Youth discourse in multilingual Mauritius: The pragmatic significance of swearing in multiple language

  • Tejshree Auckle Department of English Studies, Faculty of Social Studies and Humanities University of Mauritius
Keywords: Code Switching, swear words, multilingualism, Mauritius


Drawing from Dewaele (2010, 2013), this paper seeks to analyse the socio-pragmatics of swearing in face-to-face multilingual conversational encounters and argues that the conversational locus (Auer, 1984) of playfulness favours, amongst others, the co-occurrence of slang and code-switching (CS). Defined by Eble (1996: 11) as an "ever changing set of colloquial words and phrases that speakers use to establish or reinforce social identity or cohesiveness within a group or with a trend or fashion in society at large", slang is more often than not associated with the speech of youngsters seeking to set up the linguistic boundaries of their in-group. Viewed as a global phenomenon which is transposed differently in local contexts by young people hailing from different social, cultural and linguistic backgrounds —including, as Zimmerman (2009: 121) notes, dialectal and sociolectal backgrounds — it acts as a marker of symbolic "desire and consciousness of youth alterity". Such a situation can be endowed with further sociolinguistic complexity in multilingual situations such as Mauritius where the wide range of available languages endows speakers with an equally fertile repertoire of swear words derived from diverse sources.In keeping with the above, this paper focuses on a series of multi-party recordings carried out between the months of October 2011 and March 2012 and analyses the ways in which the usage of swear words in multilingual contexts can act not just as a reflection of speakers' communicative competence but also as an externalisation of their dynamism and creativity. The use of swear words in conjunction with CS is, thus, viewed as being a pragmatically consequential conversational act. Such linguistic versatility appears to be, therefore, indexical of a reflexive position that youngsters orient themselves to by allowing their linguistic output to be seen as a performance, "involv[ing] on the part of the performer an assumption of accountability to an audience for the way in which communication is carried out, above and beyond its referential content" (Bauman, 1975: 293).