The Role of Artificial Languages

Martin Stokhof
University of Amsterdam
When one looks into the role of artificial languages in philosophy of language it seems appropriate to start with making a distinction between philosophy of language proper and formal semantics of natural language. Although the distinction between the two disciplines may not always be easy to make since there arguably exist substantial historical and systematic relationships between the two, it nevertheless pays to keep the two apart, at least initially, since the motivation commonly given for the use of artificial languages in philosophy of language is often rather different from the one that drives the use of such languages in semantics. Of course, this difference in motivation should not blind us for the commonalities that exists between the two disciplines. Philosophy of language and formal semantics have a common history, and arguably also share some of their substance. Philosophy of language is by and large an outgrowth of work in the analytical tradition in philosophy in the first half of the twentieth century. Both ordinary language philosophy, with its emphasis on the description of actual language use, as well as the more logic-oriented and formally inclined school of logical positivism contributed to the definition of philosophy of language as a separate philosophical discipline, with its own set of problems and methods to solve them. Another major contributor to the establishment of philosophy of language as a distinct discipline has been modern linguistics, in particular generative grammar in the tradition of Chomsky that became the dominant paradigm in linguisticsin the fifties and sixties of the previous century. And as it happens, both the generative tradition of Chomsky and analytic philosophy in its formal and less formal guises have been important factors in the development of formal semantics as well. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the two have something in common. That the communalities go beyond a common ancestry, but are reflected in substance and methods as well, will be argued later on. However, be that as it may, it is still a good idea to keep philosophy of language and formal semantics separate, at least initially, since the role that is assigned to artificial languages and the ways in which these languages are employed in both does differ in a number of respects that are worth keeping in mind..
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