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Is it acceptable to virtually ignore taboo language in the teaching of ESL/EFL, as has been traditionally the case, given its prevalence in everyday modern life? This dissertation examines whether or not taboo language should indeed be taught to
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  Taboo or Not Taboo Language in the ESL/EFL Classroom Paper 1 – What is taboo language? Evan Murray ColbertDepartment of English NTNUTaipei, Taiwancolberem@ntnu.edu.tw  Abstract  Is it acceptable to virtually ignore taboo language in the teaching of ESL/EFL, ashas been traditionally the case, given its prevalence in everyday modern life? In this first of a series of four papers on whether or not taboo language should be taught to ESL/EFL learners, and, if so, how, the definition and nature of taboo language is examined by first investigating its srcins and changing nature throughout history right up to the present day. Here it is argued that racist, sexist and “-ist” language in general have replaced traditional taboo language in heinousness. In order to fully grasp why this has happened, and what motivates speakers to use taboo language in the first place, the functions of taboo language,specifically its psychological and sociolinguistic functions, are reflected on. Overall this investigation produces enough evidence for concluding that taboo language is an endemic part of our overall grammar and that it is linguistically of at least equal importance to both orthophemistic and euphemistic language. Nevertheless is this a strong enough reason to include it in a ESL/EFL curriculum? The second paper of this series relates the findings of some empirical research probing teacher and learner attitudes towards the subject.  I.INTRODUCTION“Dao is everywhere. . . . It is in an ant . . . It is in the paddy grass . . . It is in tiles and slates . . . It is even in piss and shit” [1].  The above quotation, a succinct explanation of the essence of Dao from the 4 th  century Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, succeeded in terminating the interrogation of a particularly irritating disciple. It is intended to show not only evidence of the ancientsrcins of taboo language and that it has passed the lips of even the most luminary of  personages, but more importantly that it has been, since time immemorial, a linguistic fact of life, heard and used with common frequency, making it a fundamental and maybe even a necessary part of all languages. The question is then, why is this not reflected in ESL/EFL pedagogy, as taboo language is excluded from the vast majority of ESL/EFL textbooks, courses and curriculums? In other words, is it acceptable to completely ignore taboo language when teaching ESL/EFL?In a series of four papers, whether or not taboo language should indeed be taught to ESL/EFL learners is examined in detail. As it is necessary to ascertain what taboo language exactly is, this first paper examines its srcins and changing nature up to the present time, while also reflects on its  psychological and sociolinguistic functions. In subsequent papers, my own complementary empirical research on the topic will be described, and then some theoretical arguments for and against its inclusion in an ESL/EFL curriculum will be deliberated on so as to elicit factors that may impact on its possible teaching. In the fourth and final paper, a methodology to teach taboo language that takes into account all of what has been previously discussedin the series of papers will be proposed.So, first and foremost, what exactly is meant by the term taboo language , as defining exactly what it is has been the cause of much conjecture among authors in various academic disciplines including psychology, sociology and sociolinguistics. It is not my intention to give an exhaustive analysis, merely an overview of what it is weare dealing with when we talk about taboo language; a necessary prelude to discussing whether or not it is appropriate to include it as a topic in ESL/EFL  pedagogy. Therefore, there will first be a brief discussion on the evolution of taboo language throughout the ages beginning with an attempt to locate its srcins before examining how its nature changes over time and otherwise, and investigating what constitutes taboo language in the present day. Finally, some of the major  psychological and sociological functions of taboo language will be determined in the effort to provide a more complete picture of phenomenon in question.  II.A BRIEF HISTORY OF TABOO LANGUAGE  A. The Origins of Taboo Language “They say that if the King should happen to go into a house belonging to a subject, that house would be Taboo and never more inhabited by the owner.” Captain James Cook’s logbook, Third Voyage, 17 July 1777 [2] .   Amongst all the varied debate over the nature and functions of taboo language,there is at least general agreement on where the term taboo  srcinated. Indeed, the quote above is probably the first instance of the term entering the English language. While exploring the Pacific South Sea islands, Captain Cook recorded the islanders’ term several times in his logbooks. From thence, Farb identifies the term being applied variously by the islanders to things that were untouchable, to forbidden spaces, to ostracized people, and to other prohibitions including its use “to describe the avoidance of particular kinds of behaviour… an avoidance which sometimes appears arbitrary and fanciful to an outsider” [3]. On arrival into the English language, the term would acquire first Christian and then Victorian notions of sacredness and profanity before being “extended to political and social affairs, and generalized to the interdiction of the use or practice of anything, especially an expression or topic, considered offensive and therefore avoided by social custom” [4].Pérez i Zamora demonstrates however that this “new” meaning and function of taboo did not differ from its srcins as much as has been imagined [5]. For example, she points out that even though for a long time it was usual for those writingon the metaphysical nature of taboo to belittle “primitive peoples” for being unable or afraid to discriminate between words and what they signify, the tendency for doing so already existed in European languages in the form of figurative, indirect and/or colloquial speech i.e. euphemism. As Burchfield asserts “Our present age, like those of the past, produces euphemisms to conceal or to take attention away from its  particular embarrassments and its unsolved problems” [ibid]. And these euphemisms can take on a metaphysical dimension as well. An example of this from popular children’s literature would be the use of a euphemism (“the one-who-shan’t-be-named”) to refer to the antagonist in the Harry Potter books, as if mere mention of his name would conjure ill luck or worse, i.e. Voldemort. Metaphysical examples from  everyday life would be the similar tendency not to mention the devil’s name and its corollary, the power of the biblical commandment to not take the lord’s name in vain. Therefore, the previously perceived disparity between so-called primitive  peoples and more sophisticated societies in terms of taboo is not as great as it seems. Moreover, it is probable, as Holster identifies [6] that taboo language may be as old aslanguage itself, or at least “for as long as we have been competent speakers” (ibid), as well as being present in all languages throughout history. The major reason for this, asAllan and Burridge illustrate, is that wherever there is euphemism, there must be its dispreferred counterpart, dysphemism, i.e. words or phrases “with connotations that are offensive either about the denotatum and/or to people addressed or overhearing the utterance” [7]. In other words, terms that are being avoided by the use of euphemism can be categorized as taboo language, examples from our distant past  being the srcinal Proto-Indo-European words for bear   and wolf  , terms which were understandably once taboo in all Northern European languages. These terms have long lost their tabooness, but when you also consider where these terms were and were not considered taboo, it illustrates the changing nature of taboo and its dependency on time, geography and context; a topic which I would now like to examine further.  B. The Changing Nature of Taboo Language Claire et al contend that throughout the history of language, taboo terms have  beginnings and endings [8]. They describe the process thus: a word or topic was declared taboo by a group of people and “if the group was influential, the taboo was circulated and passed on to the rest of society” . To illustrate, they highlight the  profound influence on American culture of both the founding Puritans and America’s subsequent long history of cruel race relations, both of which still resonate in modern America and which can explicitly be seen in the two most prominent causes of presentday taboo language there i.e. sex and race. They also note that while the influence of fundamentalist Christianity may still be profound in America, generally speaking, religious profanity has become less of an issue. As McArthur notes, in the 17 th  Century, puritanism caused such words as God and  Hell to be even banned on stage; terms which would not bat an eyelid in most contemporary western circles [9].  Thus, like all language, taboo language is subject to over-time dynamism, a term Larsen-Freeman describes as the “inevitable and rarely predictable or controllable” way language changes over time [10]. For instance, Bryson demonstrates that in Chaucer’s time the terms cunt and  piss  were rather unexceptionalwords as reflected in the French word for a urinal,  pissoirs [11]. It was only in the middle of the 18 th  century that cunt   started to resonate its present strong taboo connotation. Yet its equivalents in other related languages are relatively weak. Indeed, Allan and Burridge point out that Spaniards are nicknamed coños  in many parts of South America because of their reputed frequent use of the word as both an interjection and in phrases such as “como comerle el coño a bocaos” (“like eating cunt by the mouthful”) when describing something delicious, and “pena pa mi coño” (“pain in my cunt” cf. “a pain in the arse”) [12]. Therefore, it could also be said that there is a Darwinist or organic dimension to taboo language change, and language in general, in that “languages evolve and diverge as species do”, which accounts for terms evolving along their own paths [13]. Indeed, the term cunt   also stands somewhat alone amongst traditional taboo language (i.e. taboo words associated with sex or excretion) in that it has retained its tabooness in the vast majority of the English-speaking world, while other traditional taboo terms(e.g.  fuck, shit, piss , etc) have increasingly lost their venom. Indeed, the Ice Ireland corpus, a recent corpus composing of over a million words, shows 132 instances of the term  fuck and its variants being used  , 121 of the terms  shit   or  shite , whereas there was only one instance of the term cunt [14]. But why should the term cunt   remain strongly taboo? Is it because it has a dehumanizing aspect, as when used as a term of abuse, it essentially reduces women (and men also) to traditional misogynistic notionsof the vagina, and thus unlike other traditional taboo terms, it is sexist and/or derogatory to another individual or group? This could explain why it still maintains itsstrong tabooness in comparison with other traditional taboo terms.The history of the term nigger   is another case in point . It shows how the intensity of a taboo term can not only change over time but also have completely different connotations depending on who says the word and in what social contexts. Although never a neutral term (i.e. orthophemistic), even at the time when Mark Twain wrote it extensively in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,  it has become one of the strongest of modern taboo terms [15]. Yet, as Hudson explains (1983: 95), when
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