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INTRODUCCION

Do we really use swearwords in daily
life as frequent as we think? Everyone in English has used, at least once, a
swearword. According to a The Sunday
Times article the swearword the most used by British people is ‘shite’ as
stated by recent reviews posted on Reevoo.com.
This is why I thought that it could be interesting to investigate the uses of
the word ‘shit’ and its variants (shite, shitty).

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There have been few studies of swearing
based on sociolinguistic variables such as gender, age and social class (McEnery
and Xio, 2004). Over-all, there are not so many studies about swearwords,
although I think they are an important part of our society because most people
use them every day, and I have the impression that they usually are set aside
when doing investigations. I also came to the idea of this investigation thanks
to the study made by Anthony McEnery and Zhonghua Xiao about the uses of fuck in the BNC and I thought it could
be interesting to do something similar with a different swearword.

The aim of this investigation is going
to be focus on the different uses and frequencies of the word ‘shit’ and its
morphological variants within the BNC. I will try to cover those aspects that I
consider the most relevant, because it is not possible to deal with all the
points deeply in this essay. In the first section I will do a comparison of the
frequency of the spoken and written text types; in the second section I will
study the spoken English transcribed texts in detail, including the different
domains, the gender and the age of the speaker; and in the third and last
section I will examine the written text types, covering as well the different
domains, the gender and the age of the author.     

LITERARY RESOURCES

One of the main literary resource that I
am going to used is, as I have said in the introduction, the study made by Anthony
McEnery and Zhonghua Xiao: Swearing in
modern British English: the case of fuck in the BNC.

METHODOLOGY

In order to carry out my investigation,
the corpus that I have used to do all the research is the British National Corpus (BNC), which “is a 100 million word
collection of samples of written and spoken language from a wide range of
sources, designed to represent a wide cross-section of British English, both
spoken and written, from the late twentieth century” (Burnard, 2009). I have
used the latest edition available, which is the BNC XML Edition, released in 2007,
according to its website. As I have followed the investigation that Anthony
McEnery and Zhonghua Xiao did, I have used the same corpus as them, because I
wanted to do a research of the word shit
and its linguistic variants with a corpus that could offer me samples of
written and spoken language, and because it is reduce just to the British
language.

Within the BNC, to find the results, I
have been using the different options that text type offers. For example, to
know the frequency of spoken and writt­­­en English I have used the option of text type, to know the domain, the
option of domain for context-governed
spoken material and domain for
written corpus texts and to know the age and the gender of the speaker and
the author, I have used the options that the text type frequency distribution offers to make frequency lists.

FINDINGS

1.   
Spoken vs. written register

The spoken register is usually less
formal than the written register, because when we speak we tend to think less
about what we are saying. In real life, it is more common to say swearwords
when we are speaking with someone, whereas it is less common in writings. For
instance, in the BNC corpus, the spoken section covers just the 10 percent of
the data, while the written texts consist on the 90 percent left (McEnery and
Xio, 2004).  Among all the table 1, the four words have a
higher spoken register. As it can be seen, the frequency of the word shit is higher in the spoken register
than in the written register, this is the greatest contrast that it can be seen.
As I said before, my speculation for this is that shit and its linguistics variants are usually more used in informal
context, as all swearwords, and we tend to speak in a less formal way. On
particular thing that stands out is the use of the word shite: it is the less frequent word of the table. As I have said on
the introduction, according to a recent survey, this word is the most used by
British people, so this table suggest that its use has increased during the
last years.     

Table 1

Form

Register

Words

Raw frequency

Normalized frequency (per million)

Shit

Spoken

10,341,729

737

71.26

 

Written

87,278,205

1,092

12.51

Shite

Spoken

10,341,729

15

1.45

 

Written

87,278,205

78

0.89

Shitty

Spoken

10,341,729

22

2.12

 

Written

87,278,205

44

0.50

Shitting

Spoken

10,341,729

21

2.03

 

Written

87,278,205           

15

0.17

2.    Variations within
spoken English

In this part of the investigation I am
going to explore how the word shit
and its linguistic variations are use in the spoken English with the British National Corpus. I will compare
the spoken demographic text-type with the spoken context-governed text-type,
the different domains in the context-governed spoken material, the gender of
the speaker and the age of the speaker.

2.1.              
Spoken
demographic vs. spoken context-governed text type

According to the British National Corpus website, The British National Corpus has five
to ten million words of orthographically transcribed speech, covering a wide
range of speech variation. The demographically sampled part of the corpus
consists mainly of conversational English, whereas in context-governed, the
range of text types was selected according to a priori linguistically motivated
categories

Context-governed speech is indeed more
formal than demographically sampled speech (McEnery and Xio, 2004). The
greatest contrast is the word shit in
the demographic speech, with a 160.96 frequency per million, which is 41 times
higher than the word from the context-governed text type. Furthermore, for the
rest of the words the frequency is higher in the demographic as I have
expected, because this text type is less formal and we are facing non-formal
words, so it is not surprising. It is also remarkable that the word shitty does not appear in the
context-governed text-type. 

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Table 2

Form

Text
type

Words

Raw
frequency

Normalized
frequency (per million)

Shit

Demographic

4,206,058

677

160.96

 

Context-governed

6,135,671

24

3.91

Shite

Demographic

4,206,058

12

2.85

 

Context-governed

6,135,671

3

0.49

Shitty

Demographic

4,206,058

22

5.23

 

Context-governed

6,135,671

0

0

Shitting

Demographic

4,206,058

19

4.51

 

Context-governed

6,135,671

2

0.32

2.2.              
 Different domains

Sometimes when people talk their
language vary depending on the subject they are speaking about. There are four
types of domains in the context-governed speech: business, educational /
informative, leisure and public / institutional. Before having done any
research, I expected the leisure domain to be the most frequent, as it can be
seen as a less formal domain. For instance, once the research was done, as we
can see in the table 3, the word shit has the highest frequency in the
business domain with 8.55 per million words, whereas in the leisure it just has
a 1.28 per million words. Apart from that, the word is simply non-existent in
the public or institutional domain. My suggestion is that there is nothing in
that domain because it is the most formal category, and it is not usual to hear
swearwords in political speeches, or government talks in where the language is
chosen with accuracy.

Table 3

Domain

Words

Raw
frequency

Normalized
frequency (per million)

Business

1,285,938

11

8.55

Educational / Informative

1,633,303

11

6.73

Leisure

1,561,167

2

1.28

Public / Institutional

1,655,263

0

0

 

2.3.              
Gender
of the speaker

Apparently, among history, men were seen
as the ones that say more swearwords than women. Women have been “stereotyped
as swearing less, using less slang” and being “judged according to their sex”
(Hughes 1992:291). In the past, women have been expected to be more polite in
their speech due to “their inferior status and because they carry the
responsibility for transmitting the norms of speech to children” (Williamsson,
2009). In the table 4, what surprised
me was that the frequency of the word shit
was higher for men per million, while the raw frequency showed a higher number
for females. In this sense, it contrasts our initial hypothesis that women say
more swearwords, with the exception of the word shitting, whose frequency per million is nearly 2 times superior. However,
apart from shit, the rest of the
words are not statistically significant. 

Table 4

Form

Gender

Words

Raw
frequency

Normalized
frequency (per million)

Shit

Male

1,730,592

287

165.84

 

Female

2,459,315

371

150.85

Shite

Male

1,730,592

5

2.89

 

Female

2,459,315

7

2.85

Shitty

Male

1,730,592

11

6.36

 

Female

2,459,315

8

3.25

Shitting

Male

1,730,592

5

2.89

 

Female

2,459,315

14

5.69

2.4.              
Age
of the speaker 

The relation between non-standard language and sociological variables such
as age and gender have already been observed in many spoken discourse investigations.
The term age-grading was
defined as it is used today by William Labov. He defined it as “an individual
linguistic change against a backdrop of community stability” (Wagner, 2012).
Children and adolescents tend to speak in the way they listen, for example, a
little boy will speak as her mother, or a teen boy will speak as their friends
speak. Adults tend to have a more formal speech, the language that is used in
their workplace, the standard language, whereas elderly people usually have a
less formal speech.

As I have said, swearing is consider informal, so it is not surprising
that people between 0-14 and 15 -24 years old are those with the higher
frequency. For instance, it has astonished me that children between 0-14 are
the ones that say shit with the highest frequency, so this shows, as it can be
seen in the table 5
that the smaller you are, the most swearwords you say. However, my speculation
is that this table doesn’t show the real life frequency as the words from this
age are considerably minor, although the raw frequency is high for the few
words. I think that maybe young adults or adults swear the same or more, but
they know that they have to do that in a familiar environment, while possibly
children and adolescents are less conscious about that. It is remarkable that
the frequency is higher in people from 45-59 (58.49) than in 35-44 (44.49).

Table 5

Age

Words

Raw frequency

Normalized frequency
 (per million)

0-14

265,382

150

565.22

15-24

660,847

320

484.28

25-34

848,162

119

140.30

35-44

839,622

37

44.07

45-59

957,382

56

58.49

60+

634,663

5

39.39

 

3.    Variations within written
English

Table 6

Form

Text type

Words

Raw frequency

Normalized frequency (per million)

 

Written books and periodicals

78,580,018

1,038

165.84

Shit

Written
miscellaneous

7,373,707

38

150.

 

Written-to-be-spoken

1,324,480

0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written books and periodicals

78,580,018

35

 

Shite

Written
miscellaneous

7,373,707

23

2.85

 

Written-to-be-spoken

1,324,480

0

6.36

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written books and periodicals

78,580,018

38

2.89

Shitty

Written
miscellaneous

7,373,707

6

5.6

 

Written-to-be-spoken

1,324,480

0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written books and periodicals

78,580,018

14

 

Shitting

Written
miscellaneous

7,373,707

1

 

 

Written-to-be-spoken

1,324,480

0

 

 

3.    1. Different domains in written
English

In 2.3.
section I have found the different domains of the word shit and how it vary among each other. In this section I examine
the different domains in the written English. As it can be seen in the table 7 below, the distribution of the
word shit in the written domains is
statistically significant.

First of all, the domain with the higher
frequency is the imaginative, it
contains mainly fiction that is to say that we can see real representations of
speeches, so maybe this is the reason why it is the higher. The following
domains are arts (37.11 per million) and
leisure (6.40 per million), my
suggestion is that these two domains are less formal that the rest of them, so
it is not surprising. For instance, what is remarkable is that in the spoken
English, the business and the educational domains (8.55 and 6.73
respectively per million words) were the most frequents, whereas in the written
English it is not that frequent.  

Table 7

Domain

Words

Raw
frequency

Normalized
frequency (per million)

Imaginative

16,377,726

666

40.66

Applied Sciences

7,104,635

8

1.13

Arts

6,520,634

242

37.11

Belief and thought

3,007,244

1

0.33

Commerce
and finance

7,257,542

8

1.10

Leisure

12,187,946

78

6.40

Natural
and pure science

3,784,273

1

0.26

Social sciences

13,906,182

27

1.94

World
affairs

17,132,023

61

3.56

 

3.2.       Gender of the author  (escribir mas)

As it has been previously seen, the word
shit was more frequently used by men
in the spoken speeches, but the difference between male (165.64) and female (150.85)
was not so big. In the written English, as it shows the table 8, the raw frequency is also higher for men (18.66) than for
women (13.81). So, it can be concluded that in written text and in speeches the
frequency is similar. The word shit
is by far the most significant one if we compare it with the rest. Shite, shitty and shitting are
not statistically important enough to draw strong conclusions, although in all
of them the frequency is superior for male.

Apart from this, there are 1,573 text
whose gender of the author is unknown, and again, the most frequent word is shit, with 271 words.  

Table 8

Form

Gender

Words

Raw
frequency

Normalized
frequency (per million)

Shit

Male

30,434,132

568

18.66

 

Female

14,480,939

200

13.81

Shite

Male

30,434,132

16

0.52

 

Female

14,480,939

2

0.14

Shitty

Male

30,434,132

15

0.49

 

Female

14,480,939

13

0.90

Shitting

Male

30,434,132

7

0.23

 

Female

14,480,939

2

0.14

 

3.3.        Age of the author

If we do a comparison between the age of the author
in the table 9 and the table 5 which
shows the age of the speaker, we can appreciate some significant statistics.
For example, in speeches the higher frequency was in children from 0-14,
although in the table below, the word shit is simply non-existent. In written
texts the word is most frequent in the range of age among 25-35 (44.60 per
million). Apart from this, it is outstanding that in speeches, the range of
45-59 (58.49 per million) was superior in frequency than the range of 35-44
(44.07). It is the contrary in written texts, where the frequency of the people
among 35-44 is higher than the ones from 45-59.

My speculation is that, apart from the obvious that
there are more written texts than transcribed speeches, children and adolescent
do not write texts as much as adults, and maybe, if we had more text from 0-14
and 15-24, the frequency of the word shit would be
higher.

Age

Words

Raw frequency

Normalized frequency
 (per million)

Unknown

65,457,159

600

9.16

0-14

59,071

0

0

15-24

537,251

15

27.92

25-34

2,286,936

102

44.60

35-44

6,660,606

207

31.08

45-59

7,157,985

122

17.04

60+

5,119,197

46

8.98

 

CONCLUSIONS

REFERENCES

http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/corpus/index.xml?ID=numbers

http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fass/projects/corpus/ZJU/xCBLS/chapters/C04.pdf

Normalizing Word Counts

Wagner, Suzanne E. “Age Grading in
Sociolinguistic Theory.” Language and Linguistics Compass (2012): 371-82.    

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/50e4/69d10809529292497f7af73d8cf1130698cc.pdf

https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:224208/FULLTEXT01.pdf

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0963947004044873

http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fass/projects/corpus/ZJU/xCBLS/chapters/C04.pdf

http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk/archive/worldURG/design.xml?ID=spodes

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/and-the-winner-of-best-swear-word-is-7p8dqq67m

 

 

 

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