The Monist 57 (3):328-343 (1973)

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Abstract
A natural language is a unified and integrated system, and the serious study of one part of the system inevitably involves one in the study of many other parts, if not the system as a whole. For this reason, the study of small, isolated fragments of a language—however necessary, valuable, and difficult this may be—will often make us think that we understand more than we really do. The fact is that you can’t really study one phenomenon adequately without studying a great many other related phenomena, and the way they fit together in terms of the linguistic system as a whole. This is the sort of thing a linguist learns very early in his career. Experience in descriptive linguistics, even at an elementary level will force a linguist to come to grips with a wide range of complex data in some language, perhaps even English, and the truism soon emerges. But, due to the vagaries of our educational institutions, few philosophers or logicians receive training in linguistic description. Consequently much of the discussion of natural language in the philosophical and logical literature is based on a very small sampling of data which is skewed in nontrivial ways. True, one has to start somewhere, and a great deal has been learned by ordinary language philosophers who have looked at only a handful of relatively simple examples and by logicians who have studied what by natural language standards are only miniscule fragments. But now that philosophers and logicians are turning to more detailed studies of natural language phenomena, it is perhaps the right time to suggest that philosophical and logical training be expanded to include the study of natural languages as entire systems. I don’t mean to suggest, for example, that logicians should stop their systematic study of small fragments, but rather that a knowledge of the kinds of phenomena outside of those fragments can enrich the study of fragments and give one a more realistic picture of what one does and does not know about natural language.
Keywords Analytic Philosophy  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest  Philosophy of Mind  Philosophy of Science
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ISBN(s) 0026-9662
DOI 10.5840/monist197357310
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