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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-U028-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

Analytic philosophers have made lasting contributions to the scientific study of language. Semantics (the study of meaning) and pragmatics (the study of language in use) are two important areas of linguistic research which owe their shape to the groundwork done by philosophers.

Although the two disciplines are now conceived of as complementary, the philosophical movements out of which they grew were very much in competition. In the middle of the twentieth century, there were two opposing ‘camps’ within the analytic philosophy of language. The first – ‘ideal language philosophy’, as it was then called – was that of the pioneers, Frege, Russell and the logical positivists. They were, first and foremost, logicians studying formal languages and, through these formal languages, ‘language’ in general. Work in this tradition (especially that of Frege, Russell, Carnap, Tarski and later Montague) gave rise to contemporary formal semantics, a very active discipline developed jointly by logicians, philosophers and grammarians. The other camp was that of so-called ‘ordinary language philosophers’, who thought important features of natural language were not revealed, but hidden, by the logical approach initiated by Frege and Russell. They advocated a more descriptive approach, and emphasized the ‘pragmatic’ nature of natural language as opposed to, for example, the ‘language’ of Principia Mathematica. Their own work (especially that of Austin, Strawson, Grice and the later Wittgenstein) gave rise to contemporary pragmatics, a discipline which (like formal semantics) has developed successfully within linguistics in the past thirty years.

From the general conception put forward by ordinary language philosophers, four areas or topics of research emerged, which jointly constitute the core of pragmatics: speech acts; indexicality and context-sensitivity; non-truth-conditional aspects of meaning; and contextual implications. In the first half of this entry, we look at these topics from the point of view of ordinary language philosophy; the second half presents the contemporary picture. From the first point of view, pragmatics is seen as an alternative to the truth-conditional approach to meaning associated with ideal language philosophy (and successfully pursued within formal semantics). From the second point of view, pragmatics merely supplements that approach.

Citing this article:
Recanati, Francois. Pragmatics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-U028-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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