In Blue Streak: Swearing, Free Speech and Sexual Harassment, Richard Dooling writes:
As Steven Pinker noted recently in “The Language Instinct,” language production takes place in the so-called higher structures of the human brain, the cerebral cortex, primarily the left perisylvian region. Swearing, by contrast, is controlled not in the cerebral cortex, but by the so-called lower, subcortical structures in the brain stem and limbic system, structures “older” in evolutionary time and more primitive, associated with aggression and emotions — the same neural structures that control the vocal calls of primates.
Swearing is a different kind of language, controlled by a different part of the brain. Lesions in “higher” speech centers of the cerebral cortex often cause aphasia (loss or impairment of the ability to use words as symbols), but as Pinker notes, “many aphasics are superb at swearing.”
If swearing is not language as we know it, then what is it? It must certainly qualify as a form of communication, even as the hoots and calls of primates are forms of communication. They aren’t, however, symbolic communication in the same way that the word “cat” is a symbol for a particular type of animal. What does it communicate, though? Emotions? Ideas? Just pure aggression?
If swearing isn’t language as we typically understand it or mean by the concept, does this suggest that it should be classified differently under the law? Should it be regulated like other types of aggression, or should it be treated like regular language based upon its similarities?