Taboo as a driver of language change

Kathryn Burridge, Reka Agnes Benczes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


In this chapter the focus is on taboo and language development. Whether we are looking at the naming restrictions of Polynesia or the social taste constraints of English-speaking communities, taboo areas of the lexicon perpetuate instability. Existing vocabulary is often abandoned as speakers either borrow words or create new expressions; surviving vocabulary is often remodelled as speakers either give new meaning to old expressions or modify their pronunciation in some way. Thus word taboo is a counter-agent to the operation of regular change, and consequently plays havoc with the conventional methods of historical and comparative linguistics, which operate on principles such as the arbitrary nature of the word, the regularity of sound change and the nonexistence of true synonyms.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Taboo Words and Language
EditorsKeith Allan
Place of PublicationOxford UK
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780198808190
ISBN (Print)9780198808190
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Euphemism
  • Historical linguistics
  • Language change
  • Naming taboos
  • Taboo words

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