What Is Language?

Words are not (except in their own little corner) facts or things: we need therefore to prise them off the world, to hold them apart from and against it, so that we can realize their inadequacies and arbitrariness, and can re-look at the world without blinkers.

- J. L. Austin, Philosophical Papers

Podcast of the Day

Ever since John Locke described a child's mind as like a blank slate philosophers have been debating the question of whether or not we have some kind of innate ability to learn language and a universal grammar that all languages share. Daniel Everett has extensive knowledge of the Piraha, an Amazonian people with a very unusual language (there are approximately 700 speakers of Piraha). In this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast he discusses the wider conclusions that he believes can be drawn from the Piraha language.

Listen to Daniel Everett on the Nature of Language

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Poets, historians, scientists, philosophers – we all seek to capture the world in a net of language. Yet it is the nature of nets to capture some things while letting others slip away. Our words turn experiences into objects, qualities and actions, and we can build these into a kind of structure, a tower reaching into the sky – but towers can go only so far, and there are always the negative spaces surrounding the structure and its beams. What is left unsaid speaks volumes.

We might resign ourselves to this fact – the inescapable limits of what’s sayable – but in fact a great many minds have sought to construct a perfect language, one that carves reality at its joints, and captures the whole shebang of human experience...

Continue reading Charlie Huenemann's article: Who needs a perfect language? It’s already perfectly imperfect 

Further Reading

Those who use the term "philosophy of language" typically use it to refer to work within the field of Anglo-American analytical philosophy and its roots in German and Austrian philosophy of the early twentieth century. Many philosophers outside this tradition have views on the nature and use of language, and the border between "analytical" and "continental" philosophy is becoming more porous with time, but most who speak of this field are appealing to a specific set of traditions, canonical authors and methods. The article takes this more narrow focus in order to describe a tradition's history, but readers should bear in mind this restriction of scope.

The history of the philosophy of language in the analytical tradition begins with advances in logic and with tensions within traditional accounts of the mind and its contents at the end of the nineteenth century. A revolution of sorts resulted from these developments, often known as the "Linguistic Turn" in philosophy. However, its early programs ran into serious difficulties by mid-twentieth century, and significant changes in direction came about as a result....

Continue reading the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the Philosophy of Language by Michael P. Wolf

Bonus Webcomic

Philosophy as Therapy - Existential Comics

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