Meaning, belief, and language acquisition

Philosophical Psychology 9 (4):465-475 (1996)
Abstract
A very plausible and common view of meaning supposes that linguistic meaning is to be understood in terms of speakers' intentions. This program proposes to analyse the meaning of a sentence in terms of what speakers mean by or in uttering it; and this speaker meaning in turn is to be analysed in terms of the speaker's intentions. This essay argues that intention-based semantics cannot provide an adequate analysis of linguistic meaning: not because of contrived counterexamples, nor because it conflicts with scruples about intentionality which we do or should have. It fails because research in psychology shows that children do not attribute beliefs to others in the way demanded by the theory. Empirical evidence is provided for the claim that two- and three-year-old children do not satisfy the conditions for speaker meaning, and thus cannot be said to mean anything by their utterances. It seems to me that children both mean something by their utterances and that their utterances have linguistic meaning. Hence the intention-based analysis does not provide necessary conditions for meaning.
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