Slurring is a kind of hate speech that has various effects. Notable among these is variable offence. Slurs vary in offence across words, uses, and the reactions of audience members. Patterns of offence aren’t adequately explained by current theories. We propose an explanation based on the unjust power imbalance that a slur seeks to achieve. Our starting observation is that in discourse participants take on discourse roles. These are typically inherited from social roles, but only exist during a discourse. (...) A slurring act is a speech-act that alters the discourse roles of the target and speaker. By assigning discourse roles the speaker unjustly changes the power balance in the dialogue. This has a variety of effects on the target and audience. We show how these notions explain all three types of offence variation. We also briefly sketch how a role and power theory can help explain silencing and appropriation. Explanatory power lies in the fact that offence is correlated with the perceived unjustness of the power imbalance created. (shrink)
I argue that the offense generation pattern of slurring terms parallels that of impoliteness behaviors, and is best explained by appeal to similar purely pragmatic mechanisms. In choosing to use a slurring term rather than its neutral counterpart, the speaker signals that she endorses the term. Such an endorsement warrants offense, and consequently slurs generate offense whenever a speaker's use demonstrates a contrastive preference for the slurring term. Since this explanation comes at low theoretical cost and imposes few constraints (...) on an account of the semantics of slurs, this suggests that we should not require semantic accounts to provide an independent explanation of the offense profile. (shrink)
Slurs are typically defined as conveying contempt based on group-membership. However, here I argue that they are not a unitary group. First, I describe two dimensions of variation among derogatives: how targets are identified, and how offensive the term is. This supports the typical definition of slurs as opposed to other derogatives. I then highlight problems with this definition, mainly caused by variable offence across slur words. In the process I discuss how major theories of slurs can (...) account for variable offence, and conclude that contempt based on group-membership doesn’t cover all the data. I finish by noting that the most offensive slurs are those that target oppressed groups. I claim it is oppression that underpins most offence, and that beyond this offensive property, some slurs are actively used to oppress. (shrink)
Abstract In the last fifteen years philosophers and linguists have turned their attention to slurs: derogatory expressions that target certain groups on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality and so on. This interest is due to the fact that, on the one hand, slurs possess puzzling linguistic properties; on the other hand, the questions they pose are related to other crucial issues, such as the descriptivism/expressivism divide, the semantics/pragmatics divide and, generally speaking, the theory of meaning. (...) Despite these recent investigations about pejoratives, there is no widely accepted explanation of slurs:in my paper I consider the intuitions we have about slurs and I assess the difficulties that the main theories encounter in explaining how these terms work in order to identify the phenomena that a satisfactory account of slurs needs to explain. Then, I focus on the pragmatic theories that deal with the notions of conventional implicature and pragmatic presupposition: I assess the objections that have been raised and I propose two ways of defending the presuppositional account, taking into consideration the notion of cancellability. I will claim that the reason why most pragmatic strategies seem to fail to account for slurs is that they assume a rigid divide between conventional implicatures and presuppositions that should not be taken for granted. Reconsidering the relationship between these two notions gives a hint about how a pragmatic account of slurs should look like. Finally, I assess the problem of which presupposition slurs in fact trigger. (shrink)
In this paper, I defend against a number of criticisms an account of slurs, according to which the same semantic content is expressed in the use of a slur as is expressed in the use of its neutral counterpart, while in addition the use of a slur conventionally implicates a negative, derogatory attitude. Along the way, I criticise competing accounts of the semantics and pragmatics of slurs, namely, Hom's 'combinatorial externalism' and Anderson and Lepore's 'prohibitionism'.
The words we call slurs are just plain vanilla descriptions like ‘cowboy’ and ‘coat hanger’. They don't semantically convey any disparagement of their referents, whether as content, conventional implicature, presupposition, “coloring” or mode of presentation. What distinguishes 'kraut' and 'German' is metadata rather than meaning: the former is the conventional description for Germans among Germanophobes when they are speaking in that capacity, in the same way 'mad' is the conventional expression that some teenagers use as an intensifier when they’re (...) emphasizing that social identity. That is, racists don’t use slurs because they’re derogatory; slurs are derogatory because they’re the words that racists use. To use a slur is to exploit the Maxim of Manner (or Levinson’s M-Principle) to signal one’s affiliation with a group that has a disparaging attitude towards the slur’s referent. This account is sufficient to explain all the familiar properties of slurs, such as their speaker orientation and “nondetachability,” with no need of additional linguistic mechanisms. It also explains some features of slurs that are rarely if ever explored; for example the variation in tone and strength among the different slurs for a particular group, the existence of words we count as slurs, such as 'redskin', which almost all of their users consider to be respectful, and the curious absence in Standard English of any commonly used slurs—by which I mean words used to express a negative attitude toward an entire group—for Muslims and women. (shrink)
Slurs denigrate individuals qua members of certain groups, such as race or sexual orientation. Most theorists hold that each slur has a neutral counterpart, i.e., a term that references the slur's target group without denigrating them. According to a widely accepted view, which I call ‘Neutral Counterpart Theory’, the truth-conditional content of a slur is identical to the truth-conditional content of its neutral counterpart. My aim is to challenge this view. I argue that the view fails with respect to (...)slurs that encode truth-conditional content which does more than merely classify someone as a member of the target group, as well as slurs that denigrate by virtue of their iconicity. (shrink)
The relation between slurs and their neutral counterparts has been put into question recently by the fact that some slurs can be used to refer to subsets of the referential classes determined by their associated counterparts. This paper aims to reinforce this relation by offering a way of explaining referential restriction that distinguishes between two kinds of slurs: those performing a normalizing role upon (some) individuals inside a class (mostly, a gender) and those used to derogate a (...) marginalized out- group. (shrink)
Slurring language has had a lot of recent interest, but the focus has been almost exclusively on racial slurs. Gendered pejoratives, on the other hand—terms like “slut,” “bitch,” or “sissy”—do not fit into existing accounts of slurring terms, as these accounts require the existence of neutral correlates, which, I argue, these gendered pejoratives lack. Rather than showing that these terms are not slurs, I argue that this challenges the assumption that slurs must have neutral correlates, and so (...) that a new approach to thinking about the meaning of slurring terms is required. (shrink)
Slurs are expressions that can be used to demean and dehumanize targets based on their membership in racial, ethnic, religious, gender, or sexual orientation groups. Almost all treatments of slurs posit that they have derogatory content of some sort. Such views—which I call content-based—must explain why in cases of appropriation slurs fail to express their standard derogatory contents. A popular strategy is to take appropriated slurs to be ambiguous; they have both a derogatory content and a (...) positive appropriated content. However, if appropriated slurs are ambiguous, why can only members in the target group use them to express a non-offensive/positive meaning? Here, I develop and motivate an answer that could be adopted by any content-based theorist. I argue that appropriated contents of slurs include a plural fi rst-person pronoun. I show how the semantics of pronouns like ‘we’ can be put to use to explain why only some can use a slur to express its appropriated content. Moreover, I argue that the picture I develop is motivated by the process of appropriation and helps to explain how it achieves its aims of promoting group solidarity and positive group identity. (shrink)
Mark Richard in his book offers a new and challenging expressivist theory of the use and semantics of slurs (pejoratives). The paper argues that in contrast, the central and standard uses of slurs are cognitive. It does so from the role of stereotypes in slurring, from fi gurative slurs and from the need for cognitive effort (or simple of knowledge of relevant presumed properties of the target). Since cognition has to do with truth and falsity, and since (...) the cognitive task is a good indicator of semantic structure, it seems that the ascription of negative properties etc. indicates that they belong to the meaning of the slur, and that this meaning therefore confers truth-aptness. The (nasty) richness of meaning might vary with pejoratives: all of them involve “contemptible because G” at the very least. The most typical once carry more information. Some of it is given in the form of conceptual links roughly delineating the core stereotype associated with the pejorative, some in the form of fi gurative transfer of properties from some vehicle to the target member of G. So, slurs are not purely performative and expressive, but semantic in thetraditional, truth-directed sense. The truth-gap that might characterize the resulting sentences does not point to pejoratives not having ambition to say true and nasty things, but only to their failure in the attempt. The ambition defi nes the true-directed meanings of the assumptions, the failure just records that these assumptions are false about their targets. The paper leaves it open how central the truth-directed meanings are. The argument suggests that they are pretty central, either part of the core meaning, or of conventional implicature. (shrink)
Group slurs are applied to a whole category of people. Whereas slurs like jerk, creep, and hag are generally directed at individuals because of the personal traits (behavior, personality, looks, etc.), group slurs, like spic, commie, and infidel, are applied across the board to members of a category. Even when directed at a particular individual, ethnic, religious, and political slurs are applied on the basis of group membership rather than anything about the person in particular. Before (...) asking about the meanings of such terms, let’s consider their uses and effects. In general they. (shrink)
Cappelen and Lepore claim that the English language contains a basic and limited set of context-sensitive expressions, as only expressions within this set pass the truth-related tests that they propose to single out context-sensitive from context-insensitive words. In this paper, I argue that racial and ethnic slurs also pass Cappelen and Lepore’s context sensitivity tests and that, as a result, slurs should also be seen as context-sensitive expressions in a truth-related sense.
Slurs such as spic, slut, wetback, and whore are linguistic expressions that are primarily understood to derogate certain group members on the basis of their descriptive attributes and expressions of this kind have been considered to pack some of the nastiest punches natural language affords. Although prior scholarship on slurs has uncovered several important facts concerning their meaning and use –including that slurs are potentially offensive, are felicitously applied towards some targets yet not others, and are often (...) flexibly used not only derogatorily to convey offense towards out-group members but also non-derogatorily to convey affiliation with in-group members– the literature remains largely focused on slurs that typically target African Americans, male homosexuals, and sexually active females. Since no account of slurs that typically target Hispanics or Mexican-Americans has so far been proposed, here I offer the first systematic and empirically informed analysis of these that accounts for both their derogatory and appropriative use. Importantly, this article reviews over a dozen Spanish stereotypes and slurs and explains how the descriptive attributes involved in a stereotype associated with a slur can contribute to the predication of certain content in the application of that slur toward its target in context. This article further explains how the psychological effects of stereotype threat and stereotype lift can be initiated through the application of a relevant slur towards its target in context as well. (shrink)
There are many mean and nasty things to say about mean and nasty talk, but I don't plan on saying any of them. There's a specific problem about slurring words that I want to address. This is a semantic problem. It's not very important compared to the real-world problems presented by bigotry, racism, discrimination, and worse. It's important only to linguistics and the philosophy of language.
What accounts for the offensive character of pejoratives and slurs, words like ‘kike’ and ‘nigger’? Is it due to a semantic feature of the words or to a pragmatic feature of their use? Is it due to a violation of a group’s desires to not be called by certain terms? Is it due to a violation of etiquette? According to one kind of view, pejoratives and the non-pejorative terms with which they are related—the ‘neutral counterpart’ terms—have different meanings or (...) senses, and this explains the offensiveness of the pejoratives. We call theories of this kind, semantic theories of the pejoratives. Our goal is broadly speaking two-fold. First, we will undermine the arguments that are supposed to establish the distinction in meaning between words like ‘African American’ and ‘nigger’. We will show that the arguments are suspect and generalize in untoward ways. Second, we will provide a series of arguments against semantic theories. For simplicity, we focus on a semantic theory that has been proposed by Hom and Hom and May. By showing the systematic ways in which their view fails we hope to provide general lessons about why we should avoid semantic theories of the pejoratives. (shrink)
Neutral Counterpart Theories of slurs hold that the truth-conditional contribution of a slur is the same as the truth-conditional contribution of its neutral counterpart. In, DiFranco argues that these theories, even if plausible for single-word slurs like ‘kike’ and ‘nigger’, are not suitable for complex slurs such as ‘slanty-eyed’ and ‘curry muncher’, figurative slurs like ‘Jewish American Princess’, or iconic slurring expressions like ‘ching chong’. In this paper, we argue that these expressions do not amount to (...) genuine counterexamples to neutral counterpart theories of slurs. We provide a positive characterization of DiFranco's examples that doesn't deviate from the core of those theories. (shrink)
Exploring the nature of slurs, and various treatments thereof, has consequences for feminist theory. In particular, if we adopt the idea that the word "woman" itself can count as a slur, and that slurs are composed, in part, of descriptive and evaluative content, then certain inferences about essentialism and the social construction of sex and/or gender categories warrant closer examination. Those who make claims about the social construction of these categories must attend to the semantics of slurs, (...) since arguably such claims, in part, depend upon certain treatments of the semantics of slurs. (shrink)
Fictional terms are terms that have null extensions, and in this regard pejorative terms are a species of fictional terms: although there are Jews, there are no kikes. That pejoratives are fictions is the central consequence of the Moral and Semantic Innocence (MSI) view of Hom et al. (2013). There it is shown that for pejoratives, null extensionality is the semantic realization of the moral fact that no one ought to be the target of negative moral evaluation solely in virtue (...) of their group membership. In having null extensions, pejorative terms are much like mythological terms like ‘unicorn horn’ that express concepts with empty extensions, even though it was thought otherwise: people who falsely believed the mythology were mislead into thinking that ordinary objects (i.e. whale tusks) were magical objects, and pejoratives terms work likewise. For example, the term ‘kike’ is supported by the ideology of anti-Semitism, and speakers who fall prey to its influence (perniciously or not) are mislead into thinking that ordinary people (i.e. Jews) are inherently worthy of contempt. In this paper, we explore the consequences of this parallelism, with an eye to criticisms of MSI. In particular, we will re-visit identity expressivist views - those that hold that there are kikes and that they are Jews, and hence deny null extensionality - arguing that this embeds a mistake of fiction for fact. Among the issues to be discussed are the role of fictional truth in understanding pejorative sentences and the relation of the semantics of pejoratives to offensive use of language. We conclude with meta-semantic reflections on the origins of word meanings. (shrink)
Is the point of belief and assertion invariably to think or say something true? Is the truth of a belief or assertion absolute, or is it only relative to human interests? Most philosophers think it incoherent to profess to believe something but not think it true, or to say that some of the things we believe are only relatively true. Common sense disagrees. It sees many opinions, such as those about matters of taste, as neither true nor false; it takes (...) it as obvious that some of the truth is relative. Mark Richard's accessible book argues that when it comes to truth, common sense is right, philosophical orthodoxy wrong. The first half of the book examines connections between the performative aspects of talk, our emotions and evaluations, and the conditions under which talk and thought qualifies as true or false. It argues that the performative and expressive sometimes trump the semantic, making truth and falsity the wrong dimension of evaluation for belief or assertion. Among the topics taken up are: racial slurs and other epithets; relations between logic and truth; the status of moral and ethical talk; vagueness and the liar paradox. The book's second half defends the idea that much of everyday thought and talk is only relatively true or false. Truth is inevitably relative, given that we cannot work out in advance how our concepts will apply to the world. Richard explains what it is for truth to be relative, rebuts standard objections to relativism, and argues that relativism is consistent with the idea that one view can be objectively better than another. The book concludes with an account of matters of taste and of how it is possible for divergent views of such matters to be equally valid, even if not true or false. When Truth Gives Out will be of interest not only to philosophers who work on language, ethics, knowledge, or logic, but to any thoughtful person who has wondered what it is, or isn't, for something to be true. (shrink)
: In recent literature supporting a hybrid view between metaethical cognitivism and noncognitivist expressivism, much has been made of an analogy between moral terms and pejoratives. The analogy is based on the plausible idea that pejorative slurs are used to express both a descriptive belief and a negative attitude. The analogy looks promising insofar as it encourages the kinds of features we should want from a hybrid expressivist view for moral language. But the analogy between moral terms and pejorative (...)slurs is also problematic. In this paper, I argue for two main ways in which we should distinguish between two different types of pejorative terms: slurs, on the one hand, and what I call general pejorative terms, on the other. I examine the problems with the analogy between slurs and moral terms and conclude that general pejorative terms like ‘jerk’ are a better candidate on which to model the potential dual-use behavior of moral terms. So if hybrid theorists are looking for a dual-use model for moral language, they should be careful to base their analogies on general pejoratives, rather than slurs. (shrink)
Hybrid metaethical theories attempt to incorporate essential elements of expressivism and cognitivism, and thereby to accrue the benefits of both. Hybrid theories are often defended in part by appeals to slurs and other pejoratives, which have both expressive and cognitivist features. This paper takes far more seriously the analogy between pejoratives and moral predicates. It explains how pejoratives work, identifies the features that allow pejoratives to do that work, and models a theory of moral predicates on those features. The (...) result is an expressivist theory that, among other advantages, is immune to embedding difficulties and avoids an overlooked difficulty concerning attitude ascriptions that is lethal to most other hybrid theories. (shrink)
The norms surrounding pejorative language, such as racial slurs and swear words, are deeply prohibitive. Pejoratives are typically a means for speakers to express their derogatory attitudes. As these attitudes vary along many dimensions and magnitudes, they initially appear to be resistant to a truth-conditional, semantic analysis. The goal of the paper is to clarify the essential linguistic phenomena surrounding pejoratives, survey the logical space of explanatory theories, evaluate each with respect to the phenomena and provide a preliminary assessment (...) of the initial resistance to a truth-conditional analysis. (shrink)
Pejoratives are the class of expressions that are meant to insult or disparage. They include swear words and slurs. These words allow speakers to convey emotional states beyond the truth-conditional contents that they are normally taken to encode. The puzzle arises because, although pejoratives seem to be a semantically unified class, some of their occurrences are best accounted for truth-conditionally, while others are best accounted for non-truth-conditionally. Where current, non-truth-conditional, views in the literature fail to provide a unified solution (...) for the puzzle, this paper motivates a novel, semantic, analysis of pejorative language. The significance of the proposed solution is not only linguistic in nature, but also philosophical, as it both provides a new argument for, and sheds further light on, the nature of semantic externalism. (shrink)
: Hybrid metaethical theories attempt to incorporate essential elements of expressivism and cognitivism, and thereby to accrue the benefits of both. Hybrid theories are often defended in part by appeals to slurs and other pejoratives, which have both expressive and cognitivist features. This paper takes far more seriously the analogy between pejoratives and moral predicates. It explains how pejoratives work, identifies the features that allow pejoratives to do that work, and models a theory of moral predicates on those features. (...) The result is an expressivist theory that, among other advantages, is immune to embedding difficulties and avoids an overlooked difficulty concerning attitude ascriptions that is lethal to most other hybrid theories. (shrink)
“Choose your words wisely,” my mother used to say, “because you never know who’s listening.” Oddly, this is something about which my dear mother and Mark Richard apparently would agree. They both seem to think that the words you use say something about who you are, and if you use bad words, then you are a bad person. About this, I have no doubt that they are right - those who use slurs, at least in the context of many (...) assertive utterances, are surely racists, anti-Semites or whatever. But MR in his paper points out that matters go further than this, for our conversational interactions with slur words can show us to be of such dubious moral status even if we don’t utter them; just our normal practices of accepting the utterances of others would be sufficient for this result. But something is surely amiss here; no doubt we can know the meaning of slur-words, and so comprehend the utterances of others, without impugning our moral stature in any way. (shrink)
In this paper, the authors present a presuppositional account for a class of evaluative terms that encode both a descriptive and an evaluative component: slurs and thick terms. The authors discuss several issues related to the hybrid nature of these terms, such as their projective behavior, the ways in which one may reject their evaluative content, and the ways in which evaluative content is entailed or implicated (as the case may be) by the use of such terms.
Workplace bullying has a well-established body of research internationally, but the United States has lagged behind the rest of the world in the identification and investigation of this phenomenon. This paper presents a managerial perspective on bullying in organizations. The lack of attention to the concept of workplace dignity in American organizational structures has supported and even encouraged both casual and more severe forms of harassment that our workplace laws do not currently cover. The demoralization victims suffer can create toxic (...) working environments and impair organizational productivity. Some methods of protecting your organization from this blight of bullying are proposed. Bullying has always been part of the human condition; history is rife with references to abuse of power and unnecessary or excessive force. The classic bully story is of Joseph and his brothers, a tale of envy and hostility. The refinement of bullying to include various forms of legally defined social harassment is a relatively late phenomenon, however, dating to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the United States, bullying is not illegal, whereas it is illegal in many other countries. Bullying is not about benign teasing, nor does it include the off-color jokes, racial slurs, or unwelcome advances that are the hallmarks of legally defined harassment. Workplace bullying is the pattern of destructive and generally deliberate demeaning of co-workers or subordinates that reminds us of the activities of the schoolyard bully. Unlike the schoolyard bully, however, the workplace bully is an adult, usually (but not always) aware of the impact of his or her behavior on others. Bullying in the workplace, often tacitly accepted by the organizational leadership, can create an environment of psychological threat that diminishes corporate productivity and inhibits individual and group commitment. The two examples that follow will help to clarify the difference between harassment and bullying. (shrink)
Applying a medical conception of toxicity to speech practices, this paper calls for an epidemiology of discursive toxicity. Toxicity highlights the mechanisms by which speech acts and discursive practices can inflict harm, making sense of claims about harms arising from speech devoid of slurs, epithets, or a narrower class I call ‘deeply derogatory terms.’ Further, it highlights the role of uptake and susceptibility, and so suggests a framework for thinking about damage variation. Toxic effects vary depending on one’s epistemic (...) position, access, and authority. An inferentialist account of discursive practice plus a dynamic view of the power of language games offers tools to analyze the toxic power of speech acts. A simple account of language games helps track changes in our discursive practices. Identifying patterns contributes to an epidemiology of toxic speech, which might include tracking increasing use of derogatory terms, us/them dichotomization, terms of isolation, new essentialisms, and more. Using this framework, I analyze some examples of speech already said to be toxic, working with a rough concept of toxicity as poison. Finally, exploring discursive toxicity pushes us to find ways that certain discursive practices might “inoculate” one to absorbing toxic messages, or less metaphorically, block one’s capacity to make toxic inferences, take deontic stances that foster toxicity, etc. (shrink)
Stalnaker’s Context deploys the core machinery of common ground, possible worlds, and epistemic accessibility to mount a powerful case for the ‘autonomy of pragmatics’: the utility of theorizing about discourse function independently of specific linguistic mechanisms. Illocutionary force lies at the peripherybetween pragmatics—as the rational, non-conventional dynamics of context change—and semantics—as a conventional compositional mechanism for determining truth-conditional contents—in an interesting way. I argue that the conventionalization of illocutionary force, most notably in assertion, has important crosscontextual consequences that are not (...) fully captured by a specification of dynamic effects on common ground. More generally, I suggest that Stalnaker’s purely informational, propositional analysis of both semantic content and dynamic effects distorts our understanding of the function of language, especially of the real-world commitments and consequences engendered by robustly ‘expressive’ language like slurs, honorifics, and thick terms. (shrink)
In this paper, I discuss the Reclamation Worry, raised by Anderson and Lepore 2013 and addressed by Ritchie concerning the appropriation of slurs. I argue that Ritchie’s way to solve the RW is not adequate and I show why such an apparent worry is not actually problematic and should not lead us to postulate a rich complex semantics for reclaimed slurs. To this end, after illustrating the phenomenon of appropriation of slurs, I introduce the Reclamation Worry. In (...) section 3, I argue that Richie’s complex proposal is not needed to explain the phenomenon. To show that, I compare the case of reclaimed and non-reclaimed slurs to the case of polysemic personal pronouns featuring, among others, in many Romance languages. In section 4 I introduce the notion of ‘authoritativeness’ that I take to be crucial to account for reclamation. In section 5, I focus on particular cases that support my claims and speak against the parsimony of the indexical account. Finally, I conclude with a methodological remark about the ways in which the debate on appropriation has developed in the literature. (shrink)
In this paper, I assess the relative merits of two semantic frameworks for slurring terms. Each aims to distinguish slurs from their neutral counterparts via their semantics. On one, recently developed by Kent Bach, that which differentiates the slurring term from its neutral counterpart is encoded as a ‘loaded’ descriptive content. Whereas the neutral counterpart ‘NC’ references a group, the slur has as its content “NC, and therefore contemptible”. On the other, a version of hybrid expressivism, the semantically encoded (...) aspect of a slurring term that distinguishes it from its neutral counterpart is, rather, expressed. A speaker who uses the slurring term references the group referenced by the neutral counterpart and, in addition, expresses her contempt for the target. On this view, while the speaker’s attitude may be evaluated for appropriateness, the expressivist component of slurring terms is truth-conditionally irrelevant. The reference to the group, and only the reference to the group, contributes to truth conditions. I’ll argue that hybrid expressivism offers a more parsimonious analysis of slurs’ projective behavior than loaded descriptivism and that its truth conditional semantics is not inferior to the possible accounts available for loaded descriptivism. I also meet Bach’s important objection that hybrid expressivism cannot account for uses of slurring terms in indirect quotation and attitude attributions. (shrink)
Pejorative Language Some words can hurt. Slurs, insults, and swears can be highly offensive and derogatory. Some theorists hold that the derogatory capacity of a pejorative word or phrase is best explained by the content it expresses. In opposition to content theories, deflationism denies that there is any specifically derogatory content expressed by pejoratives. As … Continue reading Pejorative Language →.
We encounter offense through various media: an intended facetious remark, a protester’s photographic image of an aborted fetus, an epithet, a stereotypical joke of a minority racial group. People say things that cause offense all of the time. And causing offense can have serious consequences, both personal and professional; the offending party is subject to termination, suspension, or social isolation and public opprobrium. Since the stakes are so high we should have a better understanding of the mechanisms of offense involved (...) in these media and how they work. In this dissertation I focus on two mechanisms for communicating offense—i.e. racial and ethnic slurs and racial humor. First, I lay out a few distinctions concerning the particular kind of offense being targeted, objective versus subjective offense, and when state involvement might be appropriate for penalizing offensive behavior. Next, I discuss racial slurs and the conditions of their offensiveness. I offer a non-content based view of slurs’ offense, which contradicts the consensus view held by most philosophers of language and linguists working on this issue. Also, I look more closely at a purportedly non-offensive use of slurring language, so-called linguistic appropriation, and determine that appropriated uses are permissible in certain settings only under certain conditions. And finally, I propose a tri-partite analysis of racial jokes that provides conditions for when they are merely racial, racially insensitive, or racist. (shrink)
Pejorative Language Some words can hurt. Slurs, insults, and swears can be highly offensive and derogatory. Some theorists hold that the derogatory capacity of a pejorative word or phrase is best explained by the content it expresses. In opposition to content theories, deflationism denies that there is any specifically derogatory content expressed by pejoratives. As […].
Drawing on my recent work using inferential role semantics and elements of speech act theory to analyze the role of derogatory terms (a.k.a. ‘hate speech’, or ‘slurs’) in the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda, as well as the role of certain kinds of reparative speech acts in post-genocide Rwanda, this paper highlights key pragmatist commitments that inform the methods and goals of this practical analysis of real world events. In “Genocidal Language Games”, I used conceptual tools from (...) Wittgenstein, Sellars, Lewis, and Brandom, with a nod to Searle’s concept of status-functions, to develop an analysis that helps to make sense of the view that a steady, deep, and widespread derogation of a group can at least partially constitute genocide, not only be an antecedent to it. In this paper, I sketch some of the tools and lessons of this project, with an eye to highlighting their pragmatist roots and the directions to which such real-world investigations lead. (shrink)
This paper responds to discussions of my book When Truth Gives Out by Michael Lynch, Nenad Miščević, and Isidora Stojanović. Among the topics discussed are: whether relativism is incoherent (because it requires one to think that certain of one’s views are and are not epistemically superior to views one denies); whether and when sentences in which one slurs an individual or group are truth valued; whether relativism about matters of taste gives an account of “faultless disagreement” superior to certain (...) “absolutist” accounts of the matter. (shrink)
Questions about the meanings of racialized representations must be included as part of developing an ethical game design practice. This paper examines the various ways in which race and racial contexts are repre-sented in a selected range of commercially available e-games, namely war, sports and action-adventure games. The analysis focuses on the use of racial slurs and the contingencies of historical re-representation in war games; the limited representation of black masculinity in sports games and the romanticization of ‘ghetto play’ (...) in urban street games; and the pathologization and fetishization of race in ‘crime sim’ action-adventure games such as True Crime: Streets of LA. This paper argues for, firstly, a continuous critical engagement with these dominant representations in all their evolving forms; secondly, the necessary inclusion of reflexive precepts in e-games development contexts; and thirdly, the importance of advocating for more diverse and equitable racialized representations in commercial e-games. (shrink)
This paper summarizes the main points of the papers in the volume which demonstrate some of the ways that academic freedom is at odds with recent conservative attacks on the professoriate; argues that some of the conservative attacks from students on faculty are at base a failure to acknowledge their equal personhood, but treat them as inferior beings and thus elicit harmful psychological reactions similar to those found in victims of racist slurs; and examines possible solutions, including distancing on (...) the part of faculty, and distributing the burden of critical thinking among all faculty and college courses, thereby making academic freedom a reality for all. (shrink)