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Academic Paper


Title: What the band didn't know: Semantic looping of slurs in a linguistic perspective
Author: Kim Ebensgaard Jensen
Email: click here to access email
Homepage: http://personprofil.aau.dk/118255?lang=en
Institution: Aalborg University
Linguistic Field: Cognitive Science; Lexicography; Pragmatics; Semantics; Sociolinguistics
Subject Language: English
Abstract: Taking its starting point in Andrew Jacob's (2002) theory of semantic looping, this paper is a discussion of the phenomenon of semantic looping of racist (and other) slurs as seen in the perspective of functional-cognitive linguistics. Semantic looping (also known as re-mixing, neorevisionism, and signifyin') is which is the appropriation and positive self-referential use of an otherwise derogative term by members of the group that the term was meant to oppress. The paper focuses in the self-referential use of 'nigga' by African Americans, but also discusses third wave feminists' self-referential use of 'grrl' as well as homosexuals' self-referential use of 'queer'. Semantic looping is first discussed in terms of its three subprocesses. These are agnomination (slight orthographic and/or phonological change), semantic reversion (semantic change into opposite meaning), and chiastic slaying (the erasure of the original oppressive content of the appropriated slur). Semantic looping is a valuable theory posed by communication scholars, but it ignores many linguistic and cognitive, which is a shame, given that semantic looping is largely a linguistic, or discursive, phenomenon. The remainder of the paper proceeds to discuss a number of concepts from cognitive linguistics that may be incorporated into the description of the linguistic and cognitive aspects of semantic looping, such as construal (social labels construe social identities), categorization (social labels express social categorizations in the form of, for instance, stereotypes), idealized cognitive models (the perception of social groups largely draws on idealizations of a number of factors), frames (derogative social labels draw on frames of perceived power relations among social groups), conceptual networks (the use of social labels may be said to activate patterns of concepts in and across conceptual networks), conceptual blending (the agnomination process involves blending at a formal level), entrenchment (the symbolic structures of social labels are likely to be entrenched in the speech communities in which they figure depending on frequency of use), and polysemy (looped slurs that do not involve agnomination may result in polysemous terms which have both derogatory and endearing senses depending on contexts of use). A model of the process of semantic looping is also posed, in which it is treated as a process of language change; the process is divided into three stages - namely, slurification (the development of the oppressive slur), looping (the appropriation and semantic reversal of the slur by its target group), and post-looping (the socio-cognitive aftermath of semantic looping).
Type: Individual Paper
Status: Completed
Publication Info: P E O (Pre-publications of the English Department of Odense University), 141 (2006): 1-66.


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