Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation by Donald Davidson contains a series of philosophical essays on linguistic topics. I am interested in the way that different people respond differently to the language used in taxonomies and so delved into this to try to get a handle on recent linguistic theory. Most of the essays are very technical but I found the essays on Conceptual Schemes and Communication and Convention quite useful. Davidson argues that it makes no sense to talk of completely mutually unintelligible conceptual schemes. We can only talk about schemes as being different because there are some areas of mutual intelligibility and it is this common ground that enables us to highlight local differences.

In Communication and Convention, he argues that repetition and rules-based language conventions are helpful and usual practice in communication, but not necessary. We do not need to agree in advance a theory of interpretation before we start speaking to someone new, because we can develop this through the process of communication itself. However, it saves an awful lot of time if we just assume they understand language in the same way we do and most of the time they do. If they don’t we can modify our theory and try to establish a means of communication as we go along.