The semantics of slurs: A refutation of coreferentialism

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Coreferentialism refers to the common assumption in the literature that slurs and descriptors are coreferential expressions with precisely the same extension. For instance, Vallee recently writes that “If S is an ethnic slur in language L, then there is a non-derogatory expression G in L such that G and S have the same extension”. The non-derogatory expression G is commonly considered the nonpejorative correlate of the slur expression S and it is widely thought that every S has a coreferring G that possesses precisely the same extension. Yet here I argue against this widespread assumption by first briefly introducing what slurs are and then considering four sources of supporting evidence showing that slurs and descriptors are in fact not coreferential expressions with precisely the same extension. I argue that since slurs and descriptors differ in their extension they thereby differ in their meaning or content also. This article additionally introduces the notion of a conceptual anchor in order to adequately account for the relationship between slurs and descriptors actually evidenced in the empirical data, and further considers the inadequacy of common dictionary definitions of slurs. This article therefore contributes to the literature on slurs by demonstrating that previous accounts operating on the assumption that slurs and descriptors are coreferential expressions with the same extension, and that they thereby have the same meaning or content, are inconsistent with empirical data and that an alternative account in accord with Croom better fits the facts concerning their actual meaning and use
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Archival date: 2015-04-07
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