Rethinking dysphemisms and euphemisms - a corpus-based constructional approach to Italian taboo language

12 Sep 2012 13:00
Bologna, Italy

This paper focuses upon research aimed at providing a more detailed definition of dysphemisms and euphemisms in the context of a constructional approach to language (e.g. Goldberg 2006). In the last decades increasing attention has been devoted to taboo language, swearing and impoliteness, with a focus on so-called swearwords (also dysphemisms) and euphemisms - (e.g. Allan and Burridge 2006; McEnery 2006). To provide an understanding of how taboo language works, I propose a constructional approach centred on dysphemisms and euphemisms. Drawing from the study on “conventionalized impoliteness formulae” by Culpeper (2011), I will first analyse the two phenomena in terms of their relation to taboo language constructions. Then I suggest that taboo language can be conveyed by words in isolation and through more complex constructions. Pieces of evidence will be presented, gathered through the analysis of dysphemisms drawn from the itWaC corpus, a 2 billion words corpus collected from the web, designed by Baroni (2009). The corpus has been queried using SketchEngine. This allowed me to identify constructions that have a role in conveying taboo language. I then looked at how the status of dysphemisms and euphemisms as taboo language can be determined on their dependence with said constructions. I will show that it is possible to redefine these two phenomena and their relationship on the basis on said dependence. This feature provides a wider definition and a better understanding of how taboo language can be linguistically recognized through syntactical and lexical features.

References Allan, K., and Burridge, K. (2006). Forbidden Words. Taboo and the Censoring of Language. CUP. Baroni M. Et al. 2009. The WaCky Wide Web: A Collection of Very Large Linguistically Processed Web-Crawled Corpora. Language Resources and Evaluation 43 (3): 209-226. Bybee, J. (2010). Language, Usage and Cognition. CUP Culpeper, J. (2011). Impoliteness: Using Language to Cause Offence. CUP. Goldberg, A. (2006). Constructions at Work. OUP. McEnery, T. (2006). Swearing in English. Bad language, purity and power from 1586 to the present. Routledge

Matteo Di Cristofaro
Researcher, Lecturer

My research interests include language analysis, cognitive sciences, and Artificial Intelligence.