Philosophy of Language

Bernhard Nickel

in Linguistics

ISBN: 9780199772810
Published online October 2011 | | DOI:
Philosophy of Language

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  • Linguistics
  • Anthropological Linguistics
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Language is a central component of human existence. This platitude gives rise to at least two motivations to study the philosophy of language. The first is to better understand how language fits into other human activities, such as communication and the transmission of knowledge (rather than merely the transmission of belief) and the ways speech acts can be used to accomplish a number of different aims. It is part of this research approach to investigate, for example, in virtue of what basic linguistic facts such as reference obtain or for that matter whether there even is such a thing as reference. The second attempts to use language as a medium through which to study at least apparently nonlinguistic subject matters. This strategy found its most elaborate articulation in the work of the logical positivists, who sought to analyze such metaphysical concepts as causation, law of nature, and the whole domain of mathematics in linguistic terms. This latter research approach has fallen into disfavor with the resurgence of robustly metaphysical theorizing in the 1970s and a recognition of the importance of the distinction between semantics and pragmatics. Semantic results consequently do not directly lead to results about the subject matter we use language to discuss. In the early 21st century we still see connections between language and nonlinguistic subject matters, but these tend to be “closer” to language, such as logic and psychology. It is especially the impact of the semantics/pragmatics distinction that has kept philosophy of language and linguistics quite closely connected, since philosophers who study language need to take care to ground their theorizing in the data without overshooting what the data can support.

Article.  10729 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Anthropological Linguistics ; Language Families ; Psycholinguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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