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.
Andrea Carnaghi and Mauro Bianchi
Sexual orientation is a private matter that individuals can decide to disclose or conceal. Nevertheless, when interacting with others, people look for cues of sexual orientation. Hence, the person’s face, voice, or non-verbal behavior is taken as a cue revealing sexual orientation. As research on “gaydar” has shown, this detecting ability can sometimes be accurate or stereotype-based. Sometimes gay, lesbian, and bisexual people themselves intentionally communicate their sexual identity explicitly or through more subtle cues. Intentional or not, several cues are taken as communicating sexual orientation with the consequences of shaping interpersonal interactions. Identifying someone as gay or lesbian has several implications. On the one hand, it leads straight men and women to non-verbally behave differently than when interacting with other straight individuals (e.g., more physical distance, more self-touching). On the other hand, it also affects verbal communication (e.g., topics of conversation, questions, and statements). The harshest consequence is hate speech and homophobic language. Research has shown that being labeled as “faggot” or “dyke” not only negatively affects those who are the target of such verbal derogation but also negatively impacts on straight bystanders. Indeed, gay and lesbian targets of homophobic language report a lower level of well-being and self-acceptance, while being exposed to such language increases prejudice toward gay men and lesbians among straight people. In the case of straight men, the use of homophobic language is often associated with identity self-affirmation and self-presentation. Interestingly, a recent trend among gay people has been noticed: they use homophobic labels among them as a form of “reclaimed language,” meaning that these derogatory terms are used with a different intent and reframed in a more positive way. Moreover, communicating sexual orientation can increase self-acceptance, social support, and positive social comparison among gay men and lesbians and can also increase positive attitudes toward gay people, especially when it happens with friends and family members.