The Language of Crime

Peter M. Tiersma and Lawrence M. Solan

in The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199572120
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

The Language of Crime


Most crimes require the defendant to have committed a certain type of wrongful act (often referred to as the actus reus) while having a particular mental state (mens rea). Many wrongful acts involve physical violence, such as assault and battery, rape, or homicide. It is not unusual, however, for wrongful acts to be committed by speech or writing. Language crimes are all about illegal speech acts. As the name suggests, speech acts involve using language to perform certain types of actions. This article examines wrongful acts committed by speech, focusing on a number of crimes that are perpetrated primarily by means of language. Some speech acts are performatives. Just saying it is to do it. Speech acts, including illegal ones, can also be accomplished indirectly. The article considers the crime of solicitation and cites some examples, along with conspiracy, bribery, threatening, and perjury.

Keywords: wrongful acts; speech acts; language crimes; performatives; solicitation; conspiracy; bribery; threatening; perjury

Article.  6838 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Forensic Linguistics

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