Slurs and Expressive Commitments

Acta Analytica 36 (2):263-290 (2020)
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Abstract

Most accounts of the derogatory meaning of slurs are semantic. Recently, Nunberg proposed a purely pragmatic account offering a compelling picture of the relation between derogatory content and social context. Nunberg posits that the semantic content of slurs is identical to that of neutral counterparts, and that derogation is a result of the association of slur use with linguistic conventions of bigoted speakers. The mechanism responsible for it is a special kind of conversational implicature. However, this paper argues that Nunberg’s proposal suffers from technical and conceptual problems regarding the application of the concepts of implicature and convention. It is proposed that the implicature mechanism should be replaced by expressive commitment attribution. The account advocated here preserves crucial insights of Nunberg’s analysis, 25–48, 2013a, Analytic Philosophy 54, 350–363, 2013b; Bolinger Nous, 51, 439–462, 2017), giving them a firmer conceptual basis. It supports a distinction between derogation and offensiveness of slurs that improves on the one proposed by Hom and May, 293–313 2013), and sheds light on puzzling borderline cases: the use of slurs by ignorant speakers and controversies surrounding the status of some words as potentially slurs.

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Leopold Hess
Jagiellonian University

Citations of this work

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References found in this work

Scorekeeping in a language game.David Lewis - 1979 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 8 (1):339--359.
Scorekeeping in a Language Game.David Lewis - 1979 - Journal of Philosophical Logic 8 (3):339.
Slurring Perspectives.Elisabeth Camp - 2013 - Analytic Philosophy 54 (3):330-349.
Slurring Words.Luvell Anderson & Ernie Lepore - 2011 - Noûs 47 (1):25-48.

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