Meaning and Racial Slurs: Derogatory Epithets and the Semantics/Pragmatics Interface

Abstract

The semantics of racial slurs has recently become a locus of debate amongst philosophers. While everyone agrees that slurs are offensive, there is disagreement about the linguistic mechanism responsible for this offensiveness. This paper places the debate about racial slurs into the context of a larger issue concerning the interface between semantics and pragmatics, and argues that even on minimalist assumptions, the offensiveness of slur words is more plausibly due to their semantic content rather than any pragmatic mechanism. Finally, I note that slurs make a good test case for expanding our semantic theories beyond the truth conditional tradition of Frege, which will be necessary in order to broaden the types of expressions handled by semantic theories

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2013-04-30

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