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date: 21 October 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Intergroup relations shape group members’ linguistic choices, and group members’ language molds the quality of intergroup relations. Indeed, intergroup relations are often connoted by conflict, asymmetrical status, and prejudice, and the quality of intergroup relations dramatically affects the manner in which people speak about individual members and groups as a whole. Conversely, the language people rely on to address individual members and groups contributes to maintain—and in certain cases even enhances—intergroup conflict and discrimination.

Among the different forms of biased language and derogatory group labels are epithets, short tags that convey negative attitudes, and dehumanizing representations of the members or groups they address. Racial slurs, homophobic epithets, and sexist labels can be interpreted by addressing the perspective of the users, the audience, and the victim. Taking into account the user perspective, derogatory group labels express discriminatory and negative attitudes toward specific groups and communicate that the targeted individual is deviating from what is normatively expected. As far as the audience is concerned, the incidental overhearing of these labels affects the cognitive accessibility of semantic knowledge associated with the targeted group, influences the perception of the targeted individual, and strengthens intergroup biases. Finally, being the victim of these labels can negatively affect the well-being of the targeted individual by eliciting negative affect, self-directed prejudice, and worries of non-conformity. The discussion and analysis of the relation between intergroup dynamics and labeling provide the reader with crucial information to handle the current debate on politically correct speech.

Keywords: derogatory language, racial slurs, ethnophaulism, homophobic epithets, sexist language, intergroup relations, intergroup communication

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