The Logic of Indirect Insulting in Legal Discussions: A Speech Act Perspective

8 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2013

See all articles by Harm Kloosterhuis

Harm Kloosterhuis

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Erasmus School of Law

Date Written: June 21, 2013


In discussions about the accusation of insulting, there is sometimes a disagreement space because the values underlying the protection against insulting have to be balanced against the value of free speech. Legal discussions about insulting often focus on the problems concerning this weighing and balancing of principles. But apart from the possible weighing and balancing problems, the legal qualification of insulting is problematic because the statutory language on this topic is vague and because language users can opt for indirect insulting. As a result there is room for achieving certain communicative and interactional effects by means of argumentative strategies such as qualifying an insult as part of a public debate, or by means of linguistic choices. Certain acts count as an insult and others do not, while the others can have the same interactional effect of being insulted. This aspect of insulting has received little attention in legal research on this subject and it is my aim in this contribution to solve some of these problems by providing a theoretical framework to describe these argumentative strategies and linguistic choices.

In my opinion these argumentative strategies and linguistic choices can be analyzed by making use of insights from speech act theory. In this paper I present some analytical tools for analyzing indirect insulting within the framework of this theory. First, I clarify the communicative (illocutionary) and the interactional (perlocutionary) aspects of the speech act indirect insulting. Second, I analyze how the interactional effects can be analyzed as implicatures. These analytical tools are necessary for the reconstruction of argumentation for and against the standpoint that someone insulted someone else. I will start with an analysis of article 137c of the Dutch Criminal code: what counts as an insult according to Dutch law?

Keywords: insulting, strategic communication, legal argumentation, legal interpretation

Suggested Citation

Kloosterhuis, Harm, The Logic of Indirect Insulting in Legal Discussions: A Speech Act Perspective (June 21, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Harm Kloosterhuis (Contact Author)

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Erasmus School of Law ( email )

3000 DR Rotterdam

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