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Frege on Direct Quotation

1 January 2007


In a single short passage in "On Sense and Reference" Frege outlines his conception of direct quotation wherein words must not be taken as having their customary reference, but rather refer to the words themselves or the words of another speaker. What unifies these uses? What is the logical form of direct quotation sentences, and what is their analysis? How does this view fit in with Frege's general semantics? How far can it be extended? What problems does it face? We explore, if not completely answer, each of these questions.

"It can also happen, however, that one wishes to talk about the words themselves or their sense. This happens, for instance, when the words of another are quoted. One's own words then first designate words of the other speaker, and only the latter have their usual reference. We then have signs of signs. In writing, the words are in this case enclosed in quotation marks. Accordingly, a word standing between quotation marks must not be taken as having its ordinary reference," ("On Sense and Reference", 144)

The above quotation contains virtually everything Frege has to say about quotation and it raises a number of issues --some terminological, some substantive. First, note that in the passage cited, Frege opens with a discussion of quotation in general ("talk about"), then ends with the specific case of quotation marks in writing. Most discussions of Frege have concentrated on quotation marks in writing, and we shall do so here, but ultimately a Fregean account will have to be more general, a point we will return to later. Second, Frege speaks of words enclosed in quotation marks as about "the words themselves" and also as about "words of another speaker". But as we will see, these need not be the same. However, because Frege moved so easily between them he may have thought that referring to the words themselves is involved in reporting the words of another speaker. At least this is an idea we will exploit later, but first some terminology.


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