As pointed out by numerous researchers in the “pragmatic turn” of borrowing, pragmatic borrowings into a recipient language tend to carry social and pragmatic meanings that distinguish them both from equivalent forms in the donor language and in the recipient language. With regard to swear words in Finnish, it has been demonstrated earlier that paska ‘shit’ is among the most used swear words, and that the lexical borrowing shit is one of the favored ones among certain Finnish-speaking social groups. This raises questions as to the social meanings and stylistic potentials of this particular borrowing. The present article is based on survey results which present perceptual evidence on the borrowing shit compared to the heritage Finnish form paska in Finnish. The results are based on a modified (online) matched guise test (MGT) and open-ended response data collected from Finnish speakers across different regions and social groups (N=446) in Finland. The modified MGT was created to test the hypothesis that there is a consensus among native Finnish speakers concerning the level of incorporation of shit into Finnish discourse styles, and that style matters. The styles (varieties) tested in the matched guise test were 1) urban colloquial Helsinki Finnish or Helsinki slang, 2) an unmarked rural dialect featuring widespread dialect pronunciation, and 3) standard Finnish. The test results reveal that respondents were more accepting of the English borrowing shit when it was inflected in the nonstandard partitive form, shittii, typical of colloquial Helsinki Finnish, rather than in the standard partitive form, shittiä. In terms of respondent distribution, there was a general agreement across social and regional groups that the English borrowing is a mismatch in style with both standard and dialect style Finnish: the best match in terms of style is colloquial Helsinki speech. Written commentary from the respondents on the MGT provides further evidence on the perceptual climate and the social meaning potentials of the borrowing by indicating that the English form shit is considered a normal, even expected, element of urban styles or slang, while as part of dialect style, it is considered unnatural or artificial. As a whole, the findings support our hypothesis based on earlier work on lexical borrowing in Finnish: borrowing from English is currently a flexible and meaningful resource available for speakers to create an indexical link to global urban (sub)cultures and lifestyles.
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