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Instructor: Jessi Addison. This course meets MTWRF 9:45 – 11:15 a.m. in CW 213.

What does language consist in, and how do we explain the number of things it can be used to achieve? Language is the mechanism by which we explain, command, imply, query, christen, promise, and teach, among many other activities. It is immensely complex and, at times, intricate. This course aims to begin unraveling some of those complexities and intricacies, exploring a number of ways philosophers and linguists have conceived of language and what it is to use it.

The first part will introduce students to the fundamentals of linguistic theory, including treatments of syntax and semantics, as well as Chomsky’s thesis that language is a uniquely human capacity. We will subsequently explore views of language that purport to go beyond syntax and semantics, and read work by others such as J.L. Austin and H.P. Grice that serves as an introduction to another aspect of language use, typically called pragmatics.

In the last portion of the class, we will explore the thesis that language is a uniquely human capacity, by way of some literature on animal communication systems. In what ways do these systems resemble and differ from human languages? What are we to make of animals (such as chimpanzees and parrots) that have demonstrated capacity to seemingly learn at least parts of human language, and what implications might this information have for linguistic theses like Chomsky’s?