Terms of art, special vocabularies: "I would turn to you for a good, working definition of trope, synecdoche, or metonymy." Actually, I would find it difficult to give you definitions or these terms. Oh, I could look them up in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics, sure, but I'd much rather find examples to present to you. Not that I don't think one can make meaningful generalizations--it's just that, to my mind, examples carry more force. (I've always thought that the various sub-divisions of metaphor, for example, invented by critics are mostly hair-splitting.) Birds: My vocabulary for birds is not terribly large, though I keep a Petersen's Field Guide on the coffee table & a pair of binoculars nearby. I can identify the common species that visit our yard, but my friend Angie has a vastly larger vocabulary of birds--she can identify warblers, distinguishing between the many, many species of this small & nervous bird, often identifying them by their song. This is a prodigious act of naming, I think. Poetry: When I was in grad school my teacher Sandra McPherson gave our poetry workshop an assignment to discover a specialized vocabulary--plumbers' jargon, airplane parts, etc. & build a poem around it. It's a way of entering another domain of language use & I've given the assignment myself.


As I responded to your remark on colors, you were working on another reflection on grounding poetic actions in the body. There has been a series of works in philosophy and linguistics that have made similar arguments. In particular, you could look at the work of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Seventeenth century rationalism seems to have forgotten that we respond to the world as corporeal beings and that our bodies have rhythms, paces, and patterns all their own. These rhythms, paces, and patterns, in turn, shape the way we describe what we perceive (visually, aurally, sensationally).

This leads to another reflection on dualism, and one that really emerges from my own upbringing in Catholicism. As we observed earlier, all dualisms contain preference for one pole over the other. Western culture has been founded upon a dualism between body and spirit or body and mind, with the latter conceived as supreme over the former. Beginning with the neo-Platonist Plotinus and carrying through Christian thinking (despite the emphasis on the immortality of the flesh in the teachings of Christ), this dualism has resulted in a denigration of the body. This is our temporary shell that moors us to this world. In death, or in spiritual ecstasy, we break its bonds and fulfill our spiritual and intellectual promise. Think of how many expressions betray this denigration of the body. None of these expressions are as significant, however, as the body's disappearance from philosophical discourse after Descartes. Those that dared to venture a philosophy of the body -- the Marquis de Sade, James Joyce, Henry Miller, Jean Genet, as examples -- were exiled from serious consideration by philosophers as if they had defied some code of conduct.

Because my color vocabulary is exceedingly limited, in the same way my vocabulary for birds is limited, I have remarkable ease in describing both. There is no pretense to accuracy. "Blue" covers a wide range of shades, and "bird" covers every kind of bird other than robins and humming birds. Sunhee wants more precision: She wants a good bird book because there are so many in our yard, and, because we are planning to paint the house, she seeks command over the palette of possible colors and their labels. It strikes me that this modulation between generality and precision is not culturally specific, but language-game specific. We expect artists, philosophers of aesthetics, lexicographers, ornithologists, and ecologists, to have more technical lexicons for things like colors and birds. I come away with a deeper appreciation of Wittgenstein's "words are like tools" simile.

Whorf and Sapir both made much of the idea that Eskimos had a wide array of nouns for various types of snow. It turns out that this is not altogether accurate. However, it remains plausible. It is why I would turn to you for a good, working definition of trope,synecdoche, or metonymy.

You wrote, "In 36, Wittgenstein engages in a meta-reflection on the indeterminacy built into ostensive definition situations that leaves us with a sense of the origin of the concept of mind as a locus of certitude. If the bodily action of pointing results in unpredictability or mistakes, then we want to be able to fall back on some deeper, spiritual activity that will ensure that there is potential for truth, accuracy, perfect understanding, in this context." Interestingly, in current debates about poetics, there has been some attempt to reground certainty in the body, whether through the use of breath as a metaphor (Olson) or the heartbeat as a substrate for regular meters & more recently, the time it takes for neurons to fire & recharge, or some such: "The rod of Moses and the caduceus of Hermes/Mercury combine the staff and the snake in a symbol whose meaning is ambiguous, but which mediates between biological and cultural forms of emergent order. The double-helix geometry of the Greek version of the symbol may be a natural diagram of growth through feedback, so that its resemblance to the shape of the DNA molecule is no coincidence. The mythical exchange of the caduceus for the lyre, symbol of poetry, implies a further meaning for the caduceus: human poetry and art in general." [Frederick Turner] Well, chaos theory, complex systems, etc. as far as I can tell amounts to the New Reductionism, to go along with the New Formalism in poetry. But, really, we're falling through space--all that is solid melts into air.


Colors: When I was learning the words for different colors in Vietnamese, I came to realize (see?) that for a native speaker the blue of the sky & the blue of the water & the blue of a Westerner's eyes could all be covered, casually, by the same word; but when the sentence is ambiguous, there is always a modifier at hand. My intention in pointing this out is simply to highlight the subtlety of the way speakers of a language are sensitive to context & use.

[33-38] Let me get caught up. I've been working on a most difficult chapter pertaining to seeing and theorizing in Wittgenstein. I've been most unhappy with the results and I need a break. Going back to some early remarks from the Investigations might help. Then I'll try to pick up on some of your insights.

In 33, Wittgenstein opens up a new line of inquiry, it seems. When you point to an object, he asks, are you pointing to its shape, color, or number? Is the 'blue' of the object the same 'blue' of the sky? When philosophers speak of word to object directness, do they forget or overlook the differences hinted at here? There is a larger activity involved here when we look at shape, number, or color, that reveals the myopia of philosophers. "I want to say: This is the sort of thing that happens while one [a philosopher in the tradition of Logical Positivism/Empiricism] 'directs one's attention to this or that'."

Wittgenstein continues this example of attending to shape or color in 34, but he makes an internal case for the social-ness of philosophical questions. The context is always shared by two or more people (although we can also say that the other interlocutor could be imaginary). The answer to the question of what happens when one attends to the possibilities that arrive in ostensive defining is also social. "For neither the expression 'to intend the definition in such and such a way' nor the expression 'to interpret the definition in such-and-such a way' stands for a process which accompanies the giving and hearing of the definition." That is, we are interested in what goes on between the giver and the receiver of the ostensive definition, not what goes on "within" either individual. What we see is there can always be room for dispute on use or misunderstanding. There is no determinacy built into the grammar of the ostensive definitional context.

The word "convention" is not used in 33 or 34, but in 35 Wittgenstein talks about "characteristic experiences" (recurrences) that accompany the pointing to a shape or color. These increase the chance for correct communication, but they can also lead to misunderstanding (as when an expectation is not met --the element of surprise in metaphor). These experiences remain contextual, as in "pointing to a piece in a game as a piece in a game." Here --in the context of a chessboard -- I mean a King rather than a piece of wood. Along with 'meaning' in this sense, Wittgenstein also lists, parenthetically, "recognizing, wishing, remembering, etc."

In 36, Wittgenstein engages in a meta-reflection on the indeterminacy built into ostensive definition situations that leaves us with a sense of the origin of the concept of mind as a locus of certitude. If the bodily action of pointing results in unpredictability or mistakes, then we want to be able to fall back on some deeper, spiritual activity that will ensure that there is potential for truth, accuracy, perfect understanding, in this context. This spiritual, extra-bodily activity, is a regulative ideal. Descartes leaps to mind, but so does the ideal speech situation of Jurgen Habermas. Habermas contends that in every speech act, there is underlying it an ideal speech situation. Even where speech acts are systematically distorted by ideological coercion, the truth can still be revealed. (There are a lot of arguments like this in hermeneutics and various uses of Freudian psychoanalysis in social theory, literary criticism, film criticism, and so on).

After raising the issue of meaning or intending as a mental object, Wittgenstein continues to examine the relation between the mental image triggered by the naming or ostensive defining of of thing in 37. Where does the life of a sentence come from? Wittgenstein resists the idea that the life of the sentence is an extension of the mind. We need to look elsewhere-- not only into the social relation between the speaker and the hearer, the teacher and the student, the builders -- but also between the chessplayers and the chessboard.

You put some pressure on me to come up with a profound reading of "this" and "that" in 38. Let me stay with the idea of the life of a sentence. Some of the early programmers who were interested in Artificial Intelligence sought to create sentences that could mimic the self-reflectiveness of thinking. They turned to self-referential sentences like, "This sentence is false," and self-replicating sentences such as "When this sentence comes to the end, it will repeat itself." Like the programmers, we want to say that the sentences have a life of their own. Wittgenstein says as much in this remark. For ostensive defining to occur, a person pointing is not necessary. A sentence with "this" or "there" designating as in "this is called..." has a life of its own. It acts apart from a speaker or writer. When philosophers speak of naming the process becomes "queer" or "occult," Wittgenstein continues. A problem arises because philosophers have underappreciated the life or active dimension of language. "For philosophical problems arise when language goes on a holiday . And here we may indeed fancy naming to be some remarkable act of mind, as it were a baptism of an object." The irony of the use of the word "here" in the last sentence is unmistakable.

This stuff is so challenging intellectually that I feel tired after working away at it for a couple of hours. In the preface, Wittgenstein says that "I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking." Ludwig, you needn't have worried about that.

I think you provide a deeply useful image of what Wittgenstein was seeking to achieve by promoting a social life of language with the allusion to satori. Let me end with a joke: "What did the Zen Buddhist say to the hot dog vender?" "Make me one with everything."

I take your point (5/22) regarding the non-inevitability of a particular political structure; by analogy to evolutionary biology, we could think of this view as "Gouldian," in the sense that it emphasizes contingency & rejects teleology. In these days of the fading American hegemon--fading even as it reaches a crescendo--this will be a very unpopular view. So, I don't know my way around--never have--but I keep scribbling maps & lists of landmarks in the sand & on these scraps of paper in my pockets. This obsessive activity is, more than anything else, what sets me apart from my fellow-citizens. Further thought: you seem to be saying that even what we think of under the heading of Politics is historically contingent & the same for that other capital P: Philosophy.


[37, 38] This & that: I won't attempt to reproduce the Vietnamese here, but when I was beginning my lessons in the language I had a devil of a time getting down the difference between this clock & that clock, for instance. In any case, W is right, these words are not names in themselves, but modifiers of names, i.e., what in grammar we call adjectives. But, just to think this through: couldn't we conceive of this & that as naming spatial relationship between an object & a speaker? It is an important & useful distinction that seems pretty fundamental. Well, just thinking out loud here--I await the real philosopher's reading of these paragraphs.

[34, 35] I've been thinking this morning about the conventions of color naming in our culture--probably because it is so gray & rainy outdoors at the moment. In 34 & 35 W points out the difficulty of knowing just what is being pointed to--a shape or a color--when one, say, is directed toward a red circle. Somehow this got me thinking about those little strips of color samples one gets at the paint store in order to decide what will be an appropriate / attractive color for the living room. This is statistical & culturally local, but I bet if you showed people colored rectangles & asked them for a definition, they would name the color; but if you showed them colored circles, they would name the shape. But that is only because we have an (unspoken & probably not universal) convention about such things in our particular time & place. What W is doing here is trying to get us to see the conventions as a convention, a practice, a way of life.

All of which is therapeutic, of course, but we cannot live daily being conscious of all the conventions in which we are enmeshed, can we? Would that be satori, or its opposite? At the same time, it is very useful to be able to phase in & out of therapeutic mode & this is something that many, but by no means all, people do more or less routinely.


Chances are that philosophy and politics had similar (or even the same) historical origins in the breakdown of old ethical structures and tribal organizations presented dramatically in Homer, Hesiod, Aeschylus, and others. We are not hardwired for these activities; they necessarily emerged in history and could have an end in history. Wittgenstein says that a philosophical problem takes this form: "I don't know my way around." This could be a collective response to a cosmological rupture. Philosophy and politics codified a new way of seeing our relations to the gods and each other. We see this origin in sacred and ordinary practices in Socrates. When he was defending himself publicly against his accusers, he argued that he was a conduit of the gods. He heard voices in his head that directed him away from incorrect courses of actions. In his conversation with his buddy Crito, he argued that he could not escape and move elsewhere because this action would shame the memory of his parents. One justification was religious; the other was customary.

Who knows what Wittgenstein experienced in the trenches of WWI? Was he involved in hand to hand combat? Did he kill another with bayonet? Did he have the kind of moment described by the protagonist of All Quiet on the Western Front after he killed a French adversary? It is hard not read Wittgenstein's post-Tractatus work without sensing that he is responding to existential crisis.


I was using "epistemology," I suppose, as a stand-in word for philosophy, though for me the word commemorates my own youthful struggles to understand how we humans understand whatever it is we understand. Anyway, we agree that a philosophy must generate an ethics; question: can one begin with ethical intuitions & build a philosophy from that?

There was a problem with the Blogger site and my entry for this morning was lost. Let me try to reconstruct. Epistemology is always sterile. It is a bankrupt enterprise that is best relegated to the history of philosophy or as a lesson on how not to make an argument. Epistemology does not create anything; rather, it is designed to bolster the authority of philosophy against onslaughts by religion first, and then science. A claim to privileged access to occult sources of knowledge does not engender an ethical course. Instead the claim can be used to support the philosopher's authority to prescribe an ethical course of action. This is the function of epistemic claims in Plato's Republic, for example. Notice the claims to knowledge do not occur at the beginning of the text. Instead the line and the cave appear in Books 6 and 7 to justify what has been constructed. For Pragmatists and Wittgenstein, epistemology is nothing more than philosophy's claim to intellectual ascendency and its ability to judge what counts as knowledge in the University (Kant). Once philosophy eliminates epistemology it will become a more useful voice in human inquiry.

The Sass book raised a lot of interesting questions regarding solipsism for me too.


An epistemology that does not produce a workable ethics is sterile. In a nutshell, that's what's wrong with solipsism.

"O God! I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams." (Hamlet II.ii.) It's those bad dreams we have to be careful to attend to. The poet's business, I guess.

I'm glad you re-directed us toward the ethics of the Philosophical Investigations. Does Wittgenstein cast us into a hopelessly radical relativism? One thing is clear: Wittgenstein does not leave us with an image of the philosopher as the prescriber of ethical courses of action. He is not of the Platonic school, but of the Aristotelean. The more careful the description of reality, the more choices we have when facing an ethical dilemma. Our tendency is to reduce choice to an either/or. We reduce the menu and get ourselves locked into a room where we cannot find the door. The philosopher's role is to offer us a perspicacious re-presentation of the room that will leave us understanding that the door is behind us and we have to turn around. Ethical dilemmas are akin to this perceptual dogmatism. We are so sure the answer is straight ahead that we miss the range of options that would appear if we simply look around.

For Wittgenstein, it seems, radical relativism is not the condition this world of language-games. There are, rather, a lot of little truths. The truths we live by come from the constellation of language-games that we have traveled through and gained from which we have gained our individual identity. The "big" ethical problem, when we look at the world in this way, is how to lead a life of conviction while retaining an anti-dogmatism that enables us to get rid of bad ideas.

I did a fair amount of nature shaping myself this weekend.


[33] The vexed problem of the relationship of word to thing. Poets, I think, would like for there to be something direct, intrinsic about the relationship; despite its analytical power, we poets find Saussure's assertion that the relation between sign & signified is arbitrary troubling. I think Wittgenstein, early & late, was also troubled by this relationship.

Your quoting W's "I will teach you differences" put me in mind of G. Spencer Brown's Laws of Form. Brown's first move in creating his calculus is to posit the marking of distinctions between one thing & another. I'm still not sure whether this is profound or superficial, to tell the truth. The Philosophical Investigations seems to be teaching us that we must constantly renegotiate the distinctions we make, more or less automatically, about the world. It might be possible to derive an ethical system form this: inability to renegotiate leads to inflexibility, doctrine. Or am I just finding a fancy way of rationalizing my own fairly radical relativism?

I place myself in the company of those "pessimistic ecologists" who mock our mastery over nature. I don't think Bickerton, in Language and Species, is arguing that human transformations of the natural world are necessarily good or bad, but he is noting that more than any other species, we change the world to suit our personal & cultural whims. Now, I'm going to go out in the yard & begin digging the footings for a retaining wall. I have a certain vision of the way my property should look.


"I will teach you differences," is the line Wittgenstein thought best captured the tenor of the Philosophical Investigations. You pick this up at the very beginning of your meditation on animal communication. We anthropomorphize when we try to show the similarities between humans and, say, higher primates. But the differences -- even the genetic differences -- are significant. The human experience of the world led to language as an adaptive tactic. Other animals certainly communicate -- warn others, stake out territory, cry in pain -- but the medium of communication would be accurately described in adaptive terms other than language. We are homo symbolicus . This is our distinctive feature. We have not conquered nature per se; we have conquered our symbolic version of nature. Pessimistic ecologists will be more than happy to tell you that our mastery over nature is as illusory as our ability to stand outside of nature. In the near future, nature will show us who the master really is.

Despite differences, understanding across species is possible. I could tell that Angel had been struck by previous owners. A dog's behavior is as readable as the behavior of a fellow human (and this is not to say that misunderstandings or misinterpretations occur). You symbolize humanity for Angel. Despite your gentleness, Angel should be very afraid.


I wrote a sort of free-form meditation last night on my personal weblog about language & species. I think it is relevant here.


I've been thinking / reading about animals, including us humans. I'm circling toward something here, but not sure what, exactly. Stay tuned.

My progress in Vietnamese is "impressive" only to those who do not speak the language. But your description of dreaming German jibes with my experience of dreaming in Vietnamese. Often, the dreams are actually about learning Vietnamese. When I was a freshman in college my roommate was fluent in Spanish: one weekend he had a Spanish-speaking friend visit & the second night I was dreaming in "Spanish" of which I knew maybe fifteen words. We should not overestimate the powers of the unconscious mind! Still, it's true that I have been in the throes of a love affair with Vietnamese. Who knows why? Such things are the province of the gods. I got lucky--I found a language-universe that made sense to me.

I like your analogy. Old Marx / young Marx ~ Old Wittgenstein / young Wittgenstein. There is self-critique, certainly, in both cases, & a certain change of perspective, but alienation, in the first case & ordinary language in the second remain as fundamental themes. We also have to distinguish between the use to which the Logical Positivists put Wittgenstein & W's own views. It does seem to me that W does reject the picture theory of language as well as the notion that human language can be reduced to a logical skeleton, which he had advance in the Tractatus. (Barrett relates this to W's philosophy of mathematics as a human practice.) At the same time, his fundamental concern remains the relationship between things & words--this is the fundamental concern of poets as well as philosophers. Wittgenstein, surely, must be ranked with Eliot & Pound as one of the founding fathers of Literary Modernism, with all the contradictions that entails.

I remember, age 19, crossing a footbridge on the University of Washington campus, from town toward the Henry Art Gallery, thinking: Are words & sentences things, or do they merely represent things? I was thinking particularly of poems. Is a poem something in the world that stands apart from the world somehow, a self-contained reflection on the world, or a record of perception. That, perhaps, is the question I have spent my life exploring & despite the fact that, then, I devoutly wanted the poem to be self-contained, I have tended since toward the view that language is so embedded in reality as to be indistinguishable from it--which does not so mush answer as deflect my original, youthful question.

Let me start with your question about the truth of propositions in the Tractatus. I think the answer turns on Meinong and Frege. Among other problems Frege worked on were statements like "The king of France is bald." This comes from Russell, of course, but the logical problem is obvious. To answer the question: Is this proposition true? false? nonsensical? does not get you any where. Frege put forward the argument that if the statement has or makes sense, then it must have reference. Wittgenstein never bought into the Logical Positivist plan to fashion an ideal language for science composed solely of word-object relations. The Tractatus is described by Wittgenstein as an ethical work. This idea is a source of unity between the Tractatus and the Philosophical Investigations. I agree, the whole argument for or against the young and old Wittgenstein is pretty bankrupt. There was a similar scholarly division between the young and old Marx. The young Marx was the revolutionary firebrand; the old Marx was a respectable economist and sociologist. The point of the division is clear: how do we deal with philosophers who occasionally engage in critical self-reflection? With simple before and after categories, for one. For Marx, from the 1844 Manuscripts to Das Kapital a unifying theme was alienation. For Wittgenstein, there was consistent concern with the description, as opposed to the reform, of ordinary language.

When I start a new language, it is with feverish obsession. It is kind of like the trajectory of romantic relationships -- you begin with infatuation, burn white hot, and then cool off. There is the adage that you know you have learned a second language when you start dreaming in that language. But I was dreaming in German weeks after starting to learn it. It was not very good German and some was absolute gibberish, but I was so reverent in my practice of simple dialogues that it felt like immersion. That was seventh grade. In my early thirties I began a correspondence course in Attic Greek. It became the center of my life for over a year. I would have dreams where I was reading Greek texts. Are these experiences what Chomsky described as switches being turned in the emergent grammar that we all possess? There does not seem to be any biological or genetic basis for Chomsky's claims. What is left but the experiential?

I have shared with you my struggles with Korean. This experience stands, for me, as a complete refutation of Chomsky. Or it was until I observed your impressive progress learning Vietnamese.


Hey, it was good to see you at the Agway today. Just a couple of suburban homeboys trying to read Wittgenstein. I wanted to take up the idea of second languages & Wittgenstein's treatment of it in 32. Earlier in our discussions, in talking about language, I relied a good deal on my recent experiences trying to learn Vietnamese. My second language. How I learned my first language, I will of course never know. I would need to have had language to encode that experience; what I do know is that very early in my life I realized that language, even if it did not create the world, created to a large extent the human experience of the world. (I understood the power of effective lying.) I would go so far as to suggest that what we call mystical are those experiences that fall outside the ability of our language to express them. I'm following the Tractatus in this, I think. Those last few pages William Barrett sees as crucial to the movement of the Philosophical Investigations. (One of the infuriating things about Wittgenstein studies is the debate that frames Wittgenstein's career as either a smooth continuum from the Tractatus to the Investigations, over against the view that there is a radical break between the early & the late Wittgenstein. Both views are true, which is to say that neither is true.) Question: is the classical Logical Positivist view of language that a proposition can be A) true, B) false, & C) nonsensical? If I've got this right, doesn't W. even in the Tractatus suggest a fourth possibility: D) propositions that are neither true nor false, but to which we still attribute sense?

Anyway, back to second languages: At every step of the way in my learning Vietnamese I am "triangulating" between my native knowledge of English, Vietnamese, & some third ideal point--perhaps the Chomskian language-in-general. Except, that there were moments, living in Hanoi, when Vietnamese just simply happened to me. That is, I became a baby again & began to know the language from the inside. In those moments, I was reborn into Vietnamese. The experience always left me giddy. I would go so far as to say that, for a poet like me, supposedly superbly fluent in my native tongue, learning even so much Vietnamese as I have managed so far, represents a conversion experience. The fact is, during my year in Hanoi I was both deliriously happy & profoundly disoriented & manic. Obsessive. It was a crisis experience, life-changing. Had I gone as a tourist or diplomat with no intention of struggling with the language, I could have avoided this mental turmoil; which is to say, I could have avoided the experience itself.


Thank you for your kind words about my elevation to what another colleague, who has also attained the exalted rank of Professor, called "the world of Old-Fartdom." It does, though, feel subtly different being a Professor. Funny what words (& a raise) can do. And had Wittgenstein worked at Clarkson as you & I do, he would have known that this is a real job in a way that Cambridge, perhaps, was not. There is that Puritan strak in Ludwig that I am going to have to confront one of these days. But let me take this opportunity to note your service to the School of Liberal Arts & the Honors Program here: I believe that I can safely say that it is the intention of your colleagues to make an honest man of you & get you on the tenure track. (Or is that the Road to Perdition?) Indeed, it is shameful that we have not been able to do this before now.


Before blogging on Wittgenstein, let me take a moment to congratulate Joe on his elevation to full professor. Ludwig would advise you to go out and get a real job. I am just pleased to see justice done. Would colleagues at a technologically-oriented university recognize the work of a poet and critic even after that poet and critic cultivated an international reputation and readership? Happily, the answer is yes.

[31,32] I am thinking that 31 offers us an epistemology of place. To be in a language-game, to ask questions, even the most rudimentary, reveals a knowledge that comes with being there. It is a tacit knowledge, as Wittgenstein explains. The example is the game of chess. Wittgenstein observes that we can learn the game without ever confronting the rules explicitly. We watch others play and follow their example. Or we learn other board games and apply that accumulated experience here in chess. As we move from game to game, we are not making radical moves from the familiar to the unfamiliar, necessarily. Rather, we carry knowledge of other games into the new game.

Interesting; I have looked at this remarked before and it struck me as just another in a series of naming examples. I may even have remarked that this chess example is a redundancy. Now I see that this is a remark not so much about how we find our way about a game through naming pieces and learning rules. It is about travel from language-game to language-game and what we bring to a new situation. "We may say: only someone who already knows how to do something with it can significantly ask a name." This is the answer to the question: What must I know to ask for the name of the tallest piece on the game board.

In 32, Wittgenstein raises the issue to an anthropological level. Here he wants us to see that the issue is not the earlier question of how we learn language. Instead, what we are observing now is how we go about learning a second language. We do this by attaching words to things. Suddenly, Augustine makes sense to Wittgenstein. "Augustine describes the learning of human language as if the child came into a strange country and did not understand the language of the country; that is as if it already had a language, only not this one." What the child possesses is the tacit knowledge of her first language and she brings this to bear on the second. (Of course Chomsky would say that we are hardwired for this sort of encounter with languages.) Before we learn our first language, we cannot think because we have no language for thought. In acquiring a second language, we do so with the capacity for thought. We can talk to ourselves and translate.

As we travel from one language to another, we might want to say that there are deep structures -- mental and cultural -- that unite all languages. What Wittgenstein is saying is that the overlap of two languages is not found in the structure of mind or grammar. Rather, the point of unity is the person stepping from one into another. We might go further an offer a lexicographical explanation of the historical relationships between the romance languages or Greek and German.