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Linguistic Liberation or Digital Chains? The Battle for Free Speech in the Age of Censorship

In a recent episode of The LOAF Podcast, we had the privilege of engaging in a profound conversation with linguist David Crystal. Our discussion revolved around the fascinating topics of linguistics, free speech, and the ever-evolving landscape of censorship in the digital era.

David Crystal surrounded by words
Attribution: Wikipedia Commons

The Power of Language and Rules

In response to co-host Lukas’ question about free speech in the digital world, David Crystal shed light on how language rules can be both powerful and contentious, particularly in the context of free speech. He eloquently stated, "This idea of rules can also become insidious when somebody else can decide what language you are and aren't allowed to use on a certain platform."

He further emphasized that speech is not merely a means of communication but also an act and a behavior. This led to a thought-provoking discussion about the blurred lines between speech and behaviour and whether speech should be subject to the same level of scrutiny and potential criminalisation as certain behaviours.

Censorship in the Digital Age

David Crystal offered valuable insights into the prevalence of language monitoring in public institutions and online platforms. He mentioned, "Monitoring of speech is absolutely routine in all public levels in all public institutions." This is evident in institutions like the BBC, which has conventions in place to regulate language use.

This is one of the big problems that artificial intelligence is going to have to face up to...

The early days of the internet were marked by a laissez-faire attitude, but as online communities grew, moderation became essential. David Crystal explained how the initial freedom gradually gave way to more controlled environments as certain language offended members of the online community. He remarked, "This is one of the big problems that artificial intelligence is going to have to face up to—what sort of criteria are going to be in the background of these powerful organisations that may or may not constrain our freedom of speech?"


Throughout our conversation, David Crystal provided invaluable insights into linguistics, free speech, and censorship. His perspectives serve as a guiding light in understanding these complex topics.

As we navigate the intricate landscape of language regulation, free expression, and digital censorship, it's evident that the boundaries continue to shift and evolve. David Crystal's wisdom and experiences enrich our understanding of the challenges and considerations we face in today's digital age. The journey ahead promises to be both complex and enlightening, as we explore the future of language and free speech.

Experience the full conversation by watching the video here. Don’t forget to like and subscribe for more content. Stay tuned!


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