Communicative Humiliation: A Sociolinguistic Checklist


Francisco Gomes de Matos – TRANSCEND Media Service

1. How is humiliation communicated in your community: by spoken/written/sign language/gestures?

2. In what social contexts does/did the humiliation take place? Home/work/school/public places (church, stadiums, political meetings, shopping malls, parades, etc)

3. Who is/are/was/were the humiliator(s) and the humiliated? Do/Did they know each other/ one another or not? What social relation is there/was there between/among them?

4. Is/Was there any local documentation on the History of Humiliation or on the relation of local History and Humiliation? Where? Who by? Available in print? Online?

5. Is/Was the humiliating event private or publicly shared (via TV, the Internet, radio, printed media (newspaper, magazine, electronic materials)?

6. Is/Was the communicative style used in humiliating too formal (or deliberately archaic to as to overwhelm and oppress the reader/listener/viewer), formal, informal, too informal (near-vulgar)?

7. Is/Are the social effect(s) of the humiliation made explicit by the humiliated person(s)/group(s)? How? Where? (through letters to local newspapers, through legal action, for instance)

8. Is/Was the humiliating act a borrowing or an adaptation of a custom from another culture? If so, specify.

9. Does/Did the humiliator reconsider/reframe/reword the humiliating message, after communicating it and apologize or tone it down? How? Is/Was reconciliation sought after?

10. How do/did persons near-by react to the humiliation being inflicted on a person? Were voices of solidarity heard? How?

11. How does the local/national media deal with communicative humiliation? By bringing it to public attention in editorials, essays, news items? Do journalists denounce such communicative abuses? How? Are social variables taken into account?

12. Does the local school system offer Communicative Humiliation Conscientization Practices in their curricula? If so, how are such social-sensitization efforts related to enhancing citizens’ right to developing a positive Social Identity.

13. Does the local /national literature (both fiction and non-fiction) contribute to ever mention forms of communicative humiliation and call attention to their harmful societal uses? Where? How? In what text genres?

14. Are social/sociolinguistic alternatives to communicative humiliation being investigated in local national research centers, programs, etc? Where? How? (Through interdisciplinary websites, for example,

15. Do reference works (different dictionaries, from general to specific works, such as biographical dictionaries) exemplify humiliation as a predominantly/largely/frequent communicative process? Where? How? For example, are verbs representing humiliating acts exemplified through realistic, current example sentences? Do verbs like debase, demean, deride, detract, disparage receive socio-linguistic attention, as regards their humiliation – generating meaning?

16. Does the local culture explicitly name the perpetrator(s) of humiliation acts as “humiliator(s)” or is such identification left invisible?

17. Does the local/national literature contribute to typologies of communicative humiliation and other related concepts such as communicative oppression, intimidation?

18. Does the local culture share with other cultures examples of presumably universal Phraseology of Humiliation. For example, can persons in your culture be heard saying something like this: “I’ve been never been so humiliated in my life?” Is there any psychological, cross-cultural research available on that seemingly shared communicative manifestation of humiliation? Where? How?

19. How does the Humiliation Word-Family in the language(s) of the local culture(s) correlate with intentions and effects of social acts?

20. How does the sociolinguistic act of humiliation relate to the psychological process of depriving someone/a group a community of its esteem, self-worth and humanity?

21. What Social Alternatives can be imagined/created for communicatively humiliating acts, thus contributing to a Culture of Dignity, Justice, Peace, and Egalitarian Democracy?

22. Do you feel at home where you live/are living now?


Francisco Gomes de Matos is a peace linguist and human rights educator from Recife-Brazil, author, among others, of the book Nurturing Nonkilling: A Poetic Plantation (2010, Center for Global Nonkilling, Honolulu-Hawai’i). Downloadable at Co-founder: The World Dignity University Initiative.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 Aug 2012.

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