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Organon F

Volume 28, May 2021, Issue 3, Pages 650–671

ISSN 2585-7150 (online) ISSN 1335-0668 (print)

Research Article | Special issue on Value in Language

Rethinking Slurs: A Case Against Neutral Counterparts and the Introduction of Referential Flexibility

Alice Damirjian

https://doi.org/10.31577/orgf.2021.28308

Abstract

Slurs are pejorative expressions that derogate individuals or groups on the basis of their gender, race, nationality, religion, sexual orientation and so forth. In the constantly growing literature on slurs, it has become customary to appeal to so-called “neutral counterparts” for explaining the extension and truth-conditional content of slurring terms. More precisely, it is commonly assumed that every slur shares its extension and literal content with a non-evaluative counterpart term. I think this assumption is unwarranted and, in this paper, I shall present two arguments against it. (i) A careful comparison of slurs with complex or thick group-referencing pejoratives lacking neutral counterparts shows that these are in fact very hard to distinguish. (ii) Slurs lack the referential stability of their alleged neutral counterparts, which suggests that they are not coreferential. Developing (ii) will involve introducing a new concept which I regard as essential for understanding how slurs behave in natural language: referential flexibility. I shall support my claims by looking at historical and current ways in which slurs and other pejorative terms are used, and I shall argue that both etymological data and new empirical data support the conclusion that the assumption of neutral counterparts not only is unwarranted but obscures our understanding of what slurs are, and what speakers do with them.

Keywords

Neutral counterparts; pejorative language; philosophy of language; semantics; slurs.

Author(s) and affiliation(s)

Author

Alice Damirjian

Affiliation

Stockholm University

Address

Stockholm University Universitetsvägen 10D, 114 18 Stockholm, Sweden

E-mail

alice.damirjian@philosophy.su.se

About this article

Received

4 December 2020

Accepted

2 June 2021

Published online

30 August 2021

Publishers

Institute of Philosophy of the Slovak Academy of Sciences

Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences

Cite as

APA

Damirjian, A. (2021). Rethinking Slurs: A Case Against Neutral Counterparts and the Introduction of Referential Flexibility. Organon F28(3), 650–671. https://doi.org/10.31577/orgf.2021.28308

Chicago

Damirjian, Alice. 2021. "Rethinking Slurs: A Case Against Neutral Counterparts and the Introduction of Referential Flexibility." Organon F 28 (3): 650–671. https://doi.org/10.31577/orgf.2021.28308

Harvard

Damirjian, A. (2021). Rethinking Slurs: A Case Against Neutral Counterparts and the Introduction of Referential Flexibility. Organon F, 28(3), pp. 650–671. https://doi.org/10.31577/orgf.2021.28308

Copyright information

© Alice Damirjian

Response page

https://www.sav.sk/?lang=sk&doc=journal-list&part=article_response_page&journal_article_no=26508

The above URL is linked with the article's response page. The response page is a permanent location that is associated with the article's DOI number.


This article is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Public License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


Contact

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Slovak Academy of Sciences
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