About this topic
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
Related categories

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  1. Convention, Truth, and Meaning.Russell Zachary Abrams - 1974 - Dissertation, Yale University
  2. In Search of Intended Meaning: Investigating Barwise's Equation CR(S, C) = P.Varol Akman - manuscript
    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 (...)
  3. Normativity and Instrumentalism in David Lewis' Convention.S. M. Amadae - 2011 - 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 (...)
  4. Note Sur la Convention Delphes-Skiathos.Pierre Amandry - 1944 - Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 68 (1):411-416.
  5. Karl-Otto Apel — Three Dimensions of Understanding Meaning in Analytic Philosophy: Linguistic Conventions, Intentions, and Reference to Things.Karl-Otto Apel - 1980 - Philosophy and Social Criticism 7 (2):116-142.
  6. Embodied Conventions.Federico José Arena - 2016 - Revus 30:59-67.
    In these brief comments on Bruno Celano’s “Pre-conventions. A Fragment of the Background”, I propose further thoughts on what, following Celano’s analysis, I call embodied conventions. I begin with a number of remarks on Celano’s philosophical method. Then I claim, first, that the social dimension of conventionality remains obscure in his account of embodied conventions, and, second, that his account of pre-conventions is still imprecise due to the ambiguity of the notion of the Background.
  7. Coordination, Triangulation, and Language Use.Josh Armstrong - 2016 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 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, (...)
  8. The Problem of Lexical Innovation.Josh Armstrong - 2016 - 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. (...)
  9. Intentions and Convention.A. Avramides - 1997 - In Bob Hale & Crispin Wright (eds.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Language. Blackwell. pp. 60--86.
  10. Meaning.Kent Bach - 2003 - In L. Nadel (ed.), Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science. 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 (...)
  11. Linguistic Communication and Speech Acts.Kent Bach & Robert M. Harnish - 1979 - Cambridge: MIT Press.
  12. Reason and Convention.Edward G. Ballard - 1952 - Tulane Studies in Philosophy 1:21-42.
  13. 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 (...)
  14. Faithful Description and the Incommensurability of Evolved Languages.Jeffrey A. Barrett - 2010 - 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.
  15. Inscription de Phocide. Convention Entre la Ville de Drymaea Et la Confédération des Oetéens.Mondry Beaudouin - 1881 - Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 5 (1):137-145.
  16. La Convention Belorgey : Deux Ans Après..J. M. Belorgey - 2003 - Médecine et Droit 2003 (61):103-104.
  17. Depiction and Convention.John G. Bennett - 1974 - The Monist 58 (2):255-268.
  18. Linguistic Behaviour.Jonathan Bennett - 1976 - Cambridge University Press.
    First published in 1976, this book presents a view of language as a matter of systematic communicative behaviour.
  19. Abbreviations and Conventions.IsaiahHG Berlin - 2014 - In Political Ideas in the Romantic Age: Their Rise and Influence on Modern Thought. Princeton University Press.
  20. Social Ontology as Convention.Mark H. Bickhard - 2008 - 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 (...)
  21. Intentions and conventions.G. H. Bird - 1974 - Logique Et Analyse 17 (67):495.
  22. Depiction and Convention.Ben Blumson - 2008 - 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.
  23. Notes on David K. Lewis’s Book, Convention: A Philosophical Study.William Boardman - manuscript
  24. Notes On: David K. Lewis, Convention: A Philosophical Study (Harvard: 1969).William Boardman - unknown
    Note on the tables: The agents represented by the rows and by the columns are choosing simultaneously and independently; each square represents the outcome of such a pair of choices. Column-chooser's payoff is shown in the top-right portion of a square; Row-chooser's payoff is shown in the bottom-left portion of a square. Each chooser knows what the payoffs would be for each set of concurrent choices and knows that the other chooser also knows. Because an outcome depends upon the combination (...)
  25. Landesman on Conventions.Steven E. Boër - 1974 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 52 (1):63 – 67.
  26. Convention and Necessity.Kathy Emmett Bohstedt - 2000 - Essays in Philosophy 1 (2):6.
  27. The Pragmatics of Slurs.Renée Jorgensen Bolinger - 2017 - Noûs 51 (3):439-462.
    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 (...)
  28. Language: A Biological Model.Emma Borg - manuscript
    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 (...)
  29. Intention-Based Semantics.Emma Borg - 2006 - In Ernest Lepore & Barry Smith (eds.), The Oxford Handbook to the Philosophy of Language. Oxford University Press. pp. 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 (...)
  30. Intentions and Compositionality.Steffen Borge - 2009 - SATS 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 (...)
  31. L'organisation des conquêtes artistiques de la Convention en Belgique.Ferdinand Boyer - 1971 - Revue Belge de Philologie Et D’Histoire 49 (2):490-500.
  32. 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 (...)
  33. Art and Convention.Margaret Zeglin Brand - 1985 - 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 (...)
  34. The German Philosophical Convention in Mainz.Walter Brugger - 1948 - Modern Schoolman 26 (1):41-43.
  35. On Knowledge and Convention.Tyler Burge - 1975 - 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).
  36. Convencionalidad y Significado Sin Uso.Óscar Cabaco - 2002 - 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.
  37. How New Language Emerge. [REVIEW]R. Sansegundo Cachero - 2009 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 28 (1).
  38. Conventions and Their Role in Language.M. J. Cain - 2013 - 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 (...)
  39. Contradiction: 'Law' or 'Convention'?C. A. Campbell - 1957 - Analysis 18 (4):73 - 76.
  40. Linguistic Conventions and the Role of Pragmatics.Robyn Carston - 2016 - Mind and Language 31 (5):612-624.
  41. Unconventional Utterances? Davidson’s Rejection of Conventions in Language Use.Mason Cash - 2004 - ProtoSociology 20:285-319.
    Since people can often successfully interpret utterances that flout or ignore conventions, Davidson concludes that shared conventions are neither necessary nor sufficient for linguistic interpretation. This conclusion is based on an overly narrow conception of what it is to know, and to share, a language. Rather than, as Davidson argues, simply interpreting the meaning the speaker intends their words to be interpreted as having , successful interpretation requires interpreting the illocutionary act the speaker intends to be interpreted as performing . (...)
  42. Pre-Conventions.Bruno Celano - 2016 - Revus 30:9-32.
    In this paper I argue that there exist conventions of a peculiar sort which are neither norms nor regularities of behaviour, partaking of both. I proceed as follows. After a brief analysis of the meaning of ‘convention’, I give some examples of the kind of phenomena I have in mind: bodily skills, know-how, taste and style, habitus, “disciplines”. Then I group some arguments supporting my claim: considerations about the identity conditions of precedents and about the projectibility of predicates in inductive (...)
  43. Do Jurists Need Pre-Conventions?Pierluigi Chiassoni - 2016 - Revus.
    The paper offers a comparison between the legal theory of normative facts on the one hand, and Bruno Celano’s theory of pre-conventions on the other, suggesting two ways that the latter may be of use to well-meaning jurists.
  44. On What We Mean.Arnold J. Chien - 2002
  45. 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.
  46. Lewis's Notion of a Convention.Keith Coleman - unknown
  47. Putting Syntax First: On Convention and Implicature in Imagination and Convention.John Collins - 2016 - Mind and Language 31 (5):635-645.
  48. Review of I G Norance of Language} by Michael D Evitt. [REVIEW]John Collins - 2007 - Mind 116 (462):416-423.
  49. Demonstrative Without Descriptive Conventions.S. C. Coval - 1965 - Philosophy 40 (154):334 - 343.
    I TRY to do the following things in this paper. I. To show briefly how one might argue for the mutual dependence of our demonstrative and descriptive conventions as they now stand. II. To suggest that this duality of convention may be a dispensable, though in some ways desirable, aspect of language and that if one of these conventions is non-essential it is our descriptive conventions. III. To show something of the philosophical implications of such a ‘non-word’ language. Perhaps not (...)
  50. Quotation, Demonstration, and Iconicity.Kathryn Davidson - 2015 - 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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