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The Language of Defamation Cases$
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Roger W. Shuy

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195391329

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195391329.001.0001

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Fighting over Defamatory Language

Fighting over Defamatory Language

(p.9) 1 Fighting over Defamatory Language
The Language of Defamation Cases

Roger W. Shuy (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

After a brief history of the development of defamation law and an equally brief introduction to the linguistic aspects of defamation cases, this chapter takes Tiersma's (1978) advice that libel and slander cases would do well to focus on the illoctionary force of the language used by the alleged defamer in addition to the perlocutionary effect of the language on the entity allegedly defamed. This theme continues throughout the book. Also discussed are the language problems introduced by the landmark case of The New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), along with its complex definition of “actual malice” and the issues raised by attempts to define and use the speech act of “opinions.” The chapter then traces some of the current features of defamation cases back to the earlier age of dueling, which contained many of the features found in contemporary defamation cases, such as notification of demands, threats, expressing intentions, representation and negotiation by proxy, and the important role of apologies and retractions. Differences are also noted, especially between the older motivation of insults vs. the modern motivation of accusations. The need for proof and verification of the alleged offense has also changed over the years.

Keywords:   illocutionary force, perlocutionary effect, New York Times v. Sullivan, dueling, accusation, opinion, malice

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