Dogwhistles and the At-Issue/Non-At-Issue Distinction

In: Secondary Content

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This chapter focuses on the semantics and pragmatics of dogwhistles, namely expressions that send one message to an outgroup while at the same time sending a second (often taboo, controversial, or inflammatory) message to an ingroup. There are three questions that need to be resolved to understand the semantics and pragmatics of the phenomenon at hand: (i) What kind of meaning is dogwhistle content—implicature, conventional implicature, etc; (ii) are dogwhistles uniform or are their subtypes, and (iii) what is the correct semantic / pragmatic analysis of dogwhistles. In particular, we argue against a conventional implicature-based account of dogwhistles and instead propose an alternative, purely pragmatic, game-theoretic, account combining aspects of McCready 2012, Burnett 2016; 2017. This proposal is used to analysis two, novel subclasses of dogwhistle that we describe.