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'Weeds of Our Own Making': Language Ideologies, Swearing and the Criminal Law

Law in Context, Vol. 34, No. 2, 2016

14 Pages Posted: 7 Jul 2017  

Elyse Methven

University of Technology Sydney, Faculty of Law

Date Written: June 30, 2016

Abstract

In adjudicating offensiveness, judicial officers create and apply a number of 'common sense' judgments about how language works. These 'language ideologies' are rarely informed by, and are often contrary to, empirical research and linguistic literature; they are instead constructed through constant repetition of popular views and questionable assumptions. Through the cases Jolly v. The Queen and Heanes v. Herangi, this article examines how judicial officers construct realities about swear words in the criminal law. In the first part, I briefly set out the legal doctrine in relation to offensive language crimes. Following this, I draw on critical discourse analysis to critique language ideologies in offensive language cases. I argue that offensive language crimes, as they are currently framed and interpreted, encourage judicial officers to pick and choose from whichever linguistic or 'folk-linguistic' ideas they see fit, and enable them to elude the rigorous critiques to which linguists are exposed.

Keywords: sociolinguistics, law, language ideologies, swearing, profanity, critical discourse analysis, forensic linguistics, offensive language, criminal law

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Methven, Elyse, 'Weeds of Our Own Making': Language Ideologies, Swearing and the Criminal Law (June 30, 2016). Law in Context, Vol. 34, No. 2, 2016. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2996921

Elyse Methven (Contact Author)

University of Technology Sydney, Faculty of Law ( email )

Sydney
Australia

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