The Language of Crime
THE LANGUAGE OF CRIME, Peter M. Tiersma, Lawrence M. Solan, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law, 2012
27 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2012 Last revised: 29 Mar 2012
Date Written: March 7, 2012
Many crimes are generally performed by using language. Among them are solicitation, conspiracy, perjury, threatening, and bribery. In this chapter, we look at these crimes as acts of speech, and find that they have much in common – and a few interesting differences. For one thing, they involve different acts of speech, ranging from promises to orders. For another, most language crimes can be committed through indirect speech. Few criminals will say, “I hereby offer you a bribe,” or “I hereby engage you to kill my spouse.” Thus, many of the legal battles involve the extent to which courts may draw inferences of communicative intent from language that does not literally appear to be criminal. Yet the legal system draws a line in the sand when it comes to perjury, a crime that can only be committed through a direct fabrication. We provide a structured discussion of these various crimes that should serve to explain the similarities and difference among them.
Keywords: crime, speech act, sincerity, perjury, bribery, solicitation, threats
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