In virtue of what do linguistic expressions have meaning? It seems a truism that expressions have meaning because they are connected with human actions: we endow them with significance in virtue of using them to do various sorts of things. Sentence Priority is the thesis that it is in virtue of the things we do with sentences that linguistic expressions become infused with significance. It follows that sentences, not individual words, are the fundamental bearers of linguistic meaning. Bentham, Frege, Wittgenstein, Dummett, Quine, Davidson and arguably Grice are just a few among those who accept Sentence Priority in one form or another. The motivation behind Sentence Priority appears to be the idea that propositional speech acts and their contents are the fundamental units of communication, and hence are the things in terms of which meaning must accounted for. Let us call this idea Propositional Priority. This research aims to explore Sentence and Propositional Priority and to offer some arguments against them. More specifically, I hope to show that Propositional Priority naturally leads to Sentence Priority, and that Sentence Priority is incompatible with the principle of compositionality, despite their defendants' claims to the contrary. I also hope to discuss, even if tentatively, some of the wider implications of Sentence and Propositional Priority for the philosophy of language, especially regarding what Cappelen and Lepore call 'The Speech Act Conception of Semantics' in the contextualism/minimalism debate.
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