The nature of language

Basic Information

Course 2017/2018
Indrek Reiland
Department of Philosophy
Universitat de Barcelona
Module 4. Language and Mind


Wednesdays, 12:00-15-00
UB, Philosophy Faculty, room 410


In this course we will get intimately acquainted with contemporary philosophy of language. We will study both classical and current foundational work on reference, propositional content, linguistic meaning, and language, trying to find answers to questions like: How to think about propositional content? What is it for an expression to have a linguistic meaning?; and, What is it to say something or perform other speech acts?

A detailed syllabus will be distributed on the first day of classes.


This will be a mixture of a lecture and a seminar. There will be one or more readings for each session and in class the lecturer will situate them and explain the background and we will discuss the details.


 Assignments and Grading:

  • Participation
  • Coming to class while having read and thought about the reading is mandatory
  • Participation is worth 10% of your final grade (total 10%)
  • 4 homework assignments
  • Due W3, W5, W8, W10, in class
  • 3-4 questions, 300-800 words
  • Each assignment is worth 15% of your final grade (total 60%)
  • Final paper: 7-10 pages
  • The paper is worth 30% of your final grade (total 30%)

You must complete all assignments to pass the course. Late/makeup assignments are allowed only for a very good reason. If possible, contact me beforehand and ask for an extension or a makeup. If not, contact me as soon as you can afterwards. Being late without a good reason will lead to a grade reduction by a grade for each day.


Intended Learning Outcomes:  


CB6 – Students should be able to critically understand central texts about linguistics and the philosophy of language in a way that puts them in a position to develop and apply original ideas. 

CB9 - Students should be able to communicate their knowledge and their arguments to specialized audiences in a clear and articulate way.  

CG2. Students should be able to design, create, develop and undertake new and innovative projects in their area of ​​expertise. 

CG3. Students should be able to engage both in general and specific discussions about topics relating to the nature of language. They should be able to conduct a philosophical discussion (orally and in written form), by putting forward, for example, general arguments or specific examples, in support of one’s position. 

CG4. Students should be able to work both independently and in a team, in an international environment. 

CG5. Students should be able to identify methodological errors, rhetorical, conventional and uncritical assumptions, vagueness and superficiality. 

CE1. Students should be able to critically engage with the concepts and methods of contemporary philosophy of language.

CE2. Students should be able to identify the core arguments and theories of contemporary philosophy of language.

CE4. Students should be able to assess the writings of leading contemporary philosophers in the field of philosophy of language.

CE5. Students should be able to identify and critically engage with the current state of a particular philosophical debate, and form a reasoned view, even if provisional, about it.


 (Readings might be subject to changes):


Reference & Propositional Content


W1, 04.10: Introduction

Heim & Kratzer, from Semantics in Generative Grammar, Soames, Ch. 2


W2, 11.10: Frege, Reference, and Sense

Frege, “On Sense and Reference”, “Thought”, Soames, Ch. 1, pp. 7-20


W3, 18.10: Russell, Quantification, and Descriptions

Russell, “On Denoting”, Strawson “On Referring”, Soames, Ch. 1, pp. 20-32

Assignment 1


W4, 25.10: Anti-Descriptivism and Direct Reference

Kripke, from Naming and Necessity, Evans, from Varieties of Reference, Soames, Ch. 3, Ch. 4, pp. 77-91


W5, 1.11: Propositional Content

Hanks, from Propositional Content, Moltmann, “Propositions, Attitudinal Objects, and the Distinction between Actions and Products”, Soames, Ch. 5

Assignment 2


Linguistic Meaning & Language


W6, 8.11: Context-Sensitivity

Kaplan, from “Demonstratives”, Soames, Ch. 4, pp. 93-105, Ch. 7,


W7, 15.11: Mood and Speech Acts

Stenius “Mood and Language Game”, Austin, How to Do Things With Words, VIII, Dummett, “Mood, Force, and Convention”, Recanati, from Meaning and Force


W8, 22.11: Expressives and Pejoratives

Kaplan “The Meaning of Ouch and Oops”, Potts, from the Logic of Conventional Implicature, Jeshion “Expressivism and the Offensiveness of Slurs”

Assignment 3

W9, 29.11: Language I: Idiolects and Public Languages

Lewis “Languages and Language”, Heck “Idiolects”, Dummett “Language and Communication”


W10, 6.12: Language II: Against Languages

Davidson “Communication and Convention”, “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs”, Lepore & Ludwig “The Reality of Language”, Chomsky, “Language and Nature”, Stainton “In Defense of Public Languages”

Assignment 4


W11, 13.12:Wrap-Up

No Reading

Other considerations


I want this class to be accessible and enjoyable to all students. If you believe that there are barriers to your effectively participating please meet with me to talk about academic accommodations (preferably in the first few weeks).