Diacronia 11, June 10, 2020, art. A156 (p. 1–20)

Form, meaning, and reference in natural language: A phenomenological account of proper names

Klaas Willems


Department of Linguistics, Ghent University, Blandijnberg 2, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium


Received March 10, 2020
Accepted April 5, 2020
Published June 10, 2020

Key words

proper names


In my book Eigenname und Bedeutung (1996), I started from the observation that modern theories of proper names fail to do justice to the specific and complex semantic nature of proper names. Since the 1960’s and 1970’s, theorizing about proper names has been dominated largely by scholars working in the traditions of analytic philosophy and logic, in particular John R. Searle and Saul Kripke. I argued, however, that the highly specific kind of meaning typical of proper names should be studied within a theory more in touch with general linguistics proper. The main philosophical (especially referential) and logical (especially formal) accounts start from the assumption that a proper name is “backed up” by encyclopaedic information held by speakers of the referents (Searle), or that a proper name is a meaningless, yet rigidly designating sign (Kripke). In contrast to these views, I argue that a general linguistic definition of the proper name has to focus not only on logical and philosophical issues, but also on the specifically linguistic semantic function of the proper name as a “part of speech” in actual utterances. This approach has nothing to do with pragmatics or discourse analysis, but aims at describing proper names and appellative nouns as categories of speech in language use, bringing into play a functional focus on proper names that has largely been lacking in definitions of the proper name so far. An outline of a semantic theory of proper names is then proposed based on some aspects of a “phenomenology of language and linguistics” as found in the work of Edmund Husserl and Eugenio Coseriu. Roughly speaking, Husserl represents the general epistemological implications of the paper and Coseriu its specifically linguistic aspects.


  • Full text (in English; 20 p., 250 KB)
  • References and citations in BDD
  • Export citation
    Text:Willems, K. (2020). Form, meaning, and reference in natural language: A phenomenological account of proper names, Diacronia 11 (June 10), A156 (1–20),
     author = {Klaas Willems},
     title = {Form, meaning, and reference in natural language: A phenomenological account of proper names},
     journal = {Diacronia},
     ISSN = {2393-1140},
     year = {2020},
     month = {June},
     number = {11},
     eid = {A156},
     doi = {},
     pages = "(1–20)",
     url = {}


© 2020 The Authors. Publishing rights belong to the Journal. The article is freely accessible under the terms and conditions of the CC-BY Open Access licence.

Statistics (RO/EN/Total)

  • Views (this page): 1116 / 723 / 1839

  • Downloads (full text): 1367 / 1232 / 2599