When first hearing the term linguistics, you probably think about your high school grammar classes: learning grammatical rules, practicing punctuation, and drawing sentence trees. However, as the ‘Cursing’ module has successfully shown, it is a false assumption. There is a lot more to linguistics than what one would think!

In line with Milestone Institute’s vision of introducing students to multiple disciplines through relatable and popular topics, the ‘Cursing’ module has been formed. Namely, during this unusual-themed module, students had the chance to explore the phenomenon of cursing in an interdisciplinary manner, ranging from utilising linguistics, psychology and sociology. Dr. Anna Szlávi, the module leader, wanted to make this module as interactive and practical as possible, so instead of solely talking about the theories behind cursing, the students had to look for curse words in their everyday lives – let it be movies, series, books or social media – and enter them weekly into an Excel database created by Anna. The goal was to collect 50 words within the 8 weeks of the course; however, all of the students have exceeded expectations and collected more than the required number – with one student even having 160 -, resulting in a final 582 words! Given the diverse interests of the students, curse words have been collected from several different languages – specifically from 21 – including English, Hungarian, French, German, Finnish, Thai, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese and Korean. In the Excel database, the curse words were categorised according to multiple aspects, for example according to types, which are 1) taboo, 2) slur and 3) blasphemy, and 55% of the collected words belonged to the first category. In terms of the second category, the most frequent type of words was related to express some sort of mental disability, for instance the word retard.

This incredible database put together by the students of Milestone Institute not only served as a fun and insightful activity during the course of the module but can also be used as a basis for further research. Anna has introduced students to how a proper research project works and gave them examples about what to consider when conducting research. For instance, how important it is to define the main aspects that you want to focus your research on as well as to have a structured, solid and well-functioning methodology. Anna has demonstrated this by creating drop-down lists for the above-mentioned categories, helping the work of the students as well as building a strong foundation for the research. In addition, in the middle of the course, she has also shown students some factual data about the words they have already collected and analysed the tendencies together, involving the students into experiencing some of the analytical aspects of an actual research project.

At the end of the course, the students have composed essays based on their research findings with topics ranging from solely focusing on the cursing tendencies in one language or exploring the most frequent types of words used in discourses to examine which gender uses more curse words. Based on the submitted assignments, Anna had the idea of bringing some of the students to a linguistics conference to really feel the strong impact of their hard work and get closer to a professional linguistics environment. However, unfortunately, the conference board did not allow high school students to participate, but Anna’s strong determination and the amazing and extraordinary work of the students have incited the organisers to have a junior conference for this age category in 2021. How amazing is this?

It is interesting to mention that at the beginning of the module, only one student has admitted to cursing, some even saying that no one in their close environment does that. But surprisingly, as a takeaway from the module, it became clearly visible that cursing is a common phenomenon and is present in our lives, although we might not even consider some words as curse words or not pay attention to them. It is a natural human tendency, which according to research, is actually healthy for processing stress and can enrich our linguistic repertoire. However, it is only a good way of stress relief as long as we do not hurt each other and use it solely as a mean of self-expression. In the upcoming academic year, Anna will teach another extremely interesting module, called ‘Linguistic Code Breaking’ in which students will solve mysterious problems with the help of linguistics.