Linguistic Musings

I’ve tried to write a post on language several times now – but each time I end up simply staring at the screen, unable to formulate my thoughts. One reason for this, I think, is because in a way we are kind of trapped in language – that is, we can’t step outside of it to get an ‘objective’ look at it. It’s different than say, working on a car – you can always step outside the car to get a good look at the whole thing -you’re working on. This isn’t to say that constructive things can’t be said about language, because they obviously can. But, at least for me, anyways, there’s some interesting built-in limits to the study.

In his ‘Tractatus’, Wittgenstein thought he had nailed down language in about 70 pages and a few propositions. He later came to realize that language goes far, far beyond simply picturing the world – one simply has to read the ‘Blue’ and ‘Brown’ books and the ‘Philosophical Investigations’ to see that Wittgenstein came to see language as being a vast, rich, puzzling tapestry – things like context, analogy, language games, culture, syntax all come into play with language.

Heidegger said that language is the house of being – this is one reason why I’m wary of attempts to dissect and analyze language with purely logical tools. To be sure language can be analyzed in this way, often with great results, but language can’t be conceived along purely logical lines.


2 thoughts on “Linguistic Musings

  1. Ryan December 3, 2012 / 3:14 pm

    That might be because you’re grouping a lot of separate things under the heading of “language.” If you include the “language” inside our minds–declarative cognition, if you will–then that might be unwieldy. Linguists tend to define language (and, as a little poke, many other terms like “psychology”) much more narrowly and conservatively than you tend to do, haha! For me, language entails the means of communication where communication is (spoken, written, and nonverbal) expression and comprehension of meaning. Crucially, language is not the same as the things being communicated or understood. It is also not a study of *how* those things are understood, which is better labeled “language processing.” It is the means by which those things are communicated, and I think those means can be conceived in a logical (although as you rightly point out, not always “rational”) framework.


    • whitefrozen December 28, 2012 / 12:27 am

      Good thoughts. I do tend (if you haven’t picked up on it already, lol) to group things very broadly – such a practice does seem to lead to a mild despair! Perhaps that’s why Wittgenstein was basically groping in the dark in his later years.


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