Elgazette Logo newtrans  The magazine for English language teaching and English medium education

Research nibs

uni cam


When a prankster announced that the government would send the Conservative and Unionist Negotiating Team to Brussels for Brexit negotiations, the whole country chuckled. But do second-language users truly understand how offensive the ‘C-word’ actually is?

Not really, studies by linguist Jean-Marc Dewaele have found. The C-word is the only word in the English language whose offensiveness is significantly underestimated by non-native users, he says. Dewaele collected data from 2,324 participants who completed an online survey to test their understanding of the offensiveness of the C-word. About half of them had English as L1, the others as LX.
Both groups reported using that word very infrequently, but the non-natives reported a significantly lower level of perceived understanding of the meaning of the word and its offensiveness.
L1 users who rated the offensiveness of the word as high were also less likely to use it, whereas the opposite was true for LX: the higher the understanding, the more frequent the use. Dewaele attributes this to the fact that swear words in English are increasingly being used in non-English speaking contexts, where the ‘verbal dynamite’ of the word is defused.
Instructed learners reported a more limited understanding of the offensiveness of the word and a less frequent use than mixed and naturalistic learners. Time to break the taboo in class and explain how offensive it is?


With ever-growing pressure on academics to get published, are those who speak and write English as a foreign language at a disadvantage? A researcher from Augusta University in the US says they probably have nothing to worry about.
Dr Zhao analysed and compared the academic writing produced by four groups of participants: L1 and L2 graduate students and L1 and L2 scholars, all in the field of applied linguistics. She found that while the ‘student’ groups differed from one another and from the ‘scholar’ groups, there was no discernible difference in the writing style of L1 and L2 scholars.
While L1 students display a wide range of conjunctions, causative verbs and nouns, L2 graduate students still sometimes show a ‘lack of contextual awareness in their linguistic choices’. For example, they use more informal conjunctions such as ‘anyway’, and use ‘thus’ or ‘hence’ less often.