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Sexist swearing and slurs: Responses to gender-directed insults


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Swearing is a part of everyday life for many, but its functions, and the reasons why certain words are deemed “taboo”, may not be immediately apparent. In particular, the use of slurs serves the functions of policing socially undesirable behaviors, and bringing groups of people together. A subset of swear words can be described as being directed specifically towards one gender, and are mainly used to police behaviors that do not conform to a society’s ideas of masculinity or femininity. Slurs directed towards, and judged most offensive by women comment on sexual, or aggressive behavior, whereas slurs directed towards, and judged most offensive by men imply that they are being too soft or “womanly”. These categories follow patriarchal views on gender roles. The perception of gender-directed swear words can be described by the Affective Language Communication Model (Van Berkum, in prep), which incorporates a speaker’s stance and intention into the listener’s interpretation and response. In order to assess if the degree of offensiveness is internalized by a listener, an EEG study is proposed. It is hypothesized that gender-congruent slurs will elicit larger responses than gender-incongruent slurs, and that one’s level of acceptance of society’s gender expectations could affect perceived offensiveness.
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18 LingUU | 1.1 | 2017 Research
Sexist swearing and slurs
Responses to gender-directed insults
L.V. (Lena) Kremin
Center for Language Science, Penn State University, University Park, PA, USA.
Manuscript written during their RMA Linguistics, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands.
gender roles
Swearing is a part of everyday life for many, but its functions, and the reasons
why certain words are deemed “taboo”, may not be immediately apparent. In
particular, the use of slurs serves the functions of policing socially undesirable
behaviors, and bringing groups of people together. A subset of swear words can
be described as being directed specifically towards one gender, and are mainly
used to police behaviors that do not conform to a society's ideas of masculinity
or femininity. Slurs directed towards, and judged most ofensive by women
comment on sexual, or aggressive behavior, whereas slurs directed towards, and
judged most ofensive by men imply that they are being too sot or “womanly”.
These categories follow patriarchal views on gender roles. The perception
of gender-directed swear words can be described by the Afective Language
Communication Model (Van Berkum, in prep), which incorporates a speaker's
stance and intention into the listener's interpretation and response. In order to
assess if the degree of ofensiveness is internalized by a listener, an EEG study
is proposed. It is hypothesized that gender-congruent slurs will elicit larger
responses than gender-incongruent slurs, and that one's level of acceptance of
society's gender expectations could afect perceived ofensiveness.
Swearing, frequently used with the intent to insult or injure the recipient, is a common
part of cultures across the globe (Jay, 2009; Van Oudenhoven et al., 2008). Receiving an
insult is not only psychologically painful, but its meaning is oten internalized, and ex-
pressed through physiological changes (Struiksma, De Mulder, Spotorno, Basnakova &
van Berkum, 2014). However, not all swear words or insults are judged equally ofensive,
and elicit the same degree of response (Saucier, Till, Miller, O'Dea & Andres, 2015). Addi-
tionally, particular slurs may ofend certain groups (e.g. groups defined by race or sexua-
lity) or individuals more than others, and therefore elicit diferent reactions in diferent
people. This paper focuses on the diferences in swear words and slurs with respect to the
recipient's gender, and asks the following questions: Are there slurs that one gender finds
more ofensive than the other, and what are they? If so, why is this the case? Are there
physiological markers that relect such a diference in ofensiveness rating? To answer
these questions, the function and perception of swear words and slurs is introduced, fol-
lowed by a discussion on the inluence of culture on taboo categories and swear words.
Then, the question of which slurs men and women find most ofensive is examined, and
incorporated into a model of communication. Lastly, hypotheses are formed and a study
to further discover the nature of gender-directed slurs is proposed.
Lena Kremin
1. Function and Perception of Swear Words
Most would agree that the main function of using swear words is to express emotions
(Jay & Janschewitz, 2008; Vingerhoets, Bylsma & de Vlam, 2013). However, it might not
be readily apparent that swearing has more than this one intrapersonal function. Other
intrapersonal functions of swearing include reducing the perception of pain, increasing
confidence, and eliciting humor; swearing can also serve interpersonal functions, such as
bringing groups of people together, and policing culturally undesirable behaviors (Jay &
Janschewitz, 2008). With these multiple functions, it is unsurprising that every language
and culture has a set of taboo words (Van Oudenhoven et al., 2008). The question that
then needs to be addressed for the purposes of this research is what function gender-di-
rected insults may serve within a specific culture.
Because a reaction from listeners is a prerequisite to a swear word serving its function, one
must also look at the perception of the use of taboo words. Across cultures, swear words
difer, not only in phonological form, but also in topic; thus, any reaction to swear words
is dependent on experience with a particular language and culture (Jay & Janschewitz,
2008). The responses by those familiar with a language to the use of swear words teach
language learners what words are taboo in their culture (Jay, 2009). Over time, the taboo
nature of particular words becomes internalized for the learner; swear words may even
have direct access to the emotional part of the brain. This can be seen through physio-
logical responses (Struiksma et al., 2014), similar to those exhibited when experiencing a
strong emotion. These autonomic responses difer for taboo words as compared to neu-
tral stimuli, and even euphemisms, due to the conditioned response to swear words (Bow-
ers & Pleydell-Pearce, 2011).
The use of swear words not only results in physiological changes, but also in interpersonal
consequences (Vingerhoets, Bylsma & de Vlam, 2013). While the reception of swearing
depends on many contextual factors, such as the relationship between interlocutors or
the location of the conversation (Henry, Butler & Brandt, 2014; Jay & Janschewitz, 2008),
in the specific case of insulting another person, the use of taboo words is not well received
(Van Oudenhoven et al., 2008). Previous research has concluded that the use of swear
words in a second person context, accompanied by the use of a taboo noun (e.g. You (are
a) bitch!), elicit the strongest response in the recipient (Vingerhoets, Bylsma & de Vlam,
2013). This efect occurs for two reasons: first, there is a heightened response, not only be-
cause it makes use of a swear word, but it directly insults another, and second, the use of a
noun makes the insult an inherent trait of the other, as opposed to the use of an adjective,
which could be describing a temporary state (e.g. She’s bitchy today.). From these findings,
it is important to ask whether a specific swear word, or set of slurs, compared to other
insults, can elicit a stronger response in one gender over the other when used in this most
aggressive context, and particularly if diferent swear words are considered to be more
ofensive to one gender as compared to the other.
2. Importance and Influence of Culture
As briely mentioned above, the use of swear words is found in every culture and language
across the globe, but the topics that are considered taboo, and thus are accompanied by
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a specific vocabulary, vary between cultures (Vingerhoets, Bylsma & de Vlam, 2013). For
example, in Norwegian culture, many insults can be categorized as relating to the devil.
This category appears to be unique to this particular culture, as no other culture, out of
the eleven studied, displayed such a prolific use of devil-related terms as an insult (van
Oudenhoven et al., 2008). The authors of this study put forth the theory that this category
of insults around the devil developed through the country's pre-Christian aversion to the
“little devils who resided in forests” (p. 183) and the relative isolation and homogeny ater
conversion to Protestantism. Despite the diferences in culture, however, sexuality, and
lack of intelligence are two categories that appear to have corresponding slurs in every
language (Van Oudenhoven et al., 2008). This suggests that while variation occurs across
cultures, there will be at least two topics that provide insults, which is further expanded
by categories of insults that have been shaped by the culture's history and set of values.
One component of a culture's history that proves to be specifically relevant to research fo-
cused on gender-directed insults is the stereotypical gender roles that all men and women
are expected to follow (Harris, 1993). Most of the societies in the world, even to this day,
can be considered patriarchal, meaning men are believed to be the better, stronger, and
more competent sex, whereas women are perceived to be less intelligent, very socially
and interpersonally oriented, and weak. These expectations appear to be accepted and
adhered to, as previous research has demonstrated than men and women find situations
where another is acting in a manner incongruent to gender roles to be anger-provoking
(Harris, 1993). This means that men were angered when a woman was displaying physical
aggression, because women are not supposed to be physically violent, or when a man was
hurting another, because men are supposed to be the protectors; women were angered
by condescending behaviors, because they strive for social harmony (Harris, 1993). Taken
together, this shows that both men and women alike have accepted the patriarchal expec-
tations of their culture, and find it ofensive when another is breaking the gender roles of
their society. It can therefore be reasoned that they could also find it hurtful or ofensive if
someone were to believe or state, through a swear word or other means, that they them-
selves were breaking societal norms.
3. Gender-Directed Slurs and Reactions
The existence of gender roles is the basis for the existence, and use of, gender-directed
slurs, which may, in turn, perpetuate gender stereotypes. Gender-directed swear words, as
a category, provide a powerful tool to sanction actions by either gender that are contrary
to the socially accepted behavior (James, 1998). From this description, it is clear that gen-
der-directed swearing falls into the category of “policing undesirable behavior” function of
swearing discussed above. This “policing” can be done within or between genders. Because
men and women are expected to express diferent characteristics and behaviors, it can be
concluded that diferent slurs would be used to police the diferent genders; some have
even argued that gender-directed slurs not only relect, and police socially undesirable be-
havior, but that they can actually shape the society's perceptions of masculinity and femi-
ninity (James, 1998), possibly towards a more gender equal society. James (1998) argues
that some women are leading the trend to use certain terms in a gender-neutral fashion,
and that this implies, and potentially causes, a blurring of traditional patriarchal views.
Lena Kremin
While the direction of the cause-and-efect relationship of gender-neutral swear words
and a gradual convergence of gender norms is debatable, there is a connection between
society's gender expectations and the use of gender-directed swear words.
Another factor to consider when investigating gender-directed swearing is the rate at
which men and women use swear words, because this could inluence their overall per-
ception of the act of swearing. While swearing is traditionally seen as a masculine habit,
evidence suggests that both men and women use swear words at similar rates, but in dif-
ferent contexts (Gauthier et al., 2015; Jay & Janschewitz, 2008). However, a diference is
seen overall in how men and women perceive swearing. Women generally tend to rate
swear words as more ofensive than men do (Gauthier et al., 2015; Jay & Janschewitz, 2008;
van Oudenhoven, et al., 2008), which may be due to the fact that men tend to use more of-
fensive language, and are more comfortable expressing emotions through swearing than
women (Gauthier et al., 2015). This use of highly ofensive language could perhaps gener-
ally desensitize men from the ofensiveness that swear words usually elicit.
It is clear then, that when looking at gender-directed insults, it is necessary to assess the
diferent genders’ reactions to all swear words in order to determine what can legitimate-
ly be categorized as gender-directed. Slurs that receive higher ratings within one gender
that are not rated as ofensive by the other could then be considered gender-directed.
However, it is important to note that the same slur could be used for both genders with
diferent implications. For example, the word bitch, when directed towards a woman,
would indicate that she was acting too aggressively, but when directed towards a man, the
same word would imply that he was being weak or cowardly. Because the word carries dif-
ferent connotations based on the gender of the recipient, and still polices behavior based
on stereotypes, it should still be classified as gender-directed. Therefore, it is evident that
a crucial factor in determining the ofensiveness of any given gender-directed swear word
is the gender of the recipient of the insult. While the gender of the sender may have some
efect on the perceived ofensiveness, the recipient of an insult has been shown to be a
more important factor (Harris, 1993). While particular insults can be gender-directed, the
rating of ofensiveness across all gender-directed slurs may not be equal. Previous studies
have shown that if a group is perceived to have a lower social status, then insults specifi-
cally directed towards this group will be rated as being more ofensive than those directed
at the group with higher social status (Henry, Butler & Brandt, 2014). In the case of gen-
der-directed swearing, this has been supported, and insults directed towards women have
been evaluated as more ofensive than those directed towards men, because women are
seen as inferior in a patriarchal society (Benedixen & Gabriel, 2013).
3.1 Slurs Directed Towards Women
As predicted, studies have shown that men and women difer in which slurs and which
categories of slurs they find ofensive (Benedixen & Gabriel, 2013; Harris, 1993; James,
1998; Preston & Stanley, 1987). In general, the swear words that ofend women the most
are those that imply that the woman is promiscuous or sexually loose (e.g. slut, whore;
Benedixen & Gabriel, 2013; James, 1998; Preston & Stanley, 1987). Within this category of
sexual promiscuity, there is a larger set of ofensive vocabulary for women than men (Har-
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ris, 1993; Preston & Stanley, 1987), confirming the stereotype that it is more acceptable
for men to have multiple sexual partners. On the other hand, women are also ofended
by slurs that imply they are being sexually withholding (e.g. prude, James, 1998). This
paradox highlights the fact that women are “evaluated in terms of the extent to which
they conform to heterosexual male needs and desires” (James, 1998, p. 404; see Buss,
1998 for a review of Sexual Strategies Theory). This reinforcement of the patriarchal
gender roles is further seen in the other categories of swear words which are particu-
larly ofensive to women: slurs that suggest a woman is homosexual or masculine
(e.g. dyke), physically unattractive (e.g. dog), a sexual object (e.g. pussy, cunt), and that
she mistreats others (e.g. bitch; Benedixen & Gabriel, 2013; James, 1998). Furthermore,
there is evidence that women are conscious not only of which slurs are ofensive, but
also the reasons why they are ofensive, as discussed above. While some women accept
the gender roles put forth by society, and may even use these slurs towards other wom-
en to police their behavior, others have begun to use certain slurs, such as bitch or slut,
as terms of endearment in an efort to reclaim these words as a symbol of female power
(James, 1998).
3.2 Slurs Directed Towards Men
Men, on the other hand, are most ofended when they are the recipient of a slur which
implies that they are homosexual (Benedixen & Gabriel, 2013; Brown & Alderson, 2010;
James, 1998; Preston & Stanley, 1987; Saucier et al., 2015). Because homosexual males blur
the lines between masculinity and femininity, slurs in this category (e.g. faggot) are used
as a policing agent against behavior that is determined to be too feminine. The underlying
power of this category of slurs comes from the belief that women and homosexual males
are devalued members of society. Alternatively, slurs within the same category can func-
tion as a way to bring a group of men closer together, and create a strong inner group de-
fined by how “masculine” its members are, in contrast to the outsiders who are the recipi-
ent of the slurs (Carnaghi, Maass & Fasoli, 2011; Saucier et al., 2015). Additionally, but to a
lesser extent, men are also ofended when they are the recipient of slurs that suggest they
are not fulfilling the traditional gender roles by being physically unattractive/weak (e.g.
wimp), stupid (e.g. jackass), or cowardly (e.g. wuss, bitch; Benedixen & Gabriel, 2013; James,
1998; Preston & Stanley, 1987, Saucier et al., 2015). It is interesting to note that studies have
shown that men are more ofended by slurs insinuating they are womanly, and therefore
lesser members of society, than women are by slurs implying they are manly, and poten-
tially better than their feminine peers. This dichotomy further highlights the importance
of the patriarchy and gender stereotypes in the interpretation of gender-directed swear
words (James, 1998).
4. Incorporation into a Model of Communication
In order to fully understand why gender-directed swearing is so insulting, it is crucial to
investigate how stereotypes and gender roles afect a working model of communication
and interpretation. As discussed above, the function of gender-directed swearing can
either be to police certain behaviors or, to a lesser extent, bring groups of people together.
Van Berkum (in prep) has developed a model that allows for the incorporation of these
diferent functions. In the Afective Language Comprehension model (ALC; See figure 1
Lena Kremin
below), the listener (person Y) must first recognize and parse the verbal and non-verbal
signs completed by the speaker (person X), and then Y must interpret the communicative
move. At the various steps of parsing and interpretation, Y's afective state can be altered
by an emotionally competent stimulus (ECS), which can potentially impact Y's emotions
and response. However, Y's emotions will only be afected by a stimulus which they find
Figure 1. Afective Language Comprehension model from Van Berkum (in prep).
While there are many steps in this model, the two most relevant in the interpretation of
gender-directed slurs are “X's stance,” and “X's social intention.If X uses a gender-directed
swear word, Y will likely interpret X's stance to be negative, simply from the use of a slur,
but Y's interpretation will likely go father. Provided that Y has had extensive experience
with the culture and language of X, Y will recognize that the slur is gender-directed, and
that its use by X signals that X has a negative stance towards the situation, but also that
X's negativity is directly related to their perception that gender roles are being violated.
Using this inference, Y will go on to further interpret X's social intention. Given that there
is a social stigma against the violation of gender roles (Brown & Alderson, 2010), two
possible intentions, congruent with the functions of swearing, arise. Either X is trying to
police the behaviors of Y, and the use of the gender-directed slur serves as a warning sign
that Y is not acting appropriately (James, 1998), or X is trying to distance themselves from
Y in order to avoid any association with the stigmatized behavior (Brown & Alderson,
2010). Additionally, certain bonus information could potentially be drawn from X's use
of a gender-directed swear word, such as their world knowledge and the degree to which
they subscribe to their culture's gender stereotypes.
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5. Hypotheses & A Study Proposal
From the above discussion of gender-directed swear words and the ALC model, it could
be suggested that both men and women who strongly value their culture's prescribed
gender roles would have a heightened emotional state to the implication they were not
fol lowing them, due to stronger efects from the ECS steps. Gender congruent slurs
(e.g. calling a woman a slut) should elicit stronger responses than gender incongruent
slurs (e.g. calling a man a slut), and possibly gender-neutral slurs (e.g. idiot). Furthermore,
it is dificult to predict how those who reject traditional gender roles would react. It is
possible that those who strongly object to gender stereotypes could have a strong
reaction to another person trying to force them into the culturally accepted gender roles,
or it could be that those with more “progressive” views would not be ofended by the
implication that they are breaking society's expectations, because they do not find these
beliefs important.
In order to determine the responses to various gender-directed swear words, I propose
a study that utilizes EEG technology to record participants’ physiological responses to
this particular category of insults. The studies discussed above relied on surveys for
their ratings of ofensiveness. While these studies have been informative, adding a
physio logical measure will determine whether or not these diferent perceptions and
reactions are internalized. A previous study has shown that insults, as compared to
compli ments, elicit a stronger P2 efect, and that insults directed at the participant,
as opposed to another individual, elicit a stronger LPP response (Struiksma et al., 2014).
Thus, it is possible that when the insult is highly ofensive to the participant, a larger
P2 and/or a larger LPP efect would be seen. By exposing both male and female
participants to gender-directed slurs in a context using a second-person form
and a noun, it should become apparent whether the survey-based ratings of
ofensiveness discussed above correlated to similar physiological diferences be-
tween the genders. Comparisons will need to be made within one gender, as well
as across genders, between gender-directed (congruent and incon gruent and
gender-neutral slurs. Furthermore, conducting a survey on participants’ opin-
ions on gender roles and interpreting this alongside the physiological responses
could potentially reveal whether or not one's social views afect how ofensive they
perceive gender-directed insults to be.
6. Conclusions
This paper has demonstrated that gender-directed swear words and slurs not only
exist, but that they fall into two distinct functions of swearing: policing culturally undesi -
rable behavior and, to a lesser extent, bringing groups of people together. The power
of gender-directed swearing is rooted in the society's perceptions of masculinity and
femininity. Furthermore, one's reaction to a gender-directed slur is most likely linked to
the value that they place on upholding traditional gender roles. Future studies should
utilize behavioral responses to further the results of previous studies, and potentially re-
veal a physiological diference in response to gender-directed slurs.
Received March 2017; accepted July 2017.
Lena Kremin
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... On the other hand, males are more prone to rate swearwords as more offensive when they are found in isolation. Kremin (2017) states that swearwords which are rated higher within one gender and are not found to be so offensive by the other one could be considered gender-directed swearwords. Indeed, the words "carpet muncher" and "cunt" were deemed to be significantly more offensive by females. ...
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... In spite of the fact that some words or expressions (fool, bastard, etc.) are typically used to humiliate or offend someone, the interpretation of insults is always highly contextdependent, since, as noted by Janicki (2015: 74), any verbal content can be interpreted as insulting in some context. While insults typically give rise to negative emotions (Janicki 2015;Cruz 2019) and cause some psychological pain on the part of the addressee, their level of harshness often varies, as some types of insults are perceived as less or more offensive than others either by all, or by specific groups or individuals (Kremin 2017). even though they are present in all languages, insults are often culture-dependent and not equally represented across different languages and cultures, as, due to cultural varieties and constraints, some languages contain less or more insulting content than others (Mateo & Yus 2013). ...
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The paper explores potential gender-linked differences in the use and perception of insulting language among Bosnian university students. The respondents were asked to provide one-word answers to four questions about the worst male-directed and female-directed insults, and about one-word descriptions of a male and female person who they view as the most detestable. The results indicate that the male and female respondents have a similar perception of the worst male-directed (lack of masculinity) and, to a lesser extent, femaledirected insults (sexual looseness). Surprisingly, insults of homosexual nature, as well as those pertaining to being unethical and physically unattractive were rarely mentioned. The results also reveal significant gender -of-insulter differences in the use of offensive words in reference to the most disliked person, as well as the tendency by the respondents of both genders to avoid using those insults that they perceive as the harshest.
... Gender-directed swearing or gender-incongruent slurs, which are related to masculinity and patriarchal views of gender roles (Kremin 2017), may be a form of gender harassment or sexism. Intentional or unintentional, such discriminatory action of belittling or ridiculing women creates discomfort for female project managers. ...
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This article explores how three Black women use the culturally grounded semantic and rhetorical strategies of their discursive practices as modes of symbolic action to negotiate alternative relationships and realities in response to white supremacist patriarchy. Placing intersectional feminist perspectives in conversation with the literature on African American Women’s Language (AAWL), this research applies critical discourse analysis to cases of signifying and resignification (semantic reclamation). The interactions are taken from contemporary US politics: Maxine Waters’ assertion ‘Reclaiming my time’, Therese Okoumou’s literal retooling of ‘We go high’ and Samirah Raheem’s reclamation of ‘slut’. Together they highlight three iterations of Black womanhood, intersectional feminist linguistic resistance and gendered, racialised defiance to engage with the inclusive scope of feminism. The application of interdisciplinary insights to the analysis of AAWL herein demonstrates the broader social significance and productive political power of language for intersectional women, people of colour and gender minoritised communities.
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Past research adopted the universalist assumption of the gendered organization lens and revealed the career challenges of female engineers with few practical implications. Because such assumptions may miss the importance of contextual differences and subtleties, there is limited knowledge about positive experiences. Recognizing the influence of organizational and industrial contexts that interconnect culture and societal structures, this study aimed to understand the work experience of female engineers in Turkey and how the phenomenon of positive social exchange between employer and employee may bring job satisfaction and work productivity. The novel application of social exchange theory provided a fresh theoretical lens for analyzing the narratives of 19 female engineers. Enriching the body of knowledge, three key themes that contrast with past studies are (1) career fit, (2) fair human resource practices, and (3) supportive leadership that informs positive social exchange. This study revealed that within the institutionalized gendered environment, a skilful combination of fairness and protective nuance of paternalistic culture not only complement the patrimonial culture but also enable female talents to perceive fair employment exchange and career fit. The observed phenomena in this study also lay a contextual foundation for innovative talent management that is transferable to nations with a collective culture. In addition to a refinement of theory to consider contenxual valence, the findings challenge negative connotations surrounding female commitment and career that encourages a re-examination of females’ employment to reshape their work experiences in gendered construction firms.
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Research suggests that racial slurs may be “reclaimed” by the targeted group to convey affiliation rather than derogation. Although it is most common in intragroup uses (e.g., “nigga” by a Black individual toward another Black individual), intergroup examples of slur reappropriation (e.g., “nigga” by a Black individual toward a White individual) are also common. However, majority and minority group members’ perceptions of intergroup slur reappropriation remain untested. We examined White (Study 1) and Black (Study 2) individuals’ perceptions of the reappropriated terms, “nigga” and “nigger” compared to a control term chosen to be a non-race-related, neutral term (“buddy”), a non-racial derogative term (“asshole”) and a White racial slur (“cracker”) used by a Black individual toward a White individual. We found that the intergroup use of reappropriated slurs was perceived quite positively by both White and Black individuals. Our findings have important implications for research on intergroup relations and the reappropriation of slurs.
Conference Paper
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The way women and men speak and are expected to behave is frequently discussed. For example , women are sometimes described as speaking more than men, and men as swearing more than women. These stereotypes can alter people's expectations concerning the way we should behave. Indeed, if the idea that females generally swear less frequently than males is widespread, women who swear may be perceived as deviant from the norm, and thus be stigmatized. Clearly understanding what is true and what is not in these studies and reports is not an easy task, because there is a considerable amount of differing opinions on the topic. The way swear words are used by women and men is one of those topics which remains vague, but whose stake is great, since swearing is often considered as an act of power and a way of affirming oneself. This article will introduce the data gathered from a corpus of tweets in order to shed a new light on new ways of analyzing specific sociolinguistic features like gendered uses of swear words on Twitter. Analyzing the linguistic behaviour of users of these media can be an interesting way of generating a most contemporary corpus representative of general trends, and computational linguistics can represent a very accurate and powerful method of analyzing the different uses people can make of certain speech patterns. In order to carry out the study, we used several tools taken from both computer science and linguistics. These tools may represent innovative methods to analyze the effect of social parameters on speech patterns displayed in Twitter corpora. Thanks to this data, we analyze both quantitative, and qualitative instances of swear words in the corpus, to see how the linguistic gendered preferences may differ when swearing is used, but just as importantly, we see how comparable they can be. Indeed, very often when dealing with gender in corpus linguistics, small differences tend to be focused on, whereas they are actually minor compared to the similarities. As for every study, the methods used here also have certain limits that we present as well. Without pretending to be representative of interactions other than the computer-mediated ones present in this corpus, we hope that this data can shed an up-to-date and neutral light on the way women and men use swear words on Twitter, and on the implications these results may have, as well as on new tools researchers can use in various areas of research. We believe that this study can also be useful to computational linguists/sociologists thanks to the methods used to access data not directly available and displayed by users (e.g. the age or the sex).
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Swearing, also known as cursing, can be best described as a form of linguistic activity utilizing taboo words to convey the expression of strong emotions. Although swearing and cursing are frequently occurring behaviors, the actual functions of swearing remain largely unknown. Since swearing typically includes taboo words, these words can be more powerful than non-swear words. Therefore, people who swear are often judged negatively, because the uttered swearwords can shock and disturb others, though the comments of others are strongly dependent on contextual factors. In this review, we provide an insight into the current state of the literature with respect to the interpersonal functions of swearing. In addition, we briefly discuss neurological, psychosocial and contextual factors that may contribute to person's swearing behavior. Swearing is hypothesized to produce a catharsis-effect, which results in a relief of stress or pain. Swearing also influences the perceived credibility, intensity, and persuasiveness of the swearer. Additionally, swearing can have a variety of interpersonal consequences, including promoting group bonding and solidarity, inhibiting aggression, eliciting humor, and causing emotional pain to others. This paper further presents a hypothetical model of swearing that draws from basic emotion research in an attempt to provide a scaffolding for future research.
The use of different homosexual insults by heterosexual male students at a mid-sized Canadian university was studied. The types of insults included both those directed at sexuality and sexual orientation ("sexualized homosexual insults") and those related more to gender role behaviour and masculinity ("non-sexual homosexual insults"). Comparison groups for the type of insults used by participants were based on their heterosexual male sexual identity as reflected in scores for opposite-sex sexual orientation, masculine gender role, and adherence to traditional gender ideologies. The key measures employed were The Sexuality Questionnaire (Alderson, Orzeck, Davis, & Boyes, 2010) and a homosexual insult questionnaire developed specifically for this study. Participants varied in insult usage in relation to their scores on the sexual identity measures although some insults were used with similar frequency among men despite variations in these measures. The findings are discussed in relation to the issues of opposite sex sexual orientation, gender role, and gender ideology as well as age, education, religion, and ethnic background.
Taboo words are defined and sanctioned by institutions of power (e.g., religion, media), and prohibitions are reiterated in child-rearing practices. Native speakers acquire folk knowledge of taboo words, but it lacks the complexity that psychological science requires for an understanding of swearing. Misperceptions persist in psychological science and in society at large about how frequently people swear or what it means when they do. Public recordings of taboo words establish the commonplace occurrence of swearing (ubiquity), although frequency data are not always appreciated in laboratory research. A set of 10 words that has remained stable over the past 20 years accounts for 80% of public swearing. Swearing is positively correlated with extraversion and Type A hostility but negatively correlated with agreeableness, conscientiousness, religiosity, and sexual anxiety. The uniquely human facility for swearing evolved and persists because taboo words can communicate emotion information (anger, frustration) more readily than nontaboo words, allowing speakers to achieve a variety of personal and social goals with them (utility). A neuro-psycho-social framework is offered to unify taboo word research. Suggestions for future research are offered. © 2009 Association for Psychological Science.
Two studies investigate the effects of target group status on perceptions of the offensiveness of group-based slurs. Using real-world groups as targets, Study 1 showed that the perception that a group is of lower status in society is associated with the perceived offensiveness of insults targeting that group. Experimental methods in Study 2 showed that people perceive slurs against a low status group as especially offensive, a pattern that was mediated by the expectation that low-status targets would be emotionally reactive to the insult. The results suggest that cultural taboos emerge surrounding insults against low-status groups that may be due in part to how those target groups are expected to respond emotionally to those insults.
Speakers of English and Dutch vary in how strongly they use various syntactic (e.g., word order, prepositions, case inflection) and semantic (e.g., noun animacy) cues to interpret native language sentences. For example, in simple NVN sentences, English speakers rely heavily on word order, while Dutch speakers rely on case inflection. This paper compares the cue usage of English/Dutch and Dutch/English bilinguals with varying amounts of second language exposure to that of native speaker control groups. For all constructions tested, dative constructions, simple NVN sentences, and relative clauses, it was found that with increasing exposure, cue usage in the second language gradually shifts from that appropriate to the first language to that appropriate to the second. A model of cue learning originally proposed to account for monolingual data is found to be compatible with the learning pattern exhibited by bilinguals.