This paper introduces the concept of linguistic hijacking, the phenomenon wherein politically significant terminology is co-opted by dominant groups in ways that further their dominance over marginalized groups. Here I focus on hijackings of the words “racist” and “racism.” The model of linguistic hijacking developed here, called the semantic corruption model, is inspired by Burge’s social externalism, in which deference plays a key role in determining the semantic properties of expressions. The model describes networks of deference relations, which support competing meanings of, for example, “racist,” and postulates the existence of deference magnets that influence those networks over time. Linguistic hijacking functions to shift the semantic properties of crucial political terminology by causing changes in deference networks, spreading semantics that serve the interests of dominant groups, and weakening the influence of resistant deference networks. I consider an objection alleging the semantic corruption model gets the semantic data wrong because it entails those who hijack terms like “racist” speak truly, whereas it’s natural to see such hijacking misuses as false speech about racism. I then respond to this objection by invoking the framework of metalinguistic negotiation proposed by Plunkett and Sundell.
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DOI 10.5206/fpq/2020.3.8162
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Writing the Book of the World.Theodore Sider - 2011 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

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