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Defamation as a Language Crime: A Sociopragmatic Approach to Defamation Cases in the High Courts of Justice of Spain


The investigation of language crimes is one of the expert areas of forensic linguistics as a forensic science that analyses language as evidence. This paper focuses on a particular type of language crime: defamation. This is an offence perpetrated, primarily, with malicious language—either written language (libel), spoken language (slander), or technospeech (Garfield, 2011: 17)—that involves social emotions and intentional false communication and harms a person’s dignity, prestige, and reputation in the social community. Since the 1980s, linguists have tried to shed light on defamation as a language crime from various linguistic theories such as speech act theory, semantics, discourse analysis, and pragmatics, as shown in works by Durant (1996: 195–210), Hancher (1980: 245–256), Kniffka (2007: 113–148), Shuy (2010) and Tiersma (1987: 303–350). In this paper, we take a different path in suggesting a sociopragmatics-based approach to the analysis of defamation, with special reference to impoliteness (Culpeper, 2011; Spencer-Oatey, 2005: 95–119). The questions we discuss are: (1) Is the theory of impoliteness appropriate for evidencing actionable offence in cases involving defamation? (2) How do the High Courts of Justice of Spain appraise defamatory meaning? (3) Does conventionalised formulaic impoliteness promote guilty verdicts? And (4) Does non-conventionalised impoliteness support acquittals? This piece of research is grounded in empirical data, particularly in a corpus of 150 judgments for cases of defamation given by the High Courts of Justice of Spain between 2013 and 2017.

Cite as: Guillén Nieto, JLL 9 (2020), 1–22, DOI: 10.14762/jll.2020.001

صندلی اداری سرور مجازی ایران Decentralized Exchange


forensic linguistics, High Courts of Justice of Spain, impoliteness, language as evidence, language crimes


Author Biography

Victoria Guillén Nieto

Victoria Guillén Nieto is Tenured Associate Professor at the University of Alicante where she directs the Master’s in English and Spanish for Specific Purposes and teaches Applied Linguistics and Forensic Linguistics. Since 2009 she has also provided professional linguistic service as expert witness in Spain, Sweden, Germany and the US. She is currently doing research on plagiarism detection as well as on language crimes. e.g. harassment and hate speech.


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