Circumnavigating taboos: a functional and formal typology

Melanie Keller, Philipp Striedl, Daniel Biro, Johanna Holzer, Kate Burridge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleOtherpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This article elaborates on Wolfgang Schulze’s keynote speech of the same title at the 26th LIPP Symposium in Munich in 2019. It is based on the slides from his talk and various teaching materials, of which some figures have been translated from German to English before their inclusion in this article. While this article’s foundation rests on Schulze’s theories and research, we have done our best to build upon his work; direct quotes and key concepts of his will be cited throughout the text. Schulze intended to write this article himself, but after his unexpected passing in early 2020, we decided to offer this contribution on his behalf. Research on taboo is widely spread across diverse academic disciplines that each attribute slightly, yet noticeably, different meanings to the concept. This article proposes an all-encompassing definition applicable to all sociocultural contexts. To arrive at this comprehensive understanding, we first briefly survey the history of taboo and its linguistic study. Then, we present a formal and functional typology of circumnavigating taboos, taking into account the concepts of mana and noa as proposed by Schulze (2019:13, 15, 16). While the specific social restrictions resulting from tabooed relations vary from community to community, the purpose of taboo remains the same: social stability, protection and sustainability. Linguistic taboos contribute to these social functions by restricting the use of certain linguistic signs in certain situations. Such constraints necessitate strategies for avoiding taboo, including articulation shift, lexical substitution and the emergence of special languages, detailed here.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-24
Number of pages20
JournalPragmatics & Cognition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Anthropology
  • Cognitive linguistics
  • Language
  • Sociology
  • Taboo
  • Typology

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