Volume 17, Issue 2, 2017
Loaded Words and Expressive Words
Assessing Two Semantic Frameworks for Slurs
In this paper, I assess the relative merits of two semantic frameworks for slurring terms. Each aims to distinguish slurs from their neutral counterparts via their semantics. On one, recently developed by Kent Bach, that which differentiates the slurring term from its neutral counterpart is encoded as a ‘loaded’ descriptive content. Whereas the neutral counterpart ‘NC’ references a group, the slur has as its content “NC, and therefore contemptible”. On the other, a version of hybrid expressivism, the semantically encoded aspect of a slurring term that distinguishes it from its neutral counterpart is, rather, expressed. A speaker who uses the slurring term references the group referenced by the neutral counterpart and, in addition, expresses her contempt for the target. On this view, while the speaker’s attitude may be evaluated for appropriateness, the expressivist component of slurring terms is truth-conditionally irrelevant. The reference to the group, and only the reference to the group, contributes to truth conditions. I’ll argue that hybrid expressivism offers a more parsimonious analysis of slurs’ projective behavior than loaded descriptivism and that its truth conditional semantics is not inferior to the possible accounts available for loaded descriptivism. I also meet Bach’s important objection that hybrid expressivism cannot account for uses of slurring terms in indirect quotation and attitude attributions.