By bringing together contrasting (yet complementary) examples of taboo-related research, this volume yields insights into the way taboo emerges in discourse and allows to have access to attitudes, stereotypes and value judgments regarding taboo which are more or less implicitly communicated in the public sphere.
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Table of Contents
- Taboo in Discourse: An Overview (Eliecer Crespo-Fernández)
- From Lexicon to Discourse in the Linguistic Expression of Taboo: Configuring New Social Realities (Gérard Fernández Smith / Miguel Casas Gómez)
- Politically Tabooed Measures: Sanitizing the Economic Crisis through Metaphor and Euphemism (María José Hellín-García)
- Political Discourse in John Tutchin: Hedges as Euphemistic and Persuasive Devices (Rosa M. López-Campillo)
- The Victim or the Cause? A Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis of Cartoons Depicting PSOE’s Internal Political Crisis (María Muelas-Gil)
- Offence Strategies in Political Cartoons (María Jesús Pinar-Sanz)
- Metonymy as a Strengthening Strategy in Road Safety Campaigns (Isabel Negro Alousque)
- Pardon my Spanish: Attenuation of Taboo through Metapragmatic Euphemistic Formulae (Andrea Pizarro Pedraza)
- Please, Like Me: Coming Out of the Closet in the Millennial Generation (Isabel López Cirugeda)
- Taboo in Prison: X-phemistic Language in Orange Is the New Black (Raquel Sánchez Ruiz)
- Approaching the Translation of Dysphemistic Language: Swear Words and Offensive Terms in The Catcher in the Rye (Roberto Martínez Mateo)
- The Discourse-Pragmatic Conditions of Sexual Interdiction in La Lozana. Masculine Sex and Escape from Vagueness (Emilio Montero Cartelle)
- Notes on Contributors
- Series index
As editor, I would like first to express my gratitude to the Research Committee of the University of Castile-La Mancha for providing financial support for the publication of this volume (grant number I20174010). This grant is hereby gratefully acknowledged.
I would also wish to thank Ferrán Martín (Republica.com), José Manuel Puebla Ros (ABC), and Steve Bell (The Guardian) for allowing the use of copyrighted cartoons. Thanks are also due to the Dirección General de Tráfico, i.e. the Spanish traffic authority, for permission to reproduce photographs from TV commercials as part of mass media campaigns launched between 2009 and 2016.
I also owe my gratitude to the editorial staff at Peter Lang for the opportunity to publish this book, guidance, and hard work, and particularly junior editor Laura Diegel.
Last, but not least, I am grateful to the contributors to this volume for their support, for sticking with the project from start to finish, and for their interesting papers which made this book possible. I am very honoured that they accepted my invitation to participate in the project. ← 7 | 8 →
Introducing Taboo in Discourse
Taboo, i.e. the prohibition of certain kinds of behaviour or objects believed to be harmful either for moral, religious, or social reasons, is a universal, omnipresent, even perennial phenomenon. Far from being a relic of the past, taboo is deeply woven into every society nowadays. Even in our Western communities, in which censorship has progressively relaxed, taboo affects everyday life. As Kate Burridge insightfully claims, “what is taboo is revolting, untouchable, filthy, unmentionable, dangerous, disturbing, thrilling ‒ but above all powerful” (2004: 199). And this powerful force of taboo makes it universal and consubstantial with human beings. Indeed, nobody is indifferent to taboo: probably because taboo is still considered as something dangerous, untouchable, or unmentionable, it is somehow tempting and fascinating for us. This may help to explain why, as Horlacher (2010: 3) puts it, “taboos not only continue to exist but they can actually be said to be flourishing”. In short, taboo is here to stay.
Although taboo is a universal phenomenon, its linguistic manifestations, most notably (yet not exclusively) lexical, certainly are not. Taboo-induced language is a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that considerably varies in communication. The ambivalent and paradoxical nature of taboo (see Benveniste 1974) compels language users, depending on their intentions and a number of contextually-related factors, to preserve or violate forbidden topics. Following Allan and Burridge (2006: 2), taboo naming reflects the conscious and unconscious rules that regulate the presence of taboo in language: ← 9 | 10 →
We watch human beings react to the world around them by imposing taboos on behaviour, causing them to censor their language in order to talk about and around those taboos. Language is used as a shield against malign fate and the disapprobation of human fellow beings; it is used as a weapon against enemies and as a release valve when we are angry, frustrated or hurt.
The way people deal with forbidden topics in communication leads to a variety of linguistic manifestations with different emotive and expressive values. Simply put, taboo-induced language ranges from euphemism or “sweet talking” (i.e. the process whereby the taboo concept is stripped of its most explicit or offensive overtones thus providing a way to introduce delicate or distasteful topics in polite conversation) to dysphemism or “offensive talking” (i.e. the process whereby the most pejorative traits of the taboo reality are highlighted with an offensive aim to the addressee or to the concept itself) through orthophemism or “straight talking” (i.e. that which provides, usually through literal language, an axiologically neutral reference to the taboo concept). Apart from these major categories of taboo naming, other axiological modalities can verbalize taboo topics, namely quasi-euphemism and quasi-dysphemism. The former consists of those items that, despite their dysphemistic locution, are used positively, as a means to display friendship, in-group identity, or intimacy whereas the latter includes those words and expressions which are intentionally offensive despite their euphemistic disguise. It is worth noting that these categories of taboo naming ‒ or X-phemistic categories, following Allan and Burridge (1991, 2006) ‒ are not merely a response to a forbidden reality; rather, they provide particular ways to speak about taboo, that is, about the unspeakable, that allow us to understand how taboo topics are conceived in cultural groups and what beliefs are accepted or rejected.
The linguistic expression of taboo concepts is closely related with politeness, i.e. concern for the feelings of the interlocutor(s) according to the norms of social behaviour, through the notion of face, i.e. one’s public self-image (Brown & Levinson 1987: 13, 61). In this line, Allan and Burridge (1991, 2006) initially defined the antithetical responses to taboo in communication in terms of face effects: whereas the main aim of euphemism is to preserve the speaker’s and addressee’s social image, dysphemism leads to an overt face-affront of the parties involved in the communicative act. From this viewpoint, both euphemistic and ← 10 | 11 → dysphemistic items can be considered as reliable indicators of the way politeness manifests itself in communication.
It is important to note that taboo is not altogether a homogeneous phenomenon. And it is precisely in its complexity that much of its interest lies. Taboo is far-reaching: there is an endless list of tabooed topics: sex, diseases, death, bodily effluvia, the sacred, money, race, or age, just to mention a few. In addition, the degree to which a taboo topic is considered distasteful or revolting considerably changes through time. Nowadays, for example, the desire to eradicate from language any offense towards minorities is more evident than ever; in this way, for example, sexism is socially and legally banned in public discourse, whereas sex is not or, at least, not officially banned. Even within the same historical period, taboo is dependent on personal and cultural differences, as particular individuals consider taboo topics in different ways on account of age, social status, education, etc. To complicate matters further, the expression of a taboo concept is subject to the different modes employed in communication (speech, writing, gestures, images, etc.) as well as to the specific characteristics of the discourse types and practices in which it may occur.1 In addition, forbidden realities are manifested in discourse through a wide range of linguistic mechanisms belonging to different language levels: from phonetics to semantics through morphology, lexis, or syntax (see Casas Gómez 1986: 108–111; Crespo-Fernández 2007: 112–117, 179–183). All this reveals that taboo and taboo naming are complex phenomena that cannot be easily addressed from a single perspective.
The complexity of the task of researching taboo language is perhaps more apparent when we consider that the different X-phemistic items are phenomena of real language use and, as such, subject to contextual variation and unpredictability. This means that the study of taboo-related language, as a contextually sensitive phenomenon, involves looking at the communicative and pragmatic context. In fact, a word or expression used to designate a taboo concept is not expected ← 11 | 12 → to be euphemistic or dysphemistic per se; rather, its attenuating or offensive quality depends on the context in which it is used. As Allan and Burridge (1991: 4) argue, euphemism and dysphemism “are determined by the choice of expression within a given context: both the world spoken of, and the world spoken in [in bold in the original]. We cannot properly judge something as euphemistic or dysphemistic without this information”. In fact, a given word or expression can only be understood properly as euphemistic or dysphemistic if we consider contextual issues, which includes the participants involved in the communicative act, the speaker’s purpose, the hearer’s world knowledge, and the degree of formality of the communication setting, among other contextually related factors. This helps to explain why the boundaries between euphemism and dysphemism are usually rather fuzzy in real discourse (Casas Gómez 2012).
From this it can be deduced that taboo-related language can best be explained if we look at the real communicative contexts in which it may occur, which necessarily involves considering the role taboo plays in discourse. This means examining the way taboo arises in language in order to address particular and specific communicative needs and functions. Discourse, it must be borne in mind, is not a single, unified concept. It is not merely equivalent to extended samples of either spoken or written language. Rather, discourse emphasizes the processes of interaction between speaker and addressee ‒ production and interpretation ‒ that are established between speaker and hearer (or writer and reader) in specific situational contexts of language use. Any discursive event, as Fairclough claims, is simultaneously a piece of text, an instance of discursive practice, and an instance of social practice. In his own words: “My three-dimensional approach enables relationships between discursive and social change to be assessed, and detailed properties of texts to be related systematically to social properties of discursive events as instances of social practice” (Fairclough 1992: 8). From this perspective, the different X-phemistic devices used to verbalize taboo-related matters perform a particular function in their context; they are socially oriented, and their social and communicative purpose can be deciphered by exploring their observable elements and patterns in particular discourse practices, as is the case in the ← 12 | 13 → contributions to this volume. In fact, an important implication of considering taboo-induced language as a discursive phenomenon leads to admitting the existence of an unpredictable, contextually-dependent X-phemistic alternatives “created spontaneously and sporadically by users in certain situational contexts, and it is these that really acquire value in this process as situational uses and contextual products of the speech act” (Casas Gómez Forthcoming).
Following a discursive-pragmatic perspective, X-phemism, as the linguistic manifestation of taboo realities, goes beyond a mere substitution strategy at the lexical level. It must be made clear that the starting point for the euphemistic or dysphemistic processes is not the taboo word but the taboo concept, that is, the forbidden contents (Uría Varela 1997), the forbidden reality (Casas Gómez 2012), or the forbidden meaning (Pizarro Pedraza 2013). Those traditional and structuralist approaches which reduce X-phemism merely to a lexical substitution processes (see below) are too limiting to account for the complexity of the phenomenon of taboo-induced language variation. Rather, in accordance with Casas Gómez (2009, Forthcoming), we should establish a clear difference between word taboo, or linguistic taboo, based on the speaker’s psychological reactions to the forbidden reality, and concept taboo or conceptual interdiction, which focuses on the emotional effects of taboo language on the hearer, in accordance with an approach to taboo-related language from a pragmatic and discursive perspective. This approach has cleared the way for the consideration of X-phemism as a cognitive-pragmatic process intended to produce particular contextual effects. In this line, Casas Gómez (2009: 738) defines this phenomenon as “the cognitive process of conceptualization of a forbidden reality, which, manifested in discourse through the use of linguistic mechanisms […] enables the speaker, in a certain ‘context’ or in a specific pragmatic situation, to attenuate, or, on the contrary, to reinforce a certain forbidden concept or reality”.
In order to fully understand the role of taboo-induced language variation in real-world discourse, a comprehensive and socially-oriented approach to taboo language must necessarily be adopted. In this sense, the different contributions to this volume demonstrate that X-phemism goes beyond a substitution technique; rather, it is a discursive strategy ← 13 | 14 → at the speaker’s disposal for a variety of communicative functions in different types of discourse. X-phemistic items are not only meant to sound polite or cause offence; they are also used to attract someone’s interest, to deceive and misrepresent, to upgrade and magnify, to display in-group identity as an indicator of “covert prestige” (Trudgill 1995), to stimulate your partner sexually, or make a socially acceptable criticism, among others (Crespo-Fernández 2015: 47). The speaker may opt for different alternatives, with different connotations and emotive load, to refer to a taboo concept in particular ways. And the speaker’s choice responds to a particular communicative intention and is conditioned by a number of situational factors of a pragmatic nature (Cestero Mantera 2015). As this volume attempts to illustrate, the expressive and communicative capacity of X-phemistic naming is a fascinating research topic that can be best described within and across discourse practices.
Despite the crucial role that context plays in the description of language behaviour regarding taboo, the fact remains that not many studies have approached the phenomenon of taboo-related language from a discursive-pragmatic perspective. Studies on taboo, euphemism, and dysphemism until the late seventies, like those by Hatzfeld, Bruneau, or Baldinger (cited in Casas Gómez 2009: 727–729) ‒ with the exception of Senabre (1971) who introduces some pragmatic-related notions in his approach to euphemism ‒ defined these phenomena, from a semantic and lexicological perspective, as a substitution process, while leaving aside the role of X-phemistic items in the complex dynamics of discourse. Since the early eighties, various scholars (Montero Cartelle 1981; Casas Gómez 1986, 2009; Allan & Burridge 1991, 2006; Chamizo Domínguez & Sánchez Benedito 2000; Crespo-Fernández 2007; Horak 2010, among others) have done much to contribute to our understanding of taboo naming as a pragmatic, context-dependent process. However, few books or edited volumes (Bonhomme et al. 2012; Crespo-Fernández 2015; Pizarro Pedraza Forthcoming) are devoted exclusively to the way taboo emerges in discourse. And these studies are limited in their scope: Bonhomme et al. (2012) focus on euphemism, leaving aside other categories of taboo naming which arise in communication; Crespo-Fernández (2015) ← 14 | 15 → concentrates on X-phemistic sexual metaphor in computer-mediated communication; and the contributors to the volume edited by Pizarro Pedraza (Forthcoming) approach the analysis of verbal taboos through a specific analytical framework like cognitive semantics. This is why a book focusing on taboo in communication from a broad perspective supported by evidence from real language data like that I am presenting here is to be welcome. And not only because of its interest for taboo language research, but also because it may contribute to the growing interest in the relationship between language and social discourse.2
In sum, Taboo in Discourse: Studies on Attenuation and Offence in Communication adds a new element to the already existing studies on this research field by approaching taboo naming (euphemism and dysphemism) as a multi-faceted phenomenon with a linguistic, social and cultural dimension. As I will explain in what follows, the contributions to this volume follow the parameters of different analytical frameworks and methodologies which supersede the traditional view of X-phemism as a substitution technique and account for the all-embracing nature of the processes of attenuation and offence in a range of social contexts and real-world discourse types, from political speeches to official advertisements through cartoons, novels, oral interviews or television series. Before introducing the papers that make up the volume, it is important to say that this book stems from the research project “Attenuation and Offence in Discourse” carried out by the research group Atenuación y Ofensa en el Discurso (AODIS) which gathers a team of scholars based at the Department of Modern Languages, University of Castile-La Mancha, interested in the analysis of language use in naturally-occurring contexts. This research project is specifically devoted to the study of the way taboo emerges in discourse through the different modalities of taboo naming, from euphemism to dysphemism, which is precisely the subject matter of this book. ← 15 | 16 →
The Contributions to this Volume
As these introductory remarks have aimed to show, taboo naming is a complex and multidisciplinary phenomenon which cannot be approached from a single perspective. It should therefore not come as a surprise to find that the eleven contributions to this volume do not adhere to one single analytical method to the study of taboo in communication, but range from critical discourse analysis to multimodality, through applied cognitive semantics, translation studies, or lexical pragmatics. Although the papers are very different regarding the data under analysis and the methodological approach followed, what all they have in common is their focus on discourse, on contextualized and naturally-occurring language as evidence to examine the role of taboo in communication. The linguistic data used in the contributions, it must be noted, are not gained by personal intuition or from non-systematic evidence. Rather, the data samples meet the requirements for analysis in the field of discourse studies (Caballero & Ibarretxe-Antuñano 2009): first, they are instances of real language in use; second, they guarantee that the researcher has considered a sufficient (i.e. not anecdotal) range of realizations of the research issue in question; and third, they ensure that the issue under analysis is used in certain discourse communities.
The volume opens with the paper by GÉRARD FERNÁNDEZ SMITH and MIGUEL CASAS GÓMEZ (“From lexicon to discourse in the linguistic expression of taboo: Configuring new social realities”), which focuses on the role of pragmatic strategies of attenuation and intensification in current and contextualized language data excerpted from public communication and social media. The analysis carried out demonstrates that these euphemistic and dysphemistic strategies function as powerful persuasive instruments which contribute to build up new social realities in accordance with the views of those who use them.
The following four contributions are concerned with different modes of mitigation and offence in political discourse. Drawing on cognitive metaphor study, MARÍA JOSÉ HELLÍN-GARCÍA (“Politically tabooed measures: Sanitazing the economic crisis through metaphor and euphemism”) analyses how the economic crisis is framed in the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy’s political discourse. By doing ← 16 | 17 → so, she examines how metaphor and euphemism converge to better serve as persuasive devices to highlight, mitigate and hide specific aspects of its conceptualization in Rajoy’s political speeches from December 2011 until December 2013. In particular, Hellín-García explores how the notion of sanitation undertakes an important role in framing Rajoy’s political vision.
ROSA M. LÓPEZ-CAMPILLO (“Political discourse in John Tutchin: Hedges as euphemistic and persuasive devices”) is similarly concerned with political euphemism and persuasion, but from a different angle. Following Fairclough’s (1992) social-theoretical sense of discourse within the tradition of Critical Discourse Analysis and Brown and Levinson’s (1987) notion of face, she focuses on hedging as a significant rhetorical and euphemistic device as used by John Tutchin, a radical Whig controversionalist and influential British journalist during the reign of Queen Anne Stuart of England (1702–1714). In her qualitative analysis of a sample of political writings excerpted from the Whig journal The Observator, López-Campillo demonstrates that hedges serve Tutchin’s euphemistic and persuasive aims: they soften potential conflicts derived from the author’s assertions and allow him to connect with the readers.
The following two papers introduce a multimodal critical discourse approach to explore the way attenuation and offence are realized in political cartoons in the press. MARÍA MUELAS-GIL (“The victim or the cause? A multimodal critical discourse analysis of cartoons depicting PSOE’s internal political crisis”) departs from the assumption that metaphor is a powerful tool in (re)constructing reality and a great bearer of ideology. This chapter, grounded in conceptual metaphor theory (Lakoff & Johnson 1980; Lakoff 1993) and multimodal critical discourse analysis (Kress & Van Leeuwen 1996; Machin 2007), analyses how different ideologies represent the political internal crisis of the Spanish Socialist Party through metaphors with a different X-phemistic (i.e. euphemistic or dysphemistic) function in a corpus of cartoons published in two ideologically different Spanish newspapers: ABC and República.com. The results of this study support previous claims on the ideological load of metaphors and their influential power on the viewer/reader in political communication. Like Muelas-Gil, ← 17 | 18 → MARÍA JESÚS PINAR-SANZ (“Offence strategies in political cartoons”) is concerned with political cartoon discourse. She claims that cartoons have a mainly ideological function whose purpose is to satirize a social issue or political event. Pinar-Sanz examines the visual metaphors and intertextual elements in two multimodal political cartoons published by Steve Bell in the British daily newspaper The Guardian. Her analysis reveals that these devices are strategically used to reinforce the typically subversive message conveyed in the cartoons and, in this way, serve the cartoonist’s offensive purpose.
Also starting from cognitive linguistics, ISABEL NEGRO ALOUSQUE (“Metonymy as a strengthening strategy in road safety campaigns”) illustrates the role of metonymy as a strengthening strategy in road safety campaigns implemented by the Dirección General de Tráfico, i.e. the Spanish traffic authority. Following Radden and Kövecses’ (1999) theory of metonymy, Negro Alousque’s multimodal analysis of a corpus of Spanish road safety campaigns launched in recent years demonstrates that, together with the use of raw statistics and intensifiers, the metonymies instantiated in the ads are subsumed under a whole-part ICM which has a range of configurations aimed at enhancing the repercussions of dangerous road user behaviour with a view to improving it.
ANDREA PIZARRO PEDRAZA (“Pardon my Spanish: Attenuation of taboo through metapragmatic euphemistic formulae”) addresses the euphemistic function of the so-called mitigating apology expressions. She departs from the premise that Spanish expressions like con perdon ‘I’m sorry to say’ or hablando mal y pronto ‘forgive my language’ constitute previous or subsequent apologies for conflictive illocutions which allow speakers, in a certain pragmatic situation, to mitigate the potential face-affronting force of a linguistic taboo. Supported by evidence from a corpus of oral interviews, the Corpus Madrileño Oral de la Sexualidad, MadSex (Pizarro Pedraza 2013), this author proposes a classification of the different variants of this type of euphemistic expressions and examine the pragmatic functions that they serve in sex-related oral discourse.
The next two studies explore the role of X-phemism in telecinematic discourse. Following the pragmatic theories of politeness (Brown & Levinson 1987) and face (Goffman 1967), ISABEL LÓPEZM ← 18 | 19 → CIRUGEDA (“‘Please, Like Me’: Coming out of the closet in the Millennial Generation”) examines homosexual-related vocabulary in Please, Like Me, an Australian comedy drama, paying special attention to the X-phemistic vocabulary used to designate the act of coming out of the closet, that is, revealing one‘s homosexual condition. The analysis demonstrates first, that humour reveals as a valuable asset to approach taboo issues in public; and second that X-phemism contributes to portray the act of coming out the closet as heroic and mandatory for the others, especially when the individual has already taken that step. The chapter by RAQUEL SÁNCHEZ RUIZ (“Taboo in prison: X-phemistic language in Orange Is The New Black”) touches on the fascinating topic of prison discourse in her analysis of the X-phemistic language in the series Orange Is The New Black, set in fictional Litchfield Penitentiary. Embedded in the theoretical frameworks of appraisal theory (Martin 2000; Martin & White 2005) and politeness theory (Brown & Levinson 1987), Sánchez Ruiz’s study provides evidence for the fact X-phemism is a means to achieve power and control in a prison setting in different ways: on the one hand, inmates use language as a weapon, not only in the form of insults but also in the way taboo topics – bodily functions, death and illness, drugs, race, and sexuality, among others – are expressed; on the other hand, correctional officers use language either to exert their authority or refer to inmates within the limits of political correctness.
The analyses presented in the last two contributions are based on evidence from literary discourse and specifically focus on the taboo area of sex. They are, however, very different regarding the research approach adopted to examine the data. ROBERTO MARTÍNEZ MATEO (“Approaching the translation of dysphemistic language: Swear words and offensive terms in The Catcher in the Rye”) is concerned to show how swear words and offensive terms and expressions from the novel by the American author J.D. Salinger The Catcher in the Rye are translated into Spanish. Following Vinay and Darbelnet’s (1995) taxonomy of translation procedures, Martínez Mateo concentrates on the strategies used to translate dysphemistic language, not only those which appear explicitly but also those which, due to censorship, are hidden under euphemistic devices like omission and cancelling. The ← 19 | 20 → last chapter, written by EMILIO MONTERO CARTELLE (“The discourse-pragmatic conditions of sexual interdiction in La Lozana. Masculine sex and escape from vagueness”), discusses and illustrates the notion of semantic vagueness as a resource used to deal with the sexual taboo in the sixteenth-century picaresque novel La Lozana Andaluza. Montero Cartelle demonstrates that vagueness serves a euphemistic function in this novel, that of avoiding a marked, i.e. taboo-laden, word and substituting it for another one, unspecific and indeterminate. This study shows that vaguenes, as a euphemistic strategy, is not a single, unified phenomenon; rather, it is expressed via different procedures like generic antonomasias, verbal games, or ambiguity which go further than mitigation and function as markers of in-group cohesion and solidarity.
In short, the papers collected in this volume explore the way taboo emerges in real-world discourse and give the reader a chance to have access to attitudes, beliefs and value judgments which are more or less implicitly communicated through the ways taboo topics are expressed in the public sphere. As editor, I hope that this book could raise awareness of the relevance of taboo and taboo-induced language in a wide range of discourse types in English and Spanish and thus contribute to the growing interest in the relationship between language and social discourse.
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- Publication date
- 2019 (January)
- discourse analysis taboo interdiction attenuation offence euphemism dysphemism politeness metaphor metonymy multimodality sex politics media discourse PC language persuasion
- Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 326 pp., 17 fig. col., 9 tables, 3 graphs