The use of linguistics to determine meaning in cases of personality infringement
Authors: T Carney, L Grundlingh and JC Knobel
Affiliations: BA Hons MA PhD, Associate professor, Department of Afrikaans and Theory of Literature, University of South Africa; BA Hons MA PhD, Senior lecturer, Department of Afrikaans and Theory of Literature, University of South Africa; BLC LLB LLD, Professor, Department of Private Law, University of South Africa
Source: Stellenbosch Law Review, Volume 34 Issue 1, 2023, p. 3 – 26
Personality infringements through social media are not uncommon. Although many personality infringements can be linked to linguistics, given the fact that they take place in the form of written or spoken utterances, linguistic perspectives and theories are not commonly used to analyse evidence in possible personality infringement cases. This contribution aims to illustrate how linguistic theories can add value to the analysis of evidence in some personality infringement cases by investigating the word “fagott” and the potential reasons why it was misread as “faggot” in a given instance. The likeliness of one word being misread as another (and the implications thereof) is explored through pragmatic and psycholinguistic theories and is set against the backdrop of the law of personality. Data collected from English corpora complement the theories and help to illuminate why one word could be mistaken for the other. The article concludes that the linguistic evidence may be a valuable aid in determining whether personality infringements have taken place.