Not Only Slurs. A Pragma-Rhetorical Approach to Verbal Abuse

  • Francesca PiazzaEmail author
Part of the Perspectives in Pragmatics, Philosophy & Psychology book series (PEPRPHPS, volume 20)


The topic of this paper is the complex phenomenon of verbal abuse. The aim is to show the productivity of a pragma-rhetorical approach in addressing this issue. Indeed, integrating modern pragmatics with classical rhetoric, this approach does not isolate words from social practices and therefore is not exclusively focused on slurs (as is the case in the current debate on this topic in the field of the philosophy of language) but it concerns verbal abuse in general. I argue that this wider approach, especially thanks to its focus on the intertwining of linguistic and social components, is more adapted to shedding light on the role that words play in performing violence. Particularly, I take into account three (interrelated) controversial issues: (1). the question of whether intrinsically offensive words exist; (2). the problem concerning the existence of the so-called “neutral-counterpart” of a slurring word; (3). the reclamation or rehabilitation of a slur. Finally, I briefly focus on the case of the N-word as a paradigmatic example able to show the advantages of the pragma-rhetorical approach.


Slur Verbal abuse Rhetoric Pragmatics 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Università degli Studi di PalermoPalermoItaly

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