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Ulla Tuomarla

Ulla Susanna Tuomarla
Born August 8, 1965, Turku

Master of Arts 1993, PhD 2000 (French philology), University of Helsinki
Docent 2002, University of Helsinki

Head of department 2014–, deputy head of department 2010–14, Department of Modern Languages, University of Helsinki
University lecturer 2009– (French translation), University of Helsinki
Acting university lecturer 2007–09 and 2000-03, postdoctoral assistant 2003–06, University of Helsinki
French teacher 1999–2000, University of Tampere

Publications, research projects and other academic activity
Research themes:
Linguistic polyphony and reported speech, argumentation, emotions and linguistic interaction (inter alia, hate speech).
The research project How to address?

Photo: Essi Lavonen
Written by Ulla Tuomarla and Tiia Niemelä
Translated by Matthew Billington

The Angry World of the Internet

Hate speech is a very topical issue, and according to Ulla Tuomarla it is also a very interesting phenomenon when it comes to the study of language. For over a year she has been working on a hate speech research project, which she would very much like to see grow into an interdisciplinary project.

The definition of hate speech seems to have been lost even to leading politicians, and Tuomarla admits that it is a difficult phenomenon to define. She has started with a rather general definition, according to which hate speech is the kind of public use of language where hate is evident and which incites hatred. It is usually directed towards and crudely judges certain groups of people, such as immigrants and sexual minorities. Rhetorical devices typical of hate speech include generalisation and irony. A unique aspect of hate speech is trolling, which is not possible in face-to-face interaction.

Originally, Tuomarla was not specifically interested in hate speech, but a general interest in the relationship between language and emotions led her to study the phenomenon. She has also studied positive expressions of emotions, for example in literature and in the correspondence between Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. However, in this type of research the data is somewhat limited, as it is published material by well-known figures.

– But then again if you went to a friend and said, ‘hey, I would like to study your love letters,’ or if you wanted to be present when some couple were having an argument, then you might have a bit of a problem collecting your data.

Social media, where hate speech often appears, has given researchers a whole new forum for accessing expressions of emotions that have hitherto been mainly kept private. Thus, it is not necessarily the case that hatred and negative emotions have radically increased in society, but emotions are now expressed in more public arenas. One of the observations Tuomarla has made is that social media has changed our ideas on where the line between private and public is drawn.

Tuomarla says that hate speech exists because of social exclusion and because people are suffering in their own lives. Hate speech is a type of emotional unburdening, as Arto Mustajoki puts it, an attempt to unload your own negative feelings.

– But it is not only those who suffer from social exclusion that engage in hate speech, as we all know. With politicians it is particularly problematic, became they enjoy a respected position in society and are widely listened to, Tuomarla says.

In part, Tuomarla also chose hate speech as the topic of her research for societal reasons. As a discourse analysist she has always felt the need to participate in society, and she believes that hate speech is clearly one of the most topical contemporary social problems requiring a solution. She praises discussions on the issue in legal circles, but she notes that the debate could greatly benefit from a linguistic perspective. After all, in hate speech it is language that is used as a means of exerting influence.

– Hate speech appeals to emotions and emotions are contagious.

Studying hate speech can be hard work, but fortunately horseback riding serves as counterbalance. Many of Ulla Tuomarla’s cares have been shed in the terrain around Ruskeasuo. Photo by Sabine Kraenker.


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