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Incitement to discriminatory hatred, illocution and perlocution

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Even though there seem to be no objectively defined criteria about what constitutes hate speech, a lot of legislation and policy making currently aims at combating it. This paper sets out to define hate speech under its standard legal understanding of ‘incitement to discriminatory hatred’, by adopting a speech-act theoretic perspective. My main proposal is that the Austinian distinction between illocution and perlocution can be pivotal in this process, since hate speech may be an illocutionary act that is typically tied to the recognition of a speaker’s intention to incite discriminatory hatred, but one which can only be defined if one takes into account its speaker’s intended perlocutionary effects; that is, the intention of the speaker to trigger a particular kind of response from some audience. Against this backdrop, I turn to show how a reworked Searlean notion of felicity conditions can be usefully applied in the delineation of hate speech under this legal conception.

Keywords: discriminatory discourse; hate speech; illocution; incitement; perlocution; speech act theory

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 13, 2020

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