Edited by Guy Longworth (University of Warwick)
About this topic
Summary An idiolect would be a language spoken by only one person, or a language the properties of which were determined by intrinsic properties of an individual speaker. Two central questions about idiolects are the following. First, is it possible for there to be idiolects, or are the languages of individual speakers invariable spoken by, or determined in part by, other speakers? Second, supposing that it is possible for there to be idiolects, what is the relation between idiolects and communal or shared languages? Are shared languages dependent on, or (partly) constituted by, individual idiolects, or are the languages of individual speakers dependent on, or (partly) constituted by communal or shared languages? 
Key works Kripke 1982 Important discussion by Kripke that argues for a form of priority of communal or social languages over idiolects. Davidson 1986 Important paper by Davidson arguing that individual (and momentary) idiolects are more fundamental than communal languages when it comes to accounting for human communication. Dummett 2010 Important discussion by Dummett that attempts to argue that communal or social languages are prior to idiolects. Chomsky 1995 Important discussion by Chomsky of his views about the idiolectical nature of natural language. Wiggins 1997 Development of a position on which social languages are prior to idiolects, in part responding to Chomsky. Barber 2001 Useful discussion of the how error in using an idiolect might be possible. Bar-On 1992 Useful discussion of the possibility of a solitary language, a language developed and spoken by only one individual.
Introductions Barber 2008 Higginbotham 2012
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  1. Review of Sanford C. Goldberg, Anti-Individualism: Mind and Language, Knowledge and Justification[REVIEW]Jonathan E. Adler - 2009 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2009 (1).
  2. Coordination, Triangulation, and Language Use.Josh Armstrong - 2015 - 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, (...)
  3. Wittgenstein: Understanding and Meaning.Gordon P. Baker - 1980 - Blackwell.
  4. On the Possibility of a Solitary Language.Dorit Bar-On - 1992 - Noûs 26 (1):27-46.
  5. Idiolects.Alex Barber - 2008 - 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 (...)
  6. Idiolectal Error.Alex Barber - 2001 - Mind and Language 16 (3):263–283.
    A linguistic theory is correct exactly to the extent that it is the explicit statement of a body of knowledge possessed by a designated language-user. This popular psychological conception of the goal of linguistic theorizing is commonly paired with a preference for idiolectal over social languages, where it seems to be in the nature of idiolects that the beliefs one holds about one’s own are ipso facto correct. Unfortunately, it is also plausible that the correctness of a genuine belief cannot (...)
  7. What Knowledge Must Be in the Head in Order to Acquire Language.William P. Bechtel - 1996 - In B. Velichkovsky & Duane M. Rumbaugh (eds.), Communicating Meaning: The Evolution and Development of Language. Hillsdale, Nj: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. pp. 45.
    Many studies of language, whether in philosophy, linguistics, or psychology, have focused on highly developed human languages. In their highly developed forms, such as are employed in scientific discourse, languages have a unique set of properties that have been the focus of much attention. For example, descriptive sentences in a language have the property of being "true" or "false," and words of a language have senses and referents. Sentences in a language are structured in accord with complex syntactic rules. Theorists (...)
  8. Masters of Our Meanings.David Braddon-Mitchell - 2004 - 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 (...)
  9. Communication and Rational Responsiveness to the World.Robert Briscoe - 2007 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 88 (2):135-159.
    Donald Davidson has long maintained that in order to be credited with the concept of objectivity – and, so, with language and thought – it is necessary to communicate with at least one other speaker. I here examine Davidson’s central argument for this thesis and argue that it is unsuccessful. Subsequently, I turn to Robert Brandom’s defense of the thesis in Making It Explicit. I argue that, contrary to Brandom, in order to possess the concept of objectivity it is not (...)
  10. Individualism, Externalism and Idiolectical Meaning.Robert Briscoe - 2006 - Synthese 152 (1):95-128.
    Semantic externalism in contemporary philosophy of language typically – and often tacitly – combines two supervenience claims about idiolectical meaning (i.e., meaning in the language system of an individual speaker). The first claim is that the meaning of a word in a speaker’s idiolect may vary without any variation in her intrinsic, physical properties. The second is that the meaning of a word in a speaker’s idiolect may vary without any variation in her understanding of its use. I here show (...)
  11. Single-Mindedness: Language, Thought, and the First Person.Robert Briscoe - 2004 - Dissertation, Boston University
    Philosophy has always taken the asymmetry between self and other as one of its major themes. In this thesis, I examine the relation between an individual's knowledge of language from a first-person perspective, on the one hand, and characterization of her as a member of a linguistic community from a third-person perspective, on other. Focusing on Crispin Wright, I try in Chapter One to show that semantic antirealism cannot stably be combined with either communitarianism or constructivism about meaning. I also (...)
  12. Wherein is Language Social?Tyler Burge - 1989 - In A. George (ed.), Reflections on Chomsky. Blackwell. pp. 175--191.
  13. Anti-Individualism: Mind and Language, Knowledge and Justification * By SANFORD C. GOLDBERG. [REVIEW]Stephen Andrew Butterfill - 2009 - Analysis 69 (3):582-585.
    Reflection on testimony provides novel arguments for anti-individualism. What is anti-individualism? Sanford Goldberg's book defends three main claims under this heading: first, facts about the contents of beliefs do not supervene on individualistic facts about the believers ; second, an individual's epistemic entitlement to accept a piece of testimony depends on facts about her peers ; third, processes by which some humans acquire knowledge from testimony includes activities performed for them by others . Each of these three claims is argued (...)
  14. No Need to Speak the Same Language? Review of Ramberg, Donald Davidson's Philosophy of Language.H. G. Callaway & J. van Brakel - 1996 - Dialectica, Vol. 50, No.1, 1996, Pp. 63-71 50 (1):63-72.
    The book is an “introductory” reconstruction of Davidson on interpretation —a claim to be taken with a grain of salt. Writing introductory books has become an idol of the tribe. This is a concise book and reflects much study. It has many virtues along with some flaws. Ramberg assembles themes and puzzles from Davidson into a more or less coherent viewpoint. A special virtue is the innovative treatment of incommensurability and of the relation of Davidson’s work to hermeneutic themes. The (...)
  15. Idiolects and Language.Daniele Chiffi - 2012 - Axiomathes 22 (4):417-432.
    The present paper is intended to analyse from a theoretical point of view the relationships between natural language and idiolects in the context of communication by means of the Davidson–Dummett controversy on the nature of language. I will explore from a pragmatic point of view the reliability of an alternative position inspired by the recent literalism/contextualism debate in philosophy of language in order to overcome some limitations of Dummett’s and Davidson’s perspectives on language, idiolects and communication.
  16. On Nature and Language.Noam Chomsky - 2002 - Cambridge University Press.
    Featuring an essay by the author on the role of intellectuals in society and government, a fascinating volume sheds light on the relation between language, mind ...
  17. New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind.Noam Chomsky - 2000 - Cambridge University Press.
    This book is an outstanding contribution to the philosophical study of language and mind, by one of the most influential thinkers of our time. In a series of penetrating essays, Chomsky cuts through the confusion and prejudice which has infected the study of language and mind, bringing new solutions to traditional philosophical puzzles and fresh perspectives on issues of general interest, ranging from the mind-body problem to the unification of science. Using a range of imaginative and deceptively simple linguistic analyses, (...)
  18. Language From an Internalist Perspective.Noam Chomsky - 1997 - In David Martel Johnson & Christina E. Erneling (eds.), The Future of the Cognitive Revolution. Oxford University Press. pp. 118--135.
  19. Language and Intepretation: Philosophical Reflections and Empirical Inquiry.Noam Chomsky - 1992 - In New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind. Cambridge University Press. pp. 46--74.
  20. Language and Problems of Knowledge.Noam Chomsky - 1988 - MIT Press.
    Language and Problems of Knowledge is sixteenth in the series Current Studies in Linguistics, edited by Jay Keyser.
  21. Knowledge of Language.Noam Chomsky - 1986 - Prager.
  22. Problems of Knowledge and Freedom: The Russell Lectures.Noam Chomsky - 1971 - Vintage Books.
  23. The Ideas of Chomsky Bryan Magee Talked to Noam Chomsky.Noam Chomsky & British Broadcasting Corporation - 1977 - British Broadcasting Corporation.
  24. Language, Theory, Politics: Themes From Chomsky.John Collins - unknown
    (i)  Languages are indefinitely various along every dimension. (ii) Languages are essentially systems of habit/dispositions. (iii) Languages are learnt from experience via analogy and generalisation. (iv) There is no component of the speaker/hearer’s psychology that is       specifically linguistic. (v) Syntactic relations are ones of surface immediate constituency. (vi) Linguistics is a descriptive/taxonomic science - there is nothing to      explain.
  25. Review of I G Norance of Language} by Michael D Evitt. [REVIEW]John Collins - 2007 - Mind 116 (462):416-423.
  26. Linguistic Competence Without Knowledge of Language.John Collins - 2007 - Philosophy Compass 2 (6):880–895.
  27. The Essential Davidson.Donald Davidson - 2006 - Oxford University Press.
    The Essential Davidson compiles the most celebrated papers of one of the twentieth century's greatest philosophers. It distills Donald Davidson's seminal contributions to our understanding of ourselves, from three decades of essays, into one thematically organized collection. A new, specially written introduction by Ernie Lepore and Kirk Ludwig, two of the world's leading authorities on his work, offers a guide through the ideas and arguments, shows how they interconnect, and reveals the systematic coherence of Davidson's worldview. Davidson's philosophical program is (...)
  28. Ignorance of Language.Michael Devitt - 2006 - 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 (...)
  29. Language and Communication.Michael Dummett - 2010 - In Darragh Byrne & Max Kölbel (eds.), Arguing About Language. Routledge.
  30. The Seas of Language.Michael A. E. Dummett - 1993 - 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 (...)
  31. The Internal and the External in Linguistic Explanation.Brian Epstein - 2008 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 8 (22):77-111.
    Chomsky and others have denied the relevance of external linguistic entities, such as E-languages, to linguistic explanation, and have questioned their coherence altogether. I discuss a new approach to understanding the nature of linguistic entities, focusing in particular on making sense of the varieties of kinds of “words” that are employed in linguistic theorizing. This treatment of linguistic entities in general is applied to constructing an understanding of external linguistic entities.
  32. Linguistic Intuitions.Robert Fiengo - 2003 - Philosophical Forum 34 (3-4):253–266.
  33. Social Externalism and Linguistic Communication.Christopher Gauker - 2003 - In Maria J. Frapolli & E. Romero (eds.), Meaning, Basic Self-Knowledge, and Mind: Essays on Tyler Burge. CSLI.
    According to the expressive theory of communication, the primary function of language is to enable speakers to convey the content of their thoughts to hearers. According to Tyler Burge's social externalism, the content of a person's thought is relative to the way words are used in his or her surrounding linguistic community. This paper argues that Burge's social externalism refutes the expressive theory of communication.
  34. Reflections on Chomsky.A. George (ed.) - 1989 - Blackwell.
  35. Whose Language is It Anyway? Some Notes on Idiolects.Alexander George - 1990 - Philosophical Quarterly 40 (160):275-298.
  36. Anti-Individualism: Mind and Language, Knowledge and Justification.Sanford C. Goldberg - 2007 - Cambridge University Press.
    Sanford C. Goldberg argues that a proper account of the communication of knowledge through speech has anti-individualistic implications for both epistemology and the philosophy of mind and language. In Part I he offers a novel argument for anti-individualism about mind and language, the view that the contents of one's thoughts and the meanings of one's words depend for their individuation on one's social and natural environment. In Part II he discusses the epistemic dimension of knowledge communication, arguing that the epistemic (...)
  37. Dummett: Philosophy of Language.Karen Green - 2001 - Polity Press.
    Dummett's output has been prolific and highly influential, but not always as accessible as it deserves to be. This book sets out to rectify this situation.
  38. The Status of Linguistic Facts: Rethinking the Relation Between Cognition, Social Institution and Utterance From a Functional Point of View.Peter Harder - 2003 - Mind and Language 18 (1):52–76.
  39. Reason and Language.Richard Heck - 2006 - In C. Macdonald & G. Macdonald (eds.), McDowell and His Critics. Blackwell. pp. 22--45.
    John McDowell has often emphasized the fact that the use of langauge is a rational enterprise. In this paper, I explore the sense in which this is so, arguing that our use of language depends upon our consciously knowing what our words mean. I call this a 'cognitive conception of semantic competence'. The paper also contains a close analysis of the phenomenon of implicature and some suggestions about how it should and should not be understood.
  40. Idiolects.Richard Heck - 2006 - In Judith Jarvis Thomson & Alex Byrne (eds.), Content and Modality: Themes From the Philosophy of Robert Stalnaker. Oxford University Press.
    Defends the view that the study of language should concern itself, primarily, with idiolects. The main objections considered are forms of the normativity objection.
  41. Language, Thought, and Logic: Essays in Honour of Michael Dummett.Richard Heck (ed.) - 1997 - Oxford University Press.
    In this exciting new collection, a distinguished international group of philosophers contribute new essays on central issues in philosophy of language and logic, in honor of Michael Dummett, one of the most influential philosophers of the late twentieth century. The essays are focused on areas particularly associated with Professor Dummett. Five are contributions to the philosophy of language, addressing in particular the nature of truth and meaning and the relation between language and thought. Two contributors discuss time, in particular the (...)
  42. On the Nature of Language: A Basic Exposition.James Higginbotham - 2012 - In Manuel García-Carpintero & Max Kölbel (eds.), The Continuum Companion to the Philosophy of Language. Continuum International.
  43. Language and Idiolects.James Higginbotham - 2008 - In Ernest Lepore & Barry C. Smith (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language. Oxford University Press.
  44. Idiolects: Their.James Higginbotham - 2006 - In Barry C. Smith (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language. Oxford University Press. pp. 140.
  45. Languages and Idiolects: Their Language and Ours.James Higginbotham - 2006 - In Barry C. Smith (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language. Oxford University Press. pp. 140--50.
    An idiolectal conception of language is compatible with a substantive role for external things — objects, including other people — in the characterization of idiolects. Illustrations of this role are not hard to come by. The point of looking outward from the individual is pretty evident for the case of reference to perceptually encountered objects: had the world been significantly different, a person with the same molecular history would have acquired, and called by the same familiar names, different physical and (...)
  46. Temporal Externalism, Deference, and Our Ordinary Linguistic Practice.Henry Jackman - 2005 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 86 (3):365-380.
    Temporal externalists argue that ascriptions of thought and utterance content can legitimately reflect contingent conceptual developments that are only settled after the time of utterance. While the view has been criticized for failing to accord with our.
  47. Knowledge of Meaning: An Introduction to Semantic Theory.Richard Larson & Gabriel Segal - 1995 - MIT Press.
  48. Semantic Externalism, Language Variation, and Sociolinguistic Accommodation.Daniel Lassiter - 2008 - Mind and Language 23 (5):607-633.
    Abstract: Chomsky (1986) has claimed that the prima facie incompatibility between descriptive linguistics and semantic externalism proves that an externalist semantics is impossible. Although it is true that a strong form of externalism does not cohere with descriptive linguistics, sociolinguistic theory can unify the two approaches. The resulting two-level theory reconciles descriptivism, mentalism, and externalism by construing community languages as a function of social identification. This approach allows a fresh look at names and definite descriptions while also responding to Chomsky's (...)
  49. The Reality of Language.Ernest Lepore - manuscript
    I conclude that there is no such thing as a language, not if a language is anything like what many philosophers and linguists have supposed. There is therefore no such thing to be learned, mastered or born with. (Davidson, 1986, p. 446).
  50. Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language.Ernest LePore & Barry C. Smith (eds.) - 2006 - Oxford University Press.
    The Oxford Handbooks series is a major new initiative in academic publishing. Each volume offers an authoritative and up-to-date survey of original research in a particular subject area. Specially commissioned essays from leading figures in the discipline give critical examinations of the progress and direction of debates. Oxford Handbooks provide scholars and graduate students with compelling new perspectives upon a wide range of subjects in the humanities and social sciences. Ernie Lepore and Barry Smith present the definitive reference work for (...)
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