Language, Violence and Symbolic Practices

Deadline: September 20, 2022 for publication Versus 1/2023

Language, Violence and Symbolic Practices edited by Salvatore Di Piazza and Francesca Piazza

Two equally widespread and apparently irreconcilable convictions coexist in our common sense: words are weapons; words are the typically human alternative to physical violence. Is this coexistence a sign of the incoherence of common sense or, more likely, of the complexity of the relationship between language and violence? In the language sciences, the most widespread way of addressing this relationship limits the question to certain categories of words or expressions deemed violent (slurs, hate speech), observing their uses and trying to trace the reasons for their violent potential (and possible defence strategies).

This issue intends to broaden the field of investigation, focusing on the role that not only words but, more generally, symbolic practices play in the realisation of human violence. We refer here not only to verbal violence, but to all forms of the exercise of violence by the human being, including, therefore, that which is merely physical in appearance. In specifically human practices, in fact, between physical and symbolic violence there is not a clear-cut caesura but rather a nuanced continuity, an anthropological trait that it is useful to highlight. A paradigmatic example is that of war.

There is therefore a question that forms the background to this issue: is the aggressiveness of the human being radically conditioned by the possession of language? And, if so, in what way? This question, in turn, opens up other questions: how does violent behaviour change, if at all, when the animal is also capable – to give just a few examples – of insulting, threatening, cursing, swearing, taking revenge, justifying itself, giving orders? Do symbolic practices simply accompany violence or are they a constitutive part of it? Dominating the debate on these issues is the thesis that symbolic practices – and verbal ones in particular – essentially perform the function of mitigating violence. To use the terms of contemporary evolutionary theories, language would be the main factor in self-domestication ( see Progovac and Benitez-Burraco, From Physical Aggression to Verbal Behavior. Language Evolution and Self-domestication, 2019). According to these theses, early forms of human language would have allowed the (gradual) transition from physical aggression to forms of verbal aggression and this would have enabled the development of in-group prosociality. Verbal aggression would thus have (at least partially) taken the place of physical aggression. In this perspective, the manifestations of physical violence in the human species would be a sort of re-emergence of our feral component, a trace of a wild animality (to be tamed) that we would consider only a stage passed, although capable of re-emerging precisely in verbal violence. On a more specifically semiotic-linguistic level, this would mean that violent expressions would be like “living fossils”, the remnant of a primitive phase of the human species still at the beginning of its domestication, surfacing in moments of (individual and/or collective) crisis. This idea of language as a factor of self-domestication is basically a reformulation in a contemporary key of one of the two ideas we referred to at the beginning and which is actually very old. Indeed, on closer inspection, it takes up the opposition, topical for the Greeks, between logos and bia, according to which speech would be the specifically human alternative to physical violence and the foundation of civil coexistence.

We believe that this idea, while plausible in some respects, only grasps one side of the issue and conceals, instead, another equally important aspect: speech and symbolic practices also have the capacity to empower violence, when it comes to provoking it, deferring it or helping to bring it about, thus opening the space to a specifically human but no less dangerous form of violence.

This is a (non-exhaustive) list of possible topics:

  1. Philosophical-anthropological aspects of the relationship between symbolic practices and violence: does the symbolic animal also have a specific form of violence? Continuity/discontinuity between human violent practices and those of other animal species; aggression and the origin of language. 2. Language and violence: Hate speech and speech acts theory; slurs; discursive injustice, illocutionary distortions and silencing. 3. Semiotics, Rhetoric and Pragmatics of human violence: analysis, conducted from different perspectives and theoretical approaches, also through case studies, of the role of symbolic practices in the realization and narration of human violence. 4. Social and political aspects: language and power relations; hate speech vs. freedom of speech; possible defense strategies: censorship, political correctness, reclamation and (re)-appropriation.

Assessment and publication procedure:
Each proposal will be evaluated by the volume coordinators and the journal management. Papers developed from accepted proposals will be subject to review by a double-blind referee.


  • 20/09/22: sending of a summary of 500 words (plus bibliography and short biography);
  • 10/10/22: communication of the acceptance or rejection of the proposal;
  • 10/03/23: sending of the article of 8000 words maximum;
  • 10/04/23: notification of the evaluations of two referee
  • 30/04/23: final version of the article deposit
  • June 2021: publication of the volume

Proposals should be sent to the journal ((redazione.vs /at/ ) and to the editors: Salvatore Di Piazza ((salvatore.dipiazza /at/ ); Francesca Piazza ((francesca.piazza /at/ )

Languages accepted
English, French, Italian
The journal does not require any article processing charges.