in defense of a presuppositional account of slurs

Language Sciences 52:36-45 (2015)
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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.

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Bianca Cepollaro
Institut Jean Nicod


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