Focus on Slurs


Slurring expressions display puzzling behaviour when embedded, such as under negation and in attitude and speech reports. On one hand, they frequently appear to retain their characteristic qualities, such as offensiveness and propensity to derogate. On the other hand, it is sometimes possible to understand them as lacking these qualities. A theory of slurring expressions should explain this variability. We develop an explanation that deploys the linguistic notion of focus. Our proposal is that a speaker can conversationally implicate metalinguistic claims about the aptness of a focused slurring expression. The inclusion of a sentential operator in the sentence (e.g., negation) affects the aptness claim conveyed, resulting in the availability of non-pejorative metalinguistic construals (e.g., that the slurring expression is not apt for certain purposes). The resulting explanation of variability relies on independently motivated mechanisms and is compatible with any theory of slurring expressions.

Mind and Language