The meaning and use of slurs

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This paper focusses on some aspects of the meaning and use of slurs that have been neglected in the literature so far. On the pragmatic side, it concentrates on non-pejorative uses and the distinction between target groups and in-groups. It shows that emotions play a critical role in all contexts of use, irrespective of whether these contexts are derogatory or not. On the semantic side, the paper adopts a multiple component approach and brings empirical evidence that slur terms do not only have a referential and pejorative component but also a component of degree of offensiveness. There are many sources informing a speech community about a term’s offensiveness, including racist institutions, stereotypes, prohibitions, perlocutionary effects, and meta-linguistic discussions. All of these fluctuating influencing factors add to the complex picture of slur terms and make their semantic components subject to enormous changes.


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