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The Multi-Component Model for the semantic analysis of slurs

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Abstract

The semantics of slur terms has provoked some debate within the philosophy of language, and different analysis models have been proposed to account for the complex meaning of these terms. The present paper acknowledges the complexity of the matter and presents an analysis model that is inspired by multiple-component approaches to slurs, such as those by Camp (2018) and Jeshion (2018). The Multi-Component Model for the semantic analysis of slurs (MCM) tracks down altogether four meaning components in group-based slur terms: a referential and a pejorative meaning component (being xy and despicable because of it), as well as a scalar component capturing the term’s individual degree of offensiveness, and an expressive component indexing heightened emotions in all contexts of use. The notion of individual offensiveness degrees (that are fed by a multitude of semantic, pragmatic, and/or extralinguistic sources) allows us to account for the differences between slurs for the same ethnic group (such as nigger, negro, coon, darkie for Blacks); and the separation of the expressive component from the pejorative component can (1) explain the high frequency of non-pejorative uses, and (2) correctly describe these uses as expressive.

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Keywords: expressive meaning; offensiveness; semantics; semantics/pragmatics interface; slurs; survey study

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 13, 2020

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