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Summary It seems obvious that the connection between, on one hand, the sounds, shapes, movements and the like that underwrite language use and, on the other hand, core linguistic properties, like grammatical properties and meanings, is fairly arbitrary. The same sounds, shapes, movements, etc., that are used in English to say that the cat is on the mat could easily have been used to say that the ship is sinking. And other sounds, shapes, movements, etc., could easily have been used to say that the cat is on the mat. The general question that accounts of linguistic convention aim to answer is, how are the connections here instituted? Sometimes 'conventional' is used to indicate the type of connection in question here, in which case it is assumed that the relevant connections are conventional, and the difficulty is to explain in detail the nature of the relevant conventions. Other times, specific accounts are given of what conventions are, and the difficulty is to demonstrate, or explain, whether, and if so how, those accounts apply to the institution of connections in the sphere of language. Taking the latter route, some philosophers have provided detailed accounts of convention on which participation in a convention seems to require mutual knowledge that others are so participating. Other philosophers have argued that such accounts are too demanding, and that less is required to participate in, for example, the use of a language.
Key works Lewis 1969 Important general account of convention including an attempt to apply the account to language. Lewis 1975 Another attempt to explain how the relation between speakers and languages is conventional. Schiffer 1972 Another important attempt to account for language use by appeal to speakers' intentions and forms of convention. Burge 1975 Presents important objections to the above accounts. Davidson 1984 Argues that appeal to convention is not required in accounting for speakers' relations to languages. Gilbert 1983 Useful discussion of the nature of convention and its role in accounting for language. Schiffer 1993 Engages critically with the above accounts of the relation between speakers and their languages (the actual-language relation) and argues for a more minimal account. Davis 1998 Useful book length treatment of issues about linguistic convention and intention.
Introductions Avramides 1997 Rescorla 2008
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  1. Russell Zachary Abrams (1974). Convention, Truth, and Meaning. Dissertation, Yale University
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  2. Varol Akman, In Search of Intended Meaning: Investigating Barwise's Equation CR(S, C) = P.
    Here, S is a sentence—or possibly a smaller or larger unit of meaningful expression for a language—that’s written by an author and c is the circumstance in which S is used. R is defined as the language conventions holding between an author and a reader (or better yet, his readership). P , probably the most important part of the equation, is the content of S or, the intended meaning of the author. We assume that the communication between an author and (...)
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  3. S. M. Amadae (2011). Normativity and Instrumentalism in David Lewis' Convention. History of European Ideas 37 (3):325-335.
    David Lewis presented Convention as an alternative to the conventionalism characteristic of early-twentieth-century analytic philosophy. Rudolf Carnap is well known for suggesting the arbitrariness of any particular linguistic convention for engaging in scientific inquiry. Analytic truths are self-consistent, and are not checked against empirical facts to ascertain their veracity. In keeping with the logical positivists before him, Lewis concludes that linguistic communication is conventional. However, despite his firm allegiance to conventions underlying not just languages but also social customs, he pioneered (...)
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  4. Karl-Otto Apel (1980). Karl-Otto Apel — Three Dimensions of Understanding Meaning in Analytic Philosophy: Linguistic Conventions, Intentions, and Reference to Things. Philosophy and Social Criticism 7 (2):116-142.
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  5. Josh Armstrong (2016). The Problem of Lexical Innovation. Linguistics and Philosophy 39 (2):87-118.
    In a series of papers, Donald Davidson :3–17, 1984, The philosophical grounds of rationality, 1986, Midwest Stud Philos 16:1–12, 1991) developed a powerful argument against the claim that linguistic conventions provide any explanatory purchase on an account of linguistic meaning and communication. This argument, as I shall develop it, turns on cases of what I call lexical innovation: cases in which a speaker uses a sentence containing a novel expression-meaning pair, but nevertheless successfully communicates her intended meaning to her audience. (...)
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  6. Josh Armstrong (2015). Coordination, Triangulation, and Language Use. Inquiry 59 (1):80-112.
    In this paper, I explore two contrasting conceptions of the social character of language. The first takes language to be grounded in social convention. The second, famously developed by Donald Davidson, takes language to be grounded in a social relation called triangulation. I aim both to clarify and to evaluate these two conceptions of language. First, I propose that Davidson’s triangulation-based story can be understood as the result of relaxing core features of conventionalism pertaining to both common-interest and diachronic stability—specifically, (...)
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  7. A. Avramides (1997). Intentions and Convention. In Bob Hale & Crispin Wright (eds.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Language. Blackwell 60--86.
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  8. K. Bach & R. Harnish (1979). Linguistic Communication and Speech Acts. MIT Press.
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  9. Kent Bach (2003). Meaning. In Encyclopedia of Cognitive Sciences. Nature Publishing Group
    Language is used to express thoughts and to represent aspects of the world. What thought a sentence expresses depends on what the sentence means, and how it represents the world also depends on what it means. Moreover, it is ultimately arbitrary, a matter of convention, that the words of a language mean what they do. So it might seem that what they mean is a matter of how they are used. However, they need not be used in accordance with their (...)
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  10. Edward G. Ballard (1952). Reason and Convention. Tulane Studies in Philosophy 1:21-42.
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  11. Alex Barber, Idiolects. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    An idiolect, if there is such a thing, is a language that can be characterised exhaustively in terms of intrinsic properties of some single person at a time, a person whose idiolect it is at that time. The force of ‘intrinsic’ is that the characterisation ought not to turn on features of the person's wider linguistic community. Some think that this notion of an idiolect is unstable, and instead use ‘idiolect’ to describe a person's incomplete or erroneous grasp of their (...)
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  12. Jeffrey A. Barrett (2010). Faithful Description and the Incommensurability of Evolved Languages. Philosophical Studies 147 (1):123 - 137.
    Skyrms-Lewis signaling games illustrate how meaningful language may evolve from initially meaningless random signals (Lewis, Convention 1969; Skyrms 2008). Here we will consider how incommensurable languages might evolve in the context of signaling games. We will also consider the types of incommensurability exhibited between evolved languages in such games. We will find that sequentially evolved languages may be strongly incommensurable while still allowing for increasingly faithful descriptions of the world.
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  13. John G. Bennett (1974). Depiction and Convention. The Monist 58 (2):255-268.
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  14. Jonathan Francis Bennett (1976). Linguistic Behaviour. Cambridge University Press.
    First published in 1976, this book presents a view of language as a matter of systematic communicative behaviour.
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  15. Mark H. Bickhard (2008). Social Ontology as Convention. Topoi 27 (1-2):139-149.
    I will argue that social ontology is constituted as hierarchical and interlocking conventions of multifarious kinds. Convention, in turn, is modeled in a manner derived from that of David K. Lewis. Convention is usually held to be inadequate for models of social ontologies, with one primary reason being that there seems to be no place for normativity. I argue that two related changes are required in the basic modeling framework in order to address this (and other) issue(s): (1) a shift (...)
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  16. G. H. Bird (1974). Intentions and conventions. Logique Et Analyse 17 (67):495.
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  17. Ben Blumson (2008). Depiction and Convention. Dialectica 62 (3):335-348.
    By defining both depictive and linguistic representation as kinds of symbol system, Nelson Goodman attempts to undermine the platitude that, whereas linguistic representation is mediated by convention, depiction is mediated by resemblance. I argue that Goodman is right to draw a strong analogy between the two kinds of representation, but wrong to draw the counterintuitive conclusion that depiction is not mediated by resemblance.
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  18. Renée Jorgensen Bolinger (2015). The Pragmatics of Slurs. Noûs 50 (3).
    I argue that the offense generation pattern of slurring terms parallels that of impoliteness behaviors, and is best explained by appeal to similar purely pragmatic mechanisms. In choosing to use a slurring term rather than its neutral counterpart, the speaker signals that she endorses the term. Such an endorsement warrants offense, and consequently slurs generate offense whenever a speaker's use demonstrates a contrastive preference for the slurring term. Since this explanation comes at low theoretical cost and imposes few constraints on (...)
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  19. Emma Borg, Language: A Biological Model.
    Ruth Garrett Millikan is one of the most important thinkers in philosophy of mind and language of the current generation. Across a number of seminal books, and in the company of theorists such as Jerry Fodor and Fred Dretske, she has championed a wholly naturalistic, scientific understanding of content, whether of thought or words. Many think that naturalism about meaning has found its most defensible form in her distinctively “teleological” approach, and in Language: A Biological Model she continues the expansion (...)
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  20. Emma Borg (2006). Intention-Based Semantics. In Ernest Lepore & Barry Smith (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language. Oxford University Press 250--266.
    There is a sense in which it is trivial to say that one accepts intention- (or convention-) based semantics.[2] For if what is meant by this claim is simply that there is an important respect in which words and sentences have meaning (either at all or the particular meanings that they have in any given natural language) due to the fact that they are used, in the way they are, by intentional agents (i.e. speakers), then it seems no one should (...)
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  21. Steffen Borge (2009). Intentions and Compositionality. SATS: Northern European Journal of Philosophy 10 (1):100-106.
    It has been argued that philosophers that base their theories of meaning on communicative intentions and language conventions cannot accommodate the fact that natural languages are compositional. In this paper I show that if we pay careful attention to Grice's notion of “resultant procedures” we see that this is not the case. The argument, if we leave out all the technicalities, is fairly simple. Resultant procedures tell you how to combine utterance parts, like words, into larger units, like sentences. You (...)
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  22. David Braddon-Mitchell (2004). Masters of Our Meanings. Philosophical Studies 118 (1-2):133-52.
    The two-dimensional framework in semantics has the most power and plausibility when combined with a kind of global semantic neo-descriptivism. If neo-descriptivism can be defended on the toughest terrain - the semantics of ordinary proper names - then the other skirmishes should be easier. This paper defends neo-descriptivism against two important objections: that the descriptions may be inaccessibly locked up in sub-personal modules, and thus not accessible a priori, and that in any case all such modules bottom out in purely (...)
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  23. Margaret Zeglin Brand (1985). Art and Convention. Dissertation, University of Illinois at Chicago
    The general term 'convention' is introduced and analyzed according to a definition proposed by David Lewis. A refined definition is then derived from commentaries critical of Lewis' definition and the new definition is contrasted with one for 'rule.' A working vocabulary is developed in order to discuss conventions and rules apparent in the realm of art and artistic conventions are distinguished from nonartistic conventions. Examples of writing from artists, art historians, art theorists and aestheticians are analyzed in order to show (...)
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  24. Tyler Burge (1975). On Knowledge and Convention. Philosophical Review 84 (2):249-255.
    It is argued that david lewis' account of convention in "convention" required too much self-Consciousness of parties participating in a convention. In particular, It need not be known that there are equally good alternatives to the convention. This point affects other features of the definition, And suggests that the account is too much guided by the "rational assembly" picture of human conventions. (edited).
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  25. Óscar Cabaco (2002). Convencionalidad y Significado Sin Uso. Theoria 17 (3):417-434.
    One of the main problems of Lewis' approach to the conventionality of language is the so-called "probLem of the meaning without use". In this paper I consider the possible solutions to this problem and I conclude that in order to avoid this objection Lewis' proposal must be substantially modified.
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  26. R. Sansegundo Cachero (2009). How New Language Emerge. [REVIEW] Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 28 (1).
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  27. M. J. Cain (2013). Conventions and Their Role in Language. Philosophia 41 (1):137-158.
    Two of the most fundamental questions about language are these: what are languages?; and, what is it to know a given language? Many philosophers who have reflected on these questions have presented answers that attribute a central role to conventions. In one of its boldest forms such a view runs as follows. Languages are either social entities constituted by networks of social conventions or abstract objects where when a particular community speaks a given language they do so in virtue of (...)
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  28. Arnold J. Chien (2002). On What We Mean.
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  29. Noam Chomsky (1997). Language From an Internalist Perspective. In David Martel Johnson & Christina E. Erneling (eds.), The Future of the Cognitive Revolution. Oxford University Press 118--135.
  30. Keith Coleman, Lewis's Notion of a Convention.
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  31. John Collins (2007). Review of I G Norance of Language} by Michael D Evitt. [REVIEW] Mind 116 (462):416-423.
  32. Kathryn Davidson (2015). Quotation, Demonstration, and Iconicity. Linguistics and Philosophy 38 (6):477-520.
    Sometimes form-meaning mappings in language are not arbitrary, but iconic: they depict what they represent. Incorporating iconic elements of language into a compositional semantics faces a number of challenges in formal frameworks as evidenced by the lengthy literature in linguistics and philosophy on quotation/direct speech, which iconically portrays the words of another in the form that they were used. This paper compares the well-studied type of iconicity found with verbs of quotation with another form of iconicity common in sign languages: (...)
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  33. Alex Stewart Davies (2012). How to Use (Ordinary) Language Offensively. Nordic Wittgenstein Review 1 (1):55-80.
    One can attack a philosophical claim by identifying a misuse of the language used to state it. I distinguish between two varieties of this strategy: one belonging to Norman Malcolm and the other to Ludwig Wittgenstein. The former is flawed and easily dismissible as misled linguistic conservatism. It muddies the name of ordinary language philosophy. I argue that the latter avoids this flaw. To make perspicuous the kind of criticism of philosophical claims that the second variety makes available, I draw (...)
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  34. Wayne A. Davis (1998). Implicature: Intention, Convention, and Principle in the Failure of Gricean Theory. Cambridge University Press.
    H. P. Grice virtually discovered the phenomenon of implicature (to denote the implications of an utterance that are not strictly implied by its content). Gricean theory claims that conversational implicatures can be explained and predicted using general psycho-social principles. This theory has established itself as one of the orthodoxes in the philosophy of language. Wayne Davis argues controversially that Gricean theory does not work. He shows that any principle-based theory understates both the intentionality of what a speaker implicates and the (...)
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  35. Boudewijn de Bruin (2005). Game Theory in Philosophy. Topoi 24 (2):197-208.
    Game theory is the mathematical study of strategy and conflict. It has wide applications in economics, political science, sociology, and, to some extent, in philosophy. Where rational choice theory or decision theory is concerned with individual agents facing games against nature, game theory deals with games in which all players have preference orderings over the possible outcomes of the game. This paper gives an informal introduction to the theory and a survey of applications in diverse branches of philosophy. No criticism (...)
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  36. Michael Devitt (2006). Ignorance of Language. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
    The Chomskian revolution in linguistics gave rise to a new orthodoxy about mind and language. Michael Devitt throws down a provocative challenge to that orthodoxy. What is linguistics about? What role should linguistic intuitions play in constructing grammars? What is innate about language? Is there a 'language faculty'? These questions are crucial to our developing understanding of ourselves; Michael Devitt offers refreshingly original answers. He argues that linguistics is about linguistic reality and is not part of psychology; that linguistic rules (...)
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  37. Mark Dingemanse, Damián E. Blasi, Gary Lupyan, Morten H. Christiansen & Padraic Monaghan (2015). Arbitrariness, Iconicity, and Systematicity in Language. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 19 (10):603-615.
    The notion that the form of a word bears an arbitrary relation to its meaning accounts only partly for the attested relations between form and meaning in the languages of the world. Recent research suggests a more textured view of vocabulary structure, in which arbitrariness is complemented by iconicity (aspects of form resemble aspects of meaning) and systematicity (statistical regularities in forms predict function). Experimental evidence suggests these form-to-meaning correspondences serve different functions in language processing, development, and communication: systematicity facilitates (...)
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  38. Roger Doorbar (1971). Meaning, Rules and Behaviour. Mind 80 (317):29-40.
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  39. Mikel Dufrenne (1983). Perception, Meaning, and Convention. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 42 (2):209-211.
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  40. Michael A. E. Dummett (1993). The Seas of Language. Oxford University Press.
    Michael Dummett is a leading contemporary philosopher whose work on the logic and metaphysics of language has had a lasting influence on how these subjects are conceived and discussed. This volume contains some of the most provocative and widely discussed essays published in the last fifteen years, together with a number of unpublished or inaccessible writings. Essays included are: "What is a Theory of Meaning?," "What do I Know When I Know a Language?," "What Does the Appeal to Use Do (...)
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  41. Paul E. Dunne (2005). A Value-Based Argument Model of Convention Degradation. Artificial Intelligence and Law 13 (1):153-188.
    The analysis of how social conventions emerge and become established is rightly viewed as a significant study of great relevance to models of legal and social systems. Such conventions, however, do not operate in a monotonic fashion, i.e. the fact that a convention is recognised and complied with at some instant is no guarantee it will continue to be so indefinitely. In total rules and protocols may evolve, with or without the consent of individual members of the society, even to (...)
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  42. Brian Epstein (2009). Grounds, Convention, and the Metaphysics of Linguistic Tokens. Croatian Journal of Philosophy 9 (1):45-67.
    My aim in this paper is to discuss a metaphysical framework within which to understand “standard linguistic entities” (SLEs), such as words, sentences, phonemes, and other entities routinely employed in linguistic theory. In doing so, I aim to defuse certain kinds of skepticism, challenge convention-based accounts of SLEs, and present a series of distinctions for better understanding what the various accounts of SLEs do and do not accomplish.
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  43. Barrie Falk (1994). Doing What One Meant to Do. Synthese 98 (3):379 - 399.
    When I engage in some routine activity, it will usually be the case that I mean or intend the present move to be followed by others. What does meaning the later moves consist in? How do I know, when I come to perform them, that they were what I meant? Problems familiar from Wittgenstein's and Kripke's discussions of linguistic meaning arise here. Normally, I will not think of the later moves. But, even if I do, there are reasons to deny (...)
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  44. Olivier Favereau (2008). The Unconventional, but Conventionalist, Legacy of Lewis's “Convention”. Topoi 27 (1-2):115-126.
    The philosopher David Lewis is credited by many social scientists, including mainstream economists, with having founded the modern (game-theoretical) approach to conventions, viewed as solutions to recurrent coordination problems. Yet it is generally ignored that he revised his approach, soon after the publication of his well-known book. I suggest that this revision has deep implications (probably not perceived by Lewis himself) on the analytical links between coordination, uncertainty and rationality. Thinking anew about these issues leads me to map out an (...)
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  45. R. Feleppa (1982). Translation as Rule-Governed Behaviour. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 12 (1):1-31.
  46. Stanka A. Fitneva & Yi Song (2009). The Comprehension of ''Left''and ''Right''in a Referential Communication Task. In N. A. Taatgen & H. van Rijn (eds.), Proceedings of the 31st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. 2687--2691.
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  47. Alexander George (2004). Linguistic Practice and its Discontents: Quine and Davidson on the Source of Sense. Philosophers' Imprint 4 (1):1-37.
    A rich tradition in philosophy takes truths about meaning to be wholly determined by how language is used; meanings do not guide use of language from behind the scenes, but instead are fixed by such use. Linguistic practice, on this conception, exhausts the facts to which the project of understanding another must be faithful. But how is linguistic practice to be characterized? No one has addressed this question more seriously than W. V. Quine, who sought for many years to formulate (...)
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  48. Margaret Gilbert (1983). Agreements, Conventions, and Language. Synthese 54 (3):375 - 407.
    The question whether and in what way languages and language use involve convention is addressed, With special reference to David Lewis's account of convention in general. Data are presented which show that Lewis has not captured the sense of 'convention' involved when we speak of adopting a linguistic convention. He has, In effect, attempted an account of social conventions. An alternative account of social convention and an account of linguistic convention are sketched.
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  49. Michael Giudice (2010). Review of Andrei Marmor, Social Conventions: From Language to Law. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2010 (1).
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  50. Hans-Johann Glock (2010). Does Language Require Conventions. In Pasquale Frascolla, Diego Marconi & Alberto Voltolini (eds.), Wittgenstein: Mind, Meaning and Metaphilosophy. Palgrave Macmillan 85--112.
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