The semantic status of slurs, and of connotative words in general, is discussed. A map of the main positions regarding this topic is sketched out. It is shown that some of them fail, and a positive solution to the debate is proposed. The positions concerning the semantics of slurs are divided into three groups: (1) the silentist position, to which slurs do not possess a derogatory content; (2) the literalist position, to which the derogatory content is part of the truth conditions; and (3) the position to which a derogatory content exists, but is not part of the truth conditions. Within the third family, one can distinguish (3.1) pragmatic positions, which identify the derogatory content with presuppositions or felicity conditions, and (3.2) semantic positions, which identify it with Gricean conventional implicatures. Although our proposal is close to the theories (3.2), we advance a somewhat different thesis by exploiting Searle’s speech act classification. We believe that by uttering words, such as “nigger”, a speaker performs two speech acts: a representative corresponding to the act performed by means of the sentence containing the neutral counterpart of “nigger” and an expressive act by which the speaker expresses her contempt toward black people.
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