Loused in translation

If you speak two languages fluently, in which do you cuss? There’s a study about that:

I investigated language preferences for swearing among multilinguals using an on-line questionnaire. They consisted of 386 adult multilinguals who had declared that they were maximally proficient in their first and second languages and used both languages constantly.

I discovered that despite similar levels of self-perceived proficiency and frequency of use in the first language and second language, the first language was used significantly more for swearing and first language swearwords were perceived to have a stronger emotional resonance. An analysis of additional interview data confirmed the findings of the quantitative analysis, also highlighting cultural issues in swearing.

The working title of the paper was Language preferences for swearing among maximally proficient multilinguals, which may be considered acceptably bland. Why did our researcher change it?

I heard an Anglo-Canadian author, Nancy Huston, who has lived in Paris for many years, being interviewed on France Inter about her swearing behaviour. She explained that when she needs to express a strong emotion, like sudden anxiety, or when dropping a hammer on her foot, she swears in English.

Well, partially. And that particular cuss is now incorporated into the title, which won some sort of award for “most obscene title of a peer-reviewed scientific article.”

[Cite: Sociolinguistic Studies, 4 (3), 595-614. (doi : 10.1558/sols.v4i3.595)]

(Via this Oliver Burkeman tweet, which found its way to me thanks to Jennifer Ouellette.)


1 comment

  1. sya »

    16 March 2013 · 11:58 am

    Oh man. That would be hilarious on a CV.

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