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Philosophy of Language

The Classics Explained

Many beginning students in philosophy of language find themselves grappling with dense and difficult texts not easily understood by someone new to the field. This book offers an introduction to philosophy of language by explaining ten classic, often anthologized, texts. Accessible and thorough, written with a unique combination of informality and careful formulation, the book addresses sense and reference, proper names, definite descriptions, indexicals, the definition of truth, truth and meaning, and the nature of speaker meaning, as addressed by Frege, Kripke, Russell, Donnellan, Kaplan, Evans, Putnam, Tarski, Davidson, and Grice. The explanations aim to be as simple as possible without sacrificing accuracy; critical assessments are included with the exposition in order to stimulate further thought and discussion.

Philosophy of Language will be an essential resource for undergraduates in a typical philosophy of language course or for graduate students with no background in the field. It can be used in conjunction with an anthology of classic texts, sparing the instructor much arduous exegesis.

Frege on Sense and Reference
Kripke on Names
Russell on Definite Descriptions
Donnellan’s Distinction
Kaplan on Demonstratives
Evans on Understanding Demonstratives
Putnam on Semantic Externalism
Tarski’s Theory of Truth
Davidson’s Semantics for Natural Language
Grice’s Theory of Speaker Meaning

Word Learning and the Embodied Mind

Ostension is bodily movement that manifests our engagement with things, whether we wish it to or not. Gestures, glances, facial expressions: all betray our interest in something. Ostension enables our first word learning, providing infants with a prelinguistic way to grasp the meaning of words. Ostension is philosophically puzzling; it cuts across domains seemingly unbridgeable—public–private, inner–outer, mind–body. In this book, Chad Engelland offers a philosophical investigation of ostension and its role in word learning by infants.

Engelland discusses ostension (distinguishing it from ostensive definition) in contemporary philosophy, examining accounts by Quine, Davidson, and Gadamer, and he explores relevant empirical findings in psychology, evolutionary anthropology, and neuroscience. He offers original studies of four representative historical thinkers whose work enriches the understanding of ostension: Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty, Augustine, and Aristotle. And, building on these philosophical and empirical foundations, Engelland offers a meticulous analysis of the philosophical issues raised by ostension. He examines the phenomenological problem of whether embodied intentions are manifest or inferred; the problem of what concept of mind allows ostensive cues to be intersubjectively available; the epistemological problem of how ostensive cues, notoriously ambiguous, can be correctly understood; and the metaphysical problem of the ultimate status of the key terms in his argument: animate movement, language, and mind. Finally, he argues for the centrality of manifestation in philosophy. Taking ostension seriously, he proposes, has far-reaching implications for thinking about language and the practice of philosophy.

These fifteen original essays address the core semantic concepts of reference and referring from both philosophical and linguistic perspectives. After an introductory essay that casts current trends in reference and referring in terms of an ongoing dialogue between Fregean and Russellian approaches, the book addresses specific topics, balanc
ing breadth of coverage with thematic unity.

The contributors, all leading or emerging scholars, address trenchant neo-Fregean challenges to the direct reference position; consider what positive claims can be made about the mechanism of reference; address the role of a theory of reference within broader theoretical context; and investigate other kinds of linguistic expressions used in referring activities that may themselves be referring expressions.

The topical unity and accessibility of the essays, the stage-setting introductory essay, and the comprehensive index combine to make Reference and Referring, along with the other books in the Topics in Contemporary Philosophy series, appropriate for use in advanced undergraduate and graduate courses.

In The Connectives, Lloyd Humberstone examines the semantics and pragmatics of natural language sentence connectives (and, or, if, not), giving special attention to their formal behavior according to proposed logical systems and the degree to which such treatments capture their intuitive meanings. It will be an essential resource for philosophers, mathematicians, computer scientists, linguists, or any scholar who finds connectives, and the conceptual issues surrounding them, to be a source of interest.
This landmark work offers both general material on sentence connectives in formal logic, such as truth-functionality and unique characterization by rules, and information on specific connectives (including conjunction and disjunction), considering their pragmatic and semantic properties in natural language as well as various attempts to simulate the latter in the formal languages of different systems of propositional logic. Chapters are divided into sections, and each section ends with notes and references for material covered in that section. If a section covers numerous topics separately, the notes and references are divided into parts, each with its own topic-indicating heading. When topics are not covered in detail but are relevant to matters under discussion, the notes and references provide pointers to the literature. Readers may find it useful to browse through a topic of interest and then follow the references within it forward and backward on the topic in question, or those to the extensive literature outside it.

Unifying Agreement-Based and Discourse-Configurational Languages

An unusual property of human language is the existence of movement operations. Modern syntactic theory from its inception has dealt with the puzzle of why movement should occur. In this monograph, Shigeru Miyagawa combines this question with another, that of the occurrence of agreement systems. Using data from a wide range of languages, he argues that movement and agreement work in tandem to achieve a specific goal: to imbue natural language with enormous expressive power. Without movement and agreement, he contends, human language would be merely a shadow of itself, with severe limitation on what can be expressed. Miyagawa investigates a variety of languages, including English, Japanese, Bantu languages, Romance languages, Finnish, and Chinese. He finds that every language manifests some kind of agreement, some in the form of the familiar person/number/gender system and others in the form of what Katalin É. Kiss calls “discourse configurational” features such as topic and focus. A key proposal of his argument is that the computational system in syntax deals with the wide range of agreement types uniformly--as if there were just one system--and an integral part of this computation turns out to be movement. Why Agree? Why Move? is unique in proposing a unified system for movement and agreement across language groups that are vastly diverse--Bantu languages, East Asian languages, Indo-European languages, and others.

Speakers, in their everyday conversations, use language to talk about language. They may wonder about what words mean, to whom a name refers, whether a sentence is true. They may worry whether they have been clear, or correctly expressed what they meant to say. That speakers can make such inquiries implies a degree of access to the complex array of knowledge and skills underlying our ability to speak, and though this access is incomplete, we nevertheless can form on this basis beliefs about linguistic matters of considerable subtlety, about ourselves and others. It is beliefs of this sort--de lingua beliefs--that Robert Fiengo and Robert May explore in this book.Fiengo and May focus on the beliefs speakers have about the semantic values of linguistic expressions, exploring the genesis of these beliefs and the explanatory roles they play in how speakers use and understand language. Fiengo and May examine the resources available to speakers for generating linguistic beliefs, considering how linguistic theory characterizes the formal, syntactic identity of the expressions linguistic beliefs are about and how this affects speakers' beliefs about coreference. Their key insight is that the content of beliefs about semantic values can be taken as part of what we say by our utterances. This has direct consequences, examined in detail by Fiengo and May, for explaining the informativeness of identity statements and the possibilities for substitution in attributions of propositional attitudes, cases in which speakers' beliefs about coreference play a central role.

Functional Categories and Hierarchical Structure

Recent research on the syntax of signed languages has revealed that, apart from some modality-specific differences, signed languages are organized according to the same underlying principles as spoken languages. This book addresses the organization and distribution of functional categories in American Sign Language (ASL), focusing on tense, agreement, and wh-constructions.

Signed languages provide illuminating evidence about functional projections of a kind unavailable in the study of spoken languages. Along with manual signing, crucial information is expressed by specific movements of the face and upper body. The authors argue that such nonmanual markings are often direct expressions of abstract syntactic features. The distribution and intensity of these markings provide information about the location of functional heads and the boundaries of functional projections. The authors show how evidence from ASL is useful for evaluating a number of recent theoretical proposals on, among other things, the status of syntactic agreement projections and constraints on phrase structure and the directionality of movement.