The semantics of racial slurs: Using kaplan’s framework to provide a theory of the meaning of derogatory epithets

Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 11:74-84 (2012)
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In this paper I adopt Kaplan’s framework for distinguishing between descriptive and expressive content. Racial slurs are an especially difficult challenge for truth-conditional semantics because of their projection behaviors. That is to say, the offensive content of slurs “scopes out” of logical operators. I argue that racial slurs express contempt and lack descriptive content, so that many sentences containing slurs are not truth apt. My theory accounts for the intuition of the ordinary speaker who refuses to assent to the truth of a sentence containing a slur, but accepts the same statement made using a neutral counterpart of that slur. Weaknesses of rival theories are briefly discussed

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Joseph Hedger
Syracuse University


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