Dirty Words? Challenging the Assumptions that Underpin Offensive Language Crimes
Paper presented at the Australian and New Zealand Critical Criminology Conference 2012, University of Tasmania, Hobart, 12-13 July 2012), 97.
151 Pages Posted: 24 Jan 2015
Date Written: 2012
This paper critiques the adjudication of offensive language crimes, focusing on the vague definition of offensive, the cryptic construction of the reasonable person and the elusive concept of community standards. In part one of this paper, I define and give a general overview of offensive language crimes, and examine the existing literature on the unequal enforcement of these crimes. In part two, I discuss how the law requires judges to eschew expert linguistic evidence in favour of their ‘common sense’, thereby rehashing prejudicial stereotypes about language, sex and place. In part three I analyse two cases in which judges espouse opinions that women ought to, and have a greater capacity for self-restraint when it comes to swearing, and that swearing should be reserved for masculinised spaces. I draw upon critical sociolinguistics and the notion of swearwords as ‘dirty’ words to argue that these vague constructions enable police and judges to discriminate against those who challenge their concept of ‘order’ and ‘disorder’.
Keywords: Offensive language, criminology, critical discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, language ideologies, dirty words, authority, community
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