Volume 30, Issue 1
  • ISSN 1018-2101
  • E-ISSN: 2406-4238



The present paper examines the ways in which ritual cursing operates as a form of teasing in (Gabor) Roma communities. By ‘ritual cursing’ we mean forms of curse that are believed to cause harm to the cursed person or people related to them, i.e. cursing studied here differs from swearing and ‘cussing’, as it embodies supernatural beliefs to a degree. While cursing is an archetype of ritual, to date little pragmatic research has been done on this phenomenon, supposedly due to the scarcity of interactional data collected in cultures where cursing is actively practised; thus, the present paper fills a knowledge gap in the field. We examine cursing in interactions where it is used as teasing in order to socialise young children. Since ritual is a means through which social structures are re-created (Durkheim 1912 [1954/2001]), aiding young language users to acquire rituals is a key aspect of community life. However, little research has been done on the ways in which ritual practices are socialised in communities at the level of interaction, which validates our focus on teasing curses. The phenomenon studied is also relevant to previous sociopragmatic research on teasing: whilst in other (non-ritual) sociocultural settings socialising teasing implies aiding young language users to distinguish between humour and offence, due to the potential harm attributed to ritual cursing its socialisation is centred both on harm and the offence in the conventional sense of the word.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...



  1. Agyekum, Kofi
    1999 “The Pragmatics of duabɔ ‘Grievance Imprecation’ Taboo among the Akan.” Pragmatics9: 357–382. 10.1075/prag.9.3.03agy
    https://doi.org/10.1075/prag.9.3.03agy [Google Scholar]
  2. 2004 “Ntam ‘Reminiscential Oath’ Taboo in Akan.” Language in Society33: 317–342. 10.1017/S0047404504043015
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0047404504043015 [Google Scholar]
  3. Atkinson, J. Maxwell, and John Heritage
    1999 “Jeffersons’s Transcript Notation.” InThe Discourse Reader, ed. byAdam Jaworsky and Nicolas Coupland, 158–166. London: Routledge.
    [Google Scholar]
  4. Bax, Marcel
    2010 “Epistolary Presentation Rituals: Face-work, Politeness, and Ritual Display in Early-Modern Dutch Letter Writing.” InHistorical (Im)Politeness, ed. byJonathan Culpeper and Daniel Z. Kádár, 37–86. Bern: Peter Lang.
    [Google Scholar]
  5. Berta, Péter
    2019Materializing Difference. Consumer Culture, Politics and Ethnicity among Romanian Roma. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  6. Blount, Ben G., and Elise Padgug
    1977 “Prosodic, Paralinguistic, and Interactional Features in Parent–Child Speech: English and Spanish.” Journal of Child Language4 (1): 67–86. 10.1017/S0305000900000489
    https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305000900000489 [Google Scholar]
  7. Blum-Kulka, Shoshana
    1997Dinner Talk: Cultural Patterns of Sociability and Socialization in Family Discourse. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.
    [Google Scholar]
  8. Cameron, Deborah
    2005 “Gender and Language Ideologies.” InThe Handbook of Language and Gender, ed. byJanet Holmes and Miriam Meyerhoff, 447–467. Oxford: Blackwell.
    [Google Scholar]
  9. Collins, Randall
    2004Interaction Ritual Chains. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 10.1515/9781400851744
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400851744 [Google Scholar]
  10. Croom, Adam
    2013 “How to Do Things with Slurs: Studies in the Way of Derogatory Words.” Language & Communication33 (3): 177–204. 10.1016/j.langcom.2013.03.008
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.langcom.2013.03.008 [Google Scholar]
  11. Davies, Douglas
    1997Death, Ritual and Belief: The Rhetoric of Funerary Rites. London: Bloomsbury.
    [Google Scholar]
  12. Durkheim, Émile
    1912 [1954/2001]The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Trans.Carol Cosman. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  13. Durkheim, Émile
    2012Moral Education. Trans.Everett K. Wilson, and Herman Schnurer. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.
    [Google Scholar]
  14. Eder, Donna
    1993 “‘Go get ya a French!’: Romantic and Sexual Teasing among Adolescent Girls.” InGender and Conversational Interaction, ed. byDeborah Tannen, 17–31. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  15. Eisenberg, Ann R.
    1986 “Teasing: Verbal Play in Two Mexicano Homes.” InLanguage Socialization across Cultures, ed. byBambi B. Schieffelin and Elinor Ochs, 182–198. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  16. Emmons, Sally L.
    2000 “A Disarming Laughter: The Role of Humor in Tribal Cultures. An Examination of Humor in Contemporary Native American Literature and Art.” Doctoral thesis, University of Oklahoma.
  17. Fosztó, László
    2008 “Taking the Oath: Religious Aspects of Moral Personhood among the Romungre.” InRoma/Zigeunerkulturen in neuen Perspektiven. Roma/Gypsy Cultures in New Perspectives, ed. byJacobs Fabian and Johannes Ries, 119–133. Leipzig: Leipziger Universitätsverlag.
    [Google Scholar]
  18. Garde, Murray
    2008 “The Pragmatics of Rude Jokes with Grandad: Joking Relationships in Aboriginal Australia.” Anthropological Forum18 (3): 235–253. 10.1080/00664670802429362
    https://doi.org/10.1080/00664670802429362 [Google Scholar]
  19. Glenn, Phillip
    2003Laughter in Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511519888
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511519888 [Google Scholar]
  20. Goddard, Cliff
    2015 “‘Swear Words’ and ‘Curse Words’ in Australian (and American) English. At the Crossroads of Pragmatics, Semantics and Sociolinguistics.” Intercultural Pragmatics12 (2): 189–218. 10.1515/ip‑2015‑0010
    https://doi.org/10.1515/ip-2015-0010 [Google Scholar]
  21. Goffman, Erving
    1967Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior. New York: Anchor Books.
    [Google Scholar]
  22. Gregersen, Edgar A.
    2004 “Romani Insults.” Maledicta13: 73–79.
    [Google Scholar]
  23. Gumperz, John J.
    1992 “Contextualization and Understanding.” InRethinking Context: Language as an Interactive Phenomenon, ed. byAlessandro Duranti and Charles Goodwin, 229–252. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  24. 2003 “Contextualization Conventions.” InSociolinguistics: The Essential Readings, ed. byChristina Bratt Paulston and Richard G. Tuker, 139–155. Oxford: Blackwell.
    [Google Scholar]
  25. Halmari, Helena
    2004 “Finnish Maledicta and Euphemisms.” Maledicta13: 63–72.
    [Google Scholar]
  26. Harlan, Lindsey
    1994 “Perfection and Devotion: Sati Tradition in Rajahstan.” InSati, the Blessing and the Curse: The Burning of Wives in India, ed. byJohn Stratton Hawley, 79–90. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  27. Hart, David M.
    2001 “Muslim Ritual Models in Two Pre-colonial Moroccan Berber Societies: Covenant, Conditional Curse, Shame Compulsion and Sacrifice.” The Journal of North American Studies6 (2): 61–80. 10.1080/13629380108718435
    https://doi.org/10.1080/13629380108718435 [Google Scholar]
  28. Haugh, Michael
    2016 “‘Just kidding’: Teasing and Claims to Non-Serious Intent.” Journal of Pragmatics95: 120–136. 10.1016/j.pragma.2015.12.004
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2015.12.004 [Google Scholar]
  29. 2017 “Teasing.” InThe Routledge Handbook of Language and Humor, ed. bySalvatore Attardo, 204–218. New York: Routledge. 10.4324/9781315731162‑15
    https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315731162-15 [Google Scholar]
  30. Horgan, Mervyn
    2019 “Strangers and Everyday Incivilities: Towards a Theory of Moral Affordances in Ritualized Interaction.” Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict7(1): 32–55. 10.1075/jlac.00018.hor
    https://doi.org/10.1075/jlac.00018.hor [Google Scholar]
  31. Jay, Timothy
    1992Cursing in America: A Psycholinguistic Study of Dirty Language in the Courts, in the Movies, in the Schoolyards, and on the Streets. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 10.1075/z.57
    https://doi.org/10.1075/z.57 [Google Scholar]
  32. Kaprow, Miriam L.
    1989 “Resisting Respectability: Gypsies in Saragosa.” Urban Anthropology11: 399–431.
    [Google Scholar]
  33. Kádár, Daniel Z.
    2013Relational Rituals and Communication: Ritual Interaction in Groups. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 10.1057/9780230393059
    https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230393059 [Google Scholar]
  34. 2017Politeness, Impoliteness and Ritual: Maintaining the Moral Order in Interpersonal Interaction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/9781107280465
    https://doi.org/10.1017/9781107280465 [Google Scholar]
  35. Kádár, Daniel Z., Vahid Parvaresh, and Puyu Ning
    2019 “Morality, Moral Order, and Language Conflict and Aggression” – A Position Paper. Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict7(1): 6–31. 10.1075/jlac.00017.kad
    https://doi.org/10.1075/jlac.00017.kad [Google Scholar]
  36. Kitz, Anne Marie
    2004 “An Oath, Its Curse and Anointing Ritual.” Journal of the American Oriental Society124 (2): 315–321. 10.2307/4132218
    https://doi.org/10.2307/4132218 [Google Scholar]
  37. Kovai, Cecília
    2002 “Az átokról: ‘Cigánybeszéd’ a gömbaljaiak között” [On Curse: Roma Talk in Gömbalja]. Tabula5 (2): 272–290.
    [Google Scholar]
  38. Kratz, Corinne A.
    1989 “Genres of Power: A Comparative Analysis of Okiek Blessings, Curses and Oaths.” Man24: 636–656. 10.2307/2804292
    https://doi.org/10.2307/2804292 [Google Scholar]
  39. Labov, William
    1997 [1972] “Rules for Ritual Insults.” InSociolinguistics: A Reader and Coursebook, ed. byNikolas Coupland and Adam Jaworski, 472–486. London: MacMillan. 10.1007/978‑1‑349‑25582‑5_37
    https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-25582-5_37 [Google Scholar]
  40. Letendre, Joan
    2007 “‘Sugar and Spice but Not Always Nice’: Gender Socialization and Its Impact on Development and Maintenance of Aggression in Adolescent Girls.” Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal24 (4): 353–368. 10.1007/s10560‑007‑0088‑7
    https://doi.org/10.1007/s10560-007-0088-7 [Google Scholar]
  41. Levinson, Stephen C.
    2003 “Contextualizing ‘Contextualization Cues’.” InLanguage and Interaction, ed. bySusan L. Eerdmans, Carlo L. Prevignano, and Paul Thibault, 32–39. Amsterdam, John Benjamins. 10.1075/z.117.04lev
    https://doi.org/10.1075/z.117.04lev [Google Scholar]
  42. Matras, Yaron
    2002Romani: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511486791
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511486791 [Google Scholar]
  43. Muir, Edward
    2005 [1997]Ritual in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  44. Murano, Francesca
    2012 “The Oscan Cursing Tablets: Binding Formulae, Cursing Typologies and Thematic Classification.” American Journal of Philology133 (4): 629–655. 10.1353/ajp.2012.0037
    https://doi.org/10.1353/ajp.2012.0037 [Google Scholar]
  45. Pratt, Steven
    1996 “Razzing: Ritualized Uses of Humour as a Form of Identification among American Indians.” InInteraction and Identity, ed. byHartmut B. Mokros, 237–255. London: Transaction.
    [Google Scholar]
  46. Ramos, Melissa
    2015 “Spoken Word and Ritual Performance: The Oath and Curse in Deuteronomy 27–28.” Doctoral thesis, UCLA. Retrieved from: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/48d832zd
  47. Rampton, Ben
    1995 “Language Crossing and the Problematisation of Ethnicity and Socialisation.” Pragmatics5 (4): 485–513. 10.1075/prag.5.4.04ram
    https://doi.org/10.1075/prag.5.4.04ram [Google Scholar]
  48. Réger, Zita
    1999 “Teasing in the Linguistic Socialization of Gypsy Children in Hungary.” Acta Linguistica Hungarica46: 289–315. 10.1023/A:1009610125119
    https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1009610125119 [Google Scholar]
  49. Salmani Nodoushan, Mohammad Ali
    2016 “On the Functions of Swearing in Persian.” Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict4 (2): 234–254. 10.1075/jlac.4.2.04sal
    https://doi.org/10.1075/jlac.4.2.04sal [Google Scholar]
  50. Schieffelin, Bambi B.
    1986 “Teasing and Shaming in Kaluli Children’s Interactions.” InLanguage Socialization across Cultures, ed. byBambi B. Schieffelin and Elinor Ochs, 165–181. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  51. Scotton-Myers, Carol
    1988 “Code-Switching as Indexical of Social Negotiation.” InCodeswitching: Anthropological and Sociolinguistic Perspectives, ed. byMonica Heller, 151–186. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 10.1515/9783110849615.151
    https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110849615.151 [Google Scholar]
  52. Silverstein, Michael
    1993 “Metapragmatic Discourse and Metapragmatic Function.” InReflexive Language: Reported Speech and Metapragmatics, ed. byJohn Lucy, 33–58. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511621031.004
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511621031.004 [Google Scholar]
  53. Stewart, Michael S.
    1997The Time of the Gypsies. Oxford: Westview Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  54. Szalai, Andrea
    2010 “Átok, feltételes átok és társadalmi nem erdélyi roma közösségek nyelvi ideológiájában és gyakorlataiban” [Curse, conditional curse and gender in language ideologies and practices of Transylvanian Roma communities]. PhD thesis, Pécs University.
  55. 2014 “Ideologies of Social Differentiation among Transylvanian Gabor Roma.” Acta Ethnographica Hungarica59 (1): 85–112. 10.1556/AEthn.59.2014.1.6
    https://doi.org/10.1556/AEthn.59.2014.1.6 [Google Scholar]
  56. Terkourafi, Marina, and Dániel Z. Kádár
    2017 “Convention and ritual”. InThe Palgrave Handbook of Linguistic (Im)Politessed. byJonathan Culpeper, Michael Haugh an Dániel Z. Kádár, 171–195. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 10.1057/978‑1‑137‑37508‑7_8
    https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-37508-7_8 [Google Scholar]
  57. Turner, Victor
    1967The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Rituals. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  58. 1969The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. London: Transactions.
    [Google Scholar]
  59. 1979 “Frame, Flow and Reflection: Ritual and Drama as Public Liminality.” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies6 (4): 465–499. 10.18874/jjrs.6.4.1979.465‑499
    https://doi.org/10.18874/jjrs.6.4.1979.465-499 [Google Scholar]
  60. Vanci-Osam, Ülker
    1998 “May You Be Shot with Greasy Bullets: Curse Utterances in Turkish.” Asian Folklore Studies57: 71–86. 10.2307/1178997
    https://doi.org/10.2307/1178997 [Google Scholar]
  61. Wann, Daniel, and Len Zaichowsky
    2009 “Sport Team Identification and Belief in Team Curses: The Case of the Boston Red Sox and the Curse of the Bambino.” Journal of Sport Behavior32 (4): 489–502.
    [Google Scholar]
  62. Watts, Richard J.
    2003Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10.1017/CBO9780511615184
    https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511615184 [Google Scholar]
  63. Weil, Shalva
    1986 “The Language and Ritual of Socialisation: Birthday Parties in a Kindergarten Context.” Man21 (2): 329–341. 10.2307/2803163
    https://doi.org/10.2307/2803163 [Google Scholar]
  64. Whutnow, Robert
    1989Meaning and Order: Explorations in Cultural Analysis. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
    [Google Scholar]
  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): cursing; harm; ritual; Roma; socialisation; teasing
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was successful
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error