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In
analytic philosophy Analytic philosophy is a branch and tradition of philosophy using analysis, popular in the Western world and particularly the Anglosphere, which began around the turn of the 20th century in the contemporary era in the United Kingdom, United ...
, philosophy of language investigates the nature of
language Language is a structured system of communication. The structure of a language is its grammar and the free components are its vocabulary. Languages are the primary means by which humans communicate, and may be conveyed through a variety of ...
and the relations between language, language users, and the world. Investigations may include inquiry into the nature of
meaning Meaning most commonly refers to: * Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language * Meaning (philosophy), definition, elements, and types of meaning discussed in philosophy * Meaning (non-linguistic), a general ...
,
intentionality ''Intentionality'' is the power of minds to be about something: to represent or to stand for things, properties and states of affairs. Intentionality is primarily ascribed to mental states, like perceptions, beliefs or desires, which is why it ha ...
,
reference Reference is a relationship between objects in which one object designates, or acts as a means by which to connect to or link to, another object. The first object in this relation is said to ''refer to'' the second object. It is called a '' name'' ...
, the constitution of sentences, concepts,
learning Learning is the process of acquiring new understanding, knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, attitudes, and preferences. The ability to learn is possessed by humans, animals, and some machines; there is also evidence for some kind of l ...
, and
thought In their most common sense, the terms thought and thinking refer to conscious cognitive processes that can happen independently of sensory stimulation. Their most paradigmatic forms are judging, reasoning, concept formation, problem solving, ...
.
Gottlob Frege Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (; ; 8 November 1848 – 26 July 1925) was a German philosopher, logician, and mathematician. He was a mathematics professor at the University of Jena, and is understood by many to be the father of analytic phi ...
and
Bertrand Russell Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970) was a British mathematician, philosopher, logician, and public intellectual. He had a considerable influence on mathematics, logic, set theory, linguistics, a ...
were pivotal figures in analytic philosophy's "
linguistic turn The linguistic turn was a major development in Western philosophy during the early 20th century, the most important characteristic of which is the focusing of philosophy and the other humanities primarily on the relations between language, langua ...
". These writers were followed by
Ludwig Wittgenstein Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein ( ; ; 26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrians, Austrian-British people, British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy o ...
(''
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus The ''Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus'' (widely abbreviated and cited as TLP) is a book-length philosophical work by the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein which deals with the relationship between language and reality and aims to define th ...
''), the Vienna Circle,
logical positivists Logical positivism, later called logical empiricism, and both of which together are also known as neopositivism, is a movement in Western philosophy whose central thesis was the verification principle (also known as the verifiability criterion o ...
, and
Willard Van Orman Quine Willard Van Orman Quine (; known to his friends as "Van"; June 25, 1908 – December 25, 2000) was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition, recognized as "one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century ...
. In
continental philosophy Continental philosophy is a term used to describe some philosophers and philosophical traditions that do not fall under the umbrella of analytic philosophy. However, there is no academic consensus on the definition of continental philosophy. Pri ...
, language is not studied as a separate discipline. Rather, it is an inextricable part of many other areas of thought, such as
phenomenology Phenomenology may refer to: Art * Phenomenology (architecture), based on the experience of building materials and their sensory properties Philosophy * Phenomenology (philosophy), a branch of philosophy which studies subjective experiences and ...
, structural semiotics, language of mathematics,
hermeneutics Hermeneutics () is the theory and methodology of interpretation, especially the interpretation of biblical texts, wisdom literature, and philosophical texts. Hermeneutics is more than interpretative principles or methods used when immediate ...
,
existentialism Existentialism ( ) is a form of philosophical inquiry that explores the problem of human existence and centers on human thinking, feeling, and acting. Existentialist thinkers frequently explore issues related to the meaning, purpose, and va ...
,
deconstruction The term deconstruction refers to approaches to understanding the relationship between text and meaning. It was introduced by the philosopher Jacques Derrida, who defined it as a turn away from Platonism's ideas of "true" forms and essen ...
and
critical theory A critical theory is any approach to social philosophy that focuses on society and culture to reveal, critique and challenge power structures. With roots in sociology and literary criticism, it argues that social problems stem more from so ...
.

History

Ancient philosophy

In the West, inquiry into language stretches back to the 5th century BC with
Socrates Socrates (; ; –399 BC) was a Greek philosopher from Athens who is credited as the founder of Western philosophy and among the first moral philosophers of the ethical tradition of thought. An enigmatic figure, Socrates authored no ...
,
Plato Plato ( ; grc-gre, Πλάτων ; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was a Greek philosopher born in Athens during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. He founded the Platonist school of thought and the Academy, the first institution ...
,
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Peripatetic school of ...
, and the
Stoics Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BCE. It is a philosophy of personal virtue ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world, asserting tha ...
. Both in India and in Greece, linguistic speculation predates the emergence of grammatical traditions of systematic description of language, which emerged around the 5th century BC in India (see Yāska), and around the 3rd century BC in Greece (see
Rhianus Rhianus ( Greek: Ῥιανὸς ὁ Κρής) was a Greek poet and grammarian, a native of Crete, friend and contemporary of Eratosthenes (275–195 BC). Biography The '' Suda'' says he was at first a slave and overseer of a palaestra, but o ...
). In the dialogue ''
Cratylus Cratylus ( ; grc, Κρατύλος, ''Kratylos'') was an ancient Athenian philosopher from the mid-late 5th century BCE, known mostly through his portrayal in Plato's dialogue '' Cratylus''. He was a radical proponent of Heraclitean philosophy ...
'', Plato considered the question of whether the names of things were determined by convention or by nature. He criticized
conventionalism Conventionalism is the philosophical attitude that fundamental principles of a certain kind are grounded on (explicit or implicit) agreements in society, rather than on external reality. Unspoken rules play a key role in the philosophy's structu ...
because it led to the bizarre consequence that anything can be conventionally denominated by any name. Hence, it cannot account for the correct or incorrect application of a name. He claimed that there was a natural correctness to names. To do this, he pointed out that compound words and phrases have a range of correctness. He also argued that primitive names had a natural correctness, because each
phoneme In phonology and linguistics, a phoneme () is a unit of sound that can distinguish one word from another in a particular language. For example, in most dialects of English, with the notable exception of the West Midlands and the north-wes ...
represented basic ideas or sentiments. For example, for Plato the letter ''l'' and its sound represented the idea of softness. However, by the end of the ''Cratylus'', he had admitted that some social conventions were also involved, and that there were faults in the idea that phonemes had individual meanings. Plato is often considered a proponent of extreme realism. Aristotle interested himself with the issues of
logic Logic is the study of correct reasoning. It includes both formal and informal logic. Formal logic is the science of deductively valid inferences or of logical truths. It is a formal science investigating how conclusions follow from prem ...
, categories, and meaning creation. He separated all things into categories of species and genus. He thought that the meaning of a predicate was established through an abstraction of the similarities between various individual things. This theory later came to be called ''
nominalism In metaphysics, nominalism is the view that universals and abstract objects do not actually exist other than being merely names or labels. There are at least two main versions of nominalism. One version denies the existence of universalsthings ...
''. However, since Aristotle took these similarities to be constituted by a real commonality of form, he is more often considered a proponent of "
moderate realism Moderate realism (also called immanent realism) is a position in the debate on the metaphysics of universals associated with the hylomorphic substance theory of Aristotle. There is no separate realm in which universals exist (in opposition to ...
". The
Stoic Stoic may refer to: * An adherent of Stoicism; one whose moral quality is associated with that school of philosophy * STOIC, a programming language * ''Stoic'' (film), a 2009 film by Uwe Boll * ''Stoic'' (mixtape), a 2012 mixtape by rapper T-Pain ...
philosophers made important contributions to the analysis of grammar, distinguishing five parts of speech: nouns, verbs,
appellative A noun () is a word that generally functions as the name of a specific object or set of objects, such as living creatures, places, actions, qualities, states of existence, or ideas.Example nouns for: * Living creatures (including people, alive, ...
s (names or
epithet An epithet (, ), also byname, is a descriptive term (word or phrase) known for accompanying or occurring in place of a name and having entered common usage. It has various shades of meaning when applied to seemingly real or fictitious people, di ...
s),
conjunctions Conjunction may refer to: * Conjunction (grammar), a part of speech * Logical conjunction, a mathematical operator ** Conjunction introduction, a rule of inference of propositional logic * Conjunction (astronomy), in which two astronomical bodie ...
and articles. They also developed a sophisticated doctrine of the '' lektón'' associated with each sign of a language, but distinct from both the sign itself and the thing to which it refers. This ''lektón'' was the meaning (or sense) of every term. The complete ''lektón'' of a sentence is what we would now call its
proposition In logic and linguistics, a proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence. In philosophy, " meaning" is understood to be a non-linguistic entity which is shared by all sentences with the same meaning. Equivalently, a proposition is the no ...
. Only propositions were considered "
truth-bearer A truth-bearer is an entity that is said to be either true or false and nothing else. The thesis that some things are true while others are false has led to different theories about the nature of these entities. Since there is divergence of o ...
s" or "truth-vehicles" (i.e., they could be called true or false) while sentences were simply their vehicles of expression. Different ''lektá'' could also express things besides propositions, such as commands, questions and exclamations.

Medieval philosophy

Medieval philosophers were greatly interested in the subtleties of language and its usage. For many scholastics, this interest was provoked by the necessity of translating
Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece, a country in Southern Europe: *Greeks, an ethnic group. *Greek language, a branch of the Indo-European language family. **Proto-Greek language, the assumed last common ancestor ...
texts into Latin. There were several noteworthy philosophers of language in the medieval period. According to Peter J. King, (although this has been disputed),
Peter Abelard Peter Abelard (; french: link=no, Pierre Abélard; la, Petrus Abaelardus or ''Abailardus''; 21 April 1142) was a medieval French scholastic philosopher, leading logician, theologian, poet, composer and musician. This source has a detailed des ...
anticipated the modern theories of reference. Also, William of Ockham's '' Summa Logicae'' brought forward one of the first serious proposals for codifying a mental language. The scholastics of the high medieval period, such as Ockham and
John Duns Scotus John Duns Scotus ( – 8 November 1308), commonly called Duns Scotus ( ; ; "Duns the Scot"), was a Scottish Catholic priest and Franciscan friar, university professor, philosopher, and theologian. He is one of the four most important ...
, considered logic to be a ''scientia sermocinalis'' (science of language). The result of their studies was the elaboration of linguistic-philosophical notions whose complexity and subtlety has only recently come to be appreciated. Many of the most interesting problems of modern philosophy of language were anticipated by medieval thinkers. The phenomena of vagueness and ambiguity were analyzed intensely, and this led to an increasing interest in problems related to the use of ''syncategorematic'' words such as ''and'', ''or'', ''not'', ''if'', and ''every''. The study of ''categorematic'' words (or ''terms'') and their properties was also developed greatly.Marconi, D. "Storia della Filosofia del Linguaggio". In ''L'Enciclopedia Garzantina della Filosofia''. ed. Gianni Vattimo. Milan: Garzanti Editori. 1981. One of the major developments of the scholastics in this area was the doctrine of the ''suppositio''. Kretzmann, N.,
Anthony Kenny Sir Anthony John Patrick Kenny (born 16 March 1931) is a British philosopher whose interests lie in the philosophy of mind, ancient and scholastic philosophy, the philosophy of religion, and the philosophy of Wittgenstein of whose literary es ...
& Jan Pinborg. (1982) ''Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy''. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
The ''suppositio'' of a term is the interpretation that is given of it in a specific context. It can be ''proper'' or ''improper'' (as when it is used in
metaphor A metaphor is a figure of speech that, for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. It may provide (or obscure) clarity or identify hidden similarities between two different ideas. Metaphors are often compared with ...
,
metonym Metonymy () is a figure of speech in which a concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept. Etymology The words ''metonymy'' and ''metonym'' come from grc, μετωνυμία, 'a change of name ...
s and other figures of speech). A proper ''suppositio'', in turn, can be either formal or material accordingly when it refers to its usual non-linguistic referent (as in "Charles is a man"), or to itself as a linguistic entity (as in "''Charles'' has seven letters"). Such a classification scheme is the precursor of modern distinctions between use and mention, and between language and metalanguage. There is a tradition called speculative grammar which existed from the 11th to the 13th century. Leading scholars included Martin of Dacia and Thomas of Erfurt (see ''
Modistae The Modistae (Latin for Modists), also known as the speculative grammarians, were the members of a school of grammarian philosophy known as Modism or speculative grammar, active in northern France, Germany, England, and Denmark in the 13th and 14t ...
'').

Modern philosophy

Linguists of the
Renaissance The Renaissance ( , ) , from , with the same meanings. is a period in European history marking the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity and covering the 15th and 16th centuries, characterized by an effort to revive and surpass ideas ...
and
Baroque The Baroque (, ; ) is a style of architecture, music, dance, painting, sculpture, poetry, and other arts that flourished in Europe from the early 17th century until the 1750s. In the territories of the Spanish and Portuguese empires including th ...
periods such as Johannes Goropius Becanus,
Athanasius Kircher Athanasius Kircher (2 May 1602 – 27 November 1680) was a German Jesuit scholar and polymath who published around 40 major works, most notably in the fields of comparative religion, geology, and medicine. Kircher has been compared to ...
and
John Wilkins John Wilkins, (14 February 1614 – 19 November 1672) was an Anglican clergyman, natural philosopher, and author, and was one of the founders of the Royal Society. He was Bishop of Chester from 1668 until his death. Wilkins is one of the ...
were infatuated with the idea of a
philosophical language A philosophical language is any constructed language that is constructed from first principles. It is considered a type of engineered language. Philosophical languages were popular in Early Modern times, partly motivated by the goal of revising ...
reversing the confusion of tongues, influenced by the gradual discovery of
Chinese character Chinese characters () are logograms developed for the writing of Chinese. In addition, they have been adapted to write other East Asian languages, and remain a key component of the Japanese writing system where they are known as ''kanji ...
s and
Egyptian hieroglyphs Egyptian hieroglyphs (, ) were the formal writing system used in Ancient Egypt, used for writing the Egyptian language. Hieroglyphs combined logographic, syllabic and alphabetic elements, with some 1,000 distinct characters.There were about ...
(''
Hieroglyphica Horapollo (from Horus Apollo; grc-gre, Ὡραπόλλων) is the supposed author of a treatise, titled ''Hieroglyphica'', on Egyptian hieroglyphs, extant in a Greek translation by one Philippus, dating to about the 5th century. Life Horapollo is ...
''). This thought parallels the idea that there might be a universal language of music. European scholarship began to absorb the Indian linguistic tradition only from the mid-18th century, pioneered by Jean François Pons and
Henry Thomas Colebrooke Henry Thomas Colebrooke FRS FRSE (15 June 1765 – 10 March 1837) was an English orientalist and mathematician. He has been described as "the first great Sanskrit scholar in Europe". Biography Henry Thomas Colebrooke was born on 15 June ...
(the ''editio princeps'' of Varadarāja, a 17th-century
Sanskrit Sanskrit (; attributively , ; nominally , , ) is a classical language belonging to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages. It arose in South Asia after its predecessor languages had diffused there from the northwest in the l ...
grammarian, dating to 1849). In the early 19th century, the Danish philosopher
Søren Kierkegaard Søren Aabye Kierkegaard ( , , ; 5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855) was a Danish theologian, philosopher, poet, social critic, and religious author who is widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher. He wrote critical texts o ...
insisted that language ought to play a larger role in
Western philosophy Western philosophy encompasses the philosophical thought and work of the Western world. Historically, the term refers to the philosophical thinking of Western culture, beginning with the ancient Greek philosophy of the pre-Socratics. The word ' ...
. He argued that philosophy has not sufficiently focused on the role language plays in cognition and that future philosophy ought to proceed with a conscious focus on language:

Contemporary philosophy

The phrase "
linguistic turn The linguistic turn was a major development in Western philosophy during the early 20th century, the most important characteristic of which is the focusing of philosophy and the other humanities primarily on the relations between language, langua ...
" was used to describe the noteworthy emphasis that contemporary philosophers put upon language. Language began to play a central role in Western philosophy in the early 20th century. One of the central figures involved in this development was the German philosopher
Gottlob Frege Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (; ; 8 November 1848 – 26 July 1925) was a German philosopher, logician, and mathematician. He was a mathematics professor at the University of Jena, and is understood by many to be the father of analytic phi ...
, whose work on philosophical logic and the philosophy of language in the late 19th century influenced the work of 20th-century
analytic philosopher Analytic philosophy is a branch and tradition of philosophy using analysis, popular in the Western world and particularly the Anglosphere, which began around the turn of the 20th century in the contemporary era in the United Kingdom, United St ...
s
Bertrand Russell Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970) was a British mathematician, philosopher, logician, and public intellectual. He had a considerable influence on mathematics, logic, set theory, linguistics, a ...
and
Ludwig Wittgenstein Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein ( ; ; 26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrians, Austrian-British people, British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy o ...
. The philosophy of language became so pervasive that for a time, in
analytic philosophy Analytic philosophy is a branch and tradition of philosophy using analysis, popular in the Western world and particularly the Anglosphere, which began around the turn of the 20th century in the contemporary era in the United Kingdom, United ...
circles, philosophy as a whole was understood to be a matter of philosophy of language. In
continental philosophy Continental philosophy is a term used to describe some philosophers and philosophical traditions that do not fall under the umbrella of analytic philosophy. However, there is no academic consensus on the definition of continental philosophy. Pri ...
, the foundational work in the field was
Ferdinand de Saussure Ferdinand de Saussure (; ; 26 November 1857 – 22 February 1913) was a Swiss linguist, semiotician and philosopher. His ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in both linguistics and semiotics in the 20th century. He is wi ...
's '' Cours de linguistique générale'',David Kreps, ''Bergson, Complexity and Creative Emergence'', Springer, 2015, p. 92. published posthumously in 1916.

Major topics and subfields

Meaning

The topic that has received the most attention in the philosophy of language has been the ''nature'' of meaning, to explain what "meaning" is, and what we mean when we talk about meaning. Within this area, issues include: the nature of
synonymy A synonym is a word, morpheme, or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word, morpheme, or phrase in a given language. For example, in the English language, the words ''begin'', ''start'', ''commence'', and ''initiate'' are ...
, the origins of meaning itself, our apprehension of meaning, and the nature of composition (the question of how meaningful units of language are composed of smaller meaningful parts, and how the meaning of the whole is derived from the meaning of its parts). There have been several distinctive explanations of what a linguistic "meaning" is. Each has been associated with its own body of literature. * The ideational theory of meaning, most commonly associated with the British
empiricist In philosophy, empiricism is an epistemological theory that holds that knowledge or justification comes only or primarily from sensory experience. It is one of several views within epistemology, along with rationalism and skepticism. Empiri ...
John Locke John Locke (; 29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the "father of liberalism". Considered one of ...
, claims that meanings are
mental representation A mental representation (or cognitive representation), in philosophy of mind, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science, is a hypothetical internal cognitive symbol that represents external reality, or else a mental process that m ...
s provoked by signs. Although this view of meaning has been beset by a number of problems from the beginning (see the main article for details), interest in it has been renewed by some contemporary theorists under the guise of '' semantic internalism''. * The truth-conditional theory of meaning holds meaning to be the conditions under which an expression may be true or false. This tradition goes back at least to
Frege Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (; ; 8 November 1848 – 26 July 1925) was a German philosopher, logician, and mathematician. He was a mathematics professor at the University of Jena, and is understood by many to be the father of analytic philo ...
and is associated with a rich body of modern work, spearheaded by philosophers like
Alfred Tarski Alfred Tarski (, born Alfred Teitelbaum;School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews ''School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews''. January 14, 1901 – October 26, 1983) was a Polish-American logician a ...
and Donald Davidson.Tarski, Alfred. (1944). "The Semantical Conception of Truth"
PDF
Davidson, D. (2001) ''Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation''. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (See also Wittgenstein's picture theory of language.) * The use theory of meaning, most commonly associated with the later Wittgenstein, helped inaugurate the idea of "meaning as use", and a
communitarian Communitarianism is a philosophy that emphasizes the connection between the individual and the community. Its overriding philosophy is based upon the belief that a person's social identity and personality are largely molded by community relati ...
view of language. Wittgenstein was interested in the way in which the communities use language, and how far it can be taken.Wittgenstein, L. (1958) ''Philosophical Investigations''. Third edition. trans. G. E. M. Anscombe. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co. It is also associated with P. F. Strawson,
John Searle John Rogers Searle (; born July 31, 1932) is an American philosopher widely noted for contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and social philosophy. He began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1959, and was Willis S. and Mar ...
, Robert Brandom, and others.Brandom, R. (1994) ''Making it Explicit''. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. * The inferentialist theory of meaning, the view that the meaning of an expression is derived from the inferential relations that it has with other expressions. This view is thought to be descended from the use theory of meaning, and has been most notably defended by
Wilfrid Sellars Wilfrid Stalker Sellars (May 20, 1912 – July 2, 1989) was an American philosopher and prominent developer of critical realism, who "revolutionized both the content and the method of philosophy in the United States". Life and career His father ...
and Robert Brandom. * The
direct reference theory A direct reference theory (also called referentialism or referential realism)Andrea Bianchi (2012) ''Two ways of being a (direct) referentialist'', in Joseph Almog, Paolo Leonardi, ''Having in Mind: The Philosophy of Keith Donnellan''p. 79/ref> is a ...
of meaning, the view that the meaning of a word or expression is what it points out in the world. While views of this kind have been widely criticized regarding the use of language in general,
John Stuart Mill John Stuart Mill (20 May 1806 – 7 May 1873) was an English philosopher, political economist, Member of Parliament (MP) and civil servant. One of the most influential thinkers in the history of classical liberalism, he contributed widely to ...
defended a form of this view, and
Saul Kripke Saul Aaron Kripke (; November 13, 1940 – September 15, 2022) was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition. He was a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and em ...
and Ruth Barcan Marcus have both defended the application of direct reference theory to
proper name A proper noun is a noun that identifies a single entity and is used to refer to that entity (''Africa'', ''Jupiter'', '' Sarah'', ''Microsoft)'' as distinguished from a common noun, which is a noun that refers to a class of entities (''continent ...
s. * The semantic externalist theory of meaning, according to which meaning is not a purely psychological phenomenon, because it is determined, at least in part, by features of one's environment. There are two broad subspecies of externalism: social and environmental. The first is most closely associated with Tyler Burge and the second with
Hilary Putnam Hilary Whitehall Putnam (; July 31, 1926 – March 13, 2016) was an American philosopher, mathematician, and computer scientist, and a major figure in analytic philosophy in the second half of the 20th century. He made significant contributions ...
,
Saul Kripke Saul Aaron Kripke (; November 13, 1940 – September 15, 2022) was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition. He was a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and em ...
and others.Kripke, S. (1980) ''Naming and Necessity''. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. * The
verificationist Verificationism, also known as the verification principle or the verifiability criterion of meaning, is the philosophical doctrine which maintains that only statements that are empirically verifiable (i.e. verifiable through the senses) are cogniti ...
theory of meaning is generally associated with the early 20th century movement of
logical positivism Logical positivism, later called logical empiricism, and both of which together are also known as neopositivism, is a movement in Western philosophy whose central thesis was the verification principle (also known as the verifiability criterion o ...
. The traditional formulation of such a theory is that the meaning of a sentence is its method of verification or falsification. In this form, the thesis was abandoned after the acceptance by most philosophers of the Duhem–Quine thesis of confirmation holism after the publication of
Quine Quine may refer to: * Quine (surname), people with the surname ''Quine'' * Willard Van Orman Quine, the philosopher, or things named after him: ** Quine (computing), a program that produces its source code as output ** Quine–McCluskey algorithm ...
's " Two Dogmas of Empiricism". However,
Michael Dummett Sir Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett (27 June 1925 – 27 December 2011) was an English academic described as "among the most significant British philosophers of the last century and a leading campaigner for racial tolerance and equality." He ...
has advocated a modified form of verificationism since the 1970s. In this version, the ''comprehension'' (and hence meaning) of a sentence consists in the hearer's ability to recognize the demonstration (mathematical, empirical or other) of the truth of the sentence.Dummett, M. (1991) ''The Logical Basis of Metaphysics''. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. * Pragmatic theories of meaning include any theory in which the meaning (or understanding) of a sentence is determined by the consequences of its application. Dummett attributes such a theory of meaning to
Charles Sanders Peirce Charles Sanders Peirce ( ; September 10, 1839 – April 19, 1914) was an American philosopher, logician, mathematician and scientist who is sometimes known as "the father of pragmatism". Educated as a chemist and employed as a scientist for ...
and other early 20th century American pragmatists. * Psychological theories of meaning, which focus on the intentions of a speaker in determining the meaning of an utterance. One notable proponent of such a view was
Paul Grice Herbert Paul Grice (13 March 1913 – 28 August 1988), usually publishing under the name H. P. Grice, H. Paul Grice, or Paul Grice, was a British philosopher of language. He is best known for his theory of implicature and the cooperative pri ...
, whose views also account for non-linguistic meaning (i.e., meaning as conveyed by body language, meanings as consequences, etc.).

Reference

Investigations into how language interacts with the world are called theories of reference.
Gottlob Frege Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (; ; 8 November 1848 – 26 July 1925) was a German philosopher, logician, and mathematician. He was a mathematics professor at the University of Jena, and is understood by many to be the father of analytic phi ...
was an advocate of a mediated reference theory. Frege divided the semantic content of every expression, including sentences, into two components:
sense and reference In the philosophy of language, the distinction between sense and reference was an idea of the German philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege in 1892 (in his paper "On Sense and Reference"; German: "Über Sinn und Bedeutung"), reflecting the ...
. The sense of a sentence is the thought that it expresses. Such a thought is abstract, universal and objective. The sense of any sub-sentential expression consists in its contribution to the thought that its embedding sentence expresses. Senses determine reference and are also the modes of presentation of the objects to which expressions refer.
Referent A referent () is a person or thing to which a name – a linguistic expression or other symbol – refers. For example, in the sentence ''Mary saw me'', the referent of the word ''Mary'' is the particular person called Mary who is being spoken o ...
s are the objects in the world that words pick out. The senses of sentences are thoughts, while their referents are
truth value In logic and mathematics, a truth value, sometimes called a logical value, is a value indicating the relation of a proposition to truth, which in classical logic has only two possible values (''true'' or ''false''). Computing In some program ...
s (true or false). The referents of sentences embedded in
propositional attitude A propositional attitude is a mental state held by an agent toward a proposition. Linguistically, propositional attitudes are denoted by a verb (e.g. "believed") governing an embedded "that" clause, for example, 'Sally believed that she had won ...
ascriptions and other opaque contexts are their usual senses.Frege, G. (1892). "
On Sense and Reference In the philosophy of language, the distinction between sense and reference was an idea of the German philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege in 1892 (in his paper "On Sense and Reference"; German: "Über Sinn und Bedeutung"), reflecting the ...
". In ''Frege: Senso, Funzione e Concetto''. eds. Eva Picardi and Carlo Penco. Bari: Editori Laterza. 2001.
Bertrand Russell Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970) was a British mathematician, philosopher, logician, and public intellectual. He had a considerable influence on mathematics, logic, set theory, linguistics, a ...
, in his later writings and for reasons related to his theory of acquaintance in
epistemology Epistemology (; ), or the theory of knowledge, is the branch of philosophy concerned with knowledge. Epistemology is considered a major subfield of philosophy, along with other major subfields such as ethics, logic, and metaphysics. Episte ...
, held that the only directly referential expressions are, what he called, "logically proper names". Logically proper names are such terms as ''I'', ''now'', ''here'' and other
indexical In semiotics, linguistics, anthropology, and philosophy of language, indexicality is the phenomenon of a ''sign'' pointing to (or ''indexing'') some object in the context in which it occurs. A sign that signifies indexically is called an index or, ...
s. He viewed proper names of the sort described above as "abbreviated definite descriptions" (see ''
Theory of descriptions The theory of descriptions is the philosopher Bertrand Russell's most significant contribution to the philosophy of language. It is also known as Russell's theory of descriptions (commonly abbreviated as RTD). In short, Russell argued that the ...
''). Hence ''Joseph R. Biden'' may be an abbreviation for "the current President of the United States and husband of Jill Biden". Definite descriptions are denoting phrases (see " On Denoting") which are analyzed by Russell into existentially quantified logical constructions. Such phrases denote in the sense that there is an object that satisfies the description. However, such objects are not to be considered meaningful on their own, but have meaning only in the
proposition In logic and linguistics, a proposition is the meaning of a declarative sentence. In philosophy, " meaning" is understood to be a non-linguistic entity which is shared by all sentences with the same meaning. Equivalently, a proposition is the no ...
expressed by the sentences of which they are a part. Hence, they are not directly referential in the same way as logically proper names, for Russell. On Frege's account, any referring expression has a sense as well as a referent. Such a "mediated reference" view has certain theoretical advantages over Mill's view. For example, co-referential names, such as ''Samuel Clemens'' and ''Mark Twain'', cause problems for a directly referential view because it is possible for someone to hear "Mark Twain is Samuel Clemens" and be surprised – thus, their cognitive content seems different. Despite the differences between the views of Frege and Russell, they are generally lumped together as descriptivists about proper names. Such descriptivism was criticized in
Saul Kripke Saul Aaron Kripke (; November 13, 1940 – September 15, 2022) was an American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition. He was a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and em ...
's ''Naming and Necessity''. Kripke put forth what has come to be known as "the modal argument" (or "argument from rigidity"). Consider the name ''Aristotle'' and the descriptions "the greatest student of Plato", "the founder of logic" and "the teacher of Alexander".
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Peripatetic school of ...
obviously satisfies all of the descriptions (and many of the others we commonly associate with him), but it is not necessarily true that if Aristotle existed then Aristotle was any one, or all, of these descriptions. Aristotle may well have existed without doing any single one of the things for which he is known to posterity. He may have existed and not have become known to posterity at all or he may have died in infancy. Suppose that Aristotle is associated by Mary with the description "the last great philosopher of antiquity" and (the actual) Aristotle died in infancy. Then Mary's description would seem to refer to Plato. But this is deeply counterintuitive. Hence, names are ''
rigid designator In modal logic and the philosophy of language, a term is said to be a rigid designator or absolute substantial term when it designates (picks out, denotes, refers to) the same thing in ''all possible worlds'' in which that thing exists. A designat ...
s'', according to Kripke. That is, they refer to the same individual in every possible world in which that individual exists. In the same work, Kripke articulated several other arguments against " Frege–Russell" descriptivism (see also Kripke's causal theory of reference). The whole philosophical enterprise of studying reference has been critiqued by linguist
Noam Chomsky Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American public intellectual: a linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist. Sometimes called "the father of modern linguistics", Chomsky ...
in various works.

Composition and parts

It has long been known that there are different
parts of speech In grammar, a part of speech or part-of-speech ( abbreviated as POS or PoS, also known as word class or grammatical category) is a category of words (or, more generally, of lexical items) that have similar grammatical properties. Words that are as ...
. One part of the common sentence is the
lexical word In grammar, a part of speech or part-of-speech ( abbreviated as POS or PoS, also known as word class or grammatical category) is a category of words (or, more generally, of lexical items) that have similar grammatical properties. Words that are a ...
, which is composed of
nouns A noun () is a word that generally functions as the name of a specific object or set of objects, such as living creatures, places, actions, qualities, states of existence, or ideas.Example nouns for: * Living creatures (including people, alive, ...
, verbs, and adjectives. A major question in the field – perhaps the single most important question for formalist and structuralist thinkers – is how the meaning of a sentence emerges from its parts. Many aspects of the problem of the composition of sentences are addressed in the field of linguistics of
syntax In linguistics, syntax () is the study of how words and morphemes combine to form larger units such as phrases and sentences. Central concerns of syntax include word order, grammatical relations, hierarchical sentence structure (constituenc ...
. Philosophical semantics tends to focus on the
principle of compositionality In semantics, mathematical logic and related disciplines, the principle of compositionality is the principle that the meaning of a complex expression is determined by the meanings of its constituent expressions and the rules used to combine them. ...
to explain the relationship between meaningful parts and whole sentences. The principle of compositionality asserts that a sentence can be understood on the basis of the meaning of the ''parts'' of the sentence (i.e., words, morphemes) along with an understanding of its ''structure'' (i.e., syntax, logic). Further, syntactic propositions are arranged into ''discourse'' or ''narrative'' structures, which also encode meanings through
pragmatics In linguistics and related fields, pragmatics is the study of how context contributes to meaning. The field of study evaluates how human language is utilized in social interactions, as well as the relationship between the interpreter and the in ...
like temporal relations and pronominals. It is possible to use the concept of ''functions'' to describe more than just how lexical meanings work: they can also be used to describe the meaning of a sentence. In the sentence "The horse is red", "the horse" can be considered to be the product of a ''
propositional function In propositional calculus, a propositional function or a predicate is a sentence expressed in a way that would assume the value of true or false, except that within the sentence there is a variable (''x'') that is not defined or specified (thus be ...
''. A propositional function is an operation of language that takes an entity (in this case, the horse) as an input and outputs a ''semantic fact'' (i.e., the proposition that is represented by "The horse is red"). In other words, a propositional function is like an algorithm. The meaning of "red" in this case is whatever takes the entity "the horse" and turns it into the statement, "The horse is red."Stainton, Robert J. (1996)
Philosophical perspectives on language
Linguists have developed at least two general methods of understanding the relationship between the parts of a linguistic string and how it is put together: syntactic and semantic trees.
Syntactic In linguistics, syntax () is the study of how words and morphemes combine to form larger units such as phrases and sentences. Central concerns of syntax include word order, grammatical relations, hierarchical sentence structure (constituency ...
trees draw upon the words of a sentence with the '' grammar'' of the sentence in mind. While
semantic Semantics (from grc, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference, meaning, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several distinct disciplines, including philosophy, linguistics and comput ...
trees focus upon the role of the ''meaning'' of the words and how those meanings combine to provide insight onto the genesis of semantic facts.

Mind and language

Innateness and learning

Some of the major issues at the intersection of philosophy of language and philosophy of mind are also dealt with in modern
psycholinguistics Psycholinguistics or psychology of language is the study of the interrelation between linguistic factors and psychological aspects. The discipline is mainly concerned with the mechanisms by which language is processed and represented in the mind ...
. Some important questions regard the amount of innate language, if language acquisition is a special faculty in the mind, and what the connection is between thought and language. There are three general perspectives on the issue of language learning. The first is the
behaviorist Behaviorism is a systematic approach to understanding the behavior of humans and animals. It assumes that behavior is either a reflex evoked by the pairing of certain antecedent stimuli in the environment, or a consequence of that individual' ...
perspective, which dictates that not only is the solid bulk of language learned, but it is learned via conditioning. The second is the ''hypothesis testing perspective'', which understands the child's learning of syntactic rules and meanings to involve the postulation and testing of hypotheses, through the use of the general faculty of intelligence. The final candidate for explanation is the innatist perspective, which states that at least some of the syntactic settings are innate and hardwired, based on certain modules of the mind.Pinker, S. (1994) ''L'Istinto del Linguaggio''. Original title: ''The Language Instinct''. 1997. Milan: Arnaldo Mondadori Editori. There are varying notions of the structure of the brain when it comes to language. Connectionist models emphasize the idea that a person's lexicon and their thoughts operate in a kind of distributed,
associative In mathematics, the associative property is a property of some binary operations, which means that rearranging the parentheses in an expression will not change the result. In propositional logic, associativity is a valid rule of replacement ...
network. Nativist models assert that there are specialized devices in the brain that are dedicated to language acquisition.
Computation Computation is any type of arithmetic or non-arithmetic calculation that follows a well-defined model (e.g., an algorithm). Mechanical or electronic devices (or, historically, people) that perform computations are known as ''computers''. An es ...
models emphasize the notion of a representational
language of thought The language of thought hypothesis (LOTH), sometimes known as thought ordered mental expression (TOME), is a view in linguistics, philosophy of mind and cognitive science, forwarded by American philosopher Jerry Fodor. It describes the nature of t ...
and the logic-like, computational processing that the mind performs over them. Emergentist models focus on the notion that natural faculties are a complex system that emerge from simpler biological parts.
Reductionist Reductionism is any of several related philosophical ideas regarding the associations between phenomena which can be described in terms of other simpler or more fundamental phenomena. It is also described as an intellectual and philosophical p ...
models attempt to explain higher-level mental processes in terms of the basic low-level neurophysiological activity.

Communication

Firstly, this field of study seeks to better understand what speakers and listeners do with language in
communication Communication (from la, communicare, meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is usually defined as the transmission of information. The term may also refer to the message communicated through such transmissions or the field of inquir ...
, and how it is used socially. Specific interests include the topics of language learning, language creation, and
speech act In the philosophy of language and linguistics, speech act is something expressed by an individual that not only presents information but performs an action as well. For example, the phrase "I would like the kimchi; could you please pass it to me? ...
s. Secondly, the question of how language relates to the minds of both the speaker and the interpreter is investigated. Of specific interest is the grounds for successful
translation Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. The English language draws a terminological distinction (which does not exist in every language) between ''transl ...
of words and concepts into their equivalents in another language.

Language and thought

An important problem which touches both philosophy of language and
philosophy of mind Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology and nature of the mind and its relationship with the body. The mind–body problem is a paradigmatic issue in philosophy of mind, although a number of other issues are ad ...
is to what extent language influences thought and vice versa. There have been a number of different perspectives on this issue, each offering a number of insights and suggestions. Linguists Sapir and Whorf suggested that language limited the extent to which members of a "linguistic community" can think about certain subjects (a hypothesis paralleled in
George Orwell Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950), better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist, and critic. His work is characterised by lucid prose, social criticism, opposition to totalitari ...
's novel '' Nineteen Eighty-Four''). In other words, language was analytically prior to thought. Philosopher
Michael Dummett Sir Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett (27 June 1925 – 27 December 2011) was an English academic described as "among the most significant British philosophers of the last century and a leading campaigner for racial tolerance and equality." He ...
is also a proponent of the "language-first" viewpoint. The stark opposite to the Sapir–Whorf position is the notion that thought (or, more broadly, mental content) has priority over language. The "knowledge-first" position can be found, for instance, in the work of
Paul Grice Herbert Paul Grice (13 March 1913 – 28 August 1988), usually publishing under the name H. P. Grice, H. Paul Grice, or Paul Grice, was a British philosopher of language. He is best known for his theory of implicature and the cooperative pri ...
. Further, this view is closely associated with
Jerry Fodor Jerry Alan Fodor (; April 22, 1935 – November 29, 2017) was an American philosopher and the author of many crucial works in the fields of philosophy of mind and cognitive science. His writings in these fields laid the groundwork for the mod ...
and his
language of thought The language of thought hypothesis (LOTH), sometimes known as thought ordered mental expression (TOME), is a view in linguistics, philosophy of mind and cognitive science, forwarded by American philosopher Jerry Fodor. It describes the nature of t ...
hypothesis. According to his argument, spoken and written language derive their intentionality and meaning from an internal language encoded in the mind.Fodor, J. ''The Language of Thought'', Harvard University Press, 1975, . The main argument in favor of such a view is that the structure of thoughts and the structure of language seem to share a compositional, systematic character. Another argument is that it is difficult to explain how signs and symbols on paper can represent anything meaningful unless some sort of meaning is infused into them by the contents of the mind. One of the main arguments against is that such levels of language can lead to an infinite regress. In any case, many philosophers of mind and language, such as Ruth Millikan, Fred Dretske and Fodor, have recently turned their attention to explaining the meanings of mental contents and states directly. Another tradition of philosophers has attempted to show that language and thought are coextensive – that there is no way of explaining one without the other. Donald Davidson, in his essay "Thought and Talk", argued that the notion of belief could only arise as a product of public linguistic interaction.
Daniel Dennett Daniel Clement Dennett III (born March 28, 1942) is an American philosopher, writer, and cognitive scientist whose research centers on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and philosophy of biology, particularly as those fields rela ...
holds a similar ''interpretationist'' view of
propositional attitude A propositional attitude is a mental state held by an agent toward a proposition. Linguistically, propositional attitudes are denoted by a verb (e.g. "believed") governing an embedded "that" clause, for example, 'Sally believed that she had won ...
s. To an extent, the theoretical underpinnings to cognitive semantics (including the notion of semantic framing) suggest the influence of language upon thought. However, the same tradition views meaning and grammar as a function of conceptualization, making it difficult to assess in any straightforward way. Some thinkers, like the ancient sophist
Gorgias Gorgias (; grc-gre, Γοργίας; 483–375 BC) was an ancient Greek sophist, pre-Socratic philosopher, and rhetorician who was a native of Leontinoi in Sicily. Along with Protagoras, he forms the first generation of Sophists. Several ...
, have questioned whether or not language was capable of capturing thought at all. There are studies that prove that languages shape how people understand causality. Some of them were performed by Lera Boroditsky. For example, English speakers tend to say things like "John broke the vase" even for accidents. However,
Spanish Spanish might refer to: * Items from or related to Spain: **Spaniards are a nation and ethnic group indigenous to Spain **Spanish language, spoken in Spain and many Latin American countries **Spanish cuisine Other places * Spanish, Ontario, Can ...
or
Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan, an island country in East Asia * Japanese language, spoken mainly in Japan * Japanese people, the ethnic group that identifies with Japan through ancestry or culture ** Japanese diaspor ...
speakers would be more likely to say "the vase broke itself". In studies conducted by Caitlin Fausey at
Stanford University Stanford University, officially Leland Stanford Junior University, is a private research university in Stanford, California. The campus occupies , among the largest in the United States, and enrolls over 17,000 students. Stanford is consid ...
speakers of English, Spanish and Japanese watched videos of two people popping balloons, breaking eggs and spilling drinks either intentionally or accidentally. Later everyone was asked whether they could remember who did what. Spanish and Japanese speakers did not remember the agents of accidental events as well as did English speakers. Russian speakers, who make an extra distinction between light and dark blue in their language, are better able to visually discriminate shades of blue. The Piraha, a tribe in
Brazil Brazil ( pt, Brasil; ), officially the Federative Republic of Brazil (Portuguese: ), is the largest country in both South America and Latin America. At and with over 217 million people, Brazil is the world's fifth-largest country by area an ...
, whose language has only terms like few and many instead of numerals, are not able to keep track of exact quantities. In one study German and Spanish speakers were asked to describe objects having opposite
gender Gender is the range of characteristics pertaining to femininity and masculinity and differentiating between them. Depending on the context, this may include sex-based social structures (i.e. gender roles) and gender identity. Most cultures ...
assignment in those two languages. The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by
grammatical gender In linguistics, grammatical gender system is a specific form of noun class system, where nouns are assigned with gender categories that are often not related to their real-world qualities. In languages with grammatical gender, most or all noun ...
. For example, when asked to describe a "key"—a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish—the
German German(s) may refer to: * Germany (of or related to) **Germania (historical use) * Germans, citizens of Germany, people of German ancestry, or native speakers of the German language ** For citizens of Germany, see also German nationality law **Ge ...
speakers were more likely to use words like "hard", "heavy", "jagged", "metal", "serrated" and "useful" whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say "golden", "intricate", "little", "lovely", "shiny" and "tiny". To describe a "bridge", which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German speakers said "beautiful", "elegant", "fragile", "peaceful", "pretty" and "slender", and the Spanish speakers said "big", "dangerous", "long", "strong", "sturdy" and "towering". This was the case even though all testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender. In a series of studies conducted by Gary Lupyan, people were asked to look at a series of images of imaginary aliens. Whether each alien was friendly or hostile was determined by certain subtle features but participants were not told what these were. They had to guess whether each alien was friendly or hostile, and after each response they were told if they were correct or not, helping them learn the subtle cues that distinguished friend from foe. A quarter of the participants were told in advance that the friendly aliens were called "leebish" and the hostile ones "grecious", while another quarter were told the opposite. For the rest, the aliens remained nameless. It was found that participants who were given names for the aliens learned to categorize the aliens far more quickly, reaching 80 per cent accuracy in less than half the time taken by those not told the names. By the end of the test, those told the names could correctly categorize 88 per cent of aliens, compared to just 80 per cent for the rest. It was concluded that naming objects helps us categorize and memorize them. In another series of experiments, a group of people was asked to view furniture from an
IKEA IKEA (; ) is a Dutch multinational conglomerate based in the Netherlands that designs and sells , kitchen appliances, decoration, home accessories, and various other goods and home services. Started in 1943 by Ingvar Kamprad, IKEA has been ...
catalog. Half the time they were asked to label the object – whether it was a chair or lamp, for example – while the rest of the time they had to say whether or not they liked it. It was found that when asked to label items, people were later less likely to recall the specific details of products, such as whether a chair had arms or not. It was concluded that labeling objects helps our minds build a prototype of the typical object in the group at the expense of individual features.

Social interaction and language

A common claim is that language is governed by social conventions. Questions inevitably arise on surrounding topics. One question regards what a convention exactly is, and how it is studied, and second regards the extent that conventions even matter in the study of language.
David Kellogg Lewis David (; , "beloved one") (traditional spelling), , ''Dāwūd''; grc-koi, Δαυΐδ, Dauíd; la, Davidus, David; gez , ዳዊት, ''Dawit''; xcl, Դաւիթ, ''Dawitʿ''; cu, Давíдъ, ''Davidŭ''; possibly meaning "beloved one". w ...
proposed a worthy reply to the first question by expounding the view that a convention is a "rationally self-perpetuating regularity in behavior". However, this view seems to compete to some extent with the Gricean view of speaker's meaning, requiring either one (or both) to be weakened if both are to be taken as true. Some have questioned whether or not conventions are relevant to the study of meaning at all.
Noam Chomsky Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American public intellectual: a linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist. Sometimes called "the father of modern linguistics", Chomsky ...
proposed that the study of language could be done in terms of the I-Language, or internal language of persons. If this is so, then it undermines the pursuit of explanations in terms of conventions, and relegates such explanations to the domain of ''
metasemantics In the philosophy of language and metaphysics, metasemantics is the study of the foundations of natural language semantics (the philosophical study of meaning). Metasemantics searches for "the proper understanding of compositionality, the object of ...
''. ''Metasemantics'' is a term used by philosopher of language Robert Stainton to describe all those fields that attempt to explain how semantic facts arise. One fruitful source of research involves investigation into the social conditions that give rise to, or are associated with, meanings and languages. ''
Etymology Etymology () The New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998) – p. 633 "Etymology /ˌɛtɪˈmɒlədʒi/ the study of the class in words and the way their meanings have changed throughout time". is the study of the history of the form of words a ...
'' (the study of the origins of words) and '' stylistics'' (philosophical argumentation over what makes "good grammar", relative to a particular language) are two other examples of fields that are taken to be metasemantic. Many separate (but related) fields have investigated the topic of linguistic convention within their own research paradigms. The presumptions that prop up each theoretical view are of interest to the philosopher of language. For instance, one of the major fields of sociology,
symbolic interactionism Symbolic interactionism is a sociological theory that develops from practical considerations and alludes to particular effects of communication and interaction in people to make images and normal implications, for deduction and correspondence w ...
, is based on the insight that human social organization is based almost entirely on the use of meanings. In consequence, any explanation of a
social structure In the social sciences, social structure is the aggregate of patterned social arrangements in society that are both emergent from and determinant of the actions of individuals. Likewise, society is believed to be grouped into structurally rel ...
(like an
institution Institutions are humanly devised structures of rules and norms that shape and constrain individual behavior. All definitions of institutions generally entail that there is a level of persistence and continuity. Laws, rules, social conventions a ...
) would need to account for the shared meanings which create and sustain the structure.
Rhetoric Rhetoric () is the art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic), is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques writers or speakers utilize to inform, persuade, or motivate p ...
is the study of the particular words that people use to achieve the proper emotional and rational effect in the listener, be it to persuade, provoke, endear, or teach. Some relevant applications of the field include the examination of
propaganda Propaganda is communication that is primarily used to influence or persuade an audience to further an agenda, which may not be objective and may be selectively presenting facts to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loa ...
and
didactic Didacticism is a philosophy that emphasizes instructional and informative qualities in literature, art, and design. In art, design, architecture, and landscape, didacticism is an emerging conceptual approach that is driven by the urgent need t ...
ism, the examination of the purposes of
swearing Profanity, also known as cursing, cussing, swearing, bad language, foul language, obscenities, expletives or vulgarism, is a socially offensive use of language. Accordingly, profanity is language use that is sometimes deemed impolite, ru ...
and
pejorative A pejorative or slur is a word or grammatical form expressing a negative or a disrespectful connotation, a low opinion, or a lack of respect toward someone or something. It is also used to express criticism, hostility, or disregard. Sometimes, a ...
s (especially how it influences the behaviors of others, and defines relationships), or the effects of gendered language. It can also be used to study linguistic transparency (or speaking in an accessible manner), as well as performative utterances and the various tasks that language can perform (called "speech acts"). It also has applications to the study and interpretation of law, and helps give insight to the logical concept of the
domain of discourse In the formal sciences, the domain of discourse, also called the universe of discourse, universal set, or simply universe, is the set of entities over which certain variables of interest in some formal treatment may range. Overview The dom ...
.
Literary theory Literary theory is the systematic study of the nature of literature and of the methods for literary analysis. Culler 1997, p.1 Since the 19th century, literary scholarship includes literary theory and considerations of intellectual history, m ...
is a discipline that some literary theorists claim overlaps with the philosophy of language. It emphasizes the methods that readers and critics use in understanding a text. This field, an outgrowth of the study of how to properly interpret messages, is closely tied to the ancient discipline of
hermeneutics Hermeneutics () is the theory and methodology of interpretation, especially the interpretation of biblical texts, wisdom literature, and philosophical texts. Hermeneutics is more than interpretative principles or methods used when immediate ...
.

Truth

Finally, philosophers of language investigate how language and meaning relate to
truth Truth is the property of being in accord with fact or reality.Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionarytruth 2005 In everyday language, truth is typically ascribed to things that aim to represent reality or otherwise correspond to it, such as belie ...
and the reality being referred to. They tend to be less interested in which sentences are ''actually true'', and more in ''what kinds of meanings can be true or false''. A truth-oriented philosopher of language might wonder whether or not a meaningless sentence can be true or false, or whether or not sentences can express propositions about things that do not exist, rather than the way sentences are used.

Language and continental philosophy

In
continental philosophy Continental philosophy is a term used to describe some philosophers and philosophical traditions that do not fall under the umbrella of analytic philosophy. However, there is no academic consensus on the definition of continental philosophy. Pri ...
, language is not studied as a separate discipline, as it is in
analytic philosophy Analytic philosophy is a branch and tradition of philosophy using analysis, popular in the Western world and particularly the Anglosphere, which began around the turn of the 20th century in the contemporary era in the United Kingdom, United ...
. Rather, it is an inextricable part of many other areas of thought, such as
phenomenology Phenomenology may refer to: Art * Phenomenology (architecture), based on the experience of building materials and their sensory properties Philosophy * Phenomenology (philosophy), a branch of philosophy which studies subjective experiences and ...
, structural semiotics,
hermeneutics Hermeneutics () is the theory and methodology of interpretation, especially the interpretation of biblical texts, wisdom literature, and philosophical texts. Hermeneutics is more than interpretative principles or methods used when immediate ...
,
existentialism Existentialism ( ) is a form of philosophical inquiry that explores the problem of human existence and centers on human thinking, feeling, and acting. Existentialist thinkers frequently explore issues related to the meaning, purpose, and va ...
,
structuralism In sociology, anthropology, archaeology, history, philosophy, and linguistics, structuralism is a general theory of culture and methodology that implies that elements of human culture must be understood by way of their relationship to a broader ...
,
deconstruction The term deconstruction refers to approaches to understanding the relationship between text and meaning. It was introduced by the philosopher Jacques Derrida, who defined it as a turn away from Platonism's ideas of "true" forms and essen ...
and
critical theory A critical theory is any approach to social philosophy that focuses on society and culture to reveal, critique and challenge power structures. With roots in sociology and literary criticism, it argues that social problems stem more from so ...
. The idea of language is often related to that of logic in its Greek sense as "
logos ''Logos'' (, ; grc, λόγος, lógos, lit=word, discourse, or reason) is a term used in Western philosophy, psychology and rhetoric and refers to the appeal to reason that relies on logic or reason, inductive and deductive reasoning. Arist ...
", meaning discourse or dialectic. Language and concepts are also seen as having been formed by history and politics, or even by historical philosophy itself. The field of hermeneutics, and the theory of interpretation in general, has played a significant role in 20th century continental philosophy of language and
ontology In metaphysics, ontology is the philosophical study of being, as well as related concepts such as existence, becoming, and reality. Ontology addresses questions like how entities are grouped into categories and which of these entities ...
beginning with
Martin Heidegger Martin Heidegger (; ; 26 September 188926 May 1976) was a German philosopher who is best known for contributions to phenomenology, hermeneutics, and existentialism. He is among the most important and influential philosophers of the 20th cent ...
. Heidegger combines phenomenology with the hermeneutics of Wilhelm Dilthey. Heidegger believed language was one of the most important concepts for ''
Dasein ''Dasein'' () (sometimes spelled as Da-sein) is the German word for 'existence'. It is a fundamental concept in the existential philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Heidegger uses the expression ''Dasein'' to refer to the experience of being that ...
''. Heidegger believed that language today is worn out because of overuse of important words, and would be inadequate for in-depth study of Being (''Sein''). For example, ''Sein'' (''being''), the word itself, is saturated with multiple meanings. Thus, he invented new vocabulary and linguistic styles, based on
Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into the following periods: Mycenaean Greek (), Dark Ages (), the Archaic peri ...
and Germanic
etymological Etymology () The New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998) – p. 633 "Etymology /ˌɛtɪˈmɒlədʒi/ the study of the class in words and the way their meanings have changed throughout time". is the study of the history of the form of words a ...
word relations, to disambiguate commonly used words. He avoided words like consciousness, ego, human, nature, etc. and instead talked holistically of
Being-in-the-world Martin Heidegger, the 20th-century German philosopher, produced a large body of work that intended a profound change of direction for philosophy. Such was the depth of change that he found it necessary to introduce many neologisms, often connect ...
,
Dasein ''Dasein'' () (sometimes spelled as Da-sein) is the German word for 'existence'. It is a fundamental concept in the existential philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Heidegger uses the expression ''Dasein'' to refer to the experience of being that ...
. With such new concepts as ''Being-in-the-world'', Heidegger constructs his theory of language, centered on
speech Speech is a human vocal communication using language. Each language uses phonetic combinations of vowel and consonant sounds that form the sound of its words (that is, all English words sound different from all French words, even if they are th ...
Paul Ricœur Jean Paul Gustave Ricœur (; ; 27 February 1913 – 20 May 2005) was a French philosopher best known for combining phenomenological description with hermeneutics. As such, his thought is within the same tradition as other major hermeneutic ...
, on the other hand, proposed a hermeneutics which, reconnecting with the original Greek sense of the term, emphasized the discovery of hidden meanings in the equivocal terms (or "symbols") of ordinary language. Other philosophers who have worked in this tradition include Luigi Pareyson and
Jacques Derrida Jacques Derrida (; ; born Jackie Élie Derrida; See also . 15 July 1930 – 9 October 2004) was an Algerian-born French philosopher. He developed the philosophy of deconstruction, which he utilized in numerous texts, and which was developed t ...
.Volli, U. (2000) ''Manuale di Semiotica''. Rome-Bari: Editori Laterza.
Semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the systematic study of sign processes ( semiosis) and meaning making. Semiosis is any activity, conduct, or process that involves signs, where a sign is defined as anything that communicates something ...
is the study of the transmission, reception and meaning of signs and symbols in general. In this field, human language (both natural and artificial) is just one among many ways that humans (and other conscious beings) are able to communicate. It allows them to take advantage of and effectively manipulate the external world in order to create meaning for themselves and transmit this meaning to others. Every object, every person, every event, and every force communicates (or ''signifies'') continuously. The ringing of a telephone, for example, ''is'' the telephone. The smoke that is seen on the horizon is the sign that there is a fire. The smoke signifies. The things of the world, in this vision, seem to be ''labeled'' precisely for intelligent beings who only need to interpret them in the way that humans do. Everything has meaning. True communication, including the use of human language, however, requires someone (a ''sender'') who sends a ''message'', or ''text'', in some code to someone else (a ''receiver''). Language is studied only insofar as it is one of these forms (the most sophisticated form) of communication. Some important figures in the history of semiotics, are
Charles Sanders Peirce Charles Sanders Peirce ( ; September 10, 1839 – April 19, 1914) was an American philosopher, logician, mathematician and scientist who is sometimes known as "the father of pragmatism". Educated as a chemist and employed as a scientist for ...
,
Roland Barthes Roland Gérard Barthes (; ; 12 November 1915 – 26 March 1980) was a French literary theorist, essayist, philosopher, critic, and semiotician. His work engaged in the analysis of a variety of sign systems, mainly derived from Western popu ...
, and
Roman Jakobson Roman Osipovich Jakobson (russian: Рома́н О́сипович Якобсо́н; October 11, 1896Kucera, Henry. 1983. "Roman Jakobson." ''Language: Journal of the Linguistic Society of America'' 59(4): 871–883. – July 18,Umberto Eco Umberto Eco (5 January 1932 – 19 February 2016) was an Italian medievalist, philosopher, semiotician, novelist, cultural critic, and political and social commentator. In English, he is best known for his popular 1980 novel '' The Name of th ...
, A. J. Greimas,
Louis Hjelmslev Louis Trolle Hjelmslev (; 3 October 189930 May 1965) was a Danish linguist whose ideas formed the basis of the Copenhagen School of linguistics. Born into an academic family (his father was the mathematician Johannes Hjelmslev), Hjelmslev studi ...
, and Tullio De Mauro. Investigations on signs in non-human communications are subject to
biosemiotics Biosemiotics (from the Greek βίος ''bios'', "life" and σημειωτικός ''sēmeiōtikos'', "observant of signs") is a field of semiotics and biology that studies the prelinguistic meaning-making, biological interpretation processes, ...
, a field founded in the late 20th century by
Thomas Sebeok Thomas Albert Sebeok ( hu, Sebők Tamás, ; 1920–2001) was a Hungarian-born American polymath,Cobley, Paul; Deely, John; Kull, Kalevi; Petrilli, Susan (eds.) (2011). Semiotics Continues to Astonish: Thomas A. Sebeok and the Doctrine of Signs'. ...
and
Thure von Uexküll Karl Kuno Thure Freiherr von Uexküll (March 15, 1908, Heidelberg – September 29, 2004, Freiburg) was a German scholar of psychosomatic medicine and biosemiotics. He developed the approach of his father, Jakob von Uexküll, in the study of ...
.

Problems in the philosophy of language

Nature of language

Languages are thought of as
sign systems A sign system is a key concept in semiotics and is used to refer to any system of signs and relations between signs. The term ''language'' is frequently used as a synonym for a sign-system. However, the term ''sign-system'' is considered preferab ...
in a
semiotic Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the systematic study of sign processes ( semiosis) and meaning making. Semiosis is any activity, conduct, or process that involves signs, where a sign is defined as anything that communicates something ...
John Locke John Locke (; 29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the "father of liberalism". Considered one of ...
and culminating in Saussure's notion of language as semiology: an interactive system of a
semantic Semantics (from grc, σημαντικός ''sēmantikós'', "significant") is the study of reference, meaning, or truth. The term can be used to refer to subfields of several distinct disciplines, including philosophy, linguistics and comput ...
and a symbolic level. Building on Saussurian
structuralism In sociology, anthropology, archaeology, history, philosophy, and linguistics, structuralism is a general theory of culture and methodology that implies that elements of human culture must be understood by way of their relationship to a broader ...
,
Louis Hjelmslev Louis Trolle Hjelmslev (; 3 October 189930 May 1965) was a Danish linguist whose ideas formed the basis of the Copenhagen School of linguistics. Born into an academic family (his father was the mathematician Johannes Hjelmslev), Hjelmslev studi ...
saw the organisation of the levels as fully computational.
Age of Enlightenment The Age of Enlightenment or the Enlightenment; german: Aufklärung, "Enlightenment"; it, L'Illuminismo, "Enlightenment"; pl, Oświecenie, "Enlightenment"; pt, Iluminismo, "Enlightenment"; es, La Ilustración, "Enlightenment" was an intel ...
philosopher
Antoine Arnauld Antoine Arnauld (6 February 16128 August 1694) was a French Catholic theologian, philosopher and mathematician. He was one of the leading intellectuals of the Jansenist group of Port-Royal and had a very thorough knowledge of patristics. Contem ...
argued that people had created language rationally in a step-by-step process to fulfill a psychological need to communicate with others. 19th century
romanticism Romanticism (also known as the Romantic movement or Romantic era) was an artistic, literary, musical, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate ...
emphasised
human agency Agency is the capacity of an actor to act in a given environment. It is independent of the moral dimension, which is called moral agency. In ''sociology'', an agent is an individual engaging with the social structure. Notably, though, the prima ...
and
free will Free will is the capacity of agents to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded. Free will is closely linked to the concepts of moral responsibility, praise, culpability, sin, and other judgements which apply only to a ...
in meaning construction. More lately, Eugenio Coșeriu underlined the role of
intention Intentions are mental states in which the agent commits themselves to a course of action. Having the plan to visit the zoo tomorrow is an example of an intention. The action plan is the ''content'' of the intention while the commitment is the ''a ...
in the processes, while others including Esa Itkonen believe that the
social construction Social constructionism is a theory in sociology, social ontology, and communication theory which proposes that certain ideas about physical reality arise from collaborative consensus, instead of pure observation of said reality. The theor ...
of language takes place
unconsciously The unconscious mind (or the unconscious) consists of the processes in the mind which occur automatically and are not available to introspection and include thought processes, memories, interests, and motivations. Even though these processes exist ...
. In Saussure's notion, language is a social fact which arises from
social interaction A social relation or also described as a social interaction or social experience is the fundamental unit of analysis within the social sciences, and describes any voluntary or involuntary interpersonal relationship between two or more individuals ...
, but can neither be reduced to the individual acts nor to human psychology, which supports the autonomy of the study of language from other sciences.
Humanistic Humanism is a philosophical stance that emphasizes the individual and social potential and agency of human beings. It considers human beings the starting point for serious moral and philosophical inquiry. The meaning of the term "human ...
views are challenged by
biological Biology is the scientific study of life. It is a natural science with a broad scope but has several unifying themes that tie it together as a single, coherent field. For instance, all organisms are made up of cells that process hereditary ...
theories of language which consider languages as natural phenomena. Charles Darwin considered languages as species. 19th century
evolutionary linguistics Evolutionary linguistics or Darwinian linguistics is a sociobiological approach to the study of language. Evolutionary linguists consider linguistics as a subfield of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. The approach is also closely linked ...
was furthest developed by
August Schleicher August Schleicher (; 19 February 1821 – 6 December 1868) was a German linguist. His great work was ''A Compendium of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-European Languages'' in which he attempted to reconstruct the Proto-Indo-European languag ...
who compared languages to
plant Plants are predominantly photosynthetic eukaryotes of the kingdom Plantae. Historically, the plant kingdom encompassed all living things that were not animals, and included algae and fungi; however, all current definitions of Plantae exclude ...
s,
animal Animals are multicellular, eukaryotic organisms in the biological kingdom Animalia. With few exceptions, animals consume organic material, breathe oxygen, are able to move, can reproduce sexually, and go through an ontogenetic stage ...
s and
crystal A crystal or crystalline solid is a solid Solid is one of the four fundamental states of matter (the others being liquid, gas, and plasma). The molecules in a solid are closely packed together and contain the least amount of kin ...
s. In
Neo-Darwinism Neo-Darwinism is generally used to describe any integration of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection with Gregor Mendel's theory of genetics. It mostly refers to evolutionary theory from either 1895 (for the combinations of Da ...
,
Richard Dawkins Richard Dawkins (born 26 March 1941) is a British evolutionary biologist and author. He is an emeritus fellow of New College, Oxford and was Professor for Public Understanding of Science in the University of Oxford from 1995 to 2008. An ...
and other proponents of cultural replicator theories consider languages as populations of mind viruses.
Noam Chomsky Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American public intellectual: a linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist. Sometimes called "the father of modern linguistics", Chomsky ...
, on the other hand, holds the view that language is not an
organism In biology, an organism () is any living system that functions as an individual entity. All organisms are composed of cells (cell theory). Organisms are classified by taxonomy into groups such as multicellular animals, plants, and fung ...
but an organ, and that linguistic structures are crystallised. This is hypothesised as having been caused by a single
mutation In biology, a mutation is an alteration in the nucleic acid sequence of the genome of an organism, virus, or extrachromosomal DNA. Viral genomes contain either DNA or RNA. Mutations result from errors during DNA or viral replication, ...
in humans, but
Steven Pinker Steven Arthur Pinker (born September 18, 1954) is a Canadian-American cognitive psychologist, psycholinguist, popular science author, and public intellectual. He is an advocate of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind. ...
argues it is the result of human and
cultural Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior, institutions, and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in these groups ...
co-evolution In biology, coevolution occurs when two or more species reciprocally affect each other's evolution through the process of natural selection. The term sometimes is used for two traits in the same species affecting each other's evolution, as well ...
.

Problem of universals and composition

One debate that has captured the interest of many philosophers is the debate over the meaning of ''
universals In metaphysics, a universal is what particular things have in common, namely characteristics or qualities. In other words, universals are repeatable or recurrent entities that can be instantiated or exemplified by many particular things. For exa ...
''. It might be asked, for example, why when people say the word ''rocks'', what it is that the word represents. Two different answers have emerged to this question. Some have said that the expression stands for some real, abstract universal out in the world called "rocks". Others have said that the word stands for some collection of particular, individual rocks that are associated with merely a nomenclature. The former position has been called ''
philosophical realism Philosophical realism is usually not treated as a position of its own but as a stance towards other subject matters. Realism about a certain kind of thing (like numbers or morality) is the thesis that this kind of thing has ''mind-independent exi ...
'', and the latter ''
nominalism In metaphysics, nominalism is the view that universals and abstract objects do not actually exist other than being merely names or labels. There are at least two main versions of nominalism. One version denies the existence of universalsthings ...
''. The issue here can be explicated in examination of the proposition "Socrates is a man". From the realist's perspective, the connection between S and M is a connection between two abstract entities. There is an entity, "man", and an entity, "Socrates". These two things connect in some way or overlap. From a nominalist's perspective, the connection between S and M is the connection between a particular entity (Socrates) and a vast collection of particular things (men). To say that Socrates is a man is to say that Socrates is a part of the class of "men". Another perspective is to consider "man" to be a ''property'' of the entity, "Socrates". There is a third way, between nominalism and (extreme) realism, usually called "
moderate realism Moderate realism (also called immanent realism) is a position in the debate on the metaphysics of universals associated with the hylomorphic substance theory of Aristotle. There is no separate realm in which universals exist (in opposition to ...
" and attributed to Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. Moderate realists hold that "man" refers to a real essence or form that is really present and identical in Socrates and all other men, but "man" does not exist as a separate and distinct entity. This is a realist position, because "man" is real, insofar as it really exists in all men; but it is a moderate realism, because "man" is not an entity separate from the men it informs.

Formal versus informal approaches

Another of the questions that has divided philosophers of language is the extent to which formal logic can be used as an effective tool in the analysis and understanding of natural languages. While most philosophers, including
Gottlob Frege Friedrich Ludwig Gottlob Frege (; ; 8 November 1848 – 26 July 1925) was a German philosopher, logician, and mathematician. He was a mathematics professor at the University of Jena, and is understood by many to be the father of analytic phi ...
,
Alfred Tarski Alfred Tarski (, born Alfred Teitelbaum;School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews ''School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews''. January 14, 1901 – October 26, 1983) was a Polish-American logician a ...
and
Rudolf Carnap Rudolf Carnap (; ; 18 May 1891 – 14 September 1970) was a German-language philosopher who was active in Europe before 1935 and in the United States thereafter. He was a major member of the Vienna Circle and an advocate of logical positivism. ...
, have been more or less skeptical about formalizing natural languages, many of them developed formal languages for use in the sciences or formalized ''parts'' of natural language for investigation. Some of the most prominent members of this tradition of formal semantics include Tarski, Carnap, Richard Montague and Donald Davidson. On the other side of the divide, and especially prominent in the 1950s and '60s, were the so-called " ordinary language philosophers". Philosophers such as P. F. Strawson, John Langshaw Austin and
Gilbert Ryle Gilbert Ryle (19 August 1900 – 6 October 1976) was a British philosopher, principally known for his critique of Cartesian dualism, for which he coined the phrase " ghost in the machine." He was a representative of the generation of British o ...
stressed the importance of studying natural language without regard to the truth-conditions of sentences and the references of terms. They did not believe that the social and practical dimensions of linguistic meaning could be captured by any attempts at formalization using the tools of logic. Logic is one thing and language is something entirely different. What is important is not expressions themselves but what people use them to do in communication. Hence, Austin developed a theory of
speech act In the philosophy of language and linguistics, speech act is something expressed by an individual that not only presents information but performs an action as well. For example, the phrase "I would like the kimchi; could you please pass it to me? ...
s, which described the kinds of things which can be done with a sentence (assertion, command, inquiry, exclamation) in different contexts of use on different occasions. Strawson argued that the truth-table semantics of the logical connectives (e.g., $\land$, $\lor$ and $\rightarrow$) do not capture the meanings of their natural language counterparts ("and", "or" and "if-then"). While the "ordinary language" movement basically died out in the 1970s, its influence was crucial to the development of the fields of speech-act theory and the study of
pragmatics In linguistics and related fields, pragmatics is the study of how context contributes to meaning. The field of study evaluates how human language is utilized in social interactions, as well as the relationship between the interpreter and the in ...
. Many of its ideas have been absorbed by theorists such as Kent Bach, Robert Brandom,
Paul Horwich Paul may refer to: *Paul (given name), a given name (includes a list of people with that name) * Paul (surname), a list of people People Christianity *Paul the Apostle (AD c.5–c.64/65), also known as Saul of Tarsus or Saint Paul, early Chri ...
and
Stephen Neale Stephen Roy Albert Neale (born 9 January 1958) is a British philosopher and specialist in the philosophy of language who has written extensively about meaning, information, interpretation, and communication, and more generally about issues a ...
. In recent work, the division between semantics and pragmatics has become a lively topic of discussion at the interface of philosophy and linguistics, for instance in work by Sperber and Wilson, Carston and Levinson. While keeping these traditions in mind, the question of whether or not there is any grounds for conflict between the formal and informal approaches is far from being decided. Some theorists, like
Paul Grice Herbert Paul Grice (13 March 1913 – 28 August 1988), usually publishing under the name H. P. Grice, H. Paul Grice, or Paul Grice, was a British philosopher of language. He is best known for his theory of implicature and the cooperative pri ...
, have been skeptical of any claims that there is a substantial conflict between logic and natural language.

Translation and interpretation

Translation and interpretation are two other problems that philosophers of language have attempted to confront. In the 1950s, W.V. Quine argued for the indeterminacy of meaning and reference based on the principle of ''
radical translation Radical translation is a thought experiment in ''Word and Object'', a major philosophical work from American philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine. It is used as an introduction to his theory of the indeterminacy of translation, and specifically to ...
''. In ''
Word and Object ''Word and Object'' is a 1960 work by the philosopher Willard Van Orman Quine, in which the author expands upon the line of thought of his earlier writings in ''From a Logical Point of View'' (1953), and reformulates some of his earlier arguments ...
'', Quine asks readers to imagine a situation in which they are confronted with a previously undocumented, group of indigenous people where they must attempt to make sense of the utterances and gestures that its members make. This is the situation of radical translation.Quine, W.V. (1960) ''Word and Object''. MIT Press; . He claimed that, in such a situation, it is impossible ''in principle'' to be absolutely certain of the meaning or reference that a speaker of the indigenous peoples language attaches to an utterance. For example, if a speaker sees a rabbit and says "gavagai", is she referring to the whole rabbit, to the rabbit's tail, or to a temporal part of the rabbit. All that can be done is to examine the utterance as a part of the overall linguistic behaviour of the individual, and then use these observations to interpret the meaning of all other utterances. From this basis, one can form a manual of translation. But, since reference is indeterminate, there will be many such manuals, no one of which is more correct than the others. For Quine, as for Wittgenstein and Austin, meaning is not something that is associated with a single word or sentence, but is rather something that, if it can be attributed at all, can only be attributed to a whole language. The resulting view is called '' semantic holism''. Inspired by Quine's discussion, Donald Davidson extended the idea of radical translation to the interpretation of utterances and behavior within a single linguistic community. He dubbed this notion ''radical interpretation''. He suggested that the meaning that any individual ascribed to a sentence could only be determined by attributing meanings to many, perhaps all, of the individual's assertions, as well as their mental states and attitudes.

Vagueness

One issue that has troubled philosophers of language and logic is the problem of the
vagueness In linguistics and philosophy, a vague predicate is one which gives rise to borderline cases. For example, the English adjective "tall" is vague since it is not clearly true or false for someone of middling height. By contrast, the word "prime" i ...
of words. The specific instances of vagueness that most interest philosophers of language are those where the existence of "borderline cases" makes it seemingly impossible to say whether a predicate is true or false. Classic examples are "is tall" or "is bald", where it cannot be said that some borderline case (some given person) is tall or not-tall. In consequence, vagueness gives rise to the
paradox of the heap The sorites paradox (; sometimes known as the paradox of the heap) is a paradox that results from vague predicates. A typical formulation involves a heap of sand, from which grains are removed individually. With the assumption that removing a sin ...
. Many theorists have attempted to solve the paradox by way of ''n''-valued logics, such as
fuzzy logic Fuzzy logic is a form of many-valued logic in which the truth value of variables may be any real number between 0 and 1. It is employed to handle the concept of partial truth, where the truth value may range between completely true and complete ...
, which have radically departed from classical two-valued logics.Sorensen, Roy. (2006) "Vagueness". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/vagueness/#3

* Atherton, Catherine. 1993. ''The Stoics on Ambiguity.'' Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. * Denyer, Nicholas. 1991. ''Language, Thought and Falsehood in Ancient Greek Philosophy.'' London: Routledge. * Kneale, W., and M. Kneale. 1962. ''The Development of Logic.'' Oxford: Clarendon. * Modrak, Deborah K. W. 2001. ''Aristotle’s Theory of Language and Meaning.'' Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. * Sedley, David. 2003. ''Plato’s Cratylus.'' Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

*
Analytic philosophy Analytic philosophy is a branch and tradition of philosophy using analysis, popular in the Western world and particularly the Anglosphere, which began around the turn of the 20th century in the contemporary era in the United Kingdom, United ...
*
Discourse Discourse is a generalization of the notion of a conversation to any form of communication. Discourse is a major topic in social theory, with work spanning fields such as sociology, anthropology, continental philosophy, and discourse analysis ...
*
Interpersonal communication Interpersonal communication is an exchange of information between two or more people. It is also an area of research that seeks to understand how humans use verbal and nonverbal cues to accomplish a number of personal and relational goals. Inter ...
* Linguistics *
Semiotics Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the systematic study of sign processes ( semiosis) and meaning making. Semiosis is any activity, conduct, or process that involves signs, where a sign is defined as anything that communicates something ...
* Theory of language

* * * * One of five parts, the others foun
here, 2here. 3here, 4here, 5
There are also 16 lectures by Searle, beginning with
Sprachlogik
short articles in the philosophies of logic and language.

What is I-language?
– Chapter 1 of I-language: An Introduction to Linguistics as Cognitive Science. * Th
London Philosophy Study Guide
offers many suggestions on what to read, depending on the student's familiarity with the subject

* Carnap, R., (1956). Meaning and Necessity: a Study in Semantics and Modal Logic. University of Chicago Press. * Collins, John. (2001). Truth Conditions Without Interpretation

* Devitt, Michael and Hanley, Richard, eds. (2006) The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Language. Oxford: Blackwell. * Greenberg, Mark and Harman, Gilbert. (2005). Conceptual Role Semantics

* Hale, B. and Crispin Wright, Ed. (1999). Blackwell Companions To Philosophy. Malden, Massachusetts, Blackwell Publishers. * * Lepore, Ernest and Barry C. Smith (eds). (2006)
The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language
Oxford University Press. * Lycan, W. G. (2008)
Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction
New York, Routledge. * Miller, James. (1999)

* Searle, John (2007)
Philosophy of Language
an interview with John Searle. * Stainton, Robert J. (1996)
''Philosophical Perspectives on Language''
Peterborough, Ont., Broadview Press. * Tarski, Alfred. (1944).

. * * Eco, Umberto. ''Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language''. Indiana University Press, 1986, , .

References

{{Authority control Philosophy of language Analytic philosophy Meaning (philosophy of language) Semantics Semiotics