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Sociolinguistics in Language Teaching 1

H Th Giang
Nguyn Tn Lc
Lu Nguyn H Vy
This presentation attempts to support the case for the role of teachers as a gap filler in teaching
taboo language in the second language classroom. Using the argument put forth by Claypole (2010) as the
basis for discussion, the presentation focuses to address two key questions: (a) Why should teachers be a
gap filler in teaching taboo language?; (b) How could teachers be a gap filler in teaching taboo language?
1. What is taboo language? What social purposes does taboo language serve?
a. What is taboo language?
Taboo is the prohibition or avoidance in any society of behavior believed to be harmful to its
members in that it would cause them anxiety, embarrassment or shame. (Wardhaugh, 2006,
p. 239)
Taboo is a proscription of behavior that affects everyday life. (Allan & Burridge, 2006, p. 1)
Taboo: banned on grounds of morality or taste (Merriam-Websters online dictionary, n. d.)

b. What social purposes does taboo language serve?
Taboo language can function as a communicative device when it is used a medium for
strengthening social relationship between participants.
the target can be interaction-centred with the effect of reinforcing the social
bonds between interlocutors. (Mateo & Yus, 2000, as cited in Murphy, 2010, p. 171).
Positive outcomes are achieved by using taboo words in jokes and humour, social
commentary,, in order to promote social harmony or cohesion. (Jay, 2009, p. 155).
Taboo language can allow speakers to claim their identity as a social-group member.
taboo words which are used within a particular social group, and which are
avoided in out-group communication. (Mesthrie, Swann & Deumert, 2009, p. 434).
The results of the study conducted by Daly, Holmes, Newton & Stubbe (2003) on the
use of the expletive fuck in interaction between a group of factory workers indicated
that in certain contexts, taboo language can function as an in-group solidarity
marker (p. 950).

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2. Why should teachers be a gap filler in teaching taboo language?
a. Why is there a gap in the teaching of taboo language in second language classroom?
Textbooks, as a source of language input, tend to overlook or underemphasize the topic of
these taboos subjectsare not merely information gaps in the coursebook; they
constitute whole areas of life which are crucial to meaningful language acquisition but
totally ignored in traditional teaching materials. (Claypole, 2010, p. 50).
The role of language classroom is often set within the framework of social beliefs and
expectation that classroom should serve as an environment for language standards to be
nurtured; thus the presence of taboo language in the classroom context is often uncalled for.
McGroarty (1996) pointed out the fact that, due to this public demand, language
forms considered as vulgar or profaneoften indicate the presence of what is
believed to be subversive value positions. (p. 26)

b. Why does such a gap need to be filled by language teachers?
Taboo language is essentially a sociological given (Murphy, 2010, p. 166) that reflects
individual or societal views and attitudes. Taboo language per se is not good or bad; it is
the social function that it is supposed to serve that can be. Thus, if teachers can help students
to use taboo language in a contextually appropriate way, there is no reason why taboo should
be treated differently from other language varieties in the language classroom setting.
all languages are equal in linguistic terms" (Alim, 2010, p. 224)
Jay (2009) stresses that since there is a lack of universal standards for offensiveness
due to context variability,the chore for language learner is to determine what words
are appropriate for a given social setting. (p. 154)
Sensitizing learners to the sociocultural appropriateness of taboo language used in different
situations can help to develop their communicative competence.
The key element in communicative competence is just these sorts of consideration
of appropriateness in all facets of language (Kachru & Neilson, 1996, p. 90)
A knowledge of taboo language can help to provide learners with a critical insight into the
cultural norms and values of the society in which the language is developed.

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3. How can teachers be a gap filler in teaching taboo language?
Teachers can use textbooks, with its benefit of providing something to negotiate about
(Hutchinson & Torres, 1994, p. 319), to bring up the topic of taboo language in the
Teachers could try to promote learners sensitivity towards the use of taboo language,
both appropriate and inappropriate, by exposing them to different communicative
contexts in which taboo can be used with both positive and negative outcomes. Also,
learners could be encouraged to identify which sociocultural variables are important in
conditioning the use of taboo.
Pedagogically, it requires teachers to design and implement methods, materials, and
activities which allow repeated use of many language varieties, including but not
necessarily limited to the standard, in different communicative context (McGroarty,
1996, p. 25)
However, it is critical, Lo Bianco (2010) argues, that teachers should try not to impose
expectations of how communication itself should be conducted (p. 166); instead,
teachers should try to socialize learners into conversational competence by subtly and
overtly, through persuasion and rhetoric, promoting certain types of taboo language for
some groups and discouraging or de-emphaize them for others.
Alim, H. S. (2010). Critical language awareness. In McKay, S., L. & Hornberger, N. (Eds.), Sociolinguistics and
language education (pp. 205-231). Bristol, England: Multilingual Matters.
Allan, K. and Burridge, K. (2006). Forbidden words. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Claypole, M. (2010). Controversies in ELT. Birkenfeld, Germany: Linguabooks.
Daly, N., Holmes, J., Newton, J., & Stubbe, M. (2004). Expletives as solidarity signals in FTAs on the factory floor.
Journal of Pragmatics, (36), 945-964.
Doyle, T. (2006). Teaching Bad Language in a Serious and Systematic Manner. Proceedings of the CATESOL State
Jay, T. (2009). Jay, T. (2009). The utility and ubiquity of taboo words. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4 (2),
Lindhardt, S. (2013). How to Teach Your Kids about Swear Words & Encourage a Respectful Vocabulary. Retrieved
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Education (pp. 143-176), Bristol, England: Multilingual Matters.
McGroarty, M. (1996). Languages attitudes, motivation and standards. In McKay, S., L. & Hornberger, N. (Ed.),
Sociolinguistics and language teaching (pp. 3-46) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mesthrie, R., Swann, J., Deumert, A. (2009). Introducing sociolinguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Murphy, B. (2010). Corpus and sociolinguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub. Co..
Wardhaugh, R. (1998). An introduction to sociolinguistics. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.
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