Meaning Change

Analytic Philosophy (forthcoming)
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Abstract

The linguistic meaning of a word in a language is what fully competent speakers of the language have a grasp of merely in virtue of their semantic competence. The meanings of words sometimes change over time. 'Meat' used to mean 'solid food', but now means 'animal flesh eaten as food'. This type of meaning change comes with change of topic, what we’re talking about. Many people interested in conceptual engineering have claimed that there is also meaning change where topic is retained. For example, they claim that the meanings of ‘fish’ and ‘pasta’ have undergone such change and that the meaning of 'marriage' would change this way after gay marriages become legal and widely accepted. In this paper I relate two sets of relatively independent literatures: mainstream philosophy of language and conceptual engineering to argue that on a plausible and widely accepted Minimalist view of meaning that is part and parcel of anti-descriptivism none of the above sorts of cases involve meaning change with topic retention. I do this by showing how to distinguish minimalism about meaning from the related theses of externalism and anti-individualism about intension and how to separate meaning from intension in a way that allows meaning and topic to remain the same despite changes in intension. The larger lesson is that much like we shouldn’t disregard the boundary between the narrowly meaning-related (“semantics”) and the more broadly communication-related (“pragmatics”), we shouldn’t disregard the boundary between the former and the more broadly thought-related, conceptual or cognitive (“cognition”).

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Author's Profile

Indrek Reiland
University of Vienna

References found in this work

Demonstratives: An Essay on the Semantics, Logic, Metaphysics and Epistemology of Demonstratives and other Indexicals.David Kaplan - 1989 - In Joseph Almog, John Perry & Howard Wettstein (eds.), Themes From Kaplan. Oxford University Press. pp. 481-563.
Mental Files.François Récanati - 2012 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Making it Explicit.Isaac Levi & Robert B. Brandom - 1996 - Journal of Philosophy 93 (3):145.
Minimal semantics.Emma Borg - 2004 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Studies in the Way of Words.Paul Grice - 1989 - Philosophy 65 (251):111-113.

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