Prejudice: Source and Propagation

Funded by the EU

To understand the propagation of prejudice, we need to understand the linguistic devices through which it is expressed. Prejudicial attitudes can be expressed through generic generalisations (or simply generics) like ‘Women are illogical’, which ascribe properties (e.g. being illogical) to groups (e.g. women). The standard analysis takes generics to express claims about the world. This project will develop a novel alternative analysis on which generic generalisations are analogous to exclamations like ‘Ouch!’, in that they function primarily express the speaker’s mental states rather than describing the world. In addition to advancing our understanding of the propagation of prejudice, this project will experimentally assess the novel Generic Bootstrapping Hypothesis, according to which prejudice has a source in our disposition to store evidence in generic form.

Update: August 2023. The first paper of this project is now forthcoming in Linguistics and Philosophy. This paper shows how we can view generics as expressions of the speaker's mental associations and considers the consequences of this view for truth-conditional semantics. You can view the paper here.

Update: October 2023. The second stage of the project is now complete. In this stage of the project, we tested the key predictions of Cimpian, Brandone, and Gelman (2010), using a new methodology. This methodology will be central in future tests of the Generic Bootstrapping Hypothesis.

Funded by Marie Skłodowska–Curie grant number 101063848