Jessica Keiser (Leeds): “Linguistic Conventions and Language Change”

I argue that data about language change casts doubt on the following two theses of the Lewisian metasemantic picture: that the essential function of language is communication, and that people share a language in virtue of a common interest (namely, to achieve that particular function). I propose a novel metasemantic account which draws on Lewis’ insights by taking language to be a solution to a repeated strategy problem, while rejecting the idea that this strategy problem is always characterized by common interests. On this account, communication is a privileged function of language, but it is not unique; language also serves to establish and maintain social control and social identity.