From beginner-friendly introductions to comprehensive textbooks on the philosophy of language, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on the philosophy of language. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on the philosophy of language in no particular order.
Philosophy of Language – Scott Soames
Publisher description: In this book one of the world’s foremost philosophers of language presents his unifying vision of the field–its principal achievements, its most pressing current questions, and its most promising future directions. In addition to explaining the progress philosophers have made toward creating a theoretical framework for the study of language, Scott Soames investigates foundational concepts–such as truth, reference, and meaning–that are central to the philosophy of language and important to philosophy as a whole. The first part of the book describes how philosophers from Frege, Russell, Tarski, and Carnap to Kripke, Kaplan, and Montague developed precise techniques for understanding the languages of logic and mathematics, and how these techniques have been refined and extended to the study of natural human languages. The book then builds on this account, exploring new thinking about propositions, possibility, and the relationship between meaning, assertion, and other aspects of language use. …
Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction – William G Lycan
Publisher description: Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction introduces the student to the main issues and theories in twentieth century philosophy of language, focusing specifically on linguistic phenomena.
Topics are structured in four parts in the book. Part I, Reference and Referring Expressions, includes topics such as Russell’s Theory of Desciptions, Donnellan’s distinction, problems of anaphora, the description theory of proper names, Searle’s cluster theory, and the causal-historical theory. Part II, Theories of Meaning, surveys the competing theories of linguistic meaning and compares their various advantages and liabilities. Part III, Pragmatics and Speech Acts, introduces the basic concepts of linguistic pragmatics, includes a detailed discussion of the problem of indirect force and surveys approaches to metaphor. Part IV, new to this edition, examines the four theories of metaphor.
The Philosophy of Language – Martinich & Sosa
Publisher description: What is meaning? How is linguistic communication possible? What is the nature of language? What is the relationship between language and the world? How do metaphors work? The Philosophy of Language, Sixth Edition, is an excellent introduction to such fundamental questions.
Incorporating insights from new coeditor David Sosa, the sixth edition collects forty-eight of the most important articles in the field, making it the most up-to-date and comprehensive volume on the subject. …
The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language – Lepore & Smith
Publisher description: Ernie Lepore and Barry Smith present the definitive reference work for this diverse and fertile field of philosophy. A superb international team contribute more than forty brand-new essays covering topics from the nature of language to meaning, truth, and reference, and the interfaces of philosophy of language with linguistics, psychology, logic, epistemology, and metaphysics. It will be an essential resource for anyone working in the central areas of philosophy, for linguists interested in syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, and for psychologists and cognitive scientists working on language.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Philosophy of Language – Amherst College
- Philosophy of Language – University of California San Diego
- Philosophy of Language – Michigan State University
- Philosophy of Language – University of Nevada
- Philosophy of Language – Rutgers University
- The best books on The Philosophy of Language recommended by Scott Soames
- Quintessential ‘philosophy of language’ texts?
- Can anyone recommend a good intro to Philosophy of Language book?
- What is a good introductory book on the philosophy of language?
- What is the best book to get a comprehensive overview of the philosophy of language?
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Books on Analytic Philosophy
- The Best Philosophy Books on Truth
Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.
The Daily Idea aims to make learning about philosophy as easy as possible by bringing together the best philosophy resources from across the internet. To get started, check out this organized collection of 400+ articles, podcasts, and videos on a wide range of philosophical topics.
A Collection of the Greatest Philosophical Quotations
A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.