1.13.2002

[2,3,4] We are on the subject of language and communication and we struggle to resist reducing language to communication. This is but one function of language and we should not privilege it even as we note its importance (and difficulty). Terrence Deacon wants us to see language in an evolutionary context, as an emergent self-organizing system. He says "The world's language's evolved spontaneously...The most basic principle guiding their design is not communicative utility but reproduction -- theirs and ours. So, the proper tool for analyzing language structure may not be to discover how best to model them as axiomatic rule systems (pace Chomsky and Levi-Strauss--CR) but rather to study them the way we study organism structure: in evolutionary terms. Languages are social and cultural entities that have evolved with respect to the forces of selection imposed by human users." Communication is one force of selection. Deacon limits this point of language's evolution to humans. Wittgenstein would say we can step out of our human orientation to the world to assess the languages of other species. We are left hopelessly anthropocentric. The best we can do is acknowledge this.
The reduction that Augustine is found guilty of by Wittgenstein is different. First, Augustine assumes that language is primarily about communication. Second, Augustine frames a proof of this by privileging word to object definitions as the mode that ensures correct communication. What Wittgenstein alerts us to is the narrowness of this view of language. The example of letter to sound correspondence in remark 4 is an illustration of this narrowness. Letters do not merely stand for sounds just as words do not stand for objects.
There is a self-critical dimension to these remarks on language as communication of the world of objects. The congruence between Augustine and the author of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is striking on a number levels -- personal, philosophical, spiritual. Significantly, Wittgenstein wanted the Tractatus to be re-published along with his Philosophical Investigations.

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