§32. Someone coming into a strange country will sometimes learn the language
of the inhabitants from ostensive definitions that they give him; and he will
often have to guess the meaning of these definitions; and will guess sometimes
right, sometimes wrong.
And now, I think, we can say: Augustine describes the learning of human language
as if the child came into a strange country and did not understand the language
of the [that particular] country; that is, as if it already had a language, only not
this one. [Or
again: as if the child could already think, only not yet speak. And "think"
would here mean something like "talk to itself".]
- B, as a real starting-from-scratch learner, should not be
confused with B', a pretend-learner, who is learning 'sepia', but who
has already been provided with the whole structure of language, including
'naming' and 'colour-words', and just is missing this word - this piece in
the jigsaw, that has been artificially removed.
- B cannotx learn his first language by just labelling alone.
Labelling is part of the learning process (§3,
"naming is something like attaching a label to a thing") - it just isn't
all of it.
- W. later, not surprisingly, thought better of the last two sentences.
Some editions have a message from Anscombe to this effect.
- His target continues to be his old Tractatus self, not Augustine.
There is no point in trying to find out what Augustine actually
meant. W. is trying to exorcise his old demons - to understand how he
could have been so foolish. Once W.'s language is fully formed, he
could fail to notice the place-setting aspect of it. He could fail to notice
the necessity for this. He could just focus on the nouns, adjectives, and
connectives, as though each one - 'cup', 'table', 'red', and 'on' - works in
isolation, with an invisible dotted line linking it to an aspect of the
world (the 'ostensive definitions of the words') such that the structure of
the world is then copied (more or less, because this is not a fabled 'atomic
sentence') by the structure of the sentence: "The red cup is on the table".
He could thus think that when A teaches B our language, he just uses
ostensive teaching of these definitions - pointing out the dotted linkage
lines - pointing at →
∏ and saying "Table".
- Language Learning: How exactly human language learning takes place is not his theme.
He is merely presenting a rough model. Therefore problems with the model that he
has sketched are not really relevant. For example, we could ask how B
manages to evade the problem of conceptual underdetermination (Rabbit parts,
gavagai, radical translation...). Are we supposing that the child somehow
simultaneously is trying to learn specific words, and guess, from various
contextual clues, the place-holders (for example, that 'sepia' is a colour
word? Are we supposing that humans have a natural genetic tendency to think
of the same place-holders? None of these questions matter. His theme is not
how humans learn language but how language works, what it does, and
what it cannot do. The process of learning may illuminate this; for
example, realising that the teaching process is deeply unreliable might
suggest that it is not likely to result - perhaps cannot result - in
the creation of a unique, inhuman, metaphysical link (a rule-governed
association) between the word and either an aspect of the world, or an
aspect of our feelings/sensations.