The silence of the slurs: inferences about prejudice under ellipsis

Masha Esipova presents new quantitative data on whether inferences about prejudice contributed by slurs persist under ellipsis in dialogue.

Different types of content behave differently under ellipsis. For instance, not-at-issue inferences that are an inextricable part of the lexical meaning of a given item, like the presupposition of stop, always persist under ellipsis, but inferences contributed by purely performative items (i.e., items whose contributions hinge on the act of uttering them, so there is no use without mention for them), like fucking, never do:

(1) Pam stopped smoking, {but Kim didn't / and Kim did, too / and so did Kim}.
(i) → Pam used to smoke.
(ii) → Kim used to smoke.

(2) A: Did you bring a fucking gun to my house?
B: No, I didn't. / Yes, I did. / Yes, I did so. / Yes, I brought one.
(i) → A is experiencing strong emotions.
(ii) ↛ B is experiencing strong emotions.

Slurs, however, represent a more complex case: (i) the inference about prejudice is part of the lexical meaning of a slur, which can be the head of the antecedent constituent in certain types of ellipsis (like stop, unlike fucking); (ii) despite its sublexical nature, this inference is not crucial for the at-issue content of a given sentence to make sense (unlike stop, like fucking); (iii) slurs can be used performatively deliberately (use via mention) and can have a performative effect of offense by virtue of being uttered even in the absence of such intent on behalf of the speaker (mention without use), but it is unclear to what extent the inference about prejudice can be preserved if the slur itself is not uttered (use without mention). In this talk, I report experimental results for paradigms like (3) aiming to answer this latter question:

(3) Context: We are in a fictional universe where humans co-exist with centaurs, dwarves, elves, orcs, etc. 'Tusky' is a slur for orcs. The following exchange happens in the context of a criminal investigation.
Detective: Did you see a tusky?
Witness: Yes. / Yes, I did. / Yes, I saw one. / Yes, I saw a tusky. / Yes, I saw an orc.
Question: How likely do you think that this witness is prejudiced against orcs?

This talk can also be followed on Zoom.

Publisert 24. sep. 2021 15:13 - Sist endret 26. nov. 2021 12:06