Philosophy of language


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Moved by fictions: Greta Garbo in Anna Karenina (1935). Photo by Bettmann/Getty

Essay/
Philosophy of language
Making up stuff

A novel, by definition, tells a fictional story – but does that make its author a liar? On the space between stories and lies

Emar Maier

Photo by Vincent J Musi/National Geographic

Essay/
Animals and humans
The pointing ape

How a chimpanzee named Clint trained a psychologist to question human exceptionalism and reconsider the intelligence of apes

David Leavens

Glisten, glint, glimmer and glow. Photo by Albert Ceolan/DEA/Getty

Essay/
Philosophy of language
The way words mean

Words stand for things in the world, and they stand apart from it. Perhaps meaning is more sunken into words than we realise?

Alexander Stern

Nurunuru? Reiko Takahashi, 78, prepares seaweed that she collects from the sea at the Tomari Port on 12 March 2013 in Minamisanriku, Japan. Photo by Athit Perawongmetha/Getty

Essay/
Language and linguistics
Words as feelings

A special class of vivid, textural words defies linguistic theory: could ‘ideophones’ unlock the secrets of humans’ first utterances?

David Robson

Photo by Terry Vine/Getty

Essay/
Philosophy of language
Sex talks

The language of sexual negotiation must go far beyond ‘consent’ and ‘refusal’ if we are to foster ethical, autonomous sex

Rebecca Kukla

Photo by Brooke Anderson Photography/Getty

Essay/
Language and linguistics
Who decides what words mean

Bound by rules, yet constantly changing, language might be the ultimate self-regulating system, with nobody in charge

Lane Greene

Are we missing something? The French author Georges Perec, whose novel La disparition (1969), containing not a single instance of the letter ‘e’, was translated by Gilbert Adair as A Void (1995). Photo by Guy Le Querrec/Magnum

Essay/
Stories and literature
L’art de la traduction

What is the task of the translator – to be a servant to the source or to create a new work of illuminated meaning?

Mark Polizzotti

Katrina Esau, one of the last remaining speakers of a Khoisan language that was thought extinct nearly 40 years ago, teaches her native tongue to a group of school children in Upington, South Africa on 21 September 2015. Photo by Mujahid Safodien/AFP/Getty

Essay/
Philosophy of language
The death of languages

Endangered languages have sentimental value, it’s true, but are there good philosophical reasons to preserve them?

Rebecca Roache

‘You can never, in American public life, underestimate the advantages of complete and total incomprehensibility.’ Kissinger meets Anwar Sadat in 1976. Photo wikipedia

Idea/
Language and linguistics
The unexpected benefits of getting lost in translation

Edward Gibson

Photo by the Hulton Archive/Getty

Essay/
Language and linguistics
Talking gibberish

The study of languages has long been prone to nonsense. Why is linguistics such a magnet for dilettantes and crackpots?

Gaston Dorren

Beatriz (L), 7, from Rio de Janeiro speaks with an indigenous girl at the Kari-Oca village as part of the ‘Rio+20’ United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Photo by Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

Essay/
Language and linguistics
Is linguistics a science?

Much of linguistic theory is so abstract and dependent on theoretical apparatus that it might be impossible to explain

Arika Okrent

I have the right to remain silent (2017). Oil on canvas by Albert Barqué-Duran.

Essay/
Human rights and justice
The legal imagination

Hypotheticals, fantastical beings, and a fictional omnibus: legal reasoning is made supple by its use of the imagination

Maksymilian Del Mar

Marina Abramović during ‘The Artist is Present’ exhibition at MOMA, 9 March 2010 in New York. Photo by Andrew H Walker/Getty Images

Essay/
Metaphysics
Unspeakable things

Life’s most meaningful experiences can leave us tongue-tied. What can be said, let alone understood, about the unsayable?

Silvia Jonas