Philosophy of language

Philosophy of language in the analytical tradition explored logic and accounts of the mind at the end of the nineteenth century, with English-speaking writers Frege and Russell being pivotal, followed by Wittgenstein (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus), the Vienna Circle and the logical positivists, and Quine, while on the continent a foundation work was Ferdinand de Saussure's Cours de linguistique générale, published posthumously in 1916.[1] Philosophy of Language may investigate the relations between language, language users, and the world.[2] The scope of Philosophy of Language may include inquiry into the origins of language, the nature of meaning, the usage and cognition of language. It overlaps to some extent with the study of Epistemology, Logic, Philosophy of Mind and other fields (including linguistics and psychology).[3]

In a broader sense it may be said that the philosophy of language explores the relationship between language and reality. In particular, philosophy of language studies issues that cannot be addressed by other fields, like linguistics, or psychology. Major topics in the philosophy of language include the nature of meaning, intentionality, reference, the constitution of sentences, concepts, learning, and thought.


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, 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).

Secondly, this field of study seeks to better understand what speakers and listeners do with language in communication, and how it is used socially. Specific interests include the topics of language learning, language creation, and speech acts.

Thirdly, 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 of words and concepts into their equivalents in another language.

Finally, philosophers of language investigate how language and meaning relate to truth 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.[citation needed]

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