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Linguistics, philosophy of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V040-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2005
Retrieved July 17, 2024, from

Article Summary

Although related to issues in the philosophy of language, the philosophy of linguistics is a largely distinct topic, being concerned not so much with language itself but with the character and significance of scientific theories about it, for example, with the ontology of linguistic entities, and with whether linguistics is properly regarded as a branch of psychology or as of a kind of mathematics. The work of Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jacobson initiated interest in many of these topics, leading to the structuralist movement in Continental Europe, but it was the work of Noam Chomsky that later sparked the cognitive revolution in Anglo-American philosophy and psychology. Chomsky argued that linguistics should not be concerned with the actual performance of speakers, but instead with the underlying system of rules that was responsible for the competence to produce and understand those utterances. Calling attention to a stunning array of data, he went on to argue that linguistic theory should be concerned with the innately specified system that enabled young children to acquire that competence so effortlessly in a remarkably short time. This claim he linked to the tradition of philosophical Rationalism, according to which substantial portions of human knowledge are not obtained from experience, as Empiricists had maintained, but are largely innate. These and related claims have occasioned important exchanges with a number of philosophers about the foundations of language and mind.

Citing this article:
Rey, Georges and Dan Blair. Linguistics, philosophy of, 2005, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V040-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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