The semantics and pragmatics of three potential slurring terms

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In this chapter, I propose a lexical semantics with interlaced pragmatic elements for three potential slurring terms: bitch, cunt, and nigger. These controversial lexical items are worthy of attention because each can be used without the utterance being either intended or interpreted as a slur or even felt to be a slur. To specify the differing potentials of such terms, I postulate a cocktail of interlaced semantic and pragmatic components. I first hinted that pragmatic components be included in lexicon entries in Allan (Linguistic meaning. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1986/2014: 170-174) and subsequently confirmed the idea and developed it substantially in Allan (The lexicon-encyclopedia interface. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp. 169-218, 2000; Natural language semantics. Blackwell, Oxford, 2001; Salience and defaults in utterance processing. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 2011; Cambridge handbook of pragmatics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 227-250, 2012). Something similar, at least in spirit, is proposed in Copestake and Briscoe (Lexical semantics and knowledge representation. Springer, Berlin, pp. 107-119, 1992), Copestake and Lascarides (Proceedings of the 35th annual meeting of the association for computational linguistics (ACL97). Association for Computational Linguistics, Stroudsburg, PA, pp. 136-143, 1997) and more recently in Carston (Thoughts and utterances: the pragmatics of explicit communication. Blackwell, Oxford, 2002: Chap. 5) and Wilson and Carston (Pragmatics. Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills, pp. 230-259, 2007). What I am proposing in this new chapter is that the triggers for the potentially diverse interpretations of the terms bitch, cunt, and nigger are specified in the lexicon for the various identifiable classes of contexts in which such words are used.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStudies in Ethnopragmatics, Cultural Semantics, and Intercultural Communication
Subtitle of host publicationEthnopragmatics and Semantic Analysis
EditorsKerry Mullan, Bert Peeters, Lauren Sadow
Place of PublicationSingapore
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9789813299832
ISBN (Print)9789813299825
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Camaraderie
  • Context
  • Contronym
  • Dysphemism
  • Orthophemism

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