Philosophy of Language

Course time: 
Monday/Thursday 1:30-3:20 PM
The 90, Room 219

Though meaning is clearly constrained by grammar, most theorists maintain that what we communicate depends on extra linguistic factors, in particular, on speaker’s referential and communicative intentions; correspondingly interpretation depends on the epistemic cues that help make this intention prominent. For instance, what one says with “Can I have a french toast?” differs if we are discussing my medical conditions or the choice from the menu. Similarly, what one says with “Give me that” pointing at a cup, and pointing at a book is different.  The hearer’s action and the speaker’s expectations of the hearer’s action upon uttering these words likewise differ depending on the circumstanes. The received wisdom is that it is speakers’ intentions that determine the meaning, and the interpretation involves exploitation of contextual cues that make the intentions prominent.

In this course, we will examine a way of resisting the orthodoxy. Building on Lepore and Stone (2015), Stojnic (2016) and Stojnic at al. (2016), we shall explore the view that grammar is more pervasive than has been assumed; indeed, that meaning is fully a matter of linguistic convention. It is the rules of language—in particular, rules that govern how discourses are built out of component expressions—that render a particular object prominent in a given context, and this is what determines what ‘that’ picks out. Similarly, it is the rules of language that determine whether the utterance is expressing a question or an indirect request.  In both cases, in recovering the interpretation a narrow set of linguistic cues is exploited.

The course will explore this general approach through the following set of case studies:

  1. Context-sensitivity and context-sensitivity resolution
  2. Conventional Implicature
  3. Modals and Conditionals
  4. Indirect speech
  5. What is said

Partial Bibliography

Imagination and Convention, E. Lepore and M. Stone, 2015, Oxford University Press.
Context Sensitivity in a Coherent Discourse, dissertation, 2016, U Stojnic.
“Deixis without Pointing,” U. Stojnic, M. Stone, and E. Lepore, 2013, Philosophical Perspectives.
“Discourse and Logical Form”, U. Stojnic, M. Stone, and E. Lepore, 2017, forthcoming, Linguistics and Philosophy.