The last decade has seen a growing number of publications on swearing, in particular swearing in English, for example Hughes 2006, 1998, McEnery 2005, McEnery and Xiao 2003, 2004, and – from a different perspective - van Lancker and Cummings (1999). Most of these studies describe swearing in terms of functional categories like expletives, oaths, emphatic adverbs etc., categories that operate in terms of a limited number of “swearwords”, a subset of “bad language” containing vernacular terms for activities or things once considered “taboo” like the sexual act, the sex organs, excrement. An aspect of swearing that has received less attention is how close interjections like Shit !, Fuck ! etc. are to the category of pragmatic markers. Like these they may be used to express speaker attitudes, to signal the organization of text and to deliver interactional signals of various kinds. In fact, these interjections meet most of the widely accepted criteria for pragmatic markers proposed in Brinton (1996:33 ff.) and may be regarded as the output of the same processes of grammaticalization commonly supposed to underlie all pragmatic markers (cf. e.g. Hopper and Traugott 1993). In the completed study that will eventually result from my investigation I will argue that there are good reasons to include interjections involving swearing among the pragmatic markers. In my ICAME talk I will focus on the less time-consuming task of attempting to analyze the pragmatic functions of a small set of interjections found in a one-million-word corpus containing texts from the spoken component of the BNC, and pointing to the difficulties involved in such an analysis (for which see e.g. Andersen 1999:15 ff. and Stenström 2006).
28th International Computer Archive of Modern and Medieval English conference