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What is Grammar in a Wittgensteinian Universe? [message #1319] Sat, 26 September 2009 13:21 Go to next message
Sean Wilson is currently offline  Sean Wilson
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(reply to Neil)

1. I think a Wittgensteinian might use the word "syntax" to describe what you are calling "grammar" for computers. Or, the "signs of the proposition." This use is closely associated with the word "grammar" in an English-professor sense. And we certainly would not apply the concepts of social learning or cognition to a computer -- not, of course, without changing the grammar of the expression! (Wittgensteinian sense).

2. Grammar in a Wittgensteinian sense roughly means "conditions of assertability." Wittgenstein labeled this idea "grammar" because he thought it did the same sort of thing for assertions that English-professor grammar did for expression -- fulfilled the same kind of function. (You will note that this is a grandiose application of the idea). Conceptualizing what he means here is really difficult. People who only half get the idea want to reduce it to sociology (norms). It's a much more energetic idea. In fact, I would dare say that it is both the most difficult and rewarding idea in Wittgenstein's scholarship.

3. Wittgenstein used the term "grammar" in different ways, sort of like Kuhn did paradigm. One use is what we might call a "system-wide" concept and the other is a "player-focused" one. Here's a breakdown:

(a) Player-Focused.  A person's grammar are the things that make up his lexicon (his way of speaking). Behaviorists have a grammar and so do cognitivists. Whether these two systems actually are in dispute about anything is really interesting. Many times -- particularly in borderline cases -- what they may be arguing over is whose lexicon should prevail (not what is happening in the external world). We get this objection, for example, when we encounter the term "covert behavior." You can say the same thing about many philosophic systems. Realism and Idealism and Nominalism and whatever. To understand the grammar, one must parse the lexicon of these systems and compare it to other ways of speaking. Only when we compare all the ways of speaking about the idea can we assess whether the grammar is facile, contrived, unhelpful, confused, "knotted," etc. And this, of course, requires therapy.

(b) System-Focused. This idea of grammar has two components. The first is easily understood. It would be that when someone engages in even a seemingly voluntary or free behavior -- in this case, speaking -- the behavior is already in some cultural format. There is already an activity to which the behavior belongs. We can characterize the bounded nature of activity with various names -- expectations, norms, rules, "cultural parameters." etc. Wittgenstein uses a simile for the program: it is a sort of "play."   

Now, the key here is that the play is not static; it is dynamic. Part of the rules of the play allow you to contribute to it. And so new expressions are borne. New plays emerge. To have this component in the mix, one can only appeal to "cognition." Cognitive linguists have for a number of years now been making interesting observations about what brains can do with language.   

And so, we have two ideas for (b):  the cultural anthropology of language (the aspect that is given); and the capacity of the form of life to contribute "on the field" to the play. (Note that the latter gets thrown back into the former, which allows anthropology to change over time).

Regards and thanks.

SW



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[Wittrs] Re: What is Grammar? [message #1320 is a reply to message #1319] Sat, 26 September 2009 15:40 Go to previous message
kirby urner is currently offline  kirby urner
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<< trim >>

> And so, we have two ideas for (b):  the cultural anthropology of language
> (the aspect that is given); and the capacity of the form of life
> to contribute "on the field" to the play. (Note that the latter gets thrown
> back into the former, which allows anthropology to change over time).
>
> Regards and thanks.
>
> SW
>

Interesting take on grammar SW.

Taking my cue from "Slabs!" (the language game of), I sometimes force
grammar to map to nothing smaller than a bread box, i.e. it's all
about city streets and their layout, urban planning, what my dad did
for a living, before he switched to education planning in Bhutan,
continuing in Lesotho.

I take my cue from 'On Certainty' that grammar and 'form of life' fit
together, and from the PI that it's a superstition to think of
language or thought as something unique.

Nature follows rules and we are embedded within nature as more rule
followers, so grammar pertains to the birds and the bees as well.

Put another way, we would have our ordinary ways of talking without
them, and extraordinary grammars, such as the philosophical and
logical ones, really anchor to the ordinary ways, the public lay ways,
to keep their bearings, not the other way around (is what I consider a
substantial insight of the linguistic turn more generally).

Kirby

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