Gender Analysis on Slang and Swear Use of University Students

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Human being uses language to interact with each other, especially in spoken language. Each language has different cultural backgrounds. These different backgrounds affect the way people speak the language a lot more than they use the language in a verbal context. One topic that has withdrawn considerable attention politeness, formal or informal language use. According to the Cambridge Dictionary of English Language, Slang is vocabulary that is used between people who belong to the same social group and who know each other well (Cambridge dictionary online, 2019). Slang language is very commonly used by people from each social circle, but it is not formal. This type of communication could insult receivers if the communicators are not familiar with each other, even though these specific items are not used to insult. Slang language generally happens in verbal language rather than written language. Slang language normally includes specific words and meanings of these words, but it can be expressed by longer aspects and idioms. Slang language use of people in Middle East Technical University Campus, especially swear words will be covered in this study. The term swearing is described as a linguistic Activity that involves use of taboo words (Stapleton, 2010). As a general concept, swearing is related with other language terms, such as vulgarity, profanity, offensive, expletive, curse, epithets, slurs, taboo (f words) and excretion in language (Jay, 1996).

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This study focuses on the differences between genders on frequency of usage and variety of slang / swear language items. In Middle East Technical University Campus, people believe that using swear or offensive language is a bad way of communication because they pretend to behave in a humanist and egalitarian way (Kurdaş, 2006), and they want to live in a liberal environment like Middle East Technical University rather than other social circles or locations within the country. One of the main objectives of this paper is to test whether students use slang language and swear types, although they believe that swearing is an offensive, aggressive and insulting way of interaction with other people according to common ethics. Within this paper, the participants (university students as non-native speakers of English) will be asked to explain the meaning of slang language and swear words that they have used in daily situations as the study of Staley (1978) has addressed the difference between male and female genders on using swear words by questionnaire. As cited by Fägersten (2012), Staley’s questionnaire was designed to place subjects in hypothetical situations in which they would experience the following emotions: fear, bewilderment, panic, defensiveness, pain, happiness, shock, horrow, embarrassment and so on. Besides description of an event, these hypothetical situations included information as to formality/informality of the setting Fägersten (2012).

Despite the extensive researches on slang language and swearing has been available currently with the advance of technology and popular culture to individual’s personal interaction, the mainstream of the past studies was mainly concentrated either on gender or age focused way. In addition, there has been a few research studies conducted in Turkey or about the slang usage of Turkish speakers’. Depending on the Staley’s questionnaire, Özçalışkan (1994) has conducted a research study under the theoretical framework of Lakoff (1975), which reveals the relationship between the women’s language usage of their social position. Özçalışkan’s study was conducted in at Bosphorus university in 1994, and it has been a long time.

In the course of time, there have been significant changes in the way general people speak, eat, act and manner under the effect of advancing technology. The routines of education, lifestyles, clothing, culture have drastically changed. In our paper, the results of recent changes of could be seen in the way people think, act, and use the slang language items. At past decades, the usage of slang language and the habit of swearing were assumed to be a trait of people who are mostly from lower social circles. Contrast to the common wisdom, slang language and tabooed words are more frequently used than it is ever (Dinçay, 2012).

By applying the same questionnaire with minor socio-cultural adaptations, our study aims to dwell on the frequency of swearing words’ usage within gender context. In addition, the participants in this research paper will be asked to state their individual expectations about the responses of other participants from opposite genders. Having been conducted on university students’, our paper could serve as a descriptive qualitative research and a discourse completion task on the use of swearing categories such as profanity, excretory, sexual, and mixed swear types.

According to Mormol (2018), swear words are uttered mainly by adolescents and students, for whom offensive phrases are more attractive than ‘regular’ words. As Mormol (2018) stated that swear words are used as substitutes for verbs, adjectives, adverbs and nouns.

Differences in the way that men and women use swear words have been a major concern for researchers from multi-disciplinary science fields, such as linguistics, sociology, psychology and especially English Language Teaching scholars.

Literature Review

Commonly, the issue of the influence of gender on slang language and swear words is not unmistakably very new. the relationship of slang language and gender had been observed and researched by numerous studies with different models and methodologies. In social relationship, language is used by somebody to represent who they are. As Amir & St. Azisah (2017) stated that language is related with strong identity of a certain social group and is represented by slang. On the definition of the slang, Amir & Azisah (2017) states that:

“Slang is a variety of speech characterized by newly coined and rapidly changing vocabulary, used by the young or by social and professional groups for ‘in-group’ communication and thus tending to prevent understanding by the rest of the speech community.’’

As would be covered in our paper, there are some basic terms that need to be clarified, such as profanity, expletive, excretory, slur and so on. According to Cambridge Dictionary of English language, profane means, showing no respect for God or for religious and moral values. Therefore, the words or compound words that include any refer to the religion such as ‘Ow my God’ or ‘Ow my gosh’ can also be listed as swearing besides literal swearing such as ‘bite me’, sh.t, b.tch, c.nt,, f-words and so on, besides using body gestures or Finger / Hand moves. The definition also extends to expressions that are racist, sexist, scatological or sexual. What profane is and is not largely depends on the context. One of the mostly referred terms, expletive literally means a word that is considered offensive. Expletive usage does not require tabooed or cursed words as profane language does. Expletive and profanity could be used interchangeably within our paper. Based on Staley’s (1978) and Ozcalıkan’s (1994) study we prefer the term expletives in our research, in the questionnaire and data collection period.

To be frank, taboo words and slang language are more prevalent in male speakers’ conversation area more than female speakers’ although they are exposed to the same educational environment (Güvendir, 2015). As cited in the study of Amir & Azisah (2017), Crowley & Himmelweit (1994) stated that:

‘Gender’ refers to the way, in particular society, people are socially constructed to behave and experience themselves as ‘women’ or ‘men’. Although all societies appear to treat women and men differently and thus have some notion of gender, what is consists of varies enormously from one society to another.

Talking about the effect of the gender on slang language using and swearing it would be rational to refer to some studies on the issue. In her paper Gati (2015) claims that women swear less than men but more when they are in the company of their own gender and her study proves this claim. Her study shows the most common functions of chosen swear words that women use. Jay’s (1992) research have displayed that %32 of the swear words utterances were used by the females as shown in Gati’s (2015) work. According to Gati (2015, p. 7), The findings of Jay’s (1992) study resulted in these eleven most common swear words in different gender constellations. In addition, women min using less swear words while they are met with a reporter of the opposite sex than they are met with the same sex reporter. It can be argued that it is more natural for women to use taboo words in the chat with the same sex when it is counted as total usage of taboo words (Hughes, 1992).

Although Gati (2015), Fägersten (2012), Finn (2017), Novianti (2017) and some other literature have a tendency to include the morphology and syntactic features of swear words or slang language items; in our paper, the structural features or morphology of slang language items will not be taken into consideration, but the frequency of participants’ usage, their responses and expectations will.

Humans are thought to have been using swear words since the rise of human language (Vingerhoets, 2013), and it is considered to be a fundamental and omnipresent characteristic of human interaction. According to the study of Jay (2009), swearing has been documented in the spoken language of many social groups; high school, college students, workers, soldiers, police, patients, prisoners, and so on. A standard human-being uses 15.000 - 16.000 words in one day and the usage rate of the taboo words in their speeches corresponds to 0.5% to 0.7% and it equals to roughly 80 - 90 words (Jay, 2009).

Slang language and swear words include so many different forms that some distinctions or categorization need be made at first. People use swear words for a couple of reasons; to insult/hurt other people, to express their aggravation to somebody or something, to use expletives as a reflex in a sudden pain or situation, and people can also be exposed to swear words by others according to similar reasons (Güvendir, 2015). Jay and Janschewitz (2008) claim that primary drive for swearing at someone strongly is to express emotions, especially anger and frustration. Finn (2017) classifies swearing into two main categories: propositional and non-propositional swearing. According to this distinction, propositional swearing includes dysphemistic, euphemistic, abusive, idiomatic, and emphatic swearing, while the users of those kind of speakers have a definite objective in their usage (Pinker, 2007). In her study, Finn (2017) claimed that NNSs (non-native speakers) may not be aware of the appropriacy level of swearing in different situations under the effect of frequent usage of swearing in popular culture. As cited in Finn (2017), Time Magazine reported that ‘Young readers encounter about seven instance of profanity per hour. Thus, an official from CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) reported that three of the top-ten pop songs in the US in 2011 have used f-word in the title of the songs. (Finn, 2017).

Likewise to study of C.M. Staley and Timothy B. Jay has also asked to some university students to figure out the probability and the aggressiveness rate of using swear words as a behave of the speaker, position of the utterance, and specific word used, to test the effect of the contextual changings on using taboo words in a detailed way. As mentioned in Jay & Janschewitz (2008), unlike to different ways of communication, swearing mainly aims to express connotative or sentimental meaning; these meanings of the expletives/swearing words are generally interpreted as connotative (Jay and Danks, 1977). 

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