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Inescapable Articulations: Vessels of Lexical Effects

Slurs carry an offensive potential their neutral counterparts lack. Attempts to explain this typically trace the offensive effect of slurs to some layer of meaning—either truth-conditional, or another type of semantically encoded, or pragmatically implied, content. Further, it is invariably assumed that the offensive potential of a slur is triggered by the slur term itself. We argue both these assumptions are false. It is not slurs or their meanings that trigger the offensive effect, but certain of their articulations—their orthographic and phonological forms. The articulations can trigger offense even when they fail to be accompanied by tokening of the slur term, and the tokening of a slur term can fail to give raise to offense when not accompanied by the offending articulation. We argue that The Articulation Account is uniquely well situated to explain a range of facts about the offensive effect of slurs, including its persistence in quotative environments and its inheritance in unrelated terms that merely resemble slurs. Further, our account is particularly well suited to capture the similarity in the offensive effect of slurs and offensive gestures, symbols and imagery.

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