What is Philosophy of Language?

What is Philosophy of Language?

June 29, 2021 Off By Felso

It is possible to answer the question of what is philosophy of language as follows: Philosophy of language is a branch of philosophy that studies the structure of the language and its relation to other areas of existence, the bonds of language with life and the meanings of language for human beings.

Although the philosophy of language is actually buried in a history of about a century, language has been one of the most important subjects that have attracted the attention of philosophers since ancient times. In the Greek world, the relationship between names and the objects named with these names has always been an important topic of discussion.

In this debate, which is the oldest discussion of language in the history of philosophy, one side has argued that the relationship between these two is natural, that names reflect the essence of what they name, and that they do this by imitating what they name through sounds.

In response to this naturalistic view, which was taken back to Pythagoras in the history of philosophy, the counter-view conventionalism, which was taken as far as Democritus, claimed that this relationship was conventional and that the names were given to the objects randomly.

Behind this debate, which Plato elaborates in detail in his “Kratylos” dialogue, there is actually a question that has been asked constantly since the Ancient Age: What is the relationship between language and the world? The questions that Aristotle and the medieval philosophers asked in different ways while investigating the structure of thinking, the philosophers of the Enlightenment period, the source of knowledge and the limits of the ability to know, are not other than this question.

However, not all studies, including those of Frege and Russell, from the Antiquity to the early 20th century, have been done directly to understand the structure of language. Therefore, it would be wrong to see them as language philosophy studies.

Seeing language itself as a problem directly is a result of the studies of Frege and Russell, and the birth of philosophy of language as a separate field of philosophy dealing with language is a result of the early studies of Ludwig Wittgenstein (See: Wittgenstein and Philosophy of Language).

Gottlob Frege

Philosophy of language is a branch of philosophy dealing with language. For example, language is a branch of philosophy that deals with the contexts between consciousness and reality.

Two research areas emerge from this point. The first of these is the relationship between language and reality, and the second is the relationship between language and consciousness. Therefore, the philosophy of language is located in the close context of the adjacent fields of epistemology and mind-oriented philosophy.

Philosophy of language is not the same as language analysis. Language analysis, also known as concept analysis, is a philosophical method known since Socrates, and it is a philosophical method in which there are different areas of philosophical practice (See: Dialectical method).

Within the philosophy of language, this method is especially used for the analysis of concepts used to describe language. For example, it is used for the analysis of concepts such as “meaning, understanding”.

Philosophy of language is also a sub-field of linguistics. Philosophy of language is a branch of both general linguistics, whose methods are largely empirical, and semiotics, which is the theory of the sign and the sign system.


There are two main questions to be answered in the short hundred-year history of language philosophy. These two main questions are the two main questions of the philosophy of language beyond being the two main questions that philosophers have addressed in the history of philosophy of language.

From Bryran Magee’s point of view, these are the two main questions that arise from the two extremes that arise when language is used, namely the ‘subject’ end that shows the world spoken on. Historically, the question that was tried to be addressed and answered at the beginning comes out of the ‘object’ end and asks the old familiar question of the history of philosophy: What is the relationship between language and the world?

However, those who seek the answer to this question are not satisfied with this, they also derive a theory of meaning from the relationship they have established (or led) between the two. Frege and Russell, Wittgenstein with their early works, logician positivists, especially Carnap, and today Willard van Orman Quine and Donald Davidson are the people who produce products in this line.

Willard van Orman Quine

Coming to the question from the ‘subject’ end in language use, this is the question of what kind of behavior is linguistic behavior, which started to be asked in the 50s.

This line, which can be associated with Wittgenstein in his second period in terms of drawing attention to the use of language and emphasizing the importance of examining language as a human behavior, sees the answer to the question of what is the relationship between language and the world as a part of this question, and states that the relationship of language with its world is determined by the rules governing linguistic behavior asserts.

An important feature of this line is that it sees the research to reveal the rules that govern linguistic behavior as a solution to the problem of meaning. John L. Austin and John R. Searle are people in this line.

Related topics:

Wittgenstein and the philosophy of language

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer Yıldırım