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PHILOS 3E03 PhilosophyofLanguage

Academic Year: Winter 2017

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Sandra Lapointe

Email: lapointe@mcmaster.ca

Office: University Hall 307A

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 20877


Office Hours: TBA

Course Objectives:

Description and Objectives

The aim of the course is to acquaint students with the rapid development in the philosophical study of language over the course of the twentieth century in order to focus on the most recent theories in the study of human and non-human animal communication. The aim is to understand how, by drawing on linguistics, psychology, evolutionary biology and anthropology, philosophers are in a better position to understand where human language comes from and how it works.

This course is designed for student with no background in the philosophy of language. The aim is to understand what current concerns drive philosophical research on language, how they need to be informed by other disciplines and why they are philosophically important. At the end of the course, students will have acquired an understanding of the value of the study of formal language, the formal study of language as well as knowledge of the most recent theories concerning the nature and origin of human communication.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Students are asked to buy: Speaking Our Minds by Thom Scott-Phillips (Palgrave 2015). It is available at the University Book Store (Titles). Links to other relevant papers and articles will be provided at no cost.

Important links, updates and information will be available on the course website on Avenue to Learn. Please check in on Avenue regularly.

Method of Assessment:

1 term paper (around 1000 words) worth 30 points of the grade on an assigned topic. It will be due on 28 February.

1 in-class exam worth 30 points on (14 February). Students will be asked to provide short answers to questions related to the material studied in the context of the course. A list of preparatory questions will be distributed the week prior to the exam and detailed instructions will be provided.

1 final exam worth 40 points (Date TBD). Students will be asked to answer (in essay form) questions relating to the book read in class. A list of preparatory questions will be distributed two weeks prior to the exam and detailed instructions will be provided.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:


Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Class takes place Tuesdays, 11:30-14:30 in CNH 102

10 January:       Introduction.

17 January:       Language: Semantic Approaches

24 January:       What Is A (Formal) Language?

31 January:       Meaning, Reference and Truth

7 February        Post-Tarskian Philosophy of Language: What Paradoxes Teach Us.

14 February       In Class Exam

21 February       RECESS

28 February       Communication: Cognitive Approaches

        Two Approaches to Communication (Read: Speaking Our Minds, Chap.1)

7 March The Emergence of Communication Systems (Read: Speaking Our Minds, Chap. 2)                                               

14 March           Cognition and Communication (Read: Speaking Our Minds, Chap. 3)

21 March           The Origins of Ostensive Communication (Read: Speaking Our Minds, Chap. 4)

28 March           Building a Language (Read: Speaking our Minds, Chap.5)

4 April               Evolutionary Adaptation (Speaking our Minds, Chap. 6)

Other Course Information:


Course Changes: The instructor and the University reserve the right to modify elements of the course during the term.  The university may change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses in extreme circumstances.  If either type of modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes.  It is the responsibility of the student to check their McMaster email and course websites weekly during the term and to note any changes.