Dialogue, Linguistic Hinges and Semantic Barriers: Social Psychological Uses and Functions of a Vulgar Term

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Abstract

The present paper reports a study of conversational acts in dialogical interaction. Conversation in which the use of a vulgar term [à la bieb żobbi] in the Maltese language was used was recorded and analysed for the present purpose. The term is demonstrated to serve social psychological functions. We documented three modes governing its use in conversation, that is, (a) as a personality descriptor, (b) as a strategy for shutting down an alternative view, and (c) as a strategy for shifting dialogue to more neutral and less threatening grounds for the subject. We further document a number of modalities that govern justifications for using the vulgar term in conversation. We argue that the use of vulgarity can serve to achieve semantic barriers in dialogue and that these apply to internal conversations as much as they do to dialogical engagement with another. We further argue that semantic barriers can be overcome in ways that shift conversation to less threatening grounds.

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