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Understanding and appraising ‘hate speech’

Vilar-Lluch, Sara

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Hate speech has become a matter of international concern, permeating institutional and lay discussions alike. Yet, exactly what it means to refer to a linguistic act as ‘hate speech’ remains unclear. This paper examines the lay understanding of hate speech, focusing on (1) the relationship between hate speech and hate, and (2) the relationship between hate speech and offensive speech. As part of the second question, the paper considers how hate speech is defined as a legal matter in the UK Public Order Act 1986. The study adopts a corpus-based discourse analysis approach and examines 255 hate speech-related news articles and the general English Web 2020 corpus. Hate speech is a complex multifaceted phenomenon; while ‘hate’ is one of its core characteristics, it is not sufficient to assess a certain behaviour as hate speech. Threats, denigration of the targets based on a protected characteristic (age, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability), the potential to cause harm and the intent to stir up hatred are also essential in distinguishing hate speech and offense.


Vilar-Lluch, S. (in press). Understanding and appraising ‘hate speech’. Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 30, 2022
Online Publication Date May 23, 2023
Deposit Date May 25, 2023
Publicly Available Date May 26, 2023
Journal Journal of Language Aggression and Conflict
Print ISSN 2213-1272
Electronic ISSN 2213-1280
Publisher John Benjamins Publishing
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords hate speech ; corpus linguistics ; legal discourse ; ordinary meaning ; offensive speech
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