The Nature of (Covert) Dogwhistles

In Cristian Saborido, Sergi Oms & Javier González de Prado (eds.), Proceedings of the IX Conference of the Spanish Society of Lógic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science. Madrid, España: pp. 93-100 (2018)
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‘Dogwhistle’ refers to a kind of political manipulation that some people carry out for political gains. According to Saul (2018), dogwhistles can be either intentional or unintentional depending on whether the speaker carried out the dogwhistle deliberately or not —although one cannot always recognize whether a particular case was intentional. In addition to being intentional or not, dogwhistles can also be overt or covert depending on whether the audience is aware or not of the dogwhistle. In the case of overt dogwhistles, the speaker addresses a message to an audience with two possible interpretations. One of these is coded and affects only a subset the audience (Witten 2014). Covert dogwhistles, on the other hand, are not really about sending a “coded message.” Instead, they raise attitudes to salience, so people will act on them without realizing they are being moved on them. As Stanley (2015) points out, these kinds of dogwhistles work as a strategy for undermining democratic ideals without immediate rejection. Our key question is whether covert dogwhistles constitute a special form of implicit communication or whether they can be reduced to already existing forms of implicit communication such as presuppositions or implicatures. We will focus on covert dogwhistles because they seem more difficult to accommodate within the traditional categories of presuppositions and implicatures. To carry out this task, we compare the features of each of the mentioned phenomena and analyse how they behave in the face of retraction.

Author Profiles

José Ramón Torices
University of Granada
Manuel Almagro Holgado
University of Granada


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