Philosophers have long since begun to question the possibility of ‘neutral’ speech acts. More recently, thinkers like Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Rene Girard have each offered diverse analyses of the many ways in which discourse is marked by violence. Is language necessarily connected to acts of oppression? Can we speak without limiting the world, reducing the ‘other’?
Recent headlines suggest the beginning of a kind of bare minimum assent to such theories. According to the BBC, the French government is deliberating over the possibility of legally banning ‘psychological violence’ (i.e., verbal abuse) within couples. While practical questions of ‘proof’ remain, the consideration itself is encouraging. Contrary to the old adage, words can hurt. And, if the law passes, ‘violent’ verbal exchanges will yield real penalties.