Influence of linguistics and philosophy on each other

Language is the basis of philosophy. Through ages, there has been much debate and study into the relationship between the two fields of science. It is interesting to note how the followers of the two individual streams got influenced by the corresponding science. There were times when it wasn’t clear who was a philosopher and who was a linguist. The “Linguistic Turn” marks a turning point in the relationship between philosophy–philosophers and linguistics-linguists.

Influence of Linguistics on Philosophy

The beginning of the 20th century saw the growth of realization of the role of language in philosophy. It was found that linguistics had a more useful role other than being a toll to understand the human mind or a tool to philosophize. It was found that language theory had a major role in the philosophy of language, which in itself pretty much comprised the full discipline of philosophy. This period of realization of the importance of linguistics is termed as the period of the “linguistic turn. This refers to when philosophers began to accept that human perception of what is, is dependent on language; therefore it is important to understand language itself.

This theory was popularized by philosophers such as Frege, Wittengstein, Austin and Russel. They stopped taking language at face value, instead began asking questions into the character of it. For example, questions which would previously have been “What is satisfaction?” got revised to “What is the meaning of satisfaction?”

This linguistic turn greatly influenced philosophy at the time. It made philosophy more relatable with answer being more direct, instead of abstract. Advocates of the linguistic turn, began defining philosophy as being a certain kind of analysis of language – “the pursuit of meaning” (Schlick, 1932)

Influence of Philosophy on Linguistics

Philosophy plays a big part in the study of linguistics. The understanding and search for meaning forms a fundamental part of linguistics. Early semanticians could be considered specialists in this dual role. It was in the 20th century when the heirs of the ‘linguistic turn’ began to refer to subfields of philosophy like the Tarskin logical semantics and model theory. This approach gave the framework for units of meaning to be arranges as set-theoretical objects.

Traditional logic gave way to more modern and scientific models. Richard Montague (1974) proposed the acceptance of intensional logic to possible-word semantics to answer issues and debates relating to natural language which could otherwise not be explained by extensional logic. The concept of “possible-world” was first implicitly introduced by Rudolf Carnap (1957) and later explicitly by Saul Kripke (1963).

The concept of possible-world has since been much debated to such an extent that linguists-semanticians have begun morphing and looking like philosophers-metaphysicians. In certain instances semanticians have also explicitly postulated metaphysics.


Currently the disciplines of semantics and metaphysics (subfields of linguistics and philosophy respectively) are not completely independent of each other. It is a very common feature for the disciplines to take principles from the other to explain a particular subject matter. Overlapping does sometimes also cause confusion, but they do retain their own characteristics.