From: New York University

The neurology of the "F-word": NYU researcher studies the science of cussing

Swearing. It's one of humankind's most colorful and ubiquitous (albeit taboo) behaviors, but one of the least studied by scientists and researchers. NYU Neurolinguist Diana Van Lancker, UCLA Neurologist J.L. Cummings have recently reported their findings on the neurological patterns found in swearing.

Published in Brain Research Reviews, the study includes provocative sample data on the frequency of certain swear words by various populations of people, based on age, regions of the United States and other countries. In addition to scientific observation of the emotional, behavioral and cognitive processes that occur in swearing, the report provides interesting anecdotal, cultural and historical information.

Dr. Van Lancker's research examines neurological similarities in cursing in individuals with brain disorders and in healthy individuals. For individuals suffering from brain injuries, stroke, spinal cord and other traumatic injuries, swearing is commonly the one set of speech pattern that is often "selectively" preserved when other communication functions fail or are severely impaired.

Learning swearwords is a natural part of language development, according to Dr. Van Lancker. Knowledge of swearwords occurs early in child language development and establishes a strong mental hold on immigrants learning a new language in a new country.

"While swearing is an emotive form of communication, its place in language is both linguistically and neurologically complex," said Dr. Van Lancker. "There is substantial neurological study of other emotional behaviors such as pathological laughing and crying, but not swearing. In general, this neglect is partly due to the pervasive view that swearing is taboo in society. In the scientific community, swearing is viewed as peripheral to other communication patterns."

A widely published researcher, Dr. Van Lancker is internationally recognized as an expert in voice, right hemisphere communicative function, and neurogenic language disorders. Her groundbreaking studies of recognition of prosody, familiar phrases and familiar voices have significantly influenced studies of spoken language recognition, phonetics and neurolinguistics. Prior to joining the NYU faculty, Dr. Van Lancker was professor of research neurology at the University of Southern California. While at USC, she founded and built the Neurolinguistic and Speech Science Laboratory, a joint venture of USC and the Los Angeles Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic.

For more information on Dr. Van Lancker and her research, please contact Patricia Allen, 212-998-6838.

This article comes from Science Blog. Copyright 2004