- Most generally, the unit of communication: the smallest entity whose production constitutes a message, such as an assertion, a command, or a question. Given such factors as variations of phonetics or spelling, recognition of two speech acts as the production of the same sentence is already a matter of interpretation, but one that is usually automatic to speakers of the same native language. Grammatically a sentence is the unit whose structure is subserved by other recognized features of a language. The priority of the sentence in much analytical philosophy is summed up in Frege's dictum that it is only in the context of a sentence that words have meaning. The least controversial interpretation of the slogan is that for a word to mean anything is simply for it to contribute systematically to the meaning of whole sentences in which it is embedded. A word is not a thing with its own ‘projection’ onto parts of the world; instead, the presence of a word (or more accurately, a morpheme ) is a feature of a sentence, one which plays a role in determining its meaning, and whose variation systematically determines the meaning of related sentences. A more radical extension of the same line suggests that it is only in the context of a whole theory, or world view, or language, that a single sentence means anything. In the terminology of Dummett, according priority to words is semantic ‘atomism’, to sentences, ‘molecularism’, and to anything larger, ‘holism’. See also Duhem thesis.
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.