Hate speech as a failure of communication

Hate speech can be considered as failure of communication.

It is intentionally provocative and aims at harming an individual or a group. Depending on national laws and on how hate speech is defined, it is nowadays a criminal offence in many western countries at least.

Hate speech has become a serious problem in the western world where freedom of speech has been a cherished value and where modern technology permits citizens to express themselves more or less freely on the Internet. While the possibility for everyone to participate might be considered a positive development in a society – promoting democracy, for instance – the negative tendency to increase hatred is challenging and requires sufficient moderating on public discussion boards. Allowing anonymous comments seems to be particularly risky. As a non face-to-face form of communication, computer mediated communication lends itself easily to misunderstandings and to non-intended interpretations by the recipients. Verbal aggression also seems to have developed into a special kind of risky humour or sport on the web, thus giving birth to phenomena called trolling or flaming, for example, that are particular to this form of communication.

From a linguistic point of view it is hard to define the specific characteristics of hate speech. Evidently, it often makes use of negatively connoted nouns and adjectives that serve to categorize and make negative judgments on people. Irony is often used too. One characteristic of this kind of discourse is that it makes strong claims and does not take into account various points of view. Therefore lack of modalization is often a feature of hate speech.


Culpeper, Jonathan (2011) Impoliteness. Using Language to Cause Offence. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Crystal, David (2001) Language and the Internet. Cambrige University Press, Cambridge.

Moïse, Claudine; Auger, Nathalie; Fracchiolla Béatrice & Schultz-Romain, Christina (2008) De l’impolitesse à la violence verbale. L’Harmattan, Espaces Discursifs.

More literature: blogs.helsinki.fi/hatespeech