Tarnishing the Ideal

Finding Security in a Usage-Based Grammar and its Applications for Lexical Analysis

“We want to understand something that is already in plain view.” This is a quotation from Ludwig Wittgenstein’s magnum opus Philosophical Investigations (PI. § 89), regarding the place of logic and propositions in our language structures. It is a comment on how logic cannot be at the focus of our linguistic enterprise. And it was in direct opposition to his earlier work entitled Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, which started off as notes he had written down as a soldier in World War I. In this work his most basic assertion is that “the structure of the world is mirrored in the logical structure of language” (Hunnings 1988). It was upon later reflection that Wittgenstein rejected this fundamental premise which was foundational to his previous work in favor of what would become understood as a usage-based approach to philosophy and grammar.* In a usage-based grammar the point of interest is not a mere proposition or an ideal meaning unlocked by applying logical formulae to any given utterance (PI, § 125, 136). Rather the one thing we must continually ask: “Is the word ever actually used in this way in the language in which it is at home?” (PI, § 116). It is this question that the current investigation will aim to extrapolate and apply to the study of lexicography.

* The relationship between grammar and philosophy is a fluid relationship in Wittgenstein, what is meant by this is that since all philosophizing must be done linguistically, we must first understand the linguistic matrix we are using before we begin understanding the philosophical doctrine being purported.

The history of lexicography has been riddled with imprecise glosses, incestual redundancy between parent and child lexicons, anachronistic application, linguistically stagnant methodology, and unsophisticated contextual analysis (see Lee 2003 for detailed examples). An interest in the cultural and linguistic context (or what Wittgenstein might call “language games”) of language has only risen more recently within the scope of lexicographical scholarship. A usage-based approach is more consistent with the current trends of the field but can continue to be developed by some practical issues Wittgenstein addresses in the Philosophical Investigations.

In four parts:

  1. Earlier Wittgenstein & Generative Grammar
  2. Later Wittgenstein & Cognitive Grammar
  3. Wittgenstein & Biblical Lexicography
  4. Wittgenstein’s thought and practical application