PHIL 3029 - Philosophy of Language

North Terrace Campus - Semester 1 - 2018

Language is one of the most distinctive and pervasive features of human life. But its theoretical foundations are still a matter of great controversy. These controversies often lie dormant in ordinary life, only coming to the fore we try to understand precisely how some piece of language works. (This happens a lot in philosophy, where the examination of arguments involves teasing out the precise meaning of the sentences involved.) The nature of meaning has been of interest to philosophers since Plato, but the development of precise theories of meaning really accelerated in the twentieth century, with contributions from philosophers, logicians, and linguists. This course reflects the interdisciplinary history of the subject, though drawing primarily on linguistics and philosophy. We will look at a number of foundational issues about the nature of meaning. We will investigate the meanings of interesting classes of English expressions, such as: proper names (`Alice?), kind terms (`gold?), descriptions (`the most diligent student?), indexicals and demonstratives (`here?, `there?), and modal auxiliaries (`must?). We will look at the meaning of complex sentences, as well as whether there are any aspects what is communicated by a sentence beyond what it literally means. Finally, we turn to the question of language and thought ? does the language we speak constrain the thoughts we can think and the beliefs we can have?

  • General Course Information
    Course Details
    Course Code PHIL 3029
    Course Philosophy of Language
    Coordinating Unit Philosophy
    Term Semester 1
    Level Undergraduate
    Location/s North Terrace Campus
    Units 3
    Contact At least 3 hours per week
    Available for Study Abroad and Exchange Y
    Prerequisites At least 6 units of Level II study, including 3 units of Philosophy or Linguistics.
    Incompatible PHIL 2043; PHIL 2015; PHIL 3015
    Course Description Language is one of the most distinctive and pervasive features of human life. But its theoretical foundations are still a matter of great controversy. These controversies often lie dormant in ordinary life, only coming to the fore we try to understand precisely how some piece of language works. (This happens a lot in philosophy, where the examination of arguments involves teasing out the precise meaning of the sentences involved.) The nature of meaning has been of interest to philosophers since Plato, but the development of precise theories of meaning really accelerated in the twentieth century, with contributions from philosophers, logicians, and linguists. This course reflects the interdisciplinary history of the subject, though drawing primarily on linguistics and philosophy. We will look at a number of foundational issues about the nature of meaning. We will investigate the meanings of interesting classes of English expressions, such as: proper names (`Alice?), kind terms (`gold?), descriptions (`the most diligent student?), indexicals and demonstratives (`here?, `there?), and modal auxiliaries (`must?). We will look at the meaning of complex sentences, as well as whether there are any aspects what is communicated by a sentence beyond what it literally means. Finally, we turn to the question of language and thought ? does the language we speak constrain the thoughts we can think and the beliefs we can have?
    Course Staff

    Course Coordinator: Dr Antony Eagle

    Course Timetable

    The full timetable of all activities for this course can be accessed from Course Planner.

  • Learning Outcomes
    Course Learning Outcomes
    This course aims to help students:

    1. Gain familiarity with the main positions on at least some of the following issues in the philosophy of language and formal semantics: meaning, reference, names, descriptions, semantic content, sentences and propositions, context-sensitivity, compositionality, pragmatics, and the influence of language on thought.
    2. Develop an understanding of several philosophical theories of meaning and reference, and related issues in pragmatics and formal semantics, including direct reference theory, descriptivism, Russell’s theory of descriptions, internalism and externalism about semantic content, temporalism and eternalism about propositions, Gricean pragmatics, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.
    3. Display critical understanding of the main philosophical views in recent and contemporary philosophy of language regarding the hypotheses mentioned in LO2.
    4. Acquire the ability to analyse texts from contemporary analytic philosophers and linguistic semanticists on philosophy of language and formal semantics, and extract the relevant arguments from them.
    5. Acquire the ability to identify and use relevant evidence to provide reasons for and against the adoption of various positions in the philosophical debates over language and semantics.
    6. Display facility in the construction of well-argued and appropriately referenced written arguments supporting a particular position in the philosophy of language or formal semantics.
    7. Refine their ability to grasp extended complex oral arguments, and to pay sustained attention to philosophical discourse.
    University Graduate Attributes

    This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attribute(s) specified below:

    University Graduate Attribute Course Learning Outcome(s)
    Deep discipline knowledge
    • informed and infused by cutting edge research, scaffolded throughout their program of studies
    • acquired from personal interaction with research active educators, from year 1
    • accredited or validated against national or international standards (for relevant programs)
    1-3, 6
    Critical thinking and problem solving
    • steeped in research methods and rigor
    • based on empirical evidence and the scientific approach to knowledge development
    • demonstrated through appropriate and relevant assessment
    3-5
    Teamwork and communication skills
    • developed from, with, and via the SGDE
    • honed through assessment and practice throughout the program of studies
    • encouraged and valued in all aspects of learning
    4-“7
    Intercultural and ethical competency
    • adept at operating in other cultures
    • comfortable with different nationalities and social contexts
    • Able to determine and contribute to desirable social outcomes
    • demonstrated by study abroad or with an understanding of indigenous knowledges
    1,2
  • Learning Resources
    Required Resources
    There is one text assigned for this course:

    Elbourne, Paul (2011) Meaning: A Slim Guide to Semantics. Oxford University Press, 978-0-199-69662-8.

    Students should acquire this text before semester begins; chapter 1 is required reading before the first meeting of the course.
    Online Learning
    Required resources will be supplemented by further articles and chapters supplied through an online content list via MyUni.

    Lecture notes and lecture recordings, tutorial questions, and assignments will all be made available through MyUni.
  • Learning & Teaching Activities
    Learning & Teaching Modes
    The primary mode of teaching delivery in this course is the lecture-seminar; this provides support and scaffolding for student engagement with the assigned readings, and provides overall narrative structure to the course and assignments. This course meets for one 2 hour lecture-seminar per week. The lecture component includes informal class discussion and active learning elements. 

    In addition to lecture-seminars, students are expected to attend one workshop each week. The workshop component is structured as a ‘jigsaw’ classroom, where the class is divided into three groups who discuss questions set in advance (different questions for each group) for 20 minutes, then divide into groups of three, each containing one representative from each of the initial groups, to share the results of those group discussions.  Whether this model succeeds will depend on student engagment.

    Workload

    The information below is provided as a guide to assist students in engaging appropriately with the course requirements.

    WorkloadTotal Hours per semester
    Structured Learning
    1 x 2 hour lecture per week 24
    1 x 1 hour workshop, 12 per semester 12
    Self-directed Learning
    Required reading (6 hours per week) 72
    Research (2 hours per week) 24
    Assignment preparation (2 hours per week) 24
    TOTAL 156
    ​
    Learning Activities Summary
    A detailed syllabus will be made available via MyUni before the beginning of semester. Here is the weekly breakdown of topics.

    Week 1: What is Meaning?
    Are the meanings of words definitions? Or concepts? Or something else? What about the meanings of sentences?

    Week 2: Referentialism and Internalism
    We look more closely at the debate over whether the meanings of words are concepts/ideas or properties, with particular reference to proper names like Antony and natural kind terms like gold.

    Week 3: Proper Names
    We investigate two theories of proper names: descriptivism, the theory that the meaning of a name like Aristotle is given by a description like the greatest philosopher of antiquity; and direct reference, the view that the meaning of a name is the thing it denotes.

    Week 4: Lexical Semantics
    Special features arise when we consider the meanings of words: issues about synonymy, ambiguity, and vagueness are our focus.

    Week 5: The Nature of Propositions
    What are the meanings of sentences? We look at the strengths and weakness of the view that the meaning of sentence is a set of possible worlds (those, intuitively, in which those sentences would be true).

    Week 6: Negative Polarity Items
    We investigate the semantics of words like any, which can only appear in the scope of ‘negative’ expressions. (E.g., compare I never have any money with *I always have any money.) We investigate whether explaining this phenomenon provides reasons for thinking that propositions are sets of possible worlds.

    Week 7: Presupposition and Definite Descriptions
    John has stopped drinking appears to assume that John once drank; how can we explain this notion of presupposition? It can also be applied in the analysis of definite descriptions like the man drinking a martini.

    Week 8: Ambiguity and Compositionality
    We focus this week on the structure of sentences, and the linguistic principle that the meaning of a complex sentence should be systemantically composed out of the meanings of its simpler constituents in line with its syntactic structure.

    Week 9: Indexicals and Context
    Some words vary in their meaning from context to context, but in a systematic way. Here, for example, means different places in different utterances. So how can a theory of meaning accomodate such things?

    Week 10: Implicature and Speech Acts
    A sentence can be used, in context, to communicate things that it does not literally entail. Can we give a systematic account of how this works? A sentence can also be used to do things (consider I name this ship the Endurance) – how?

    Week 11: Intensional Constructions
    Some complex sentences have a truth value that is determined not just by the actual present referents of their simpler constituents, but by their merely possible referents, or previous referents. We will investigate some of these constructions.

    Week 12: Language and Thought
    Lots of people believe that the language we speak constrains the thoughts we can think. We’ll see if this is true.
    Small Group Discovery Experience
    Small group discovery is incorporated into weekly workshops, where after initial larger group discussions, students break out into groups of three or four to share the results of that larger group discussions, and learn from peers about the results of discussions in other groups. (Groups are set different topics, so the small break out groups is a place for students not in a group to learn from peers about the content discussed in that group.) These activities build skills in accurate recording, summarisation, presentation, and communication, and are student led in terms of focus and content. The lecturer roams the workshop meeting with each group individually to take note of discussion and to suggest questions for further discussion.
  • Assessment

    The University's policy on Assessment for Coursework Programs is based on the following four principles:

    1. Assessment must encourage and reinforce learning.
    2. Assessment must enable robust and fair judgements about student performance.
    3. Assessment practices must be fair and equitable to students and give them the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned.
    4. Assessment must maintain academic standards.

    Assessment Summary
    Assessment TaskTypeWeightCourse Learning Outcomes
    Short Essay Summative/Formative 30% 1–6
    Research Essay Summative/Formative 55% 1–6
    Small group discovery (class discussion) tasks Formative/Summative 15% 1–5
    ​
    Assessment Detail
    Short Essay: Essay of ~1250 words covering a topic from the first part of the course. Essays will be expected to focus on prescribed course material. 30% weighting.
    Research Essay: Essay of ~2500 words covering a topic from the course, or by negotiation. Essays will be expected to go beyond prescribed course material and will require further research. 55% weighting.
    Small group discovery tasks: Students engage in interaction with peers in both small and large groups, including answering prior set questions online, discussing answers with group, taking note of large group discussion, presenting large group discussion results to small group, etc. Evaluated over the course of the semester. 15% weighting.
    Submission
    All essays must be submitted electronically through MyUni. Please do not submit a hard copy of your essay. In this course, work will be submitted and marked through Turnitin. If you are not familiar with the Turnitin process, you may want to access the relevant MyUni support tutorial. It is your responsibility to submit assessments correctly.

    Essays are marked using an electronic rubric, in line with the University’s official grade descriptors. You will be able to access the electronic rubric used for marking from the Turnitin assignment page, and you should familiarise yourself with the rubric while writing your essay.
    Course Grading

    Grades for your performance in this course will be awarded in accordance with the following scheme:

    M10 (Coursework Mark Scheme)
    Grade Mark Description
    FNS   Fail No Submission
    F 1-49 Fail
    P 50-64 Pass
    C 65-74 Credit
    D 75-84 Distinction
    HD 85-100 High Distinction
    CN   Continuing
    NFE   No Formal Examination
    RP   Result Pending

    Further details of the grades/results can be obtained from Examinations.

    Grade Descriptors are available which provide a general guide to the standard of work that is expected at each grade level. More information at Assessment for Coursework Programs.

    Final results for this course will be made available through Access Adelaide.

  • Student Feedback

    The University places a high priority on approaches to learning and teaching that enhance the student experience. Feedback is sought from students in a variety of ways including on-going engagement with staff, the use of online discussion boards and the use of Student Experience of Learning and Teaching (SELT) surveys as well as GOS surveys and Program reviews.

    SELTs are an important source of information to inform individual teaching practice, decisions about teaching duties, and course and program curriculum design. They enable the University to assess how effectively its learning environments and teaching practices facilitate student engagement and learning outcomes. Under the current SELT Policy (http://www.adelaide.edu.au/policies/101/) course SELTs are mandated and must be conducted at the conclusion of each term/semester/trimester for every course offering. Feedback on issues raised through course SELT surveys is made available to enrolled students through various resources (e.g. MyUni). In addition aggregated course SELT data is available.

  • Student Support
  • Policies & Guidelines
  • Fraud Awareness

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