Reclamation: Taking Back Control of Words

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Reclamation is the phenomenon of an oppressed group repurposing language to its own ends. A case study is reclamation of slur words. Popa-Wyatt and Wyatt (2018) argued that a slurring utterance is a speech act which performs a discourse role assignment. It assigns a subordinate role to the target, while the speaker assumes a dominant role. This pair of role assignments is used to oppress the target. Here I focus on how reclamation works and under what conditions its benefits can stabilise. I start by reviewing the data and describing preconditions and motivations for reclamation. Can reclamation be explained in the same basic framework as regular slurring utterances? I argue that it can. I also identify some features that must be a prediction of any theory of reclamation. I conclude that reclamation is an instance of a much broader class of acts we do with words to change the distribution of power: it begets power, but it also requires it.
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Archival date: 2020-01-07
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