The twenty-first century will witness an unprecedented decline in the diversity of the world’s languages. While most philosophers will likely agree that this decline is lamentable, the question of what exactly is lost with a language has not been systematically explored in the philosophical literature. In this paper, I address this lacuna by arguing that language loss constitutes a problematic form of illocutionary silencing. When a language disappears, past and present speakers lose the ability to realize a range of speech acts that can only be realized in that language. With that ability, speakers lose something in which they have a fundamental interest: their standing as fully-empowered members of a linguistic community.
No context, no content, no problem. (forthcoming in Mind and Language)
Recently, philosophers have offered compelling reasons to think that demonstratives are best represented as variables, sensitive not to the context of utterance, but to a variable assignment. Variablists typically explain familiar intuitions about demonstratives---intuitions that suggest that what is said by way of a demonstrative sentence varies systematically over contexts---by claiming that contexts initialize a particular assignment of values to variables. I argue that we do not need to link context and the assignment parameter in this way, and that we would do better not to.
Complex demonstratives, hidden arguments, and presupposition. Synthese (2019)
Although non-deictic demonstratives—demonstratives that are not used to pick out an individual from the context of utterance—have received significant attention recently in the philosophical literature, existing semantic theories predict that they should be much more widely available than they in fact are. I present data that undermine the leading proposals, and I describe an alternative that is both empirically superior and theoretically attractive. On that alternative, complex demonstratives are a distinctive kind of definite description.
Discourse and methodological form. Linguistics and Philosophy (2019) with Eliot Michaelson
Some philosophers have recently attracted significant attention by breaking with tradition and claiming that the linguistic meaning of ‘that’ fixes its reference without any contribution from speaker intentions, demonstrations, or other features of the speech situation in which the expression is used.
Our aim here is to show that this claim can be sustained only in the thinnest technical sense. While there might be something to gain by moving away from traditional thinking about the role of context view, new-school theories of the sort we take up here offer no way to sidestep the questions that have shaped the philosophical literature on demonstratives. Properly understood, those theories raise the same issues—and are susceptible to the same sort of challenges—as every other extant theory of which we are aware.
Multiculturalism, autonomy, and language preservation. Ergo (2019)
In this paper I show how a certain prominent kind of consideration that has been adduced in favor of multiculturalism, when interpreted in the light of some innovative recent work in the philosophy of language, might be used to justify claims about the preservation, protection, or accommodation of minority languages.
Demonstratives without rigidity or ambiguity. Linguistics and Philosophy (2014)
Most philosophers recognize that applying the standard semantics for complex demonstratives to non-deictic instances results in anomalous truth conditions, at best. This fact has generated little concern, however, since most philosophers treat non-deictic demonstratives as marginal cases, and believe that they should be treated using a distinct semantic mechanism. In this paper, I argue that non-deictic demonstratives cannot be written off ; they are widespread in English and foreign languages, and must be treated using the same semantic machinery that is applied to other instances.