I am curious about any similarities or assumptions even in the two fields that may link them. I suppose formal semantic analyses may be one area (broadly speaking) but perhaps there are others...?

I suppose I am just curious where philosophy begins and linguistics ends and vice-versa, when it comes to dividing up the fields.

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    Looking at the history of analytic philosophy shows how the fields of philosophy of language and (modern) linguistics grew out of the same ideas. You have the foundational crisis in mathematics, Frege and then Russell (Peano, Poincaré, etc.) creating and formalizing symbolic logic, metamathematical results about those systems, Church Turing Gödel etc. founding computability theory, Tarski's founding of model theory, which combined provided the mathematical framework for Chomsky's generative grammar and the mechanical study of syntax (Chomsky hierarchy for example) and the field goes from there
    – Not_Here
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 10:14
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    Yes, the two fields use the same results on formal syntax and formal grammar. Philosophy of language focuses on larger meta questions about language like "how and why do words have meaning? What sort of cognitive or mechanical systems are in place that create meaning? What does it mean to 'refer' to something?" while linguistics would ask questions like "what are the specific grammar rules in this language?" and "how has the morphology in this specific language evolved over the past three hundred years?" Linguistics focuses on more concrete, applicable and "soft science" types of questions.
    – Not_Here
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 10:19
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    The grey area comes with questions like "what specific parts of our brain are responsibly for our ability to understand syntax?" although of course thats also a neuroscience question. In general, philosophy of language asks larger, meta questions about the nature of language and its role in our cognitive processes: "What role does language play in our ability to think? Is thinking its own language?" But the two fields use the same tools that have been developed to examine the particular structure of languages, i.e. formal syntax and semantics etc.
    – Not_Here
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 10:21
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    Well, they intersect in the area of semantics, as can be seen in the work of Davidson. Then there's also (formal) logic which sort of connects the two.
    – Atamiri
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 13:58
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    Structural linguistics of Saussure, originally conceived as science, developed into a major current of continental philosophy that took its insights into language and vastly generalized them to every walk of human life. French philosophical poststructuralism of Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze, among others, is an outgrowth. Similar dynamic happened in analytic philosophy with Wittgenstein, Quine and Dummett participating, see linguistic turn
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 22:24

1 Answer 1


Huge and complex topic but one connexion between linguistics and philosophy runs very clearly through the work of Noam Chomsky.

Contemporary linguistics, and especially the parts of it that relate to the lexicon, sentence structure, and meaning, remains close to its philosophical foundations; many linguists working in these areas find it difficult to avoid involvement in problems that are essentially philosophical, especially in trying to determine the cognitive basis of their work. Most of the cognitive sciences remain close to their philosophical roots, but linguists who have inherited the essentially introspective methods of generative grammar find themselves in an unusually philosophical position, since the research program is unsupported by a well developed experimental methodology. Thus, the foundations of linguistics, and especially their relation to human cognition, have preoccupied linguists as much as or even more than philosophers. From Chomsky (1966) to Chomsky (2000), Noam Chomsky's work has represented an attempt to provide a philosophical account of the parts of linguistic science that can be grounded in the cognitive constitutions of individual human beings.

Francis Jeffry Pelletier and Richmond H. Thomason, 'Twenty-Five Years of Linguistics and Philosophy', Linguistics and Philosophy, Vol. 25, No. 5/6 (Dec., 2002), pp. 507-529 : 510.

The article contains far more detailed information about the relation of linguistics to philosophy from the linguistics side, and the relation of linguistics to philosophy from the philosophical side but space is too limited to elaborate here - unfortunately.

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