During this school year Professor di Gennaro and I will be working on our project known as “The Pragmatics of Profanity.” During this study we will be analyzing the intended meaning, motivation and intention in the usage of profanity. The current literature varies in what they call this subject matter but for this post I will be referring to it as curse words, however other names are taboo words, swear words, curse words, profanity, obscene language. I have completed the majority of my literature review and am beginning to work out the kinks of my survey questions. My motivation for this project is that I hope to establish a base for the analysis of the linguistic act of swearing. Where there has been some of literature on the topic, the approach is either highly theoretical or based off of swearing as a whole, without the asking what are these words we are studying and prescribing theory towards. Common four letter words are adapted to theory but the subjects of the survey are never asked to use or state the words they use. Also, the literature sometimes forgets to explore that these words can be invoked for a multitude of reasons and fails to explore of this aspect of these words. I hope this research can display the contextual and flexible nature these words have.
In my literature review the concept of expressivism has been recently linked to the distinction between curse words and slurs. Using a theorist’s distinction between the two I plan to separate my data between the two categories and then focus on what are known as curse words. The theorist’s separation is not my operational definitions but I plan to use them to assist in creating my own. Using my definitions I will be establishing the curse words and analyzing their relationship to power, the context and the way in which they are invoked. I believe the data will render some important information about how we use these words linguistically and pragmatically. I do not know how the data will come out but I am excited to see if our status as a user of a curse word can vary and why that is the case. Another interest of mine is the distancing away from the literal definitions of the words. Hopefully, the data results will provide an opportunity to analyze and access these concepts.
Our current method, is to use a survey to establish what are conceived as curse words according to the subjects. This will be achieved by asking the subjects to state what curse words they know, and another list for what they use. Then access their comfortability with cursing, situational usage, severity and literal usage. Some of the questions will be framed by specific contexts and questions with varying degrees of whether they agree or not. Others situational questions will be fill in the blank. I know it is a lot and is still subject to change, but the basic idea and format has been decided upon.