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8 Aprile 2014: Workshop "The dark side of language: derogatory epithets, insults and taboo words"

Il Workshop è proposto dal Centro di ricerca Neurocognition and Theoretical Syntax dello IUSS, nell’ambito delle attività del dottorato in Neuroscienze Cognitive e Filosofia della Mente (organizzato congiuntamente con l'Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele, Milano).
Si terrà l'8 aprile 2014 dalle ore 10,15 alle ore 17,30, presso lo IUSS, Sala del Camino (Aula Magna), Palazzo del Broletto Piazza della Vittoria n. 15, Pavia.


Some linguistic expressions possess a strong emotional load, sometimes with an extremely negative value, to the point that they become, in Jennifer Hornsby’s words, “absolutely useless”. Derogatory epithets, in particular, have recently become an inspiring object of analysis in research fields as diverse as philosophy of language, linguistics, ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of law, feminist philosophy and critical race theory. This workshop provides a place in which theoretical investigation and experimental research interact around critical questions concerning derogatory epithets, insults, swear words and taboo words. Investigating pejorative words allows us to clarify our different conceptions of meaning, the controversy between descriptivism and expressivism, the semantics/pragmatics distinction, but also the ethical dimension underlying language, and the debate on hate speech, censorship and free speech.

Morning session: 10.15-13.00 (chair: Michele Di Francesco)

Invited speaker: Stefano Predelli (University of Nottingham): Prolegomena to a semantics of slurs
This presentation discusses some semantic properties of slurs. Starting with the assumption that slurs do not carry their derogatory (as opposed to ‘denotational’) connotation at the truth-conditional level, I propose a simple model-theoretic analysis of a fragment in which truth-conditions live side by side with a merely ‘expressive’ (for want of a better term) dimension. On the basis of this assumption, I discuss certain peculiar logical properties of slurring languages, with particular attention to the so-called deduction theorem, to the ideas of analyticity and defectiveness, and to the relationships between slurring sentences and their neutral ‘witnesses’.

Giuliano Torrengo (Università degli Studi di Milano): Reply to Predelli

Afternoon session: 14.45-17.30 (chair: Andrea Moro)

Invited speaker: Jos Van Berkum (Universiteit Utrecht): On nasty words and more or less nasty moves

In this presentation, I discuss psycholinguistic research on swear words and insults. I explore why people use swear words, and relate this to the impact that such words have on ‘us’ that is, on deliberately targeted addressees, innocent bystanders, and the speaker him- or herself. Along the lines of the code-implicature distinction, I will pay attention to the relatively automatic effects of swear words on the one hand, and the effects of the social moves that such words help realize on the other. The distinction helps to decouple swear words from affective distancing, and allows us to also recognize the more approach-oriented uses of swear words, such as the ‘cozy cursing’ amongst team members playing a 1st person shooter together.

Valentina Bambini (IUSS, Pavia): Reply to Van Berkum

Discussants: Claudia Bianchi, Francesca Boccuni, Stefano Cappa, Cristiano Chesi, Michele Di Francesco, Andrea Moro, Elisabetta Sacchi, Andrea Sereni, Nicola Spotorno.

Organizing Committee: Claudia Bianchi (Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele, Milan) and Nicola Spotorno (FTD Center, University of Pennsylvania)

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