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Book: Extending Research Horizons in Applied Linguistics

Chapter: Deconstructing Ethnic Insults by Means of Dual Character Concepts: Finding Evidence of Newly Emerging Contemptuous Meanings with Recourse to Philosophical Concepts and Corpus Linguistics

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.41510


This chapter applies the notion of dual character concepts, which were originally proposed by experimental philosophers and cognitive psychologists (Knobe et al., 2013; Del Pinal & Reuter, 2017; Reuter, 2019), to discuss how racist and xenophobic hate speech could be more easily identified, especially for the purpose of raising public awareness about it and its prosecution by law enforcement bodies. This type of research has not been developed extensively so far, apart from a few studies which delve into the reality of blacks who suffer from racism at the hand of white racists, e.g. Shelby (2002), Ikuenobe (2011; 2018).

Most terms and concepts are either descriptive or normative in character, but some terms and concepts are “part descriptive, part normative” and these parts are “related but independent” (Reuter, 2019: 1). Some of such combinatory concepts also contain the idealized social function which the person, object or notion is expected to feature (Leslie, 2015). Finally, when a normative term denotes human attributes, it often includes the component of “the commitment to fulfil the idealized function associated with that role” (Reuter, 2019: 4). What I intend to illustrate in this chapter is that individuals who spread hate speech argue that the offensive terms which they use should be treated as only descriptive in character, and thus they try to avoid judicial or social responsibility for propagating hate. This line of argumentation is substantiated using the example of the word Ukrainian and its negative synonym banderowiec. The latter is used by Poles who are prejudiced against Ukrainians, especially in social media, to offend Ukrainian migrants and refugees residing in Poland. When they are accused of insulting this national minority, they argue their innocence or ignorance, claiming that they are not aware of the value-ascribing potential which the hateful words bear. This way, they escape not only public contempt but also, what is worse, they are often acquitted in court. Studying hate speech slurs as dual character concepts may not only increase our knowledge and awareness of the essence of hate speech, but primarily could provide law enforcement personnel (police officers, judges) with a more precise terminological apparatus for their daily functioning, especially the argumentation in cases tried (Domselaar, 2018).

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