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Four categories of affect-marked lexemes are prominent in a variety of languages, suggesting thereby that all four may be universal, cross-cultural categories: slang, swearwords, honorifics and terms of endearment. Each of these categories (as well as the closely associated ones of nicknames and pet names) is "designed" to serve specific social functions. Data from China and the U.S. indicate that these lexemic categories overlap with each other both functionally and in terms of the specific lexemes that comprise them (Moore et al. 2010). However, they can be distinguished in terms of their prototypical forms and functions. Furthermore, the prototypical functions correspond to the universal relational models identified by Alan Fiske (1991). This paper proposes that the apparent universality of both the lexemic categories and Fiske’s relational models together reveal fundamental aspects of social structure at the behavioral and linguistic levels.


Published in Language and Communication Quarterly 3, no. 2 (2014).

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Language and Communication Quarterly