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Taboo Language Sparks Senior Interest

'The Spark Lecture held in The Cranham Library on Thursday 19 May addressed the risqué subject of ‘Taboo Language, drawing a large crowd of Senior School pupils and staff.

Ms Mountain delivered a fascinating  talk about the potential power of certain words and their histories which has led to their status as taboo. Students learned of obscure history and ancient tales of murder and pillage which are linked to some of our more secret language.

Much of the lecture was concerned with the myth that these words are Anglo-Saxon in origin. It is a popular belief outside of linguistic scholarship that when the Normans arrived commonplace words used by the Anglo-Saxons were replaced by French words within polite society instead. The notion that higher-status French words rendered their Anglo-Saxon equivalents taboo simply isn’t borne out by either the written or spoken record. Not least because only one of the words considered is Anglo-Saxon in origin.

The lecture went on to consider the challenges faced by linguists, particularly philologists, in tracing taboo language given that these words were rarely written down, even as the English-speaking world became increasingly literate. When we consider how much material actually survives from the Early and High Middle Ages tracking down these potentially offensive materials in the written record becomes particularly difficult.

The audience were invited to reflect upon why these words can cause offense, in terms of their aural as well as their semantic properties. By exploring these properties those staff and students present were challenged to consider the language they choose to use both taboo and otherwise.'

- Miss D C H Jackson


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