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lw1-10- Commentary on Wittgenstein's first 10 aphorism

Aphorism 1-10 from Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations with commentary on the right by Lois Shawver Wittgenstein: (Emphasis in bold is inserted by Shawver to enhance commentary.)

Shawver commentary: This is a quotation that Wittgensteinn has taken from Augustine (Confessions, I.8.). Visualize Augustine's picture of how language is learned and notice how natural and complete it sounds as a total explanation for how language is learned.

1. "When they (my elders) named some object, and accordingly moved towards something, I saw this and I grasped that that the thing was called by the sound they uttered when they meant to point it out. Their intention was shown by their bodily movements, as it were the natural language of all peoples; the expression of the face, the play of the eyes, the movement of other parts of the body, and the tone of the voice which expresses our state of mind in seeking, having, rejecting, or avoiding something. Thus, as I heard words repeatedly used in their proper places in various sentences, I gradually learnt to understand what objects they signified; and after I had trained my mouth to form these signs, I used them to express my own desires."

These words, it seems to me, give us a particular picture of the essence of human language. It is this: the individual words in language name objects--sentences are combinations of such names.--In this picture of language we find the roots of the following idea: Every word has a meaning. The meaning is correlated with the word. It is the object for which the word stands. Augustine does not speak of there being any difference between kinds of word. If you describe the learning of language in this way you are, I believe, thinking primarily of nouns like 'table', 'chair', 'bread', and of people's names, and only secondarily of the names of certain

Now, Wittgenstein is beginning his commentary. The emphasis is mine. It is the deconstruction of Augustine's picture of language that is the focus of this entire book. (Although, I should say, that many others beside Augustine have shared this picture of language. As we will see, it is a cultural illusion) Once deconstucted, new and strikingly different ideas about language begin to emerge. Here the deconstruction begins. Looking at the Augustinian picture of language we see that Augustine has explained only one type of word.


' The shopkeeper had to be able to find the apples. He takes the slip to the shopkeeper.--It is in this and simlar ways that one operates with words--"But how does he know where and how he is to look up the word 'red' and what he is to do with the word 'five'?" --Well. I assume that he 'acts' as I have described. This concept of meaning. It is the object for which the word stands. The meaning is correlated with the word.8/5/13 lw1-10. he had to know much more than was specifically contained in the note .--But what is the meaning of the word 'five'? --No such thing was in question here. The teaching of language by pointing cannot explain learning to count. It is also the case. What about using written languge to communicate what is wanted? Someone had to teach him how to read before he could make sense of the note and translate it into a order. language more primitive than English. To what extent do you think the language in this scenario is explained by Augustine's picture of language? Think of the shopkeeper counting out the apples. But one can also say that it is the idea of a language more primitive than ours. It would be hard to explain all of this within the Augustinian picture of language. one through five. 2. Now think of the following use of language: I send someone shopping. By "that philosophical concept of meaning" Wittgenstein means the Augustinian picture that he gave us above. Look at Augustine's picture again: The individual words in language name objects--sentences are combinations of such names. Every word has a meaning. and of the remaining kinds of word as something that will take care of itself. that there are regions of our developed language in which language works just as Augustine portrays it users. I give him a slip marked 'five red apples'. Wittgenstein explains. then he says the series of cardinal numbers--I assume that he knows them by heart--up to the word 'five' and for each number he takes an apple of the same colour as the sample out of the drawer.Commentary on Wittgenstein's first 10 aphorism actions and properties. He had to be able to recognize various coins our bills and add them together. Explanations come to an end somewhere. Wittgensein says. And to follow the order.rcn. then he looks up the word 'red' in a table and finds a colour sample opposite it. only how the word 'five' is used. etc. German. and also to know to put them in a sack and accept money in exchange for them. That philosophical concept of meaning has its place in a primitive idea of the way language functions. who opens the drawer marked 'apples'.htm 2/10 . even to know to look for just said 'five red apples. This scenario is a thought experiment. French. has its place in helping us understand primitive language. Did he learn to do this by someone pointing to five apples? Hardly.

does describe a system of communication. slabs and beams. The supervisor calls out "Slab!" and the worker brings a slab and sets it at the supervisor's feet. We will often refer to this as language game (2). although appropriate for a subsection of langauge. 'slab'. or in one of a multitude of variations he will give us shortly.Commentary on Wittgenstein's first 10 aphorism Let us imagine a language ... As Wittgenstein says in (1).Conceive this as a complete primitive language. it is appropriate. I picture a work supervisor at the front of a site with a worker responding to the supervisor's commands.The language is meant to serve for communication between a builder A and an assistant B. pillars. Although he does not call it a language-game in this passage. There are piles of pillars. is not as all inclusive an explanation of language as we are. but only for this narrowly circumscribed region. inclined to believe. it will become clear shortly that this passage describes the prototypic primitive language-game.8/5/13 lw1-10. -. 'pillar'. He will refer to it often. A calls them out. but how did the worker learn to fetch? As opposed. not for the whole of what you were claiming to describe. and that in the order in which A needs them.htm Somehow Augustine's picture of language. there are blocks. For this purpose they use a language consisting of the words 'block'. say. only not everything that we call language is this system. slabs. Augustine. A is building with building-stones. B has to pass the stones. using the number of the aphorism to index the number of the language game. to taking objects behind the fence? Crushing them? Or tapping them with a stone? 3.rcn. we tend to sweep under the rug all the uses of language that do not fit the Augustinian picture that seems to 3/10 . This is an important thought experiment. Does Augustine's picture of language work here? How did the worker learn this language by teachers pointing and naming the slabs and beams as Augustine suggested? An exercise like Augustine suggests might explain how the worker knew which object to fetch. Wittgnstein puts forth language-game (2) in order to try to envision a language in which Augustine's picture of language works. we might say." It is as if someone were to say: "A game consists in moving objects users. 'beam'. at first And one has to say this in many cases where the question arises 'Is this an appropriate description or not?' The answer is: 'Yes. sometimes in its present form. blocks and beams. Pretty simple. --B brings the stone which he has learnt to bring at such-and-such a call.

Something profound is missing from this conception although it is not yet clear exactly what this is. and also as signs of emphasis and punctuation. Still. (A script can be conceived as a language for describing sound-patterns. There is more to language than stringing together correct words. capture our imagination. users. Then.) Now imagine someone interpreting that script as if there were simple a correspondence of letters to sounds and as if the letters had not also completely different functions. However. but there are others. Although language-game (2) restricts the vocabulary to words that seem to refer to objects. Imagine a script in which the letters were used to stand for sounds.rcn. it seems as though he does. Augustine' conception of language is like such an over-simple conception of the script. How might this be? Suppose we taught a parrot to say "Polly wants a cracker. 4." It would be a correct answer in English but the child would not know what she was saying because she would not know how to count. it is a beginning to say that when the parrot says. know wha this number means." --and we replied: You seem to be thinking of board games. on closer examination it is not.htm 4/10 .com/rathbone/lw1-10c. nevertheless. the Augustinian picture cannot explain everything that happens. "Polly wants an cracker" he doesn't quite know what this sentence means in English. or know what division means. we gave the parrot a cracker.8/5/13 lw1-10. On the surface this looks like language.. The parrot is asking for and receiving a cracker.Commentary on Wittgenstein's first 10 aphorism about on a surface according to certain rules. The same would be true if we taught a two year old to answer the question "What is 450 divided by 366?" by saying "One point two three. You can make your definition correct by expressly restricting it to those games. it would not have looked as though the parrot were speaking English." and whenever it says it. To think that simply saying the words "Polly wants a cracker" constitutes "language" is to have this sort of over-simple conception of the language. It amuses us because. We could have taught the parrot to say "Get lost!" and give it a cracker each time it does..

in the community we are imagining. It disperses the fog to study the phenomena of language in primitive kinds of application in which one can command a clear view of the aim and functioning of the words. we may perhaps get an inkling how much this general notion of the meaning of a word surrounds the working of language with a haze which makes clear vision impossible. However. If we look at the example in (1). the roots of language. What tends to confuse us is that we can imagine something like this taking place in English. Here the teaching of language is not explanation.8/5/13 lw1-10. this is the only use for the term "slab!" And how might children be taught the use of the term? We can well imagine that the Augustinian picture of language training might be involved. they help us to understand how language begins. But although the parroted sentences are not language in the richest sense of the term. for instance. 6. Although the word "slab!" is not tied to any particular activity in English.-----I say that it will form an important part of the training. the word "slab" as he points to that shape. directing the child's attention to them. and at the same time uttering a word. A child uses such primitive forms of language when it learns to talk.rcn. I will call it "ostensive teaching of words". but training.htm What is the difference between ostensive teaching of words and ostensive definitions? In ostensive definitions someone points and gives a name of something and this serves to make clear how the 5/10 . because it is so with users. and to react in this way to the words of others. because the child cannot as yet ask what the name is. ( I do not want to call this "ostensive definition".Commentary on Wittgenstein's first 10 aphorism 5. The child's attention will be directed to the different shapes and the child will learn to expect each shape to be associated with a particular sound. even the whole language of a tribe. The children are brought up to perform these An important part of the training will consist in the teacher's pointing to the objects. to use these words as they do so. We could imagine that the language of (2) was the whole language of A and B. in the language we are imagining in (2) it is always a command to fetch a slab. It is just that the word "slab!" would not be confined to only this use.

it can be the purpose. 6/10 . Here Wittgenstein is talking about the cultural illusion that is related to Augustine's picture of language and what we are likely to say that supports this illusion. in assocition with the object. or not. But if a child has not yet learned language. Pointing to slablike objects and saying "slab" might have faciliated this teaching but one could also imagine learning to take the slab behind the fence when it is called. I want to show what I will call Wittgenstein's aporetic voice. if this does happen--is it the purpose of the word? ---Yes. but only together with a particular training.---I can imagine such a use of words (of series of sounds). With different training the same ostensive teaching of these words users. ---am I to say that it effects an understanding of the word? Don't you understand the call "Slab!" if you act upon it in such-and-such a way? -Doubtless the ostensive teaching helped to bring this about. But now. As Augustine imagined things in (1) . remember. it is like the parrot.) However the child understands the term. burying it.Commentary on Wittgenstein's first 10 aphorism human beings. whether or not he had images of what called for when it was called. He is reminding us of the cultural ways we think so tht he can deconstruct them. of course. be discovered that that helps to attain the actual purpose. the language in (2) was not required to create images for the workers. (It may. (Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.) But if the ostensive teaching has this (Maybe the word "cracker" means "square" or "salty". Or maybe it means "food".8/5/13 lw1-10. and so forth. A different training would have resulted in the worker doing different things with the slab.) But in the language of (2) it is not the purpose of the words to evoke images.) "cracker" those who know what a cracker is (but not the name for it) can receive this as an ostensive definition.rcn. But what does this mean? Well. As Augustine imagined things the child without any language was able to "grasp" This ostensive teaching of words can be said to establish an association between the word and the thing. In (2) one understands the call "Slab!" if one brings it when it is called. It does not know what is being pointed to on what the word cracker means. The worker in (2) would understand what was being said to him if he simply fetched what was called for. it can mean various things: but one very likely thinks first of all that a picture of the object comes before the child's mind when it hears the word. the child can be taught to say it.htm The emphasis here is mine. When someone points to a cracker and says be imagine otherwise. hiding it. But although language may create images for us. not because it could not term is to be used. hitting it.

We 7/10 And the processes of naming the stones and of repeating words after someone might also be called language-games.---And there will be this still simpler exercise: the pupil repeats the words after the teacher-----both of these being processes resembling language. All of this sounds like Augustine's picture of learning language. 7. he utters the word when the teacher points to the stone. In the practice of the use of language (2) one party calls out the words. I will call these games "language-games" and will sometimes speak of a primitive language as a language-game." In ring-a-ring-a-roses. we might sometimes distinguish this meaning of the term by calling these language games "primitive language games. but it does not yet have the connections to function as it should. it may be anything. but he will amplify this concept later so that it does not merely apply to language learning exercises. The parts seem to be there. "I set the brake up by connecting up rod and lever. We can also think of the whole process of using words in (2) as one of those games by means of which children learn their native language. or nothing. Unless one knows how to weave the word into some form of human activity.rcn. and separated from its support it is not even a lever. Besides the users. I shall also call the whole. consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven. In instruction in the language the following process will occur: the learner names the objects. that is. the saying of the word is not yet language.Commentary on Wittgenstein's first 10 aphorism would have effected a quite different understanding. Only in conjunction with that is it a brake-lever. as a parrot might learn to say "Polly wants a cracker." So. To anticipate this amplification of the meaning of this term. Here Wittgensein introduces the concept of a language game. In (2). given the whole of the rest of the mechanism. Now we will be able to speak of bringing X number of slabs and we will be abe to indicate where we want the slab to be put. Let us now look at an expansion of language (2)."---Yes.8/5/13 In (8) LW creates a new language game that is a variation of (2). "the language game" is not merely speech. the "language-game". he whole activity of fetching the objects was part of the "language game" of (2).htm . the child learns the phrases without knowing what they mean. the other acts on them. 8. It is like a break that is not yet connected with the entire mechanism. Think of much of the use words in games like ring-a-ring-a-roses.

9. it has to learn the series of 'numerals' a. if not the What does "two signify"? Does it signify any two kind of use they have? And we have already described objects? Say. we know what the word "block signifies. How can we imagine the people of (8) learning language? Can they learn it ostensively as Augustine imagined? Take the learning of numbers. however. by heart. and brings them to the place indicated by A.. which may as well be "there" and "this" (because this roughly indicates their purpose).--Something more like the ostensive teaching of the words "block". b. c slabs". point to slabs and count: "a. And so on. two blocks? Well. We cannot learn to distinguish. Thus we count.---Will this training include ostensive teaching of the words?---Well. etc. We could imagine them learning to distinguish numbers ostensively as we might learn to distinguish two from three by distinguishing these configurations of two and three: o o o o o But this would be of limited use. Do you point to "this" and say "this"? Does that clarify the use of the word "this"? Hardly. Now what do the words of this language signify?--What is supposed to shew what they signify. So we are asking for the expression "This word users. further. One will point to places and things--but in this case the pointing occurs in the use of the words too and not merely in learning the use. And it has to learn their use. Are "there" and "this also taught ostensively?---Imagine how one might perhaps teach their use. . and LW does not answer the question for us.. This helps us get into the feel of what it would be like if we had a more primitive system of counting. 10. Notice. "pillar".com/rathbone/lw1-10c.. let there be two words. apparently much larger numbers in this fashion. of the same colour as the sample.8/5/13 lw1-10. When a child learns this language.rcn. would be the ostensive teaching of numerals that serve not to count but to refer to groups of objects that can be taken in at a glance. for example. Children do learn the use of the first or six cardinal numerals in this way. but with the letters of the alphabet. A gives an order like: "d---slab---there". From the stock of slabs B takes one for each letter of the alphabet up to "d".Commentary on Wittgenstein's first 10 aphorism four words "block". b.--- How will "there" and "this" be taught? This is tricky." It signifies each of the that. c.htm 8/10 . At the same time he shews the assistant a colour sample. At "this" he points to a building stone. "pillar". and finally a number of colour samples.that are used in connexion with a pointing gesture. one in which there was no arithemetic possisilibities. that LW does not say that the slabs will be counted with numbers. and when he says "there" he points to a place on the building site. let it contain a series of words used as the shopkeeper in (1) used the numerals (it can be the series of letters of the alphabet).---On other occasions A gives the order "this---there". understand these concepts LW explains because they exist in English. for example. etc. people will.

It signifies what I point to. when for example this serves to explain that the letters are to be used in the order a. but pointing and naming would not show that the slab is to be fetched.rcn. "b". assimilating these different in this way cannot make the uses themselves any more like one another. "pillar"." And what does "this" signify. when for example this removes the mistaken idea that "a". For. and not in the order a. it is merely a matter of removing the mistaken idea that the word "slab" refers to the shape of building-stone that we in fact call a "block"---but the kind of 'refering' this is. How can a child learn to associate the naming of anything by one term? But. one can reduce the description of the use of the word "slab" to the statement that this word signifies this object." "c. as we see. "c". do we need to say what these words "signify"? Isn't everything clear already? Since we know their use? Why would we require that all words "signify"? . c. In other words. Does "two" signifiy something other words the than what "block signifies"? There are conceptual description ought to take the form: "The word . . that is to say the use of these words for the rest. for example. play the part actually played in language by "block". b. But where does this leave us? Does it teach the child in (8) to learn to use numbers (by counting things) and until the child learns to count does the child really know what "numbers" means? But assimilating the descriptions of the uses of the words So. N e x tp a g e R e t u r nt oT a b l eo fC o n t e n t s R e t u r nt oP M T HN E W S users. .htm 9/10 . Equally one can say that the signs "a". And one can also say that "c" means this number and not that one. .signifies puzzles here. But that can be anything. we might want to explain that "c" is not just another object like "slab" or "block" and so we might need explain "a". . etc. d. In other two blocks. they kinds of words to the same expression (they are instances if "signifying" hides the enormity of the are absolutely unlike. . "slab".Commentary on Wittgenstein's first 10 aphorism signifies this" to be made a part of the description. c.8/5/13 lw1-10. is already known. "b".com/rathbone/lw1-10c. etc. In language-game (2) pointing and saying "slab" may be helpful to show which slab is to be fetched." signify something. This will be done when. b. d." "b. . Of course. signify numbers. and "c" signify numbers. difference and creates a over simplified picture language and how language is learned. . "b". although we can find a way to say that "a.

Commentary on Wittgenstein's first 10 aphorism You are visitor to this page! Free counters provided by Honesty.rcn. users.htm 10/10 .com.8/5/13