Philosophy of language

discipline of philosophy that deals with language and meaning

Philosophy of language is the study of how languages were created and are used. It is part of Linguistics. In continental philosophy, it is not treated as a subject by itself, but Ludwig Wittgenstein and other analytic philosophers placed particular stress on it.


Like all philosophies, there are some central questions that are important in philosophy of language:

  • What does it mean for a word to mean something ? Why do some words have the same meaning ? How can we ever know if a word means something or not ? Why are some orderings of words meaningful, while others are not ?
  • How are languages learnt ? How do they change ?
  • How important are languages in communication ?
  • How do we translate from one language into another ?
  • What does truth have to do with language ?

History Ancient Greek Plato was the first philosopher we know was interested in philosophy of language although his teacher Socrates probably was too He believed that the smallest parts of words phonemes had meaning even if they were outside the words they are in This is not a very good theory and Plato understood that there were things wrong with it The Stoics also made a complicated philosophy of The Middle Ages The medieval scholars, such as William Occam also were interested in philosophy of language Occam was the first philosopher to think about the possibility of a mental language He also discussed how a word can refer to both its meaning and the actual word itself Modernity Philosophy of language only became more popular in the twentieth century, when Ferdinand de Saussure wrote his book Course in general linguistics Since then philosophy of language has played an important part in philosophy as a whole