An Assessment of the Negative and Positive Aspects of Stereotypes and the Derogatory and Nonderogatory Uses of Slurs

  • Adam M. CroomEmail author
Part of the Perspectives in Pragmatics, Philosophy & Psychology book series (PEPRPHPS, volume 4)


In a recent study on indirect reports published in Journal of Pragmatics, Capone (2010) points out how several leading pragmatic theorists have recently argued that utterance interpretation incorporates societal information such that the final result of semantic and pragmatic interpretation takes sociocultural defaults into account (e.g., Jaszczolt, 2005a). Croom (2013) for one has pointed out how different in-group and out-group speakers have in fact used slurs in different ways, and further suggests that several salient cultural markers can aid in the interpretation of whether a slur is being used derogatorily or nonderogatorily in a given context (p. 200). Thus, for pragmatic theorists concerned with the semantics and pragmatics of slurs more specifically, several highly important yet currently unexplored questions include the following: Are racial slurs always used to express offense, and are racial stereotypes always concerned with negative characteristics? How might the stereotypical features of members that a slur typically targets influence the meaning that slur communicates in context, and how might racial slurs and stereotypes differentially affect members of different races? Concerned with such questions, Embrick and Henricks (2013) recently argued that racial slurs and stereotypes function as symbolic resources that exclude nonwhite or non-European American minorities, but not whites or European Americans, from opportunities or resources, and so are necessarily negative or derogatory irrespective of the particular context of their use (pp. 197–202). They accordingly advocate an account of racial slurs and stereotypes that is consonant with the context-insensitive accounts of Fitten (1993) and Hedger (2013), yet dissonant with the context-sensitive accounts of Kennedy (2002) and Croom (2011). The purpose of this chapter is to first briefly explicate the context-insensitive and context-sensitive accounts of racial slurs and stereotypes, consider reasons for why issues concerning the semantics and pragmatics of slurs have often appealed to stereotypes and stereotypical features, and then critically evaluate the main claims that Embrick and Henricks (2013) recently proposed in support of their context-insensitive account by drawing upon empirical evidence on (in-group and out-group uses of) racial slurs and stereotypes (for European Americans and ­African Americans) from recent research in linguistics, sociology, and psychology. The chapter concludes by discussing implications of the present findings for future work in pragmatics on racial slurs and stereotypes.


Slurs Stereotypes Semantics Pragmatics Reappropriation Philosophy of language 


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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