Language and thought: Introducing representation
Language and thought: Introducing representation

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Language and thought: Introducing representation

2 Is the speaker's mind the source of an utterance's meaning?

2.1 Introduction

The distinction noted in section 1 between the representational properties of a linguistic utterance (its ‘meaning’) and the representational properties of a mental state (its ‘content’) gives rise, naturally enough, to the suspicion that one of these might be more fundamental than the other. In this section I will look at a theory, most closely associated with the British philosopher H.P. Grice (1913–88), to the effect that the source of an utterance's meaning is the speaker's mind, i.e. the content of their mental states. On this view, when someone produces an utterance, the meaning of this utterance can ultimately be traced back to the content of their intentions in producing it.

An alternative possible source of an utterance's meaning is the meaning of the words used, conceived of as dependent on the characteristics of the linguistic community the person belongs to and possibly other factors that are ‘outside’ the mind of the utterer. Both views of the source of an utterance's meaning are appealing in their different ways. So a pair of questions that will stretch across this section is (i) whether the two views are genuinely in competition or merely apparently so, and (ii) if there is genuine competition, which of the views is more successful in locating the source of the meaning of utterances?

AA308_3

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus