TABOO is a restriction of cultural and religious character imposed on the language, thus shaping and determining its use. It can be defined as a ban on particular practices and associations with certain objects or concepts [Allan, Burridge 2006].

  1. is not aimed at eliminating an object from speech; the speaker defocuses its particular features using an alternative or milder expression to neutralize unpleasant or unnecessary associations with the object. Taboo word is then replaced by euphemisms, e.g. to pass away, to go to a better place instead of to die; loo instead of toilet; communicable / incommunicable diseases instead of curable / incurable diseases; to be not all there instead of to suffer from mental deficiencies; Big C instead of cancer; Lord instead of Jesus; undertaker instead of funeral undertaker.
  2. emerged at the early stages of cultural development characterized by the cognized indispensable connection between the word and the object denoted. It was believed that naming certain things (such as gods, spirits, diseases, death, numerous animals) could cause harm [Karaulov 1996]. The social changes that followed influenced the sociocognitive bias of T. spheres. Today T. manifests itself most obviously in the following areas: human body parts, organs and bodily excretions; diseases, death and killing (fishing and hunting included); sex; communicating private information; naming and addressing sacred beings, objects and places (e.g. military); obscene or swear words; food consumption [Allan, Burridge 2006].

Contemporary linguistic studies of T. concentrate on social, cultural, psychological, and territorial contexts. For example, a series of works by Timothy Jay explore obscenity use habits and the psychological background of T. [Jay et al. 2008; Jay, Janschewitz 2007, 2008]. Emotional states and responses which T. evokes and the influence of T. on memory processes have also become the research problem [Jay 2009]. T. receives a lot of attention in pragmatic studies, e.g. in relevance and politeness theories [Allan, Burridge 2006; Locher, Watts 2005].


Allan K., Burridge K. Forbidden Words – Taboo and the Censoring of Language. – Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. – P. 90-122.

Караулов Ю. Русский язык. Энциклопедия. – М.: Дрофа, 1997. – 553 p.

Jay T., Caldwell-Harris C., & King K. Recalling taboo and nontaboo words. – American Journal of Psychology, 121, 2008. – P. 83-103.

Jay T., & Janschewitz K. The pragmatics of swearing. – Journal of Politeness research, 4, 2008. – P. 267-288.

Jay T. The Utility and Ubiquity of Taboo Words. – Perspectives on Psychological Science. Vol. 2, 4, 2009. – P. 153-161.

Jay T., & Janschewitz K. Filling the emotion gap in linguistic theory: Commentary on Potts’ expressive dimension. – Theoretical linguistics, 33, 2007. – P. 215-221.

Locher M., Watts R. Politeness theory and relational work. – Journal of Politeness Research, 1, 2005. – P. 9-33.

М. Orlova