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 actions and properties; and of the remaining kinds of word as something that will take care of itself.

Five Red Apples

Now think of the following use of language: I send someone shopping. I give him a slip marked ‘five red apples’.  He takes the slip to the shopkeeper, who opens the drawer marked ‘apples’, then he looks up the word ‘red’ in a table and finds a colour sample opposite it; 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.

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. Explanations come to an end somewhere. But what is the meaning of the word ‘five’? No such thing was in question here, only how the word ‘five’ is used.



That philosophical concept of meaning has its place in a primitive idea of the way language functions.  But one can also say that it is the idea of a language more primitive than ours. 

Let us imagine a language... The language is meant to serve for communication between a builder A and an assistant B. A is building with building-stones; there are blocks, pillars, slabs and beams.  B has to pass the stones, and that in the order in which A needs them. For this purpose they use a language consisting of the words ‘block’, ‘pillar’, ‘slab’, ‘beam’. A calls them out; — B brings the stone which he has learnt to bring at such-and-such a call.  Conceive this as a complete primitive language. 

Augustine, we might say, does describe a system of communication; only not everything that we call language is this system.  And one has to say this in many cases where the question arises 'Is this an appropriate description or not?'

The answer is:  “Yes, it is appropriate, but only for this narrowly circumscribed region, not for the whole of what you were claiming to describe.” 

It is as if someone were to say: “A game consists in moving objects about on a surface according to certain rules...” — and we replied: You seem to be thinking of board games, but there are others. You can make your definition correct by expressly restricting it to those games.
Imagine a script in which the letters were used to stand for sounds, and also as signs of emphasis and punctuation.

(A script can be conceived as a language for describing sound-patterns.)

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. Augustine' conception of language is like such an over-simple conception of the script. 

If we look at the example in (1), 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. 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.

A child uses such primitive forms of language when it learns to talk. Here the teaching of language is not explanation, but training.

Ostensive Teaching

We could imagine that the language of (2) was the whole language of A and B; even the whole language of a tribe. The children are brought up to perform these actions, to use these words as they do so, and to react in this way to the words of others. An important part of the training will consist in the teacher’s pointing to the objects, directing the child's attention to them, and at the same time uttering a word; for instance, the word “slab” as he points to that shape.
( I do not want to call this “ostensive definition”, because the child cannot as yet ask what the name is. I will call it “ostensive teaching of words”.

I say that it will form an important part of the training, because it is so with human beings; not because it could not be imagine otherwise.) 
This ostensive teaching of words can be said to establish an association between the word and the thing.

But what does this mean? Well, 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. But now, if this does happen — is it the purpose of the word?

Yes, it can be the purpose.

I can imagine such a use of words (of series of sounds). (Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.) But in the language of (2) it is not the purpose of the words to evoke images. (It may, of course, be discovered that that helps to attain the actual purpose.)
But if the ostensive teaching has this effect, — 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 only together with a particular training. With different training the same ostensive teaching of these words would have effected a quite different understanding.

I set the brake up by connecting up rod and lever.

Yes, given the whole of the rest of the mechanism. Only in conjunction with that is it a brake-lever, and separated from its support it is not even a lever; it may be anything, or nothing.

Language Games

In the practice of the use of language (2) one party calls out the words, the other acts on them. In instruction in the language the following process will occur: the learner names the objects; that is, he utters the word when the teacher points to the stone. — And there will be this still simpler exercise: the pupil repeats the words after the teacher — both of these being processes resembling language.
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.

I will call these games “language-games” and will sometimes speak of a primitive language as a language-game.

And the processes of naming the stones and of repeating words after someone might also be called language-games. Think of much of the use words in games like ring-a-ring-a-roses.

I shall also call the whole, consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven, the “language-game“.

Let us now look at an expansion
of language.

Besides the four words “block”, “pillar”, etc., 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); further, let there be two words, which may as well be “there” and “this” (because this roughly indicates their purpose), that are used in connexion with a pointing gesture; and finally a number of colour samples.

A gives an order like: "d — slab — there”. At the same time he shews the assistant a colour sample, and when he says “there” he points to a place on the building site. From the stock of slabs B takes one for each letter of the alphabet up to “d”, of the same colour as the sample, and brings them to the place indicated by A.

On other occasions A gives the order “this — there”. At “this” he points to a building stone. And so on.

When a child learns this language, it has to learn the series of ‘numerals’ a, b, c, ... by heart. And it has to learn their use.

Will this training include ostensive teaching of the words? — Well, people will, for example, point to slabs and count: “a, b, c slabs”. — Something more like the ostensive teaching of the words “block”, “pillar”, etc. 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. Children do learn the use of the first or six cardinal numerals in this way.
Are “there” and “this” also taught ostensively? — Imagine how one might perhaps teach their use.  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. —

Now what do the words of this language signify? — What is supposed to shew what they signify, if not the kind of use they have? And we have already described that. So we are asking for the expression “This word signifies this” to be made a part of the description. In other words the description ought to take the form: “The word ____ signifies ____ .”

Of course, one can reduce the description of the use of the word “slab” to the statement that this word signifies this object. This will be done when, for example, 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, that is to say the use of these words for the rest, is already known.

Expression ︎

Equally one can say that the signs “a”, “b”, etc. signify numbers; when for example this removes the mistaken idea that “a”, “b”, “c”, play the part actually played in language by “block”, “slab”, “pillar”. And one can also say that “c” means this number and not that one; when for example this serves to explain that the letters are to be used in the order a, b, c, d, etc. and not in the order a, b, d, c.


But assimilating the descriptions of the uses of the words in this way cannot make the uses themselves any more like one another. For, as we see, they are absolutely unlike.



Cargo Collective 2017 — Frogtown, Los Angeles