Volume 28, Issue 1
  • ISSN 0929-0907
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9943
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Swear words of English and French, both real and fictional ones, significantly tend to contain the least sonorous consonants, compared to the rest of the lexicon. What can explain the overrepresentation of such sounds among swear words? This might be a case of sound symbolism, when sounds are unconsciously associated with a meaning. We examine the pragmatic vs. semantic nature of the meaning involved, as well as two explanations in terms of iconicity (plosives may be associated with “violation of hearer’s space”, or unsonorous consonants may be associated with “aggression”). This unusual sound-meaning pairing would involve an emotional-contextual, non-truth-conditional meaning, and be powerful enough that it influences a strong sociolinguistic convention – which words are swear words and which ones are not – suggesting that sounds convey meaning in yet unsuspected ways.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): iconicity; sound symbolism; swear words; swearing; systematicity; taboo; taboo words
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