Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Sociolinguistics: Article review

A sociolinguistic Study of the Linguistic Taboos in the YemeniSociety” falls into the branch of sociolinguistics which is the descriptive study of language in relation to society. Sociolinguistics specially focuses on the structure of language and the way each society, with its different aspects from social classes and culture to gender and ethnicity, influences the type of linguistic structures we use when we address others with our speeches or discourses.
In her qualitative conceptual article, Nada Qanbar sought to investigate the categories of linguistic taboos in the Yemeni society, the factors affecting the use of taboos, and the mechanisms used by the Yemeni speakers to save what Brown and Levison (1987: 61) calls one’s “public self image”.
The article explored taboo words and expressions in the Yemeni society in terms of their religious and socio-cultural usage. The article typified these linguistic taboos into context-specific taboos and general taboos, both divided into two more categories. Each subcategory was defined, explained and laden with an array of examples extracted from real-life situations in the Yemeni society. Some of the examples depicted the kind of repressed patriarchal society where Yemeni women lived since calling their names or mentioning them in the presence of male individuals was taboo.
Nada Qanbar went on to shed light upon the socio-cultural, demographic and socio-economic factors that profoundly and diversely affected the use of the verbal taboos. She illustrated the mechanisms that could be employed by the Yemeni speakers to replace or minimize taboo words and expressions in order to eschew face threatening acts that result especially in the presence of a hearer with whom one did not have an intimate relationship.
The investigation ended with a brief comment on the study of the verbal taboos in the Jordanian society in comparison to that in the Yemeni society. Since both of the latter shared almost the same Arabic and Islamic cultural values, paramount similarities were detected in terms of verbal taboo categories and mechanisms for euphemism.
This paper made a contribution to my knowledge in Sociolinguistics and the sociology of language. It identified new insights into the Yemeni society in terms of linguistic taboos. It was built upon past research studies that were conducted in the Chinese, Jordanian, Ethiopian and American contexts, but never in the Yemeni one.
Not only was this article the “first ever” to examine linguistic taboos in the Yemeni perspective but also it probed the reasons that made certain words or expressions taboo at the first place, a point skipped by many researchers who chose to “just blame it on society without explaining why.”
The article was built upon the appropriate foundation. The author succeeded in answering the “what is a taboo” question when she displayed the answer in a brief paragraph starting with only two definitions instead of numerating different definitions and quoting many linguists. Then, she concluded it with a brief and neat definition of her own that served the reader to better understand the study. Many previously conducted studies were also addressed in the state of the art in an accurate manner. The literature review and theoretical background were detailed enough for other researchers to conduct the same study in different social contexts.
The reader did not need to have general background knowledge on the topic or topic area of this conceptual sociolinguistic study. The beauty about this sociolinguistic research study was manifested in the way it was delivered. It allowed the reader to understand the end result of the objectives set by the author, especially with the facts that there were no complicated concepts and the paper was loaded with examples.
Since the context of the study was an Arab society, readers who had knowledge of the Arabic language and Arab cultures in general would be one step ahead of those who hadn’t. However, the author succeeded in leapfrogging this drawback when she made detailed explanations of the concepts related to the Yemeni culture and translated all of the words in Arabic into English.
One point of controversy was deliberately overlooked by the author, a point that would answer the question of “what constitutes social taboos at the first place.” Tackling it would have established a holistic picture of the issue of linguistic taboos in the Yemeni society and paved the way for further studies in other cultural contexts.


Qanbar, N. (2011). A sociolinguistic Study of the Linguistic Taboos in the Yemeni Society. Modern Journal of Applied Linguistics, pp. 86-104

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