Conventions of language

Yueguo Gu
Table of contents

Lewis (1969) opens his now classic study of convention with an observation to the effect that the thesis that language is ruled by convention is accepted by people who do not bother to give it a second thought. He is perhaps the first philosopher who has opted to do the ‘dirty work’. More than three decades have gone by since Lewis’s study. But his observation, broadly speaking, remains valid. As will become apparent later, although the concept of convention has been given a crucial role in the theorization of both speech acts and implicature, it has received in most cases no more than passing comments. In contrast with its allocated role of importance, it has remained seriously understudied. This article is aimed at the following objectives: (1) to make a critical review of the pertinent literature, with the issue of conventionality of speech acts and implicature as its primary concern; (2) to pinpoint where the difficulties lie in the study of conventions of language; and (3) to explore the potential research directions in the foreseeable future.

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