Philosophies of Language

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 1 or Year 2
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Religions and Philosophies

Module overview

The philosophy of language is the branch of philosophical inquiry concerned with questions related to the nature, use and limits of language as a medium between language-users and between them and the world.

Do words merely describe non-linguistic things in the world, or does language have more to do with expressing intentions, vulnerabilities, and the like? This module looks at a range of Anglo-American, critical theoretic, and African takes on language - with particular attention devoted to language's interrelations with a range of power dynamics.

Students will learn how these various perspectives stand in conversation with each other, how the analysis of language has been linked to and conditioned by metaphysical commitments, and how language's imbrication with power buttresses different self-understandings of the aim of philosophical discussion.

Objectives and learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course a student will be able to:

  • Explain central arguments and ideas of a range of philosophical approaches to language across philosophical traditions
  • Compare and contrast a range of philosophical approaches to language
  • Evaluate challenges to mainstream Anglo-American philosophy of language
  • Articulate the relationship of language to power formations from a variety of critical theoretic perspectives

Scope and syllabus

Week 1: Introduction, motivation, and overview of the module

Week 2: Speech Act Theory 101

Week 3: Feminist Speech Act Theory

Week 4: Ameliorative Definitions of ‘Woman’

Week 5: Trans Philosophy of Language

Week 6: Reading Week

Weeks 7 and 8: Critical Discourse Analysis: Said and Spivak

Weeks 9 and 10: African Philosophy of Language (The Problem of Language; The Semantics of Chichewa proverbs)

Week 11: Workshop


Two hour lecture and one hour tutorial per week over 10 weeks (plus one revision session in term 3).

Method of assessment

  • One short essay of 1,000 words OR video essay or multimedia presentation (5 minutes, 5 pages/slides)- (30%)
  • Portfolio (including a longer essay of 2,000 words) (70%)

Suggested reading

  • Maitra, I. 2009. ‘Silencing Speech’. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 39: 309–338.
  • Wiredu, K. 1997. ‘How Not to Compare African Traditional Thought with Western Thought’. Transition 75/76: 320–327.



Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules