In this paper, we present three studies on slurs and non-slurring insults presented (i) in isolation (Pilot study), (ii) in direct speech (Study 1) and (iii) in indirect reports (Study 2). The Pilot study showed that on average slurs are perceived as more offensive than non-slurring insults when presented in isolation. In Study 1, we found some surprising results: when they occur in atomic predications of the form ‘X is a P’, in average slurs are perceived as less offensive than when they occur in isolation, while insults are perceived as more offensive than when they occur in isolation.
In order to explain these two findings, we have developed an information-based hypothesis that crucially illuminates the distinction between slurs and non-slurring insults in terms of the information they carry and the function that they fulfil. Such a perspective is more compatible with hybrid views (e.g. presuppositional) rather than with expressivist theories. Moreover, Study 2 showed that indirect report of the form ‘Z: Y said that X is a P’ decreases (without deleting) the offensiveness of utterances featuring slurs and insults. Such results speak against prohibitionist theories on slurs and pose challenges to the non-prohibitionist accounts.
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