt like he screwed me on some of those questions, like first of all,
when they put none of the above, that just makes it, really, y'know, tough for me.
1 1S: Um, did you get uh, did you get any none of the above or?
11B: Eh yeah, I actually got two.
11S: Aw shit!
11B: [laughs] But, but as I'm telling you I don't, I'm not sure, it was such a tough, that I
think it' s gonna be like a () whatever grade I get here.
1 1S: Oh man, I know, I'm just, I'm really stressing out about it. Um in class, some of that
stuff about uh, grammar rules and um, grammar has always been, y'know, my bane, so
it' s really difficult for me. So what do you think of this teacher?
11B: Uh are you talking about Alex?
11S: Uh sure, d'you think Alex is-
11B: I don't know if I like him that much I think [laughs].
11S: What about this class, ( ) think that we're learning much or?
11B: No, no, yeah, I'm learning, but for me, being in, yeah I'm learning a lot, and I'm
relating a lot to my, my Spanish.
11S: I just feel like they're not fucking preparing me for the test, and then they give you
this really hard test, and that's what it's like in all my business classes is, the teacher gets
up, he just puts a sheet of data up on the board, and just says, oh, this is how you add it
up. Oh yeah, hmm, maybe we should do this. And there's no structure to his lecture
1 1S: You just come up with this fricking mess of notes.
1 1S: And then, somehow that' s supposed to prepare you for the test. And that just really
pisses me off, but uh.
11B: So what about, in this case, do you think he-
11S: Uh that' s how I feel about this class, yeah. Um, but uh, so you think you did well?
11B: No, as I'm telling you, I think it just, no no no, I'm not sure about it. I had a hard
time going through my notes.
11S: No shit, man.
11B: Yeah, so, some of these classes are not that well structured, and I really need to at
some point have like a summary that I can, and we didn't go through that, we didn't have
11S: The structure really helps me. I just took an astronomy test the other day.
11S: Yeah they make you take some science and stuff.
1 1S: But uh it' s pretty easy overall, but the teacher just came out of, y'know, came out of
nowhere because, six chapters on one test, and I kinda figured, y'know it' s, it' s gonna be,
substantive, he wants you to have a broad knowledge of the material, and then we get on
the test and it' s fucking, what is the mass of the sun, it' s all number questions.
11B: Yeah, yeah, like-
11S: What is the, I don't know, how big does a star have to get before it, or whatever, and
it' s just numbers numbers numbers, and I really didn't know what to study.
11B: Yeah, yeah I have been in that situation. No in this case, I thought that the
questions, were pretty much fair, it's just that, I couldn't remember going through my
notes some of this, and then all these grammar rules and exemptions.
11S: Damn, if I don't get a good grade in this class, I mean in this test, I might have to
drop the class.
11B: Really? Is it-
11S: That' just why I'm so stressed, I hope they put up the answers soon.
11B: Do you think you're going to be able to have a makeup test or something or?
11S: Shit, knowing this guy? I don't know about that. They're usually pretty rough about
makeups. Um, so uh, how many years of class have you taken here?
1 1B: Eh well I, I took two years of classes, and I worked for a while, and then I came
back to class, yeah. So what made you sign up, is this a required class that you're taking?
11S: No, this is an elective as well. They also make you take, y'know, fifteen credits of
11B: So you should-
1 1S: At three thousand level. Um just y'know, just for the heck of it so.
11B: And did you have a good reference about this course, what made you?
11S: Well, you know what, it' s just, when you ask people for easy courses, it's really
hard to find a course that' s actually, you know, what you would think is easy, there's
always some, a caveat. There's more homework, or in this case the tests are fucking hard,
or y'know you have to be in class every day for another one, or whatever.
11B: Yeah a lot of homework, no? I was not expecting to have so much.
11S: No, I wasn't expecting that either.
11B: Ah you didn't, oh.
11S: U:m that killed me when I got in. I hate busywork too, so.
11B: No, but I'm learning. I'm glad I'm learning. () this is some.
11S: That's what I like about political science um.
11B: You always know what to get out of!
11S: Well, I mean all the courses it's pretty much the same thing, which is, write a couple
of papers. And that' s pretty much what law school is like too, I mean you're not gonna
have () homework or attendance in law school. I mean it pays to be in class, but, at least
you don't have, like you said daily homework, um, and it's not, it's not like you're gonna
be getting a quiz out of the blue or something like that, you pretty much, know what you
have to do. And if you can write a good essay, you can, y'know, read the book the night
before or whatever, and do well.
11B: Yeah, I like those kind of courses too.
11S: But with the, anything science-based, math-based um, English, I mean, any type of
language class is very difficult for me, or is more work-intensive.
11B: Yeah. I enj oy them, but I wish I could have more time to really enjoy them, so ( )
cause I end up always stressed about them.
1 1S: Yeah. The Spanish courses here that I took, they have some of the most rules of any
department. It's ridiculous.
11B: You mean rules about-
1 1S: Um first of all, the TA has no freedom whatsoever, every class has the same
schedule, and there's something due every single day.
1 1S: Workbook or whatever, and um, the uh, the, your grade is based on a lot of um,
11S: Written material, but then, y'know, you can be a great speaker, like I was pretty
good at speaking in class.
11B: But that' s not the grade-
11S: I gave a good presenta-, like anything speaking I got a hundred on, and she even
told me, oh you're a pretty good speaker, but um, when it came to knowing all the little
tiny rules, and irregular verbs, I just got really screwed over and didn't know what to do.
Pair 12. (April 21, 2004)
12S: Hey, how's it going?
12S: So what'd you think of that fucking math test?
12B: Math test?
12S: Yeah, the math test we took this morning. All right [laughs], we took a math test this
morning. It was great. [pause] Did you do well?
12B: I don't think, I don't think so.
12S: No, no. I don't think I did well either. And I fucking went to see the professor last
week, to ask her about this because, y'know, I don't understand shit about calculus but
um, and I asked her, and she was so unhelpful, and, and I think that um, I think she just
didn't want to talk to me. She was just like, get out of here, y'know. No, y'know, she
didn't say that to me, because that would be kind of bitchy, but um, but I think that she
just wanted to, y'know, do something else. Like I'm hopeless, like I'm never gonna learn
this, so get out of here. But um, so I mean, did you under-, how well have you been doing
in the class?
12B: Um actually um, this class is uh, second to me. I have failed the mathematic class
12S: Oh wow.
12B: So I re-registered this class, so I should try best to teach this class. So I'm trying ( ).
12S: Yeah, that'll probably be me next semester, actually, so uh. But y'know, it' s fucking
ruining my GPA. Such a cocksucker. So, but what are your other classes going like?
12B: I'm now in a class, scholarly writing class.
12B: Yeah. Uh actually the scholarly writing class, I failed the scholarly writing class two
12S: Wow, you're really fucking up.
12B: [laughs] The, uh instructor of the scholarly writing class is Alex, was Alex. And he,
actually uh the exam in mathematics is very hard because we cannot predict the exam, the
professor, how, the professor, how to make uh exams, problems, so. Can you predict the
12S: I don't know how to do that shit.
12B: [pause] Alex, the topic is very, very hard. [laughs]
12S: You're not supposed to talk to Alex. He's not here. [laughs]
12B: Right. Why, why do you register the mathematic class?
12S: Uh I need the, the Gordon Rule credit for the computational shit, so. Cause I don't
really like it.
12S: Probably, probably take a different one next time. Cause uh, cause my lan-, er my
maj or is psychology, doesn't have anything to do with math.
12B: Uh actually the mathematic class is essential for every field, every ().
12S: Yea:h, that's what people tell me, y'know, just like fuck that. [laughs] Sure it is, I
know you're just lying. [pause] So, but uh, hopefully I won't fail. That' d kind of suck
dick. We'll see. [12S's cell phone goes off] Sorry. It really is my fucking birthday, I
wasn't lying. People calling me, people calling me and saying happy birthday. So um,
actually I got, I got a voice mail from my dad to wish me happy birthday and he's like
[laughs], he says to me on the voice mail, so call me back when you get a chance, my cell
phone [gives cell phone number], and I'm just like, you think I don't know your fucking
cell phone? How long? And he's like, I'll be at the office later, [gives number], and I'm
like, I, I work at that office, I work there every summer, you're telling me the phone
number in a voice mail? Like, this is just fucking insane, and I'm just like, like, he was,
it' s so ridiculous, that he was telling me his phone number, it' s like, like he's talking to a
business person or something. He probably just got off the phone-
12S: With another client, and he's like, still in business mode, y'know when he was
Interview with Participant 1B. (March 30, 2004)
Interviewer (I): Yeah, I was gonna ask some questions based partly on the activity that
we did uh last week, u:m, and basically what I'm interested in, I'm looking at in this
interview is, um, experiences of people who are learning English as a second language,
um, dealing with linguistic taboos in the language.
IB: Linguistic taboos? What is it?
I: Yeah, taboos in the sense that there are certain words in English which are considered
like forbidden, socially unacceptable words. So there' s like a small number of words u:h
that um are bas-, are considered offensive by a lot of people. Um. So basically if you'll
recall the activity that we did last week, where you were participating in the
conversational exercise, and in the second dialogue, the second dialogue that you had
with your partner, um I had instructed her to use some of these taboo words. U:h, so:,
basically what I'm interested in in looking at here, u:h, is, well, to, to begin with, were
you aware, during the dialogue, of anything I guess s- strange about the words that she
was using? I know it was a while ago. [pause] U:m, yeah, so, bas-, so there's a a couple
of, of words which we call bad words.
IB: Bad words?
I: Bad words.
IB: What is the meaning of!
I: Basically u:h, words that, by saying them, you upset people, and th- they.
IB: O:h, OK.
I: Do you know any of, like words like that in English?
1B: Upset to people?
I: Yeah, so:. Yeah.
1B: Yeah. [laughs]
I: Yeah, so that' s an example, yeah. That' s an example of a taboo word. And I think she
used that, during the dialogue. U:m, yeah so so there's a number of other words that are
kind of like that. U:h, so that' s one example. So let' s take the example of that word. U:m
how is it that you, so you know that' s an example of a word that' s socially unacceptable.
Like you're not supposed to say that word in most situations? Well, to begin, what do you
know about how that word is is used?
1B: Is used ( ). Used uh by situation?
IB: In in which situation?
I: U:m, well, well that' s kind of what I'm interested in asking about as far as what you
know about how it's used.
1B: I know of a ( ) situation.
I: Yeah. U:m, so so what are, when I asked you about u:h which words would be
considered taboo words, bad words, you mentioned that as an example. U:m and what
I'm interested in knowing is, u:m, to begin with, what kind of situ-, how did, how is it
that that word came to your mind as an example of a word that' s considered
IB: Unaccept, acceptable. Is that-
I: Yeah, so:, because people don't accept the word in certain situations. It has a very, kind
of, restricted use. U:m yeah, it' s a word that you're not supposed to say in a lot of
IB: I, my, my speak quickly. What ( )?
I: OK. Well basically what I'm asking is, when I asked you for an example of a bad
word, u:m you provided the example of that word. Uh, how is it that you knew?
1B: How was it?
I: How did you know?
1B: I, in Taiwan.
IB: I heard that from (), yeah.
I: Oh OK.
IB: From the movies.
I: Oh, from movies. OK, so, so for example, when you encountered this watching, were
they, were these movies American movies?
I: Yeah, OK.
IB: Sometimes Chinese movies.
I: Oh, OK. So how did you know it was a bad word?
1B: Is there, are there other word?
I: Yeah, there are other, yeah. So you encountered this in the movies, for example, in the
media. U:m, how did you, how did you know the word was kind of special?
I: In the sense that you knew it was a taboo word.
IB: Taboo word?
I: Taboo in the s-, taboo. Yeah, I'll write it, it's fine. [pause] And, taboo is a general term,
w-, which means any kind of behavior that you're forbidden to do, that you're not
allowed to do. So we might have taboos against all kinds of things. U::h, so, and they're,
they're very kind of specific to individual cultures.
IB: Yeah, I I remember my friend say, you cannot say other people, fat.
I: Fat. Yeah, OK, yeah.
IB: The weight ().
I: Yeah, that's a, there is a taboo against referring to people' s weight.
I: Um, a lot of people get upset, yeah, they get upset about it. U:m, so in the case of like
calling somebody fat, the taboo isn't so much the wo:rd fat, it's that you're making
reference to someone's weight. U:m, now with words like shit, that we mentioned, the
taboo isn't so mu-, the taboo is the word. In other words, uh, the word itself bothers
people. U::m, so you said that a friend of yours told you, told you that fat was
IB: Yeah, fat.
I: So we're dealing with the example of taboo words, like vocabulary items. U:h, so shit
was an example of that. So h- how did you know that that was an example of a taboo
word? So you encountered it like in a movie, for example?
1B: Even I was, when I saw Chinese movies, Chinese characters ( ), I saw the word.
Yeah. In Taiwan, the characters.
I: Uh-huh. OK so they translated it?
1B: They translated.
I: OK, so there's, there's like equivalent words in, I guess, now these movies I guess were
in Taiwanese? They were translated into Taiwanese?
I: Chinese, Oh OK.
IB: China, Taiwanese is the same.
I: OK, so the words, so they provided translations, u:m, of the words, and you had a
corresponding word, a similar word in Chinese?
1B: A similar word?
I: Another word that was more that was more=
1B: =In Chinese?
I: Yeah. [pause] U:m OK, so how did, I guess my question is, you encountered u:h this
translation, u:m, so to begin with, how did you identify which word corresponded=
I: Correspond. U:h, which word=
I: Uh yeah, there's like a relationship. One word represented the other word, like in
translation in general, one word represents the other word.
IB: Yes. No it' s difficult for me to ( ). [pause] () talking, you use the, it' s not-. Your
question is, ( ) mean, what that was I use.
I: What my question is, in this particular case, as far as words which are considered bad
words in English, and what I'm asking is, how is it that you came to know that
information? U:h, so, so for example when you encountered this translation, and you say,
OK well there's a: translation of a particular word which, it corresponds to a particular
Chinese word. So is that Chinese word considered taboo also?
1B: Excuse me.
IB: Yeah, Chinese, (), it's (), we say someone ( ).
I: Oh OK. U:m, and is, so the words that correspond to like the English taboo words, so
we mentioned the example of shit, are they considered to be offensive to, to other people?
1B: Ijust ().
I: So so you identified this word as kind of a special word, I asked you for example u:h of
a word like that, and you provided an example of a word that' s=