Taboo effects at the syntactic level
Reducing agentivity as a euphemistic strategy
This paper analyses the linguistic resources used by speakers to profile the participants in taboo actions, focusing on expressions for the concept abortar 'to abort' in Spanish sociolinguistic interviews. The tokens referring to the action are analysed in terms of linguistic features that affect agentivity at the level of verbs, subjects and objects. The combination of different linguistic features is classified in three levels of agentivity (prototypical agents, non-prototypical agents and non-agents) with various sublevels. The presence of modals further contributes to reducing agentivity, causing the maximally agentive profiling to be rather infrequent. Second, though the direct construal abortar is generally preferred, the levels of agentivity interplay with onomasiological variation. Third, social variables are not significantly correlated with the levels of agentivity. The paper concludes that mitigating agentivity is a euphemistic strategy against the taboo of a fully agentive woman who aborts, based on the cultural conceptualization of unwanted abortion.
Keywords: taboo, Spanish, agentivity, modality, mitigation, euphemism
Available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) 4.0 license.
Published online: 13 February 2018
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