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Contested Slurs

Delimiting the Linguistic Community

In: Grazer Philosophische Studien
Author:
Renée Jorgensen Bolinger Princeton University, bolinger@princeton.edu

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Sometimes speakers within a linguistic community use a term that they do not conceptualize as a slur, but which other members of that community do. Sometimes these speakers are ignorant or naïve, but not always. This article explores a puzzle raised when some speakers stubbornly maintain that a contested term t is not derogatory. Because the semantic content of a term depends on the language, to say that their use of t is semantically derogatory despite their claims and intentions, we must individuate languages in a way that counts them as speaking our language L, assigns t a determinately derogatory content in L, and still accommodates the other features of slurs’ linguistic profile. Given the difficulty of doing this, there is some reason to give a non-semantic analysis of the derogatory aspect of slurs. The author suggests that rather than dismissing the stubborn as semantically incompetent, we would do better to appeal to expected uptake as moral reasons for the stubborn to adjust their linguistic practices.

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