D. Cole  September 1999



Main theories of Language:


I. Language is

1. an expressive representation system:

a) communicates ideas / concepts / beliefs / thoughts

b) communicates speaker intention

2. a tool for behavior control; social coordination device

3. an autonomous meaning system - meaning created by the structure of language itself, not its relations to other things

4. a world representation system: represents states of affairs in the (largely) mind-independent world


[are same possibilities possible with Visual Art?  seems so…]


II. Main Aspects of Language:

1. syntax : relation of symbols to symbols; grammar    (descriptive vs. normative)

          1a. phonology - sound patterns of spoken language

2. semantics: meaning; relation of symbols to meanings

3. pragmatics: language use; relation of symbols to symbol users

          3a. speech act theory

3b. language understanding and comprehension



III. Theories of Meaning:

Mentalist I: natural language sentences stand for ideas   (Locke)

Mentalist II: meaning is speaker intent (Grice)

Realist Externalism: natural language stands for states of affairs in the world (minds are parts of the world);  some form of Correspondence theory of Truth

            Frege: in addition to referring to states of affairs, sentences have a “sense” (sinn)

Internalism:           Meaning comes from relations between linguistic elements  language  is autonomous meaning system (Saussere)

Meaning is use: Wittgenstein

Meaning is disposition to respond:  Functional Role Semantics (FRS)


Another way of categorizing: Producer Side (first 3); Autonomous (4th); Communicative role (language game, 5th); Consumer side (last)

IV. Theories of Truth:

1. Correspondence theory

2. Coherence theory

3. Eliminativist theory (redundancy or pleonastic  theory)




V.Theories of Language Learning


1. Empiricist / Behaviorist: languages are learned based on stimulus and response; open-ended what form they might take; use general learning capacity (shared with animals) (Skinner)

2. Nativist -innate knowledge: there is innate knowledge of possible grammars  (Chomsky)

3. Nativist - dispositional: there are innate constraints on possible grammars, but the innate aptitude does not amount to knowledge of grammar  (M. Devitt)


VI. Theories of Language understanding

1. Classical Empiricist, mentalistic, imagistic:

understanding = having ideas corresponding to speaker   (Locke)

2.  Behaviorist - consists in learned responses   (Wittgenstein; Skinner)

understanding = appropriate response

3. intentional     understanding = recognizing speaker’s intent   (Grice)

4. Nativist - Mentalese     understanding = correct translation into Mentalese (Fodor, Pinker)

5. Biological uniqueness - Searle   

understanding = knowing truth conditions; not functional/behaioral

6. Language itself as medium of thought: Whorf,  Carruthers , Cole (imagistic)

Understanding = truth conditions = knowing when it is appropriate to token