Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics

Committee Chair

Cynthia Chalupa

Committee Co-Chair

Jonah Katz

Committee Member

Jonah Katz

Committee Member

Kirk Hazen


This study examines the usage of English swearwords by L1 German speakers and poses the following three questions: (1) Which English swearwords do native-speakers of German use? (2) In which situations do German speakers use English swearwords? Why do they use English swearwords instead of their German counterparts? (3) What emotional weight do they apply to swearwords in English (i.e. How taboo are they)? In an effort to understand Germans’ use of swearwords today, potential attributing factors were assessed and evaluated in a 15-question survey comprised of both qualitative and quantitative components that was taken by 403 participants from Germany and Austria. The potential contributing factors to English swearword usage that were assessed were: proficiency level, number of years spent studying English, instructional setting type, English instructor’s origin and native-language, frequency of swearing in German, and media interaction. These variables were applied to other questions that sought information about (1) the German swearwords Germans use most frequently and their personal perception about swearing in English; (2) qualitative and quantitative information regarding the social settings in which English swearwords are encountered; and (3) emotional-force responses by Germans to nine English swearwords. The findings of this study show that the more media German speakers interacts with, the more likely they are to use English swearwords. The study also shows that German speakers interact with a multitude of English-language media that go beyond mainstream social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. The majority of respondents indicated that film and music were the most influential English-language media sources. Furthermore, the study found that German speakers are more likely to use English swearwords in spoken language than in written language, use English swearwords more often with other German speakers than with English speakers, and find English swearwords useful when referencing pop-culture. The study then hypothesizes why German speakers perceived English swearwords differently than U.S.-American speakers. In sum, implications for the ESL classroom are discussed, urging instructors to reevaluate the way in which taboo language is handled in the ESL classroom in the globalizing world.