Language game (philosophy)

A language-game (German: Sprachspiel) is a philosophical concept developed by Ludwig Wittgenstein, referring to simple examples of language use and the actions into which the language is woven. Wittgenstein argued that a word or even a sentence has meaning only as a result of the “rule” of the “game” being played. Depending on the context, for example, the utterance “Water!” could be an order, the answer to a question, or some other form of communication.

Philosophical Investigations

In his work Philosophical Investigations (1953), Ludwig Wittgenstein regularly referred to the concept of language-games.[1] Wittgenstein rejected the idea that language is somehow separate and corresponding to reality, and he argued that concepts do not need clarity for meaning.[2] Wittgenstein used the term "language-game" to designate forms of language simpler than the entirety of a language itself, "consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven" (PI 7) and connected by family resemblance (Familienähnlichkeit). The concept was intended "to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or a form of life," (PI 23) which gives language its meaning.

Wittgenstein develops this discussion of games into the key notion of a language-game. Wittgenstein introduces the term using simple examples,[3] but intends it to be used for the many ways in which we use language.[4] The central component of language games is that they are uses of language, and language is used in multifarious ways. For example, in one language-game, a word might be used to stand for (or refer to) an object, but in another the same word might be used for giving orders, or for asking questions, and so on. The famous example is the meaning of the word "game". We speak of various kinds of games: board games, betting games, sports, "war games". These are all different uses of the word "games". Wittgenstein also gives the example of "Water!", which can be used as an exclamation, an order, a request, or as an answer to a question. The meaning of the word depends on the language-game within which it is being used. Another way Wittgenstein puts the point is that the word "water" has no meaning apart from its use within a language-game. One might use the word as an order to have someone else bring you a glass of water. But it can also be used to warn someone that the water has been poisoned. One might even use the word as code by members of a secret society.

Wittgenstein does not limit the application of his concept of language games to word-meaning. He also applies it to sentence-meaning. For example, the sentence "Moses did not exist" (§79) can mean various things. Wittgenstein argues that independently of use the sentence does not yet 'say' anything. It is 'meaningless' in the sense of not being significant for a particular purpose. It only acquires significance if we fix it within some context of use. Thus, it fails to say anything because the sentence as such does not yet determine some particular use. The sentence is only meaningful when it is used to say something. For instance, it can be used so as to say that no person or historical figure fits the set of descriptions attributed to the person that goes by the name of "Moses". But it can also mean that the leader of the Israelites was not called Moses. Or that there cannot have been anyone who accomplished all that the Bible relates of Moses, etc. What the sentence means thus depends on its context of use.

The term ‘language-game’ is used to refer to:

  • Fictional examples of language use that are simpler than our own everyday language. (e.g. PI 2)
  • Simple uses of language with which children are first taught language (training in language).
  • Specific regions of our language with their own grammars and relations to other language-games.
  • All of a natural language seen as comprising a family of language-games.

These meanings are not separated from each other by sharp boundaries, but blend into one another (as suggested by the idea of family resemblance). The concept is based on the following analogy: The rules of language are analogous to the rules of games; thus saying something in a language is analogous to making a move in a game. The analogy between a language and a game demonstrates that words have meaning depending on the uses made of them in the various and multiform activities of human life. (The concept is not meant to suggest that there is anything trivial about language, or that language is "just a game".)

Examples

The classic example of a language-game is the so-called "builder's language" introduced in §2 of the Philosophical Investigations:

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, 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. (PI 2.)[5]

Later "this" and "there" are added (with functions analogous to the function these words have in natural language), and "a, b, c, d" as numerals. An example of its use: builder A says "d — slab — there" and points, and builder B counts four slabs, "a, b, c, d..." and moves them to the place pointed to by A. The builder's language is an activity into which is woven something we would recognize as language, but in a simpler form. This language-game resembles the simple forms of language taught to children, and Wittgenstein asks that we conceive of it as "a complete primitive language" for a tribe of builders.

See also

References

  1. ^ Biletzki, Anat (2009) [2002]. "Ludwig Wittgenstein". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved April 4, 2012.
  2. ^ Jago 2007, p. 55
  3. ^ See §7.
  4. ^ §23
  5. ^ Michael Foord. "Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations - Aphorisms 1-10". Voidspace.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-12-12.

Sources

  • Jago, Mark (2007). Wittgenstein. Humanities-Ebooks.
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953). Philosophical Investigations. Blackwell.
  • Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1942). Blue and Brown Books. Harper Perennial.

Further reading

Form of life (philosophy)

Form of life (German: Lebensform) is a technical term used by Ludwig Wittgenstein and others in the continental philosophy and philosophy of science traditions. Wittgenstein himself used the term consistently in his works Philosophical Investigations and On Certainty, but other writers have sometimes used it in very different and often incompatible ways.

Referent

A referent () is a person or thing to which a name – a linguistic expression or other symbol – refers. For example, in the sentence Mary saw me, the referent of the word Mary is the particular person called Mary who is being spoken of, while the referent of the word me is the person uttering the sentence.

Two expressions which have the same referent are said to be co-referential. In the sentence John had his dog with him, for instance, the noun John and the pronoun him are co-referential, since they both refer to the same person (John).

Semiotics

Semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of sign process (semiosis). It includes the study of signs and sign processes, indication, designation, likeness, analogy, allegory, metonymy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication. It is not to be confused with the Saussurean tradition called semiology, which is a subset of semiotics.The semiotic tradition explores the study of signs and symbols as a significant part of communications. Different from linguistics, semiotics also studies non-linguistic sign systems.

Semiotics is frequently seen as having important anthropological and sociological dimensions; for example, the Italian semiotician and novelist Umberto Eco proposed that every cultural phenomenon may be studied as communication. Some semioticians focus on the logical dimensions of the science, however. They examine areas belonging also to the life sciences—such as how organisms make predictions about, and adapt to, their semiotic niche in the world (see semiosis). In general, semiotic theories take signs or sign systems as their object of study: the communication of information in living organisms is covered in biosemiotics (including zoosemiotics and phytosemiotics).

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