About the workshop

This is an interdisciplinary workshop bringing together linguists, philosophers, and researchers from related disciplines to discuss meaning. We host a variety of talks pertaining to linguistic semantics and the philosophy of language, organized loosely around a yearly theme.

Our theme for the 2017-18 academic year is the illocutionary-perlocutionary continuum:


Austin famously distinguished (in How to Do Things with Words) between illocutionary acts and perlocutionary acts. Illocutionary acts are actions performed by speaking, such as requesting someone to sit down. Perlocutionary acts are acts performed not by speaking, but as a result of speaking, such as persuading someone to sit down. So for example, when I say “Sit down, please,” I am, in saying so, requesting that you sit down. Persuading you to sit down might, or might not, be an effect of my illocutionary act, but it is not an act I can perform merely by saying “Sit down, please.”  Pursuing the complex interaction between speech and action allows us to consider the broader social and political dimensions of language use while preserving interdisciplinary discourse on natural language meaning.

Linguists and philosophers have always been interested in the systematic study of literal content—of what is literally said when a speaker is making an utterance—but recent years have also seen an increased interest in the systematic study of non-literal content and of what we may call the “side-effects” of a given speech act. Nearly everything we say carries an undercurrent of information about our feelings and attitudes. This “expressive content” can be merely suggested, but it is often directly encoded. We have words and morphemes for honoring those around us and conveying our approval, and we also have (generally taboo) morphemes that denigrate, that convey our displeasure. Relatedly, the very fact that a speaker decided to talk about one topic rather than another, or decided not to speak at all, often indicates a speaker’s perspective and significantly impacts how current and future utterances are perceived. Often ordinary speech acts such as questions or offers come with—more or less hidden, and more or less intended—effects such as reinforcing existing stereotypes or power structures. The goal of the workshop is to explore the extent to which semantic theorizing—and systematic linguistic inquiry more generally—can inform the study of non-literal content or non-linguistic side-effects. Doing so will provide a rich environment to continue exploring topics that have been at the core of many previous workshop discussions—including recent work on evidentiality, perspectivality, and veridicality-vs-anti-veridicality—while bringing in new perspectives.