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2019/20 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

PHIL2121 Introduction to the Philosophy of Language

20 creditsClass Size: 130

Module manager: Dr Robert Knowles

Taught: Semester 2 View Timetable

Year running 2019/20

Pre-requisite qualifications

Either PHIL 1250; or PHIL 1111 and PHIL 1222.
This module is only available as an option to students studying on Linguistics, Mathematics and Computing Programmes with relevant prerequisites.

Module replaces

PHIL2020 Meaning and Truth;PHIL2070 Theories of Meaning

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This module is only available as an discovery module to students studying on Linguistics, Mathematics and Computing Programmes with relevant prerequisites.Philosophy of Language aims to deepen our understanding of one of the most distinctive elements of human life - our shared ability to express our thoughts in natural language. In this course, you'll begin get to grips with some of the fundamental questions in the Philosophy of Language:- What is the nature of meaning? - Is genuine communication ever possible? - How is linguistic creativity possible - how can we, as finite creatures, come to produce and understand a potential infinity of completely novel utterances, many of which we will only be encountering for the first time?The course will provide a reflective introduction to some of the key theoretical concepts currently employed in explaining the fundamental nature of human language. It will be taught in the second semester, in a series of lectures and seminars, and assessed by exam. Prerequisites: 20 credits of L1 core Philosophy modules, which should include PHIL1008 Introduction to Logic. For more information visit the Department of Philosophy.


On completion of this module, students should be able to:
1. display in oral and written form knowledge and understanding of some central theories, disagreements, problems, and arguments of several module subtopics;
2. read and analyse complex texts and be sensitive to issues of interpretation;
3. use a variety of philosophical techniques (example, description, argument) in written communication;
4. engage in philosophical theorizing, analysis, and evaluation.


The central question in the philosophy of language is this: how do words and sentences come to mean something?

In answering this question, others will be investigated; eg:
1. Do sentences get their meanings from the ideas we have in our minds? Or is it the other way round: we get the ideas in our minds from the language we are taught?
2. How do names refer to objects in the external world?
3. Do we need to postulate an abstract world of propositions to understand the workings of language?
4. Should the meaning of a sentence be understood as its truth conditions, as Frege believed, or merely its verification conditions?
5. Do sentences have the meanings they do in virtue of the meanings of the words that constitute them, or do words have the meaning they do in virtue of the role they play in meaningful sentences?

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours173.00
Total Contact hours27.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

- Discussion preparation: 118 hours
- Mock essay writing and reflection: 15 hours
- Exam preparation: 40 hours.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

A mock essay exam will be given consisting of several essay questions. The student chooses one question and writes a one-hour essay on that question. This mock essay is commented upon by the instructor but is not part of the module's assessment.

Methods of assessment

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Standard exam (closed essays, MCQs etc)3 hr 00 mins100.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 22/05/2019


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