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Philosophy of Language

What is the Philosophy of Language

Language is an essential component of human life. This notion gives more importance to language and motivates researchers and language philosophers for a better understanding of language that how language fits into human activities, like communication, the transmission of knowledge, how the speech acts are used or can be used to fulfil various aims.

Analytical philosophy

 Analytical Philosophy of Language is the study of nature, meaning, and origin of the language, as well as the relationship between language, language users, and the reality is also studied in the Analytical Philosophy of Language. It investigates the meaning, intention, reference, constitution of sentences, concepts, learning, and thoughts used in language.

Continental philosophy

 Continental philosophy does not consider the language to study as a separate field of study. Moreover, the Continental philosophers say it is an inseparable part of the thought, such as Phenomenology, structural semantics, deconstruction, existentialism, hermeneutics, and critical theory.

History of the Philosophy of Language

 The historical development in the field of philosophy of language can be identified in ancient times. In subcontinent and ancient Greece, linguistic suppositions made runway for the analytic tradition of systematic description of language. In this way, a systematic description of language emerged in India in the 7th century B.C. in the Era of YASKA, while in Greece, these developments were made in 3rd century B.C. in the Era of Rhyanus. These early covered works in the language were mostly done by Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, and Stoics.

Philosophy of Language
Language Philosophy

Plato’s View on Language

Plato had a view regarding the names of things that these are by nature. Every phoneme in a language which makes changes in the meaning of words represents the basic ideas of sentiments. While convention only plays a tiny part in the play. According to him, naive names of things or morphemes have natural accuracy as each phoneme represents a basic idea or sentiment. After some time, He accepted the reality that there are also some social conventions involved, the idea that phonemes have particular meaning is faulty.

 Aristotle’s View on Language

 Aristotle’s concern was focused on the logic, categories, and meaning creation. He individualized various things into types and varieties. According to him, the meaning of predicate is established through an abstraction of resemblances between different things. Moreover, the purpose of the predicate is constituted by a conception of the similarities among various individuals things. Furthermore, this theory later was known as Nominalism. Aristotle’s contribution that the commonality of form forms these resemblances brands him the supporter of modern realism.

Read also: Multimodality

Scotics philosophers’ role was very important in the analysis of grammar and identification of essential five parts of speech as nouns, verbs, appellatives, conjunctions, and articles. They developed a very sophisticated term “Lekton”. this Doctrine was linked with each sign of language but was distinct from the sign as well as thing itself.’lekton’ gave the importance to the concept of the proposition of a sentence.  Prepositions were considered the truth bearer or truth vehicles. While sentences were only their vehicle of facial expression, various lekta can express things besides prepositions; such s command exclamation, questions.

Nevertheless, Linguistic philosophy properly originated from the early medieval Indian Philosophy. Western Scholars of Medieval times used the term ‘Scientia sermocinalis’ for logic, which means Science of Language”. 

Philosophy of Language and Renaissance

In the Renaissance period, the linguists were particularly interested in the idea of philosophical language or the universal language. These scholars were also influenced by the gradual discovery in the West of Chinese characters and Egyptian hieroglyphs.

In the late 19th century language started to play a more critical role in western philosophy. And when Cours de Linguistique générale” was published by the Ferdinand de Saussure (1857 – 1913), it became more prominent in the field of philosophy for a time, in the 20th century philosophical branches of Analytic Philosophy and Ordinary Language Philosophy, circles. Philosophy as a whole was understood to be purely a matter of Philosophy of Language. In the 20th century language became the more prominent figure within the most diverse traditions of philosophy. And a new term ‘Linguistic turn’ was used as a title of a book on the philosophy of language.

Philosophy of Language
Philosophy of Language and renaissance

Philosophy of Language in Modern Era

In modern Philosophical developments, the contribution of Noam Chomsky is remarkable. His primary focus was on the role of Grammar and Syntax as a characteristic of any language. According to Chomsky, humans are born with an innate understanding, and he named it “Universal Grammar.” Prior knowledge of the language helps the child in language learning. He introduces the terms of Competence and performance. Competence is the knowledge and capabilities of a person regarding language while performance is the actual use of those capabilities and expertise into practical form.

In 1950 W.V. O Quine focused on the uncertainty of the meaning and reference, based on the principle of radical translation and used a new term ‘Semantic Holism which describes that meanings are not something that is associated with a single word or sentence but only can be attributed to a whole language.

Read also: What is structuralism

Furthermore, the most modern concept in the Philosophy of Language is Intentionality. It is also called aboutness as somethings are about other things. This concept mostly deals with beliefs, fears, hopes, desires. Because these are intentional concepts, and everyone who follows these must have a motive or object by following them.

There are many other theories and approaches as Conceptual meanings, Associative meanings, Truth-conditional theories, Semantic externalism or Reference theories Verificationist theories, Pragmatist theories, mediated reference theory, Functions, Innatism, Connectionist models, Nativist models, Computation models, Emergentist models, Reductionist models etc. These theories helped the language learners and Language scholars to understand the real function and participation of language in our society, relations, and also with cognition.


  1. “Philosophy of language”. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-11-14.
  2. “Philosophy of Language”. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2019-09-22.
  3. Jump up to:ab c David Kreps, Bergson, Complexity and Creative Emergence, Springer, 2015, p. 92.

Blackburn, S. “History of the Philosophy of Language”. In Oxford Companion to Philosophy. ed. Ted Honderich. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1995. ISBN 0-19-866132-0

Written  & Reviewed by: Muhammad Asad Kasra,


M.Phil Scholar, Riphah Institute of Language and Literature, Riphah International University Lahore, Pakistan.


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