Presidential Profanity in Duterte's Philippines: How Swearing Discursively Constructs a Populist Regime

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Swearing in public discourse represents a contentious rhetorical feature of populist leaders’ transgressive politics. This paper argues that, beyond constituting merely “offensive” speech, swearing generatively accomplishes a host of discursive functions which contribute to the fortification of a populist regime. Taking populist President Duterte of the Philippines as a case in point, we utilize a critical text analytics approach to examine his use of profane language across a corpus of 746 of his public speeches. We find that Duterte discursively harnesses swear words to: (a) affirm vernacular identities with hostile humor, (b) claim outsider virtues against corrupt institutions, and (c) marshal insider force as the nation's sovereign leader. Swearing thus represents a rich discursive resource for populist leaders to navigate their contradictory positions as insiders and outsiders to political power, toward both public endearment and coercion of the nation's people. Our findings suggest the importance of critically examining language in relation to collective-level phenomena like populism and the utility of mixed methods approaches for enriching global psychologies of politics and language.