来源:岁月联盟 作者:黄秀英 时间:2010-10-06
[Abstract] Language, as the carrier of culture, is created during the process of human beings’ productive labor and serves as the tool of communication to convey the message between people. However, it has been endowed with magic and power in particular language acts. As the old saying goes, troubles come out of the tongue. Superstitious people think that the language itself can bring about fortune or misfortune so that taboos to restrict the use of language are created. Anyone who violates them will get punishment, whereas those who faithfully obey the restrictions of language taboo will get protection. Furthermore, linguistic taboos change with the development of society .The paper firstly analyzes the evolution of linguistic taboo. Secondly, it is indicated in the paper that linguistic taboo exists in almost every aspect of people’s life and is a universal social phenomenon in China and Britain. Both Chinese and English cultures are in agreement about linguistic taboos such as pronunciation taboo, and vocabulary taboo. However, influenced by different cultural backgrounds, ideologies and the concepts of value, Chinese and English linguistic taboos also have differences, as is discussed in the paper from the aspects of taboo subjects, taboo numbers and names. At last, this paper puts forward two effective ways of avoiding taboo, that is, using euphemism and having a good knowledge of the taboo culture. And this discussion would help English learners improve their ability of cross-cultural communication and achieve better communicational effects.
[Key Words] linguistic taboo; evolution; similarities; differences
【摘 要】 语言是人们在活动过程中产生和起来的一种社交工具,其功能就是沟通信息,但在特定的语言行为中,却被赋予了它自身所没有的超人的感觉和超人的力量。社会成员竟认为语言本身能给人类带来某种吉祥或不幸,人为地设置了种种语言禁区。他们相信谁要是违背这些语言禁忌,谁就会受到应有的惩罚。反之,谁要是忠实遵循了语言禁忌的约束,谁就会得到相应的庇护和保佑。语言禁忌会随着社会的发展而变化。本首先论述了语言禁忌的演变,接着提出语言禁忌存在于人们生活的各个方面,是一种普遍存在的社会现象。在汉英两种语言中,有些忌讳是一致的。文中分析了中言禁忌在语音层面、词汇方面的相似性。但是由于汉英民族文化背景、意识形态、价值观念等的不同,中英语言禁忌的内容和形式也有一些差异,因此本论文还探讨了中英语言禁忌在私人话题、数字和命名称谓方面的互异性。这些异同和发展演进往往会给跨文化交际带来一些障碍,为此,有效避免使用禁忌语的方法主要是使用委婉语代替禁忌词,并充分了解异国的文化背景。希望本论文的研究能帮助英语学习者加深英汉两种语言和文化的理解,提高跨文化交际能力,避免交际失败,达到理想的交际效果。
【关键词】 语言禁忌; 演变; 相似点; 不同点

1. Introduction
“It is manifested in language: persons, things and activities that are taboo should not be talked about or should be mentioned in a roundabout way in language. Words and expressions related to these social taboos are linguistic taboos. ”[1] The above definition shows that Linguistic taboo, as an integral part of language, is not only a linguistic phenomenon but also a social phenomenon.
Like other parts of language, the origin of linguistic taboo is deeply rooted in the primitive social and cultural background and its change is greatly influenced by the development of human society in order to satisfy human beings’ needs for smooth communications. With the advancement of science and technology, many puzzles about the universe are solved, and with the increase of material wealth, human demands for spiritual civilization are also becoming higher. Evidently, linguistic taboos are a reflection of these social development and the value concepts and beliefs of the culture in which they are born. It exists in every aspect of people’s life.
There are some similarities in English and Chinese linguistic taboo, but different cultures may not all agree on what is or is not a taboo in a specific context. So the differences also exist between English and Chinese linguistic taboo. A Lack of knowledge in this field or improper use of linguistic taboos may lead to misunderstandings, conflicts and other unknown serious consequences in the cross –culture communications which is increasingly frequent and wider now.
This paper intends to study the evolution of linguistic taboo, to analyze the similarities between Chinese and English linguistic taboo in pronunciation and vocabulary, and present the differences from the aspects of names, numbers as well as taboo subjects in both cultures. Last but not least, two effective ways are proposed to avoid linguistic taboos.
2. The evolution of linguistic taboo
The word taboo (also spelled as “tabu”, “tapu” and “kapu”) was borrowed from Tonga, an island group in Polynesia, and its first recorded use in English was by Captain James Cook (1729-1779), a British navigator. He came to the Archipelago of Tonga during his explorations in the southern part of the Pacific Ocean. There he heard the word from the local people, which originally referred to persons, activities (including speech), or things under prohibition because they were considered, on the one hand, ”sacred” and “consecrated”, and on the other, “uncanny”, “dangerous” and “unclean”. He introduced it into English in his description of his third voyage around the world in 1777.But taboo phenomena are not unique in Tonga. Instead, it has long existed in all cultures and language throughout the world. [2]
As we have mentioned above, linguistic taboo is not only a linguistic phenomenon but also a kind of social phenomenon. The development of society has influenced the development of linguistic taboo. So if we want to reveal the whole picture of linguistic taboo, we must have a review of the history of linguistic taboo. “The evolution of linguistic taboo has generally experienced three stages according to the history of human society: the primitive superstitions stage, the feudal patriarchal stage, and modern democratic stage. But there is no explicit demarcation line between three stages.”[3]
2.1 The primitive superstitious stages
As we all know, In the primitive society, people didn’t get to know well about nature, most natural phenomena such as lightning, thunder, storm, earthquake, were beyond the understanding of human beings. When these phenomena happened, they thought that certain supernatural creatures possessed great power. They thought that if they were loyal to these supernatural creatures, they would be safe or rewarded. If they acted against them, they would be punished severely. As a result, the primitive people created different kinds of gods. They held a strong religious conviction that these gods controlled the world that they were living in. So the first thing they did was to respect these gods through language. There is an example from the Seventh Commandment of the Ten Commandment in Bible “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name”. [4]
 In a word, the earliest linguistic taboo emerged as a result of the ignorance and superstition of the primitive people in ancient times.
2.2 The feudal patriarchal stage
Feudal society is rigidly stratified. A country of feudalism is usually controlled by the royals and sometimes together with those considered with great power given by god.
 During the feudal times, people were not equal to the rulers and were suppressed by their superiors. The distinction between the upper and the lower classes was also reflected in the evaluation of the language used by them respectively. The words of upper class used were considered good and elegant while those used by the lower class were regarded as vulgar and indecent and should be avoided in the speech of ladies and gentlemen. For example, when referring to ‘出汗’ , duchesses used the word ‘perspire’, but the female servants used ‘sweat’; when referring to ‘吐痰’ ,the former people used ‘expectorate’, but the latter used ‘spit’ ; As for ‘月经’, the former used ‘menstruate’, but the latter used ‘bleed’. The maxim “Horses sweat; men perspire; young ladies glow” more or less can reflect the stratified usage of words which have the same meaning in this period. [5] In China, during the feudal times, men usually play a dominant role in family. We can see it from the Chinese expressions “三从四德” ,“三纲五常”etc. In order to strengthen their position and to prevent their subjects from violating them, the royals and kings put forward different kinds of prohibitions and bans. For instance, to show their authority and majesty, the name of the emperor and his ancestors should not be mentioned. At the same time, people always avoided speaking out their parents’ names or even the characters in their parents’ names. The old saying “古人闻父名而泣” can prove this point.
Most linguistic taboos during this period were put into effect by rulers in order to maintain their superior social position and keep the society under their control. However, some of them, because of their deep-rooted influence on people’s mind, still remain in language even after the collapse of the social system
2.3 The modern democratic stage
In modern society, as a result of the development of science and technology, many natural phenomena are no longer mysterious. Human beings not only constantly improve their abilities to exploit the world where they are living through their great wisdom and knowledge, but also make efforts to explore the extraterrestrial world. Science has much more say in today’s society. Thereby, the superstitious elements in linguistic taboos decrease while those reflecting spiritual civilization increase.
During such an open-minded period, people value freedom, equality and democracy very much. Many minorities struggle for equal rights with the majorities. As a result, linguistic taboos concerning racial discrimination arise. For example, in the United States, “nigger” was widely used to call black people in the 1960s but now it is forbidden in normal interaction because such form of addressing shows contempt for the black and goes against the spirit of human rights.
 In addition, more and more women step outside their houses to work together with men. They don’t want to depend on men any longer. However, the traditional ideas about women stifle the fulfillment of their abilities and they are often treated unfairly in work. This forces women to rise and fight for equalities with men and more and more men begin to learn to respect women, which will have an influential effect on the language. As a result, taboos on sexist language increase. Besides, in an era of peace, the relative stability of society and the fast pace of life, people don’t bother much to avoid things in the objective world. Instead, they prefer living a pleasant and harmonious life. They enjoy spiritual entertainment very much, so they try to avoid those words and behaviors that may make others feel unpleasant to keep the harmonious relationship. Those professions that were looked down upon in the past are beautified now. The substitution of “sanitation engineer” for “garbage collector” is a good example for this.
As a whole, since the third stage, people today show more respect for science and technology and human right so that the superstitious and feudal elements in linguistic taboos tend to reduce while those reflecting the advancement of human society and spiritual civilization tend to increase.
3. The similarities between Chinese and English linguistic taboo
There are taboos for religion, sex, death, disease, social bias, etc in both Chinese and English cultures and they are reflected in their respective language and become a kind of linguistic phenomenon. The similarities of Chinese and English linguistic taboo mainly embody in the following aspects:
3.1 In pronunciation 
Both Chinese people and English people believe that saying words that imply misfortunes or disasters may bring them trouble, and they thought misfortunes can be prevented by replacing the words with homophones that have better meanings.
 In China, many taboos have been caused by superstitions. In Shanxi province of China, there is a custom that mulberries can not be planted in front of the house and willows can not be planted behind the house, because the Chinese character “桑(mulberry)”sounds the same as “丧(mourning)and “柳(willow)”sounds the same as “绺”.They may indicate that there will be a funeral and something will be stolen.[6] Gamblers won’t say “书(book)”, because the Chinese “shu/书(book) sound the same with “shu/输(defeat)”. Chinese people will not present a clock as a gift in weddings or other ceremonies, because “ clock” pronounces “zhong (钟)”, which has the same pronunciation as “zhong/终(end)”, meaning death in Chinese. Many other examples also can be found in Chinese. Some fisherman in South China avoid saying such word as “fan/翻(turn over)” or “chen/沉(sink)” and any other words with similar sounds. Some even change their surname “chen/陈” which sounds the same as “chen/沉”. It is said that the chopsticks people in the East use when having meals were originally called “zhu/箸” in ancient China. Since it had the same sound as “zhu/住(stop)”, it was replaced later by “kuaizi /筷子” since “kuai/筷” sounds like “kuai/快(quick)”. In western countries, there are also many such kinds of examples. When a word sounds the same as a taboo word, it needs changing into another expression. For instance, “in earlier 18th century, the female in English and American countries always tried to avoid using the word ‘arse(the bottom part of the body one sits on)’, which was considered inelegant. So people called the animal ‘ass’ as ‘donkey’.”[7] Another typical example is that “fuck(a sail)”, “feck” or “fack(fact)” are seldom used or even go out of use, because they pronounce the same as “fuck”. “Neaman made a conclusion that the reason why some words disappeared were related to the fact that their pronunciation are the same as some taboo words”. [8]
3.2 In vocabulary
“Roughly speaking, taboo words in English fall into three types, namely obscenities, profanities and vulgarities”.[9] Based on this classification, the part firstly analyzes the three types as follows:
3.2.1 In obscenities
Obscene words refer to words relating to sex in a shocking and offensive way. That is to say, obscene words may cause offence to the social moral principles. They usually go out of use in public occasion and cannot appear in literary language. These words are related to human beings sexual behaviors. In both English and Chinese, these words are to be avoided in polite conversations, because they may cause strong disapproval.
In America, the Sexual Revolution in 1960s and 70s made people more open toward sex, but now words such as “making love” and “having sex” still seldom appear directly in writing, let alone in conversation. Western people are serious towards sex terms to a certain degree, so to speak.
The Chinese people also treat terms on sex seriously. Chinese people always use the expression of “ 作风问题”or“不正当关系”to show the immoral relationship between a man and a woman.
As we all know, pregnancy is a normal physiological phenomenon, but in daily life, people won’t say it directly, as it is related to sex. If someone is pregnant, English people will say, “she is expecting a baby” or “she is in a family way”. Similar euphemisms can be found in Chinese “有喜了”, “行动不便了”.
3.2.2 In profanities
Profanities refer to religious words used in a way that shows a lack of respect for God or holy things. Religion is a fertile field of this type of taboo terms.  A typical example is that Christian cannot refer to God or God’s name. “The Ten Commandments forbid people to ‘take the name of the Lord your God in vain’. So it is considered very rude to say ‘goddame’ or ‘goddamned’”. [10] The words such as “God,” “Jesus,” “damn” and “hell” etc, are considered holly and only properly used in religion. If they appear in daily communication, they will make people unpleasant and disgusted. So people always try to avoid using these taboo words directly. They would like to use their euphemisms “Gosh,” “Jeepers creepers,” “dash” and “heck”. Some people also avoid referring to the devil, which is considered disrespectful. So they use “the deuce”, “the dickens”, “ old Nick” to substitute “ the devil”.
We can find similar examples in Chinese. In religion, people use some complimentary address to refer to awesome gods, e.g. “大帝”, “大圣”, “佛陀 (Buddha)”. Another example is that, tiger is regarded as the divine animal near the Changbai Mountain situated in the Northeast of our country. Therefore, there was the custom of “tiger is the god” in ancient times. People avoided calling the “tiger” directly and gave the tiger another name, “山君” or “山佛爷”.
3.2.3 In vulgarities
Both in English and Chinese the vulgar words are usually rude and offensive and bring about unpleasantness, anger or conflicts.
Swearwords in English are often called four-letter words, because most of them are short, and many are made up of four letters, e.g.: piss, shit, crap, fuck. “These so-called four letter words are considered vulgar.” [11]
Swear words formed by employing some of the animals’ names are vulgarities too.
They are very improper expressions in most conversations, especially when there are male and female at the same time, such as “bitch”, “cow”, “swine”, “pig” etc.  “The British Parliament has once published a word list. The words on the list are abusive and were unparliamentary expressions, such as ‘cad’, ‘cheeky’, ‘liar’, ‘prevaricating’, ‘fascist’ etc.”[12] In general situation, even in daily communications, these vulgar words are considered taboo words.
In Chinese, there are also many similar sayings, such as “小兔崽子”, “羊巴羔子”, “狗娘养的”, “小王八” etc. These words are used to insult others. People always try to avoid using them in a normal and polite communication.
The evolution of linguistic taboo indicates that taboos involve in almost every field of life. Therefore the above three types of taboo words don’t present a complete list of taboo terms and the author has found other types of taboo words in other references.
3.2.4 In terms concerning disease, death and physical disability
Either in English or in Chinese culture, disease, death, and physical disability may horrify people. So people don’t like to mention these directly in conversation. Therefore, they are considered taboos.

In both English and Chinese, death is viewed as “departing”. In English, we can find many euphemisms for death, such as “go”, “depart”, “depart from this world”, “go to a better world”, “go the ways of all flesh”, “pass away” etc. In Chinese, we also can find similar euphemisms: “去了”, “离开了我们”, “辞世”, “去见马克思了”, “归西”,“升天”, “上路”etc. In both English and Chinese, death is compared to “sleeping”, “sleep” in English correspond to “正寝”,“长眠”,or“永眠”in Chinese.
Words denoting terrible disease are also sources of horror. In English, people don’t like to talk about terrible disease or disease related to sexual organs directly. For instance, they use “V.D” instead of “veneral disease”; use “big C”, “long disease”, or ”terminal illness” to replace “cancer”. Abbreviations are often used to alleviate the shocking effect. For instance, SARS is used to substitute the terrible name “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndromes”.
In Chinese, when we talk to a patient, we may say “你今天不舒服,别上班了”.Here, we use “不舒服” instead of “病”. As a soldier, we may say “挂彩了” instead of “伤”.
Mental illnesses are thought not to be mentioned directly. For example, when referring to a mental illness, we just say “a little eccentric” or “a little confused”.
Either in Chinese or Western, people have sympathy for one’s physical disability. If someone looks ugly, we will say she/he looks plain/ordinary and we won’t use the word “fat” to describe a man. We only use “heavily set” or “on the heavy side”. If a girl is thin, we won’t use skinny. We just say slender, and when we refer to a crippled, we will say, “physically handicapped”. In Chinese, if one is deaf, we will say “耳朵背”, “耳朵有点不好”, “说话得近点”. In English, it is called “hard of hearing”.
3.2.5 In terms concerning parts or excretion of the body
 In both cultures, people think that certain parts of the body and the excretion of body cannot be mentioned in daily conversations. They are often considered taboos.
For example, in English, there are so many euphemisms for lavatory, such as “washroom”, “restroom”, “bathroom”, “comfort station”. If they want to go to lavatory, they will say: “go to the bathroom”, “do their business”, “answer nature’s call”. In Chinese, “厕所” is always avoided in public occasion, one may say :“去一号” or“去方便一下”..
3.2.6 In discrimination
“In recent years, there is a growing tendency to regard as taboo language that reflects a demeaning attitude towards certain social or ethnic groups. Racist language and sexist language, for example, are offensive to the social or ethnic groups discriminated against.” [13]
   Discrimination against woman is a universal and unreasonable phenomenon in the society. And its reflection on language is sexist language. Both in English and Chinese, there are traces of sexist language. Unless one is careful enough with his/her speech, one may easily offend others unconsciously.
In China, under the control of strict hierarchy feudal society, the females were regarded inferior. They depend on male and were dominated by male. So the discrimination and prejudice against women is the long-term accumulation, which is inevitably reflected in Chinese. For example, the sayings “妇人之见”, “头发长见识短”, “男子汉不和妇人一般见识”, “长舌妇”, etc, reflect the pejorative attitude toward women. And there are also many derogatory titles for women, such as “贱人”, “泼妇”, “母老虎”, “母夜叉”, “娘儿们”,“悍妇”etc.
Since the Chinese women’s social statuses have increased, these sayings are used much less frequently. The using of the scornful and pejorative words for women in public often gets criticism and resentment.
In English, there are also many sexist expressions. For example, a person of unknown sex is referred as “he”, or ”him” rather than “she” or “her”. A person who presides a meeting is the “chairman”, even if she is a woman. There are many other examples about it. “cow” means “(a) woman who has many children”, “mutton” means “(a) dissolute woman”, “hen” means “(a) woman who likes gossip”, “cat” means “(a) malicious woman”, “crone” means “(an) ugly withered old woman” etc.
 “Nowadays, perhaps as a result of the Woman’s Liberation Movement in the 1960s and 70s in western countries, especially the U.S.A and socio-culture development, most native English speakers try to avoid sounding like a sexist.”[14] For example, they change the word “chairman” into “chairperson”, “gentleman” into “gentleperson”. When referring to human beings, people begin to use “humankind” or “ the human race” instead of “man” or “mankind”.
 “Racism is the belief that certain human races are inherently inferior to others and racist language is that which shows a biased attitude towards certain racial or ethic groups.”[15] In English, no matter intentionally or not, the following words are against black people and annoying them unsatisfied. For example, “white” means “pure”, “clean”, “benevolent”, which have positive meaning. While “black” is related to “evil”, “wrongdoing”, and “dirty” such as “blackguard”, “blacklist”, “blackmark”etc. Besides, “nigger” and “boy”, for a black adult man, often have offensive meaning.
In Chinese, there is also racist language. For example, “using “蒙古大夫” for an incompetent doctors; using “小鬼子” for Japanese. “洋鬼子”,“大鼻子” for westerners.” [16] Most of these words are derogatory. It shows off that Chinese is more superior than other racial or ethic groups.
4The differences between Chinese and English linguistic taboo
Although there are many similarities in English and Chinese, different views about what is or isn’t taboo can be found in two cultures. Differences between Chinese and English linguistic taboo embody the following aspects:
4. 1. In subjects
English people place a high value on privacy. “The English have a saying ‘ A man’s home is his castle, meaning a man’s home is sacred to him; no one should come in without permission. So it is also with his life and personal affairs’”.[17] Chinese people often like to greet to others like “Have you had a meal?” This common greeting indicates we begin our conversation with our acquaintance, just as foreigners ask “How nice the weather!” But the Chinese greeting will make the foreigners suspect that you want to invite him to join the dinner. Sometimes when we get together and talk naturally about these questions: “ How about your salary?” “Are you married?”, “What do your wife/husband do?”, “How much is your skirt?” In this way, we express our care for our friends. Generally speaking, we never feel embarrassed about these conversations, but when we ask the westerners the same questions, they will think we may involve in their privacy. Annoyingly, in western countries, it is also improper to ask about other people’s religious beliefs. “Are you religious?” “What is your religion?”  “Are you Catholic?” etc are questions that might be offensive to most English speakers. People don’t like, especially female, others to ask them “How old are you?”,  because they are very sensitive to their age. “Even on a birthday call one may find the following congratulation: You may not like to be reminded that you are a year older today, but that would not keep me from saying ‘happy birthday!’.” [18] But in contrast, there was no such concept of privacy in Chinese people’s mind.
4.2 In numbers
In China, the number “4” and the word “死 (death)” almost sound the same. People do not like the number “4”, because it reminds them of “death”. Among old people, they think “73” and “84” are two key ages. If you are 73 or 84 years old, you will die before the King of hell invites you. So many old people avoid talking their exact ages.
 While in western countries, one of the most influential taboo numbers is 13. According to the story of “The last supper”: Judas, the person who betrayed Jesus, sat in the No.13 chair, therefore, Number thirteen is universally considered to be unlucky. No door’s number is thirteen; no hotel has the No.13 Room; they don’t allow 13 people have dinner together. All in a word, they avoid number thirteen in every aspect. Ordinary people feel upset on 13th in every month. Therefore, thirteen became a taboo word in western countries.
 Another number concerning taboo in western is Friday. It also has long been considered as an unlucky day. “This taboo term affects people probably not only because they believe that Jesus Christ was put to death on the cross on Friday, but also because Friday is for many years the day of execution of criminals, commonly called “hangman’s day”. [19]
Another striking contrast is that Chinese people like even numbers. For example, they say “好事成双”,“成双成对”。Chinese people especially like the even number “6” and “8”. The saying “六六大顺” can prove it . But in western countries, they like odd numbers. “The Roman poet Virgil says, ‘The god delights in an odd number’. In Shakespeare’s play Merry wives of Windsor, Falstaff says, ‘Good luck lies in odd numbers—’ They say, ‘there is divinity in odd numbers, either in nativity, chance or death.’” [20]
4.3 In names
How to call others in verbal communication is very important. In Chinese, the ancestors’ and the older generation’s names cannot be referred directly. For example, because the second name of Sima Qian’s father was “谈”. When writing the Historical Records, (Sima Qian changed “赵谈” into “赵同” and  “李谈” into “李同”[21])  As a result , we cannot find such a Chinese character “谈” in the Historical Records. [22] But in the English culture, there are no such name taboos. The younger generation can refer the elder generation’s name directly. It shows that they are equal, friendly and intimate. In the United States, many black people bear the name “Lincoln”, apparently after Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the country. English babies may be named after their grandparents or other relatives to show respect or to honor them. For example, “the British Prime Minister Churchill’s father was named Randolph. Churchill, and one of the Prime Minister’s sons was also named Randolph. Churchill. The grandfather and grandson had the same name. The American president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s son also had the same name with his father.” [23] This practice was quite different from Chinese culture which was characterized by a clearly delineated stratified society in which the names, for example, of one’s relatives, one or two generations above, or officials, or other influential figures were taboos to the ordinary Chinese, no one dared to name his babies after them.
5        Ways of avoiding linguistic taboo
5.1  Using euphemism
From the above discussion, we know that some harsh, blunt, unpleasant offensive and taboo things or acts should not be expressed directly in our daily life. So it is very important for us to know how to avoid these linguistic taboos.
Most linguistic taboos can be avoided by the employment of euphemisms. (Euphemism refers to the use of pleasant, vague or indirect words or phrases to take the place of more accurate direct or taboo ones.) In other words, euphemism is a means of expressing the words or things that are prohibited.
Euphemisms are used almost in all fields of life. For example, when a judge gives the criminal a sentence, he will directly say: “I hereby sentence you to five years in prison.” But the criminal himself or his relatives will tell others: “Somebody is sent to the big house.” for the purpose of saving face
At the same time, we must realize that language is alive and changing all the time. Influenced by the social psychology and its culture, euphemisms change constantly. A euphemism may quickly acquire the stigma of the word it replaced and becomes a taboo after people use it for a time. For example, there is a series of expressions about the word “poor”. “At first I was poor, then, I became needy, later I was underprivileged. Now I’m disadvantaged. I still don’t have a cent to my name, but I sure have a great vocabulary.” [24]
Another example is that, in American English, euphemisms for the word “buttocks” are “arse”, “ass”, “prat”, “can”, “tail”, “cheeks”, “caboose”, “fundament” and now the newest one is “sitting-down place”.
5.2 Having a good knowledge of the taboo culture
Language and culture rely on each other and influence each other. Languages are formed and develop under certain cultural background. Linguistic taboo is a kind of social phenomenon. Its existence and development are restricted and influenced by specific cultural background. Some words are prohibited in English; some words are banned in Chinese and some words are prohibited in both languages. As a result, if one wants to avoid violating taboos, he or she should have a good knowledge of what is or is not a taboo in this culture. For example, in China, the word “old ” means “experience” and “wisdom”. At the same time, Chinese people are influenced by the long-term concept of respecting the old and taking care of the young. Chinese people seem to like to address each other as “老(old)” ,for example, “老爷爷”, “老奶奶”, “老林”, “老吴”, “老教授”. But English people always connect the "old" with "uselessness" and "death". Therefore, when contacting with English people, the saying of “somebody is old” should be avoided in order not to arouse unpleasantness. For Example, we cannot call somebody “old Smith” or “old Brown”. Especially for women who are sensitive to age, no matter how old they are, we should not call them “奶奶” or “大娘” ,though they are pleasant greetings in China. In English, expressions such as “senior citizens”, “advanced in age”, “golden years” etc. are produced in order to avoid “old”.
A smooth cross-cultural communication greatly benefits from the good command of a foreign language’s cultural background knowledge. It is hard to imagine a Chinese who has a poor knowledge of English taboo culture can intercommunicate with the English people smoothly and without offending them, and vice versa.
6. Conclusion
.  In short, by comparison, we can find that both Chinese and English linguistic taboos reflect people’s psychology for good will, for safety and fortune and pleasantness. The Chinese and English people restrict their words and deeds through taboos, trying to keep a harmonious relationship between human and nature, or between people and society. Although the traditional linguistic taboos contain superstitions, ignorance and negative elements, the new taboos on racism bear positive features. They are a reflection of people’s pursuit of freedom and equality. The author hopes that the discussion about linguistic taboos helps English learners improve their communicative competence and reduce miscommunications and conflicts in cross-culture communications.
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