Gillian Russell

Philosophy Professor

Phil 745 (Lin 712) Graduate Seminar in Philosophy of Language (Fall 2019)

Class times Wednesdays 4-6.30pm, Caldwell 213

Course Website:

Course Instructor:

  • Professor Gillian Russell

  • Office hours: Monday 11.25am-12.25pm, Friday 1.30-2.30pm

  • Office Location: Caldwell Hall, 203

  • Email: gillian UNDERSCORE russell AT unc DOT edu

This is a graduate-level research seminar in the philosophy of language, focusing on recent work on philosophy of language with political and ethical applications. It has three main goals, which are in tension with each other:

  1. to read, discuss, and assess some of the cutting-edge literature that has been published recently in this area, ideally giving graduate students in philosophy an opportunity to engage with and contribute to a growing literature

  2. to provide an introduction to the area for graduate students who have strong backgrounds in the philosophy of language, and are interested in new applications

  3. to be accessible to graduate students in philosophy and other disciplines who don’t have a strong background in the philosophy of language, so that engaging in this seminar can be a way in which they gain an understanding of e.g. speech acts, implicature, indexicality, presupposition, accommodation etc. through studying political applications of such mechanisms.

The seminar has been designed so that each of these different groups might be able to use it to accomplish their primary goal. Each week there will be a new reading in recent philosophy of language, and we will start by working our way through Mary Kate McGowan’s book Just Words: on speech and hidden harm.
Chapters 1 and 2 of this book in particular provide a concise introduction to some useful background in the philosophy of language.

Each week there will also be a recommended piece of background reading. The background reading is recommended, rather than required, for participation in the seminar, but if your research paper is on a topic, you should make sure you have done the appropriate background reading as well as read the recent material.

Assessed work for the course will involve i) a final research paper – research papers will be expected to show mastery of and familiarity with the relevant technical and background material – ii) an in-class presentation of 10-15 minutes and iii) a technical diary, which you compile over the course of the semester to keep track of e.g. technical distinctions, terminology, models and theories that come up in the course of your reading.



You might wish to acquire a copy of Mary Kate McGowan’s book Just Words, since we’ll be reading it from start to finish. It is available electronically via the library here.

Other assigned readings for the course are listed in the syllabus below and will be made available online (either with a link from this page or via our library course reserves site, which you can access through Sakai.)

21st August

Introductory session, no assigned reading, but we’ll look at extracts from Stebbing and McGowan.

28th August

Reading: Introduction and Chapters 1 and 2 of Just Words: On Speech and Hidden Harm
Background reading: J.L. Austin – “Performative Utterances

4th September

Chapters 3 and 4 of Just Words
Background reading: “Common Ground” – R. Stalnaker in Linguistics and Philosophy, December 2002, Volume 25, Issue 5-6, pp. 701-721

11th September

Chapters 5 and 6 of Just Words
Background: “Logic and Conversation” – H.P. Grice.

18th September

Chapter 7 and the Conclusion of Just Words
Background: “Score-Keeping in a Language Game” – D. Lewis

25th September

Blocking as Counterspeech” – R. Langton
Background: “Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts” – R. Langton

2nd October

Thick Translation” K.A. Appiah in Callaloo, Vol. 16, No. 4, On “Post-Colonial Discourse”: A Special Issue (Autumn,1993), pp. 808-819

Meaning” – H.P. Grice

9th October

“Stating and Insinuating” – E. Fricker,
Recommended additional reading: “Insinuation, Common Ground, and the Conversational Record” – E. Camp, DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198738831.003.0002

16th October

No class today (I’ll be at a workshop in Norway.)

23rd October

Expressivism and the Offensiveness of Slurs” – R. Jeshion
Optional additional reading: “Slurs, Dehumanization, and the Expression of Contempt” and “Slur Creation, Bigotry Formation”, both by Jeshion. (Files were emailed to the class.)

30th October

Professor Robin Jeshion’s visit
Reading: “Precarious projects: The performative structure of reclamation” – C. Herbert

6th November

Dog Whistles, Political Manipulation, and the Philosophy of Language” – J. Saul
Background: “Language as a mechanism of control”, Ch. 4 of How Propaganda Works – J. Stanley (available on electronic reserves for this course.)

13th November

Main reading: “Slurs and Ideologies” – E. Swanson (on electronic reserves)
Recommended additional reading: “The Social Life of Slurs” – G. Nunberg

20th November

Genocidal Language Games” – L. Tirrell

27th November

No class – Thanksgiving Break

4th December

He/She/They/Ze” – R. Dembroff and D. Wodak
Background: “Gender and Race: (What) Are They? (What) Do We Want Them To Be?” – S. Haslanger

Recommended Resources for Additional Background reading:

The Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Language, G. Russell and D. Graff Fara (eds), especially:

  • “Language, Gender and Sexuality” – S. McConnell-Ginet
  • “Language and Race” – L. Anderson, S. Haslanger, and R. Langton.
  • Feminist Philosophy of Language” by J. Saul and E. Diaz-Leon in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    “Racist Jokes may be worse than Racist Statements” – Clare Horisk’s (blog post for OUP.)

    Speech and Harm:Controversies over Free Speech edited by I. Maitra and McGowan (Oxford University Press, 2012)

    New Work on Speech Actsedited by D. Fogal, D. Harris, and M.Moss, (Oxford University Press, 2018)


    Research Paper: 70% December 4th
    In class presentation: 15% TBA
    Technical diary 15% 28th August & 13th November

    Research Paper: the primary means of assessment will be by way of a research paper in philosophy of language, on a topic of your choice (related to the seminar) due on the last day of classes. (4000 concise and carefully chosen words would be reasonable, but your paper may be shorter or longer if the topic demands it.)
    Anyone who hasn’t had much practice writing philosophy papers is encouraged to take a look at Jim Pryor’s guide.

    There will also be two other assessed tasks, both of which are designed to improve class discussion and help you focus on work that will make your research paper better.

    In class presentation: Each student will also be required to give one 15-minute in-class presentation during the semester. I will ask you to email me your top three choices for date/topic after the first class. I will then put together a schedule for the presentations.

    Presentations should not try to summarise ALL the reading for that class. You should pick one or two points that you found interesting or which raise questions, and present these clearly in order to kick off discussion.

    I recommend coming to see me during my office hours the week before your presentation, in order to talk over your plans.

    Technical Diary: Over the course of the semester, keep a diary of central theories, concepts and terms from the seminar, e.g. the distinction between constituting and causing harm, conversational vs conventional implicature, semantic vs pragmatic.

    You don’t need an entry for every term we cover, but 1-2 entries per week would be reasonable.

    You may choose your own method for keeping the diary (physical book, computer file) but you must be able to turn it in to me (on the two dates above) in a form that I can read.

    Use this as a place to record technical definitions and examples that illuminate them that might otherwise be hard to remember or keep straight. It is explicitly not a place for developing your own ideas (though it can be helpful to keep that kind of diary for yourself as well) but a tool for accurately understanding and applying ones that are already out there. As you learn more about an idea (in later readings), think about going back and adding an example, sentence, or diagram (for example) to your earlier entry.

    Honor Code

    All students must be familiar with and abide by the Honor Code, which covers issues such as plagiarism, falsification, unauthorized assistance or collaboration, cheating, and other grievous acts of academic dishonesty. Violations of the Honor Code will not be taken lightly.

    The Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling

    Located in the Student Academic Services Building, the CSSAC offers support to all students through units such as the Learning Center and the Writing Center.

    Reasonable Accommodations Policy

    Any student in this course who has a disability that may prevent them from fully demonstrating their abilities should contact Disability Services as soon as possible to discuss accommodations.