Jesus! vs. Christ! in Australian English: Semantics, Secondary Interjections and Corpus Analysis

  • Cliff GoddardEmail author
Part of the Yearbook of Corpus Linguistics and Pragmatics book series (YCLP, volume 2)


Using corpus-assisted semantic analysis, conducted in the NSM framework (Wierzbicka, Semantics: primes and universals. OUP, New York, 1996a; Goddard, Semantic analysis: a practical introduction, 2nd rev edn. OUP Oxford, 2011), this chapter explores the meanings and uses of two closely-related secondary interjections, namely, Jesus! and Christ!, in Australian English. The interjections Shit! and Fuck! are touched on briefly. From a methodological point of view, the chapter can be read as a study in how corpus techniques and semantic analysis can work in tandem; in particular, how interaction with a corpus can be used to develop, refine and test fine-grained semantic hypotheses. From a content point of view, this study seeks to demonstrate two key propositions: first, that it is possible to identify semantic invariants, i.e. stable meanings, even for highly context-bound items such as interjections; second, that it is possible to capture and model speakers’ awareness of the degree and nature of the “offensiveness” of secondary interjections, in a Metalexical Awareness component that attaches, so to speak, to particular words. Both these propositions challenge conventional assumptions about the nature and interfacing between semantics and pragmatics. A final question raised in the study is how linguists can come to terms with the fact that people use interjections not only orally but also mentally, in “inner speech”.


Australian English Corpus analysis Interjections Metalexical awareness Metapragmatics NSM Semantic templates Swearing 



The explications were co-developed with Anna Wierzbicka. For helpful comments I would like to thank Bert Peeters and Lara Weinglass. Lara also provided research assistance with the AusNC. Thanks also to Mee Wun Lee for research assistance with the Australian novels. This work was supported in part by the Australian Research Council.


  1. Allan, K., & Burridge, K. (1991). Euphemism and dysphemism. Language used as shield and weapon. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Allan, K., & Burridge, K. (2006). Forbidden words. Taboo and the censoring of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ameka, F. K. (1992a). Interjections: The universal yet neglected part of speech. Journal of Pragmatics, 18(2/3), 101–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ameka, F. K. (ed.). (1992b). Interjections [Special issue]. Journal of Pragmatics, 18(2/3).Google Scholar
  5. Ameka, F. K., & Wilkins, D. P. (2006). Interjections. In Handbook of pragmatics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  6. Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary. (2004). Melbourne: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Beers Fägersten, K. (2012). Who’s Swearing now? The social aspects of conversational swearing. Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars.Google Scholar
  8. Besemeres, M. (2002). Translating one’s self: Language and selfhood in cross-cultural autobiography. Oxford: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  9. Bromhead, H. (2009). The reign of truth and faith: Epistemic expressions in 16th and 17th century English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Collins, R. (2004). Interaction ritual chains. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Culpeper, J. (2011). Impoliteness: Using language to cause offence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Donald, M. (2001). A mind so rare: The evolution of human consciousness. New York: Farrar Strauss and Giroux.Google Scholar
  13. Gladkova, A. (2013). A cultural semantic and ethnopragmatic analysis of the Russian praise words molodec and umnica (with reference to English and Chinese). In J. Romero-Trillo (Ed.), Yearbook of corpus linguistics and pragmatics 2013: New domains and methodologies (pp. 249–274). Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gladkova, A., Vanhatalo, U., & Goddard, C. (Forthcoming). The semantics of interjections: an experimental study with natural semantic metalanguage.Google Scholar
  15. Goddard, C. (Ed.). (2006). Ethnopragmatics: Understanding discourse in cultural context. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  16. Goddard, C. (2007). A “lexicographic portrait” of forgetting. In M. Amberber (Ed.), The language of memory in a cross-linguistic perspective (pp. 119–137). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Goddard, C. (2009). Not taking yourself too seriously in Australian English: Semantic explications, cultural scripts, corpus evidence. Intercultural Pragmatics, 6(1), 29–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Goddard, C. (2011). Semantic analysis: A practical introduction (2nd rev. ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Goddard, C. (2012a). Semantic primes, semantic molecules, semantic templates: Key concepts in the NSM approach to lexical typology. Linguistics, 50(3), 711–743.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Goddard, C. (2012b). ‘Early interactions’ in Australian English, American English, and English English: Cultural differences and cultural scripts. Journal of Pragmatics, 44, 1038–1050.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Goddard, C. (2013a). The semantic roots and cultural grounding of “social cognition”. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 33(3), 245–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Goddard, C. (2013b, November). Semantics meets pragmatics (meets sociolinguistics): “Swearing” and “cursing” in Australian English and American English. Keynote address at Pragmatics Meets Semantics Symposium, Griffith University, Brisbane.Google Scholar
  23. Goddard, C. (2014a). Interjections and emotions (with special reference to “surprise” and “disgust”). Emotion Review 6(1): 53–63. doi: 10.1177/1754073913491843. (Published online 13/09/2013)
  24. Goddard, C. (2014b). On “Disgust”. In F. Baider & G. Cislaru (Eds.), Linguistic approaches to emotions in context (pp. 73–98). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  25. Goddard, C. (Forthcoming). “Swearing” and “cursing” in Australian English and American English. Semantic, pragmatic and cultural perspectives.Google Scholar
  26. Goddard, C. (in press). Ethnopragmatics. In F. Sharifian (Ed.), Routledge handbook of language and culture. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Goddard, C., & Wierzbicka A. (Eds.). (2004). Cultural scripts [Special Issue]. Intercultural Pragmatics 1(2).Google Scholar
  28. Goddard, C., & Wierzbicka, A. (2014). Words and meanings. Lexical semantics across domains, languages and cultures. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Haugh, M., Burridge, K., Mulder, J., & Peters, P. (Eds.). (2009). Selected proceedings of the 2008 HCSNet workshop on designing the Australian national corpus: Mustering languages. Somerville: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.Google Scholar
  30. Hill, D. (1992). Imprecatory interjectional expressions: Examples from Australian English. Journal of Pragmatics, 18, 209–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Holmes, J., & Stubbe, M. (2003). Power and politeness in the workplace: A sociolinguistic analysis of talk at work. London: Pearson.Google Scholar
  32. Hughes, G. (1998). Swearing: A social history of foul language, oaths, and profanities in English. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  33. Jay, T. (1992). Cursing in America. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Jay, T. (2000). Why we curse. A Neuro-psycho-social theory of speech. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  35. Jay, T., & Janschewitz, K. (2008). The pragmatics of swearing. Journal of Politeness Research, 4, 267–288.Google Scholar
  36. Kidman, A. (1993). How to do things with four-letter words: A study of the semantics of swearing in Australia. BA honours thesis. University of New England.
  37. Levisen, C. (2012). Cultural semantics and social cognition. A case study on the Danish universe of meaning. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ljung, M. (2011). Swearing: A cross-cultural linguistic study. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  39. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (LDOCE). (2003). Harlow: Longman.Google Scholar
  40. Mair, C. (2007). Varieties of English around the world: Collocational and cultural profiles. In P. Skandera (Ed.), Phraseology and culture in English (pp. 437–468). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. McEnery, T. (2006). Swearing in English: Bad language, purity and power from 1586 to the present. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  42. Mohr, M. (2013). Holy shit!: A brief history of swearing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Musgrave, S. (2012). An introduction to the Australian national corpus project. Humanities Australia, 3, 29–34.Google Scholar
  44. Norrick, N. R. (2009). Interjections as pragmatic markers. Journal of Pragmatics, 41, 866–891.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pavlenko, A. (2006). Bilingual selves. In A. Pavlenko (Ed.), Bilingual minds: Emotional experience, expression, and representation (pp. 1–33). Tonawanda: Multilingual Matters.Google Scholar
  46. Stapleton, K. (2010). Swearing. In M. Locher & S. L. Graham (Eds.), The handbook of pragmatics, Vol. 9 (Interpersonal pragmatics) (pp. 289–306). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  47. Travis, C. (2002). La Metalengua Semántica natural: The natural semantic metalanguage of Spanish. In C. Goddard & A. Wierzbicka (Eds.), Meaning and universal grammar – Theory and empirical findings (Vol. 1, pp. 173–242). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Van Lancker, D., & Cummings, J. L. (1999). Expletives: Neurolinguistic and neurobehavioral perspectives on swearing. Brain Research. Brain Research Reviews, 31(1), 83–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Wierzbicka, A. (1987). English speech act verbs: A semantic dictionary. Sydney: Academic.Google Scholar
  50. Wierzbicka, A. (1991). Cross-cultural pragmatics: The semantics of human interaction [expanded 2nd ed., 2003]. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  51. Wierzbicka, A. (1992). Australian b-words (bloody, bastard, bugger, bullshit): An expression of Australian culture and national character. In André Clas (Ed.), Le mot, les mots, les bons mots/Word, words, witty words. A Festschrift for Igor A. Mel’cuk (pp. 21–38). Montreal: Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal.Google Scholar
  52. Wierzbicka, A. (1996a). Semantics: Primes and universals. New York: OUP.Google Scholar
  53. Wierzbicka, A. (1996b). Między modlitwą a prekleństwem: O Jezu! i podobne wyrażenia na tle porównawczym [Between praying and swearing: A comparative study of O Jezu! ‘Jesus!’ and other expressions] Etnolingwistyka [Ethnolinguistics], 8 2539.Google Scholar
  54. Wierzbicka, A. (2002). Australian cultural scripts – bloody revisited. Journal of Pragmatics, 34, 1167–1209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wierzbicka, A. (2006). English: Meaning and culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wierzbicka, A. (2011). Experience, evidence, sense. The hidden cultural legacy of English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Wierzbicka, A. (2014). Imprisoned in English. The hazards of English as a default language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Wiley, N. (1994). The semiotic self. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Languages and LinguisticsGriffith UniversityBrisbaneAustralia

Personalised recommendations