Swearing offline and online in the era of digital society

Project: Research project

Project Details


Swearing has often been connected to “bad behavior” and incivility in both online (Kwon & Cho 2017, Song & Wu 2018, Jay 2018) and face-to-face interactions (Jay 2009, Jay et al. 2006) and considered restricted to particular settings and categories of users, generally toward the lower end of register and class (Butler & Fitzgerald 2011, Mohr 2013, Tartamella 2016), while Hoey et al. (2021) have studied the use of expletives to sanction noncooperation in interaction. However, recent research (with the notable exception of Montagu (1967)) acknowledges that swearing might serve a more positive social purpose of building intersubjectivity and affiliation in interaction (Calabria & Sciubba 2022) and may also favorably affect hearer’s perceptions of the speakers proffering profanities (Stapleton 2020). Studies in Ethnomethodology (EM) and Conversation Analysis (CA) have mostly focused on the transgressive status (Schegloff 2003) and face to face interactional restriction around improprieties that may (Korobov & Laplant 2013, Pomerantz & Mendelbaum 2005), or may not (Butler & Fitzgerald 2011), positively affect intimacy.
Previous studies on swearing online have mostly focused on hate speech and aggression (Kwon & Grudzt 2017, Kwon & Cho 2017, Song & Wu 2018, Jay 2018, Pamungkas et al. 2020, Song et al. 2022 among others), but to our knowledge, there is no study of swearing on online platforms from an interactional and ethnomethodological perspective taking into account either hate speech and aggression or the use of swear words (broadly defined) to build rapport. The present project aims to fill this gap and to help disambiguate the contexts in digital society in which swearing (in its many forms) is disentangled from hate speech and aggressive behavior, thus helping SNS platforms, governments and regulatory agencies (i.e., the EU commission) – in their moderating efforts – discern among the many uses of language online. We aim to do so by focusing on participants’ observable orientations to offline (face-to-face) and online swearing, and building on previous research on swearing, intersubjectivity (Schegloff 1992, Kärkkäinen 2006, Haddington 2007, Stivers 2008, Sidnell 2014, Couper-Kuhlen et al. 2021, among others) and affiliation (Schegloff 1992, Stivers 2008, Stivers et al. 2011 ) in EM/CA in face-to-face interaction to apply it to online settings, the new loci of digital society ecological interactions.
Effective start/end date6/11/2219/11/22


  • swearwords
  • digital society
  • intersubjectivity
  • hate speech
  • affiliation


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