Graduate studies at Western
Language Sciences 33 (3):343-358 (2011)
|Abstract||Slurs possess interesting linguistic properties and so have recently attracted the attention of linguists and philosophers of language. For instance the racial slur "nigger" is explosively derogatory, enough so that just hearing it mentioned can leave one feeling as if they have been made complicit in a morally atrocious act. (Jennifer Hornsby has suggested that slurs might count as “hate speech” and so raise questions “about the compatibility of the regulation of [hate] speech with principles of free speech” (2001, p. 129). Indeed, the very taboo nature of these words makes discussion of them typically prohibited or frowned upon. Although it is true that the utterance of slurs is illegitimate and derogatory in most contexts, sufficient evidence suggests that slurs are not always or exclusively used to derogate. In fact, slurs are frequently picked up and appropriated by the very in-group members that the slur was originally intended to target. This might be done, for instance, as a means for like speakers to strengthen in-group solidarity. So an investigation into the meaning and use of slurs can give us crucial insight into how words can be used with such derogatory impact, and how they can be turned around and appropriated as vehicles of rapport in certain contexts among in-group speakers. In this essay I will argue that slurs are best characterized as being of a mixed descriptive/expressive type. Next, I will review the most influential accounts of slurs offered thus far, explain their shortcomings, then provide a new analysis of slurs and explain in what ways it is superior to others. Finally, I suggest that a family-resemblance conception of category membership can help us achieve a clearer understanding of the various ways in which slurs, for better or worse, are actually put to use in natural language discourse.|
|Keywords||slurs euphemisms philosophy of language epithets taboo derogation semantics pragmatics politeness family resemblance|
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