Since there seems to be a plague of "best" lists going around (see here and here), I thought I'd put in my two cents on the top ten works in the philosophy of language in the 20th C. Criteria: innovation and influence. (I will define a "work" recursively as (i) a book, (ii) an article or (iii) a series of thematically related works containing at least one common author.)
- Quine, Word and Object.
- Kripke, Naming and Necessity.
- Grice, "Meaning" plus the William James Lectures.
- Montague, "On the proper treatment of quantification in ordinary English" plus "English as a formal language."
- Carnap, Meaning and Necessity.
- Vendler, Linguistics in Philosophy.
- Chomsky, Aspects of a Theory of Syntax.
- Tarski, "The semantic conception of truth and the foundations of semantics."
- Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations.
- Russell, "On denoting" plus Principia Mathematica.
It is, of course, unfortunate to leave Frege off the list; but his most important work (Begriffschrift, "On sense and reference", "On concept and object" and Logical Investigations) count as part of the 19th C., not the 20th. It was also difficult to leave off Geach's Reference and Generality since it anticipates a good deal of current research on flexibility principles. Austin's major works (How to do Things with Words, "A plea for excuses") were difficult to exclude as well. If I were going to round out a top 15, I would probably include some significant chunk of Church's corpus (e.g., the various papers on the logic of sense and denotation, "On Carnap's treatment of statements of belief"), and Davidson's work (in particular, "Truth and meaning" and "The logical form of actions sentences").
And a surprising number of important people don't make the top 15, these include:
- The "early" Wittgenstein
The first two are espcially hard to justify while including Vendler and Geach (but I firmly believe that the importance of the work of these two has been significantly underestimated in philosophy, less-so in linguistics).