Coordination, Triangulation, and Language Use

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 59 (1):80-112 (2016)
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In this paper, I explore two contrasting conceptions of the social character of language. The first takes language to be grounded in social convention. The second, famously developed by Donald Davidson, takes language to be grounded in a social relation called triangulation. I aim both to clarify and to evaluate these two conceptions of language. First, I propose that Davidson’s triangulation-based story can be understood as the result of relaxing core features of conventionalism pertaining to both common-interest and diachronic stability—specifically, Davidson does not require uses of language to be self-perpetuating, in the way required by conventionalism, in order to be bona fide components of linguistic systems. Second, I argue that Davidson’s objections to conventionalism from language innovation and language variation fail, and that certain kinds of negative data in language use require an appeal to diachronic social relations. However, I also argue that recent work on communication in the a..

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Josh Armstrong
University of California, Los Angeles


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