swearing in a foreign language is fun!

I really expected to find more research on this subject, or at least more content discussing it.  I found nothing on the specific subject described below.  If my readers find anything relating to my post, please let me know in the comments.

The first four paragraphs of this post are lead up to my main point – this is a case of the introduction likely being longer than the intended thesis of the post.

I lived in South Korea for more than thirteen years and cursing or ‘bad words’ in Korean or English was a common subject for discussion.  For my fellow foreigners “shibbal Seggi” was a meaningless string of sounds and the translation we heard, given quickly and shyly also meant little (“Dog baby”).  To be more specific, it means you are so vile you likely did not have human parents and are part dog or other dirty, stupid animal.

“Fuck” is similarly difficult to explain and much time is needed to describe how it is to be used and why it is offensive.  “It means ‘sexual intercourse’?  That sounds great!”

Perhaps four times in my eleven years of teaching at Korean universities I needed to take a student aside and tell them to never wear that shirt in my class again -in each case the shirt had writing that included the word “fuck”.

Such words in foreign languages do not have an easy translation and are often used ironically or for shock value by non-native speakers.

Swearing on the web: Wikipedia, University of New Haven.

—-

All this has been a build up to a partial defense of the student president and orientation facilitators at St Mary’s University in Halifax.

From the Globe and Mail:

For the nearly 400 Saint Mary’s University students participating in a chant about rape during their orientation week, it was more about the rhyme than the words, according to the student union president.

Jared Perry told reporters Thursday that he knows now repeating the chant – celebrating non-consensual sex with underage girls – was wrong.

I learned of the building outrage while listening to CBC radio.  Among the people interviewed was a St Mary’s student who had been raped and for whom the chant caused her to relive those horrific times.

Another interviewed student tried to explain how the chant had been repeated every year since at least 2009 and, as best I recall, noted that the words had no real or visceral meaning for the young students to relate to.  I find this explanation simultaneously sadly weak and reasonable.  I started this post with the use of strong language that meant nothing to the speaker due to ignorance and a lack of living in the language.  Can this argument also defend native speakers?

I hope so for I have been a part of similar chants in my not-so-youth.  On a sports team I was part of, we occasionally sang a cheer that included, “We’re going to kill, rape, pillage and burn”.  I think that if we had been asked why we used those words, we would have said they simply were a more explicit form of “We will destroy the other team” which is an entirely acceptable turn of phrase.  Looking back, from the distance middle age gives me, I hope I would stop such a chant and suggest others, but at  the time I recall no concern over the words.  I would like to think that the fact we were clearly there to race gave us a little more slack in concern over word choice than a group of young adults who were clearly there to drink and try to score, but I may simply be offering weak rationalizations in my own defense.

The words are important and the university students need to know what is acceptable behavior and what is not.  I don’t know if ‘sensitivity training’ will work or simply bore the students into shutting out other important lessons.  I think I cannot hold the students to blame but the president and facilitators clearly have some lessons to learn.

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