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Derogatives: Meaning or Metadata?

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The literature on “derogatives”—a lot of it coming from philosophy of language, rather than linguistic semantics—usually departs from two assumptions: that derogatives are a coherent linguistic class, and that their derogative force follows from their linguistic meanings, either as an entailment or a conventional implicature. I’ll propose another approach here, making three main points. First, “derogatives” are part of a much more extensive class of appraisive expressions; the principles that account for the appraisive force of “boche” should also account for the appraisive force of “la-la land,” “bureaucrat,” and “free enterprise.” Second, rather than connecting this force directly to the meanings of the expressions, we should treat it the way standard dictionaries do, as following from metadata about their associated communities of judgment, in Alan Gibbard’s phrase. Third, the full effect of strong derogatives follows from two independent sources: an appraisive judgment associated with the illocutionary act, and a noncancellable “exhibitive” force associated with the act of locution itself, which is why one can’t even mention them.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society (LingSoc) series.

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