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ABSTRACT. This paper explores the nature and linguistic mechanics of hate speech and, using both traditional analytic approaches from the philosophy of language – primarily the Austinian theory of speech acts and the Gricean framework for speaker meaning – as well as contemporary contributions to the literature, it examines the possibility of reclaiming words of hate in order to disarm them of their power to inflict harm – this possibility of linguistic disarmament is one that we take to be self-evidently desirable, especially from the perspective of those who might otherwise be vulnerable to the effects of hate speech. After establishing what constitutes hate speech, the paper moves on to consider how it operates and how it might come to change. We determine from our analysis that words of hate can only effectively be disarmed, as it were, through the process of reclamation. Thus, we then look at some case studies to elucidate the shifting nature of the meaning of hate words. Finally, operating on the basis of our normative goal of disarming this particular class of harmful words, we tie the preceding analysis together and advance our strategy for how to disarm hate words, as well as considering some objections that might be levied against our position.

Keywords: language; hate speech; speech acts; reclamation; philosophy; meaning

How to cite: St Clare, Kameron Johnston (2018). “Linguistic Disarmament: On How Hate Speech Functions, the Way Hate Words Can Be Reclaimed, and Why We Must Pursue Their Reclamation,” Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 17: 79–109.

Received 25 April 2017 • Received in revised form 2 October 2017
Accepted 3 October 2017 • Available online 25 October 2017

doi:10.22381/LPI1720185

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