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Forbidden Words, Taboos and Censoring of Language (Book Review Sample)


Review Allan.K. & Burridge, K. (2006).Forbidden Words, Taboo and Censoring of Language.


Forbidden Words, Taboos and Censoring of Language
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Allan.K. & Burridge, K. (2006).Forbidden Words, Taboo and Censoring of Language.
New York: Cambridge University Press.Pp.315.
In Forbidden Words, Taboo and Censoring of Language, Keith Allan and Kate Burridge examine, in depth, the subject of taboo and censoring of language. Indeed, the authors, who are both linguistics scholars and specialists in semantics and linguistic taboos and publishers of numerous authoritative books on the subject and based at Monash University, Australia, indicate that “this book provides a fascinating insight into taboo language and its role in everyday life.”The book is a sociological study but more concerned with the linguistic aspects. Ten topics form the basis of the discussion in the entire book, these are: taboos and their origins; sweet talking and offensive language; bad language i.e. Jargon, slang, swearing and insult; the language of political correctness; linguistic purism and verbal hygiene; naming and addressing; sex and bodily effluvia; food and smell; disease, death and killing; and taboo, censoring and the human brain. There is a notes section at the end of the tenth chapter that provides useful further insights about some issues raised in the text as well as the index. Each chapter focuses on a particular topic while relating to the whole issue of taboo and language censoring.
The authors aver that “taboo is a proscription of behavior that affects everyday life” (Allan & Burridge, 2006, p.1).Taboos arises out of individual’s behavior, where it can cause discomfort, harm or injury. The authors point out that people constantly censor their language even where there is no institutionalized censorship. The word ‘Taboo’ comes from the Tongan tabu which in the languages of Polynesia means ‘forbidden’ or any sort of prohibition (Allan & Burridge, 2).Taboos exist in every society and some, especially to do with food, but there is nothing like absolute taboos. The authors effectively trace the origins of taboos right from the ancient societies and how it has evolved over time in different societies.
After the origins of taboos, the authors explore the issue of sweet talking and offensive language. They explore the criteria for labeling of the word ‘dirty’ in English language but they aver that it is no different for other languages. Did you know that what counts for politeness varies between human groups? You will get all this in the book. In every communication, our language expression can be looked at as being more direct/formal (orthophemism), more figurative(euphemism),or disprefered(dysphemism)(Allan & Burridge,34).Dirty words, especially as associated with, bodily organs and bodily effluvia, have “the power to ‘titillate’ or stimulate as by gratifying the senses or the imagination”(Allan & Burridge,2006,p.41).The authors further aver that taboo terms are the most emotionally evocative of all the language expressions.
Jargons, slang, swearing and insults are considered as bad language hence they are censored in most contexts in our language. And have you ever heard of “the language of political correctness?”The authors dedicate a whole chapter to explore it in its various facets. Quoting linguist Noam Chomsky, the authors aver that this ‘healthy concern of moral concern’ (Allan & Burridge, 2006, p.90) has evolved in different forms and has evolved from politics to etiquette.Further, they aver, that politically correct language is a form of language censorship. But they observe that taboo culture has been evolving. In a whole chapter, the authors explain that “speakers’ concerns for the wellbeing of their language lead to Puristic activities and linguistic censoring,” (Allan & Burridge, 2006, p.112).Puristic language directs to the standard language and is a form of verbal hygiene. One’s name is considered an inalienable part of one’s identity.Thus, an assault on one’s name is considered similar to an assault on one’s body. This explains why names are tabooed in most societies.
The authors then proceed to discuss sex and bodily effluvia, topics ordinarily mentioned in whispers since they are heavily tabooed as topics of discussions. The authors aver that all sex whether heterosexual, transsexual, or homosexual is subject to taboos and censoring. They cite scriptures and ancient cultures and philosophers to show that this has been the case since antiquity. And did you know that masturbation is considered in the same breadth as murder in the church circles? All this is well explained in this book. There are constraints in naming bodily effluvia such as faeces, semen; menstruation etc.There is also a whole chapter on the language of food and drink. Food means more than just something to keep a person’s body healthy, but people take food for other purposes as well. Our bodies have intimate connections with food and thus food and drinks are subject to a great deal of taboo. And did you know there is a connection between food and sex? Well, this book explores the link.”Food is used as a metaphor for the sexes,” too (Allan & Burridge, 2006, p.194).There is also a robust discussion on disease, death and killing in relation to taboo language. Death is a fear based taboo, according to the authors, and there is much fear to it. The last chapter revisits taboo, censoring and the human brain. The authors aver that science has proven that “taboo language has a special place in our neutral anatomy” (Allan & Burridge, 2006, p.237).
The authors support their arguments with a vast array of references and cases from different societies, authors, philosophers and religious texts from across the worl...
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