What not to swear: how do children learn bad words?

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University of Alabama Libraries

Children begin producing taboo words as early as ages one or two years old and produce them at a steady rate until the teenage years. However, little is known about how children acquire taboo words and whether the acquisition of taboo words is similar to the acquisition of other types of words. The current study explores the differences in how children acquire a novel taboo word compared to a novel object word. Three- to 8-year-olds (N=97) saw a short video featuring nonsense words that were framed as either novel object words or novel taboo words. Children identified the nature of the word (i.e., good/bad, right/wrong), reproduced the word, identified the original source of the word, and made several additional judgements about that source. Participants also completed the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) as a measure of receptive vocabulary. Results revealed both older and younger children learn taboo words, but only younger children did so at rate greater than object words. Additionally, taboo words were the only word type not related to increases in vocabulary size.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Developmental psychology, Early childhood education