In my main time, I am a mathematician working in logic and category theory. As a logician, I am familiar with some bits of philosophy of language.

Stuff I have read:

  • Word and object, Quine.

  • Naming and Necessity, Kripke.

  • Tractatus logico-philosophicus, Wittgenstein.

Several works in logic by Tarski and Godel, some works by Lambek. I have also a very gentle background in Lacanian psychoanalysis.

At this point in my studies, I feel I would like to attack my ignorance in the topic of philosophy of language with a more systematic and organized study, thus I would like to gather a bibliography on the subject. That's why I am here.

A couple of rules.

  • Please, suggest me at least a manual, not just a collection of authors. I really feel like I am missing the big picture.
  • If you suggest an author, please contextualize it, is it more of a philosopher, a linguist, maybe a mathematician?
  • If you suggest an author, please consider to suggest an order to study the scientific production, should I read just everything? Parts of it?
  • 1
    1: It's not clear why you are asking a bunch of linguists rather than a bunch of philosophers (in Phil SE) – what do we know about philosophy of language? 2: It's not clear why you didn't scan the references in the journal Linguistics and Philosophy to get an idea what the recurring references would be (esp. monographs).
    – user6726
    Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 16:47
  • 1
    @user6726, 1. I asked in both the places. It's quite funny that the philosophers observed the same thing, asking why I did not ask to the linguists. 2. I did not think about it, I'll do it as soon as I will be covered by my institution wifi. Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 16:52
  • This is the right place to ask such a question. I'll post some suggestions as well, some time this weekend.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 21:59
  • 1
    Welcome to Linguistics.SE Ivan! As a new user there will be things you don't know about how this site works. There is no objectively right answer to this question. As such, it is a bad fit for a Stack Exchange site. Questions should not be cross posted across different Stack Exchange sites.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 22:57
  • 1
    Here is a free preview of Otto Jespersen's Philosophy of Grammar: books.google.com/…
    – Greg Lee
    Commented Dec 28, 2019 at 15:01

3 Answers 3


A few recommendations:

How To Do Things With Words by J. L. Austin. Austin was fighting against the idea that the purpose of language was description, and that propositions with truth values are only a small part of language. One of the famous sections of this book is "speech acts" - utterances which change the state of the world (such as how "I now pronounce you man and wife" changes the marital state of the new couple, just using words and context). Austin is much more of a philosopher of language than a linguist.

You might also be interested in George Lakoff. Metaphors We Live by by Lakoff and Johnson proposes that metaphor is central to understanding how we speak (and, because of how it is used in ordinary language, to how we thing), and later Lakoff works will extend this idea to his proposed 'embodied mind,' a theory that states that our thoughts are all based in bodily/sensory experience extended and abstracted to more complicated thoughts. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things by Lakoff is a much more substantial work than Metaphors, and delves much deeper into ideas of categorization and how meaning is formed. You might also be interested in Where Mathematics Come From by Lakoff and Núñez, which proposes which bits of the embodied mind and which metaphors make up modern mathematical thinking. He started out as a plain vanilla linguist, but thinks of himself as part of an emerging field called 'Cognitive Science,' which takes and combines learnings from Linguistics, Psychology, Philosophy, and Computer Science.

I haven't read any specific books by him, but the work of Paul Grice is a frequent part of conversations about meaning. He is best known for describing how certain unspoken rules of conversation ('Grice's Maxims') provide much of the meaning of sentences, by allowing implicature, meanings that are very likely there because of context.

  • 1
    All good choices. Note that these three writers are not particularly formal, though they're all aware of formal logic and mathematics. Natural language is no more formal than a firehose in practice, although they both obey formal principles, some of which can be discovered, we hope.
    – jlawler
    Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 16:33

I recommend The Syntactic Phenomena of English by McCawley. You should feel at home, since McCawley's view is that we communicate with logical expressions, but each natural language differs somewhat in how we fit those expressions into the morphological system of the particular language we speak.

The reference I give is searchable -- just enter the topic that interests you to read relevant portions of McCawley's book. For free.

McCawley was a linguist and devotee of Chinese Food. (He wrote a book on how to learn enough Chinese to order from the Chinese menu in Chinese restaurants.The Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters)

  • 2
    Another good choice. For philosophy of language, his other book, entitled Everything that Linguists have Always Wanted to Know about Logic (but were Ashamed to Ask) is also a good choice - he has chapters about quantifiers like not more than 50 of and surprisingly few as well as what he calls "The Logicians' Favorite Quantifiers", ∃ and ∀.
    – jlawler
    Commented Dec 27, 2019 at 16:34

While the other posts indeed mention excellent references - my favorite is McCawley Everything that Linguists have Always Wanted to Know about Logic (but were Ashamed to Ask) - the field of the philosophy of language hasn't been static.

Something much more recent, if I may, is a two-volume A Companion to the Philosophy of Language (Wiley-Blackwell, 2017). It's kind of pricey, so I would recommend checking it out from the library first. Here's the publisher's description:

"Now published in two volumes, the second edition of the best-selling Companion to the Philosophy of Language provides a complete survey of contemporary philosophy of language. The Companion has been greatly extended and now includes a monumental 17 new essays – with topics chosen by the editors, who curated suggestions from current contributors – and almost all of the 25 original chapters have been updated to take account of recent developments in the field.

In addition to providing a synoptic view of the key issues, figures, concepts, and debates, each essay introduces new and original contributions to ongoing debates, as well as addressing a number of new areas of interest, including two-dimensional semantics, modality and epistemic modals, and semantic relationism. The extended “state-of-the-art” chapter format allows the authors, all of whom are internationally eminent scholars in the field, to incorporate original research to a far greater degree than competitor volumes. Unrivaled in scope, this volume represents the best contemporary critical thinking relating to the philosophy of language."

It's also available online (you will need a subscription, although you can also purchase individual chapters) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/book/10.1002/9781118972090

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