When evaluation changes: An echoic account of appropriation and variability

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In this paper I present a uniform account of two phenomena considered as independent so far: Appropriation of slurs and Variability of thick terms. My analysis relies on the notion of “echoic use” of language, proposed by Relevance Theory and employed by Bianchi (2014) to account for Appropriation. I argue that such echoic approach does not only explain Appropriation of slurs, as Bianchi claims, but it also accounts for Variability of thick terms. Moreover, I show how the relevance-theoretic distinction between merely attributive and echoic uses of language sheds light on the crucial distinction between the two often conflated phenomena of 'suspension’ and ‘reversal’ of the evaluative content of slurs and thick terms. In addition to accounting for Appropriation and Variability, my proposal has the following theoretical outcome for the theory of thick terms: if variability cases are in fact derivative or parasitic uses of language, they do not challenge anymore the claim that the relation between thick terms and the associated evaluation is systematic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-40
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017


  • Appropriation
  • Echo
  • Evaluatives
  • Slurs
  • Thick terms
  • Variability


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