Inaugural lecture by Professor Juhani Yli-Vakkuri: a Philosopher Looks at Semiotics

On 26 September at 16:15, the University of Tartu professor of philosophy of language Juhani Yli-Vakkuri delivers his inaugural lecture “Is Meaning Arbitrary? A Philosopher Looks at Semiotics” in the university assembly hall.

According to the thesis of the arbitrariness of meaning, the relationship between the sound of a linguistic expression and its meaning is arbitrary in that a meaning that is associated with one sound could have in principle been associated with any other sound. The arbitrariness of meaning has assumed a special pride of place in the semiotic tradition, but it is also widely accepted by linguists and philosophers. This lecture will make a case for the surprising conclusion that the arbitrariness thesis is false: some meanings of some sounds cannot, even in principle, be associated with certain other sounds.

Juhani Yli-Vakkuri completed a PhD (DPhil) in philosophy at the University of Oxford in 2012. Before being elected Professor of Philosophy of Language at the University of Tartu in September 2017, he was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oslo and an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at Bielefeld University.

Professor Yli-Vakkuri’s research interests are in the philosophy of language, the philosophy of mind, epistemology, metaphysics, and philosophical logic. He is co-author (with John Hawthorne) of the monograph Narrow Content (Oxford University Press, 2018) and co-editor (with Mark McCullagh) of Williamson on Modality (Routledge, 2017), and his work has appeared in a variety of leading philosophy journals, such as Noûs, Analysis, Philosophical Studies, and Philosophical Quarterly.

Professor Juhani Yli-Vakkuri’s work in Tartu is supported by the University of Tartu ASTRA project PER ASPERA, which is financed by the European Regional Development Fund.

There will be a live webcast of the lecture, which can be viewed on the university’s video portal UTTV.

Additional information: Juhani Yli-Vakkuri, Professor of Philosophy of Language, +4 9176 2377 5633,