CFP: Metalinguistic Disagreement and Semantic Externalism

Submission deadline: January 31, 2022

Conference date(s):
May 19, 2022 - May 20, 2022

Go to the conference's page

Conference Venue:

ArgLab - IFILNOVA, Universidade Nova de Lisboa - Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas
Lisbon, Portugal


Various forms of metalinguistic disagreement and related projects and phenomena such as "metalinguistic negotiation” (Plunkett&Sundell 2013), “conceptual ethics” (Burgess&Plunkett 2013), “conceptual engineering” (Cappelen 2018), “semantic amelioration” (Haslanger 2012), and “verbal disputes” (Belleri 2017, 2018, 2020; Chalmers 2011; Hirsch 2005, 2009; Jenkins 2014; Sidelle 2007; Vermeulen 2018) have recently been the object of intense attention and discussion.

Although many authors agree that metalinguistic disagreement can be reconciled with some versions of semantic externalism, there are problems: How can we argue rationally about the meanings of linguistic expressions when these are individuated externally and we lack control over/the ability to change them? In what sense can speakers be said to negotiate meanings and what is the relation between idiolectal meaning and public language meaning that any conception of meaning negotiation seems to presuppose? How can verbal disputes be as pervasive as some authors suggest if meanings are as stable as some forms of semantic externalism indicate?

The purpose of this conference is to examine how different internalist and externalist accounts of meaning fare with explaining divergences and arguments over/about the meanings of words and attempts to change these.

We invite anyone working on the conference themes, as outlined above, to submit an abstract of no more than 2 pages in length (references included) by 31 January 2022.
Abstracts should be completely anonymised and suitable for a presentation of 30-40 minutes in length. Talks will be followed by 15-20 minutes of questions and discussion.

Anonymised abstracts should be sent as pdf attachments to Giulia Terzian. Notifications of acceptance will be issued by 15 March 2022.

  Talks may address, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Can semantic internalism explain metalinguistic disagreement better than externalism? How would an internalist metasemantics help? 

  • What theoretical resources — “idiolects”, “sociolects”,  “topics”, “concepts”, ... — do we need to adequately describe metalinguistic disagreements? 

  • To what extent are ordinary speakers’ meaning ascriptions and conceptions of the practices in which they are engaged relevant in adjudicating between competing accounts of metalinguistic phenomena?

  • Connections with earlier debates in philosophy of language — e.g. Quine’s critique of analyticity (Quine 1951), rule-following and the normativity of meaning (Kripke 1982), the distinction between semantic atomism vs. molecularism vs. holism (Fodor & Lepore 1992)

  • Externalist accounts of semantic amelioration and underlying conceptions of social reality

  • What are the linguistic mechanisms of metalinguistic disagreement? (E.g., definition, quotation, metalinguistic comparatives, implicature, etc.)

  • Are there demarcation criteria for distinguishing world-level from metalinguistic disputes?

We aim for the conference to take place in person, unless public health guidelines require otherwise. We expect to be able to offer some financial support to accepted speakers who cannot rely on institutional or independent funding.  

Key dates: Submission of anonymised abstracts: 31 January 2022

Notification of acceptance: 15 March 2022

Conference: 19-20 May 2022  

Please contact any one of the organisers -- Giulia Terzian ([email protected]), Erich Rast ( and Pedro Abreu ( -- for informal inquiries.

Anonymised abstracts should be sent as pdf attachments to Giulia Terzian (

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