Philosophy of Language

Philosophy of Language

Philosophy of language is an extraordinarily rich field. It has a history stretching back, in the Western tradition, to the preSocratics.

Course code: PH0006

Professor: Dr. Joseph Thomas Ekong


Upon a careful observation, language constitutes an interplay of levels; syntax, lexis, graphology, phonology, and semantics. While the first four levels entail choices, the last level provides an interpretative framework for the meaning outcomes of the choices. Practical criticism and stylistics lend themselves to the analysis of the language used in a particular text, discipline, collection of works, genre, with the goal of collating the special features which distinguish one kind of communication from the others. Philosophy of language is an extraordinarily rich field. It has a history stretching back, in the Western tradition, to the preSocratics. And, in the last century or so, it has been of central concern in both the AngloAmerican and Continental traditions. Basically, this course is expected to address selected topics in 20th century analytic philosophy of language, such as: meaning, reference, naming, truth, speech acts, propositional attitudes, translation, and the nature of linguistic representation, etc. In analytic philosophy, philosophy of language investigates the nature of language and the relations between language, language users, and the world. Investigations may include inquiry into the nature of meaning, intentionality, reference, the constitution of sentences, concepts, learning, and thought. Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell were pivotal figures in analytic philosophy's "linguistic turn". These writers were followed by Ludwig Wittgenstein (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus), the Vienna Circle, logical positivists, and Willard Van Orman Quine.


Apart from quizzes and examination for the course, students are required to write a thoughtpaper, on the thought-question asked. This is for the students’ self-study, and may not be submitted for grading. The thought-paper should not simply be a summary of the assigned texts, but an opportunity for the students to explore their thoughts, ideas and insights regarding the epistemological and scientific issues under consideration. Students should conclude their thought-papers with questions or recommendations for future research. Please, note that the thought-papers are essentially for self-study of the students, and will not be submitted for grading. But, in addition to the thought papers, students shall submit a final research paper. The final research paper should be approximately 12-15 pages, double-spaced, about 4,500-6,000 words in length, in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the course. This requirement is for the Master’s level students. But, for the bachelor’s level students, a 5-6 page construction paper suffices. The paper should be consistent with an academic manual of reference (Chicago; MLA; Humanities style), using footnotes or endnotes and bibliography. Topics and approaches may vary according to one’s personal interests and research goals. Essay topics could be based on any of the questions presented made in the thought-papers, or on any other moral theme consistent with the contents and objectives of the course.  As the major single assignment in the course, the final research paper allows students to appropriate the course to their interests, even while applying what they are learning through regular readings and discussions. Hence, unified paragraphs, judicious use of headings and sub-headings, as well as clear thesis statements, are encouraged. Also, a conclusion that reiterates one’s established thesis, can facilitate the clarity of one’s stance on the subject of discussion, and serve as a common-sense way of ensuring that the paper actually achieves what the thesis statement promised to achieve. This will be submitted for grading, at the end of the course. 

Academic Integrity

The requirements of academic integrity preclude the unacknowledged use of other people’s words and ideas in one’s own writing. Such use is known as “plagiarism” and should be avoided. Academic integrity does not preclude discussions on readings, brainstorming, or mutual assistance in formulating approaches to assignments. However, collaboration must end, when each student begins writing. One’s written work, must be really one’s own.


  1. To focus on language from a philosophical point of view and to articulate the various philosophical issues in the discourse on language.
  2. To identify the connections between philosophy and language as areas of human study.
  3. To trace the historical development of the philosophical concerns with language through the various periods of the development of philosophy.
  4. To itemize the various dimensions of meaning, bearing in mind that meaning is a major concern in the philosophy of language.
  5. To enumerate the various theories of meaning in the philosophy of language and discuss the reference theory of meaning as a theory that enjoys popular attention in the philosophy of language.
  6. To know the arguments for private language as it interests philosophers within the context of language us; explain the idea of the language of thought in the philosophy of language, and show how metaphors constitutes a problem in the philosophy of language.


  1. The ability to use formal logic as an effective tool in the analysis and understanding of natural languages.
  2. The awareness of the reality of indeterminacy of meaning and reference based on the principle of radical translation and semantic holism.
  3. The capacity to wrestle with and solve the paradox of vagueness of words, by way of n-valued logics, such as fuzzy logic, a form of many-valued logic, in which the truth value of a variable may be any real number between 0 and 1.
  4. The consciousness that languages are thought of as sign-systems in a semiotic tradition, dating from John Locke and culminating in Saussure's notion of language as semiology: an interactive system of a semantic and symbolic
  5. A succinct understanding of what speakers and listeners do with language in communication, and how language is used socially, especially in methodic speech acts.


CHAPTER ONE: Philosophy of Language and Linguistic Philosophy: A Historical Introduction

CHAPTER TWO:  Language, Metaphysics and Ontology

CHAPTER THREE:  Language and Mind, Truth and Meaning

3.1: The Representational Theory of the Mind
3.2: Some Stipulations about Language and the Theory of the Mind
3.3: Did Language and the Theory of the Mind Co-Evolve?
3.4: Co-evolution with coincidental Parallelisms
3.5: Co-evolution due to a Correlation between Variables and Mutual Causal Influence
3.6: Truth and Meaning
3.7: Theories of Truth

CHAPTER FOUR:  Reference, Language and Logic

4.1: Introduction
4.2: Definition
4.3: Logical Realism, Ambiguity, and Logical Connectives
4.4: The Deductive System
4.5: The Role of Semantics
4.6: Truth Assignment Function/Interpretation
4.7: The Language of Natural Numbers

CHAPTER FIVE:  Formal Semantics, Pragmatics and Speech Act Theory

5.1: Formal Semantics
5.2: Pragmatics and Speech Act Theory

CHAPTER SIX: Conclusion