PP3LAN-Philosophy of Language

Module Provider: Philosophy
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2020/1

Module Convenor: Miss Michela Bariselli

Email: michela.bariselli123@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Summary module description:

Philosophy of language concerns the nature of meaning, language, and communication. It seeks answers to the following questions: What is a language? How does linguistic communication differ from non-linguistic communication? Are human beings the only animals who communicate with language? What happens when a language dies? Is preventing language death valuable? Can languages go into decline? In particular, is English getting worse over time? How does the development of writing affect the way we use language? Is it possible to design a logically perfect language? How are dictionaries made? Are they manuals for correct use of words, or just records of how people in fact use language? What makes some uses of language “correct” and other uses “incorrect”? What is the significance of the fact that some languages don’t have a word for the color “blue”?  Why do we so easily draw conclusions about people who have certain kinds of accents? 

Addressing these questions will require an examination of foundational texts in philosophy, linguistics, psychology and anthropology from the 19th, 20th centuries, as well as cutting-edge research informed by developments in the cognitive sciences. 


To explore fundamental issues in philosophy of language, including the nature of meaning, understanding, and the relation of language to culture and thought. 

Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of this module, students will be able to give an overview of core approaches to problems in the philosophy of language and critically evaluate them.  

Students' presentation skills will be improved by leading seminar discussion on central topics in the module. 

Additional outcomes:

Students will gain an overview of one of the central topics in analytic philosophy, and will be able to relate the content of this module other topics studied in their philosophy degree (e.g. philosophy of mind, metaphysics, ethics, and politics). The module will raise questions about fundamental assumptions concerning language and students will be encouraged to explore both classic texts and contemporary research in attempting to answer these questions. Students will develop the ability to understand and explain complex ideas, and hone their analytical writing and critical thinking skills. 

Outline content:


An essay or book chapter will be assigned as required reading for each week. It is essential that you read the assigned text prior to class, because the format of the class will be primarily discussion-based. The text will come accompanied by discussion questions, which are intended to guide your reflection on the author’s ideas and help you prepare for class discussion.

Original texts

You don’t need to buy a textbook for this module. I will post electronic copies of all the required readings to Blackboard.

Secondary literature

In addition to the original articles and book chapters discussed in class, you may benefit from reading introductory texts in philosophy of language. A particularly readable introduction is the following: William Lycan, Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction, 2nd ed ition. Routledge, 2000.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The format for this module contains lectures and seminars; however the distinction between lecture and seminar is blurred. Students should be active in all classes, asking questions and trying to answer the questions posed by the lecturer and other students.

In addition, students will be expected to do the weekly readings and respond to discussion questions.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Guided independent study: 170
Total hours by term 0 200 0
Total hours for module 200

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 90
Oral assessment and presentation 10

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

The summative assessments consist of 2 x coursework assignments worth 30% and 60%,1 x oral presentation worth 10%.

All coursework should be submitted electronically via Blackboard and in hard copy to the Philosophy office.

Formative assessment methods:

Verbal feedback on student presentations; comments on weekly discussion questions; peer evaluation of drafts of written work.

Penalties for late submission:

The Support Centres will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.
The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

Assessment requirements for a pass:
A mark of 40% overall.

Reassessment arrangements:

Written assignment, to be completed in August/September. 

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

  1. Required text books:

  2. Specialist equipment or materials:

  3. Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear:

  4. Printing and binding:

  5. Computers and devices with a particular specification:

  6. Travel, accommodation and subsistence:

Last updated: 7 December 2020


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