Abstract for Robert Stainton’s talk

Meaning Pluralism, Sociolinguistic Register and Slurring Words

Most theories of slurs fall into one of two families: those which understand slurring terms to encode special descriptive/informational content (however conveyed), and those which understand them to encode special emotive content. Our view is that part of what sets slurs apart is use-theoretic content. In particular, we urge that slurring words belong at the intersection of a number of categories in a register taxonomy, one that usually includes [+ slang] and [+ vulgar] and always includes [- polite] and [+ derogatory]. Thus, e.g., what distinguishes ‘Chinese person’ from ‘chink’ is neither a peculiar sort of descriptive nor emotional content, but the fact that ‘chink’ is lexically marked as belonging to different sociolinguistic registers than ‘Chinese person’.

The paper is co-authored: Justina Diaz Legaspe, Chang Liu, and Robert J. Stainton.