Philosophy of Language and Linguistics
Language is central in human life, human culture, and human cognition. With language, we talk and argue, we formulate ideas and express emotion by the slightest nuance of expression. The question of how language carries out these expressive and communicative functions has concerned philosophers since Plato. The great advances in the systematic study of meaning originated in early analytic philosophy, with the work of Frege and Russell, where we find the origins of formal semantics; while a second important strand of investigation into the relation between meaning and use derives from Austin, Searle and Grice. Linguists, meanwhile, had been studying the diverse forms of human language, in terms of sound structure, morphology, and syntax, and giving formal models for these. It was with the coming together of these two domains of study – philosophical inquiry into meaning, and linguistic analysis of language form – that the study of linguistic meaning in all of its aspects truly blossomed. A real understanding of linguistic meaning requires a proper understanding of language form, including not only syntactic and morphological structure, but also details of pronunciation and intonation. Hence, the study of linguistic meaning is truly a cross-disciplinary one. In CMU’s philosophy department, work on linguistic meaning is carried out in this cross-disciplinary spirit, deeply informed by, and contributing to, empirical and theoretical work in both linguistics and philosophy. This cross-disciplinary work extends beyond the study of linguistic meaning to a re-examination of basic concepts in the theory of linguistic form.
Mandy Simons’s research deals primarily with questions about how a speaker’s communicative intention is identified by an interpreter on the basis of the conventional content of utterances combined with features of context and with the expectations that hearers have about the behaviors of speakers. From this perspective, she has approached questions ranging from the interpretation of the word or to the general problem of linguistic presupposition. Together with colleagues David Beaver (U.T. Austin), Craige Roberts (OSU) and Judith Tonhauser (OSU), Simons has been involved for some time in exploration of the phenomenon of projection and its relations to information structure and Questions Under Discussion, leading to a broad examination of the role of this latter issue in linguistic interpretation.
Tom Werner’s work has focused on two very different areas. One strand of work is in linguistic semantics, with a focus on the semantics of modality and tense, and in particular the interaction between the two. In a separate line of work, Werner has been developing methodologies for the collection of linguistic data from unfamiliar languages for both pedagogical and research purposes. In its pedagogical application, the idea is to be able to present linguistics students with raw linguistic data – that is, recordings of speech – which is organized in such a way that analysis at multiple linguistic levels is facilitated. The approach initially derives from task-based approaches to foreign language teaching and has its practical antecedents in Werner’s work in classroom planning and teaching as a teacher of English as a foreign language in Japan. The theoretical foundations of the methodology derive from Zellig Harris’s work in structural linguistics.