Philosophy of language


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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

Barry Falls/Heart Agency

Essay/
Language and linguistics
Naughty words

What makes swear words so offensive? It’s not their meaning or even their sound. Is language itself a red herring here?

Rebecca Roache

Dan Everett and the Pirahã in 2009. Photo by Martin Schoeller/AUGUST

Essay/
Philosophy of language
Chomsky, Wolfe and me

I took on Noam Chomsky’s ideas about language and unleashed a decade of debate and ridicule. But is my argument wrong?

Daniel Everett

Photo by Brooke Anderson Photography/Getty

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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

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

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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

Photo by the Hulton Archive/Getty

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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

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

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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

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

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

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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

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

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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

Laugharne, Wales, 1959. Photo by Philip Jones Griffiths/Magnum

Essay/
Language and linguistics
Hand to mouth

If language began with gestures around a campfire and secret signals on hunts, why did speech come to dominate communication?

Kensy Cooperrider

At ‘La Révolution Surréaliste” exhibition, Centre Georges Pompidou, 2002. Photo by Raphael Gaillarde/Getty

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Language and linguistics
More than words

Human communication is a glorious chaos. And images, from art to emojis, sometimes say it so much better than language can

Thom Scott-Phillips

This is not a toilet. Kevin Walsh/Getty

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Language and linguistics
Euphemise this

Euphemisms are like underwear: best changed frequently. What work are they doing in our language and why do they expire?

John McWhorter

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

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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

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