Taboo in the review

February 16, 2007

In his choleric review of our book Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censoring of Language (February 9), Roy Harris has a right to disagree with our wide definition of taboo - but we do at least define it, along with the other terms we use, unlike our critic. And if Harris believes it implausible that restrictions on language and weapons have the same kind of motivation, he should explain why. His jibe that "most of the book is scissors and paste" is similarly without support.

Harris believes that puristic attitudes to language could not be driven by an ideology of the standard language "before the concept of a 'standard language' was even formulated". When does he think this was? Has he never considered, for instance, what the linguistic aspect of Hellenism was among the Ancient Greeks?

Harris claims that we render the topic of taboo "unmanageable"; we are sorry it proved unmanageable for him. Harris demonstrates this in his final paragraph, where he claims that we fail to analyse social attitudes to language use: we did, though plainly not sufficiently clearly for him. We know that other readers do not share his difficulty.

Keith Allan and Kate Burridge
Monash University, Australia

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