Philippe SchlenkerFeb 25, 2023
What It All Means
Semantics for (Almost) Everything
MIT Press 2022
In What It All Means: Semantics for (Almost) Everything (MIT Press, 2022), Philippe Schlenker takes readers on tour of meaning, from the animal kingdom to human culture, arguing that semantics should be taken to have a wide range of applications. He takes on bird song and primate calls, classical music and sign language, predicate logic and scalar implicatures. Throughout, he demonstrates the success of the field of semantics in explaining how human languages—spoken and signed—have rules for meaning. The book not only emphasizes the continuity between spoken and signed languages, but illustrates how understanding the expressive capacities, semantic and pragmatic, of signed languages helps us understand language in general. Given the many successes of semantics, which he calls an example of the scientific humanities, Schlenker argues that other forms of meaning, such as musical meaning, could be profitably analyzed with concepts from more standard syntax and semantics, even including a notion of musical truth.
Malcolm Keating is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Yale-NUS College. His research focuses on Sanskrit works of philosophy in Indian traditions, in the areas of language and epistemology. He is the author of Language, Meaning, and Use in Indian Philosophy (Bloomsbury Press, 2019) and host of the podcast Sutras & Stuff.