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Taboo words and reprimands elicit greater autonomic reactivity in a first language than in a second language

  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 December 2003

Second language speakers commonly acknowledge that taboo terms can be uttered with greater ease in their second language (L2) than in their first language (L1). To investigate this phenomenon psychophysiologically, 32 Turkish–English bilinguals rated a variety of stimuli for pleasantness in Turkish (L1) and English (L2) while skin conductance was monitored via fingertip electrodes. Participants demonstrated greater autonomic arousal to taboo words and childhood reprimands (“Shame on you!”) in their L1 compared to their L2. This finding provides quantifiable support for the subjective experiences of L2 speakers.

Corresponding author
Catherine L. Harris, Psychology Department, Boston University, 64 Cummington St., Boston, MA 02215. E-mail:
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Applied Psycholinguistics
  • ISSN: 0142-7164
  • EISSN: 1469-1817
  • URL: /core/journals/applied-psycholinguistics
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