Gender differences in the Use of Taboo Expressions in Iraq: A Sociolinguistic Study

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Dr. Ibrahim Khidhir Sallo, et. al.


This paper attempts to examine gender differences (henceforth GDs) in the use of ‘taboo’ expressions in Iraq. Unfortunately, this area has not received any attention from  Arab and Iraqi  sociolinguists. In Iraq, male speakers swear more than female speakers. Moreover, both women and men swear more in the company of their own sex, but male usage of swear words drops automatically in mixed-sex conversation.‘Taboo’ expressions related to sexual organs, sex an intercourse are socially and morally forbidden and they are never used by people in ordinary life except among teenagers or when illiterate women and men quarrel. So, it is expected to hear them commonly used where poor illiterate people live. It is very common to hear such dirty taboo items uttered by drivers, fitters, etc. As a matter of fact, the use of ‘taboo’ words is strongly correlated with literacy rather than sex.The paper introduces the problem, hypotheses, purpose and objectives of the study, scope and limitation of the empirical research, definitions of related concepts, procedures of data collection, and recommendations and findings.This study attempts to shed  light on the phenomenon of GDs in the use of ‘taboo’ expressions in Iraq  including its nature, causes, and sociolinguistic restrictions imposed on them and how, where and why they occur.The study also highlights the role and impact of some sociolinguistic variables. Suggestions are advanced about when, how and why GDs occur, emphasizing the influence of sociolinguistic variables (i.e., topic, setting, and participants including their age, sex, education, rural vs. urban and socioeconomic background) as well as psychological, academic and other non-linguistic constraints.  This paper will focus on the daily language used in expressing the common speech acts. It is hypothesized that women use their own lexical items and expressions that are different from men’s in expressing these socially unacceptable expressions.  The study aims at verifying that GDs are social and rejecting the notion of innate GDs. Moreover, it aims at proving that Iraqi speech community is not a homogeneous society with shared linguistic norms in the Chomskyan sense (i.e., the ideal speaker/hearer theory).This empirical study is based on the analysis of data collected from 100  informants (50 Fs and 50 Ms) aged between 18 and 25 to answer whether (Fs or Ms or Fs and Ms) use them. Since the focus of this study is on GDs the third option (the use by both sexes), which implies similarity between the two sexes, was cancelled. Using a variety of ways, which include social participation, personal observation, interviews, questionnaires and utilising tapes where natural conversations could be approached. The results are reported in the analysis and discussion, which identify the language associated with the informants’  sex.Finally, some conclusions are drawn and some recommendations made for future GDs studies  in Iraq as well as the other Arab countries. Among the outstanding questions to be addressed are: (i) whether GDs have universal linguistic and extra-linguistic constraints, (ii) whether they are related more to competence or to performance; (iii) and whether the speakers of Arabic have the same competence in the Standard and the Iraqi varieties (Sallo 1983, 1988: 78). The answers to such questions may profoundly reshape our views of Arabic language in Iraq, whether in geographic, academic, or professional settings all around the world. To sum up, this paper does not claim that it covers the whole subject since the area of speech GDs is fresh and virgin especially in Iraq and there are many aspects which have not been investigated yet. Further studies, MA and Ph. D. dissertations depending on extended data, could be conducted on  GDs in Mobile messages, Chat language and in other  countries to have a comprehensive picture about this phenomenon.  Courses of GDs in email writing style, mobile messages and chat language could be introduced similar to writing courses to enable students to keep pace with the rapid changes and challenges that are happening around us in the wake of globalization.

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