An Indexical Theory of Racial Pejoratives

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This paper defends a novel truth-conditional theory of racial pejoratives that is distinctive by locating an indexical component in their content. The paper reviews rival theories (which are divided into three main approaches: semantic, pragmatic and prohibition accounts) and sets out some of their main difficulties, with particular focus on the difficulties in explaining the apparent context sensitivity of the content of pejorative expressions. The indexical theory, it is argued, not only avoids these problems but provides a better account of three characteristic features of pejoratives that a satisfactory theory of pejoratives should be able to explain. These are, first, the explosive force that utterances of pejoratives have even in apparently ‘innocent’ uses; second, the apparently non-derogatory use of pejoratives when they are appropriated by the target community; third, the distinctive behaviour of pejoratives in contexts of embedding under verbs of propositional attitude.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-404
JournalAnalytic Philosophy
Issue number4
Early online date25 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Semantics
  • Pragmatics
  • Pejoratives
  • Indexicals


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