Swearing, discourse and function in conversational British English

Tony McEnery, Gavin Brookes, Elizabeth Hanks, Kevin Gerigk, Jesse Egbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In this paper we look at the role that macrostructures in discourse have to play in the study of swearing. While studied in isolation, such macrostructures have not yet been studied comprehensively and the range of macrostructures studied has been small. By contrast, work on microstructures is much better developed. In response to this, using spoken corpus data from the BNC2014, we take two approaches to studying discourse in this paper. In the first approach, we explore spoken data which has been annotated with a functional discourse coding scheme that shows, across the corpus, the distribution of a set of macrostructures, discourse units, that generally characterise conversation. Our goal is to see how swearing distributes according to discourse unit function and to account for any observations made. Following from that, we explore a single macrostructure of discourse - narrative, including its sub-elements - to see whether swearing interacts with this macrostructure and its component parts. We conclude by arguing that discourse is an important dimension along which the use of swearing may vary, that such variation is likely to relate to emotion, and that the different perspectives on macrostructure taken in the paper are complementary.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-48
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
StatePublished - Aug 2023


  • Annotation
  • Discourse
  • Discourse units
  • Macrostructure
  • Narrative
  • Swearing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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