Philosophy of Language


(PHIL3420-001; 3:30-4:45 Tue. & Thu.; Denny 216)



Instructor :              Bill Gay

Office Location:         Winningham 103D

Office Hours:            10:30-11:00 AM, 2:30-3:30 PM, and 5:00-5:30 PM Tue. & Thu.; and by appointment

Phone, Email, FAX:      (704) 687-2266;; (704) 687-2172

Course Web Site:



Philosophy of language occupies a central position in contemporary philosophy.  Moreover, in the twentieth century the study of language was established as an autonomous science.  While Anglo-American philosophy of language is dominated by the analytic perspective, continental philosophy of language is rooted in phenomenological, structural, and Marxist traditions.  This course is an inquiry into the nature of language that will show the close relation of the Anglo-American tradition to logic and the Continental tradition to linguistics.  In addition to focusing on the resulting theories of meaning, the course will address issues in linguistic creativity and linguistic violence.  Class sessions will involve both lecture and discussions.

For majors, this course satisfies the elective course required in the Knowledge/Language category.  For minors, this course satisfies one the two courses required from the categories of Ethics/Aesthetics, Knowledge/Language, and Identity Society.


Required Text

Philosophy of Language.  Course Packet available at Gray's College Bookstore (9430 University City Blvd.)


Course Evaluation


Policy Statements:

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Students are not to use any electronic devices (including cell phones and laptops) during class without the permission of the instructor. 

Course Overview


Part I.  Traditional Anglo-American Philosophy of Language

In September we will trace the rise and demise of analysis.  We will read selections from Weitz, Ayer, and the early and late Wittgenstein.


Part II.  Traditional Continental Philosophy of Language

In October we will trace the rise and criticism of the linguistic approach.  We will read selections from Saussure, Merleau-Ponty,  Ricoeur, and Gay.


Part III.  Recent Trends in Philosophy of Language

In November we will survey non-traditional approaches.  We will read selections from the later Heidegger, Foucault, Gay, hooks, and Tirrell.




Topics and Readings


Dates of Class Topics and Assignments Are Subject to Change

Readings, indicated in parentheses, are in Course Packet (CP) or are on Class Web Site



08-24        Introduction:  Analytic and Continental Philosophy of Language ( CP, 2-5)



                  Part I.  Traditional Anglo-American Philosophy of Language

08-26        Weitz, "Philosophical Analysis" (CP, 6-14)
08-31        Wittgenstein, "Tractatus" (CP, 15-19)

09-02        Ayer, "The Elimination of Metaphysics" (CP, 20-27)

09-07        Ayer, "Truth and Probability" (CP, 28-35)

                   Receive Exam#1

09-09        Wittgenstein, "Philosophical Investigations" (CP, 36-43)

09-14        Wittgenstein, "Philosophical Investigations" continued (CP, 44-51)

09-16        Gay, "From Wittgenstein to Applied Philosophy" (web)

09-21        Gay, "...Social Conditions of Wittgensteinian Language Games" (web)

                  Exam#1 Due



                  Part II.  Traditional Continental Philosophy of Language

09-23        Saussure, "Course in General Linguistics" (CP, 52-60)

09-28        Merleau-Ponty, "Indirect Language and the Voices of Silence" (CP, 61-65)

09-30        Gay, "Merleau-Ponty on Language and Social Science" (CP,66-74)

10-05        Ricoeur, "Structure, Word, Event" (CP, 75-80)

10-07        Ricoeur, "Word, Polysemy, Metaphor" (CP, 81-87)

10-12        Fall Break (No Class)

10-14        Gay, "Analogy and Metaphor" (CP, 88-104)

                   Receive Exam#2

10-19        Gay, "Ricoeur on Metaphor and Ideology" (web)


10-21        Gay, "Language of War and Peace" (web)


10-26        Gay, "Nonsexist Public Discourse and Negative Peace" (web)


                  Exam#2 due

10-28         TBA


                    Part III:  Recent Trends in Philosophy of Language


11-02        Heidegger, "The Nature of Language" (CP, 105-117)

11-04        Heidegger, "The Nature of Language" continued (CP, 118-130)

11-09        Foucault, "The Order of Things" (CP 131-136)

11-11        Foucault, "The Order of Things" continued (CP, 136-146)

                  Research Paper Abstract Due

11-16        Gay, "Nuclear Discourse and Linguistic Alienation" (CP, 147-150)
                  Gay, "Linguistic Violence" (web)


11-23       TBA
11-25       Thanksgiving Holiday (No Class)

11-30       Gay, "Exposing & Overcoming Linguistic  Alienation..." (web)


                  Receive Exam#3

12-02        hooks, "Language:  Teaching New Worlds/New Words" (CP, 151-155) and
                  Tirrell, "Derogatory Terms:  Racism, Sexism..." (CP, 156-175)

                  Research Paper Due

12-07       Conclusion:  (3:30-4:30) Gay, "Practice of Linguistic Nonviolence" (web)


12-16        Final Exam (2:00-4:45 PM; N.B. NOT 3:30); Discussion of Research Papers

                  Exam#3 Due