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17 - Wittgenstein and meaning - second part

"Are you reading or daydreaming?
Do the effusions of a graphomane have such
power over you?"1.

The meaning of a word is thus its use in language. In essence, regarding a word, one can get information looking in dictionaries or grammar books, books containing norms and instructions. But not the meaning, or at least not all the meaning, that is enclosed in the use (Gebrauch) of a word.
  This means that, according to Wittgenstein, the meaning of a word is not solely verbal, linguistic, it has some added components that manifest themselves in practical application, in use. Part of the meaning of a word lies in the meaning that it can produce in combination with other words, within a text. The meaning of a word in a text must be considered in a systemic view in which the text system contains many words in interaction, whose meaning is partially determined by their meaning as attested to in the code, in the dictionary, and partially determined by the interactions with the other elements in the text.
  In its turn, a text has a meaning of its own, it makes sense as an element of the macro-textual system of which it is part, and so on until we arrive at the level of the semiosphere.
  The use of the word is, moreover, a subjective choice with psychic implications. The speaker's choice of words - a choice possible from among the countless forms in which the same thought can be expressed - is indicative of a deep content, sometimes linked to unconscious associations, or to conscious but idiosyncratic associations typical of a given person and not always dividable or explainable.
  Wittgenstein speaks of the modulation of the voice pronouncing the words, and about the facial expressions accompanying the speaking activity, as about feelings with which we pronounce our sentence2. Saussure considered speech a linear act in the sense that each expression is subsequent to the one that precedes it; there is never a simultaneous expression of more than one element. But as an exception to this rule, there exist "suprasegmental tracts", i.e. all expressive modes accompanying the speech act. The suprasegmental dimension suggested by Wittgenstein adds an affective moment to the word, analogous to the one that it acquires through co-textualization and all kinds of markedness of the speech, repetition included.
  (Repetition - classical expressive device forbidden by the mysterious rules of "good writing" and "good translating", maybe understandable only as an attempt to standardize, homogenize expressive modes, textual creativity - is a way to make the sense of a word or a text resonate in a different way. The rush to use synonyms in order to avoid repetitions - both in interlingual translation and in intersemiotic translation from the mental to the verbal, i.e. in writing or oral verbal expression, is also an escape from the sense, meant in this wider and deeper meaning.)
  Wittgenstein views communication as an intersemiotic translation activity between mental images and affects and words. It is a translation activity, as much as interlingual translation, characterized by anisomorphism, i.e. by the absence of a reciprocal bilateral matching. A feeling translated into words and then back translated into a feeling does not produce the same "prototext" (feeling) from which the process started. This is one of the reasons why semiosis can be considered unlimited.

Let us imagine a table (something like a dictionary) that exists only in our imagination. A dictionary can be used to justify the translation of a word X by a word Y. But are we also to call it a justification if such a table is to be looked up only in the imagination?3.

Such justification can only be individual, subjective. In other words, it is possible that the consultation of a "mental dictionary" gives rise to correct interpretants (also because it would be very difficult to conceive an incorrect interpretant) but interpretants, by definition, are subjective and not fully shareable, not completely translatable into signs. In another passage of the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein, having quoted the childhood memories of a man named Ballard, comments:

Are you sure-one would like to ask-that this is the correct translation of your wordless thought into words? [...] These recollections are a queer memory phenomenon,-and I do not know what conclusions one can draw from them about the past of the man who recounts them4.

But this is not very important to one who is trying to analyze not a biography, but the functional comprehension of a text. The question is not the matching of a text with a not well defined "reality", but the functioning of an inner idiosyncratic code consisting of interpretants and the possibility to translate it into words. Not only: Wittgenstein also postulates the existence of a more primitive and deep form of thought in a dialectical relation to the thought translatable into words.

[...] so we often think as if our thinking were founded on a thought-schema: as if we were translating from a more primitive mode of thought into ours5.

The expression of our thoughts, in other words their intersemiotic translation, corresponds to a subjective code that does however vary in time and space. Some ways of expression are different from those used in other moments or situations:

In saying "When I heard this word, it meant' to me" one refers to a point of time and to a way of using the word. [...] And the expression "I was then going to say'" refers to a point of time and to an action. I speak of the essential references of the utterance in order to distinguish them from the peculiarities of the expression we use. The references that are essential to an utterance are the ones which would make us translate some otherwise alien form of expression into this, our customary form .6.

It is clear that these definitions of mental meaning in Wittgenstein match very well with the notion of "interpretant" in Peirce and allow us to go on in our overview of reading and perception of the text remaining aware that - apart from the terminological difference between Wittgenstein and Peirce - we can rely on some shared notions that, until the eventual falsification, we can accept and use.


Bibliographical references

CALVINO I. If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, translated by William Weaver, London, Vintage, 1998, ISBN 0-7493-9923-6.

GORLÉE D. L. Semiotics and the Problem of Translation. With Special Reference to the Semiotics of Charles S. Peirce.Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1994. ISBN 90-5183-642-2.

TOROP P. La traduzione totale - Total´nyj perevod, edited by Bruno Osimo, Modena, Guaraldi Logos, 2000. ISBN88-8049-195-4.

WITTGENSTEIN L. The Blue and Brown Books, edited by Rush Rees, Oxford, Blackwell, 1958.

WITTGENSTEIN L. Philosophische Untersuchungen Philosophical Investigations, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe, second edition, Oxford, Blackwell, 1958. ISBN 0-631-20569-1.

1 Calvino 1998, p.125.
2 Wittgenstein 1958, p. 125.
3 "Denken wir uns eine Tabelle, die nur in unserer Vorstellung existiert; etwa ein Wörterbuch. Mittels eines Wörterbuchs kann man die Übersetzung eines Wortes X durch ein Wort Y rechfertigen. Sollen wir es aber auch eine Rechfertigung nennen, wenn diese Tabelle nur in der Vorstellung nachgeschlagen wird?" Wittgenstein 1958, p. 93.
4 "Bist du sicher, daß dies die richtige Übersetzung deiner wortlosen Gedanken in Worte ist? [...] Diese Erinnerungen sind ein seltsames Gedächtnisphänomen - und ich weiß nicht, welche Schlüsse auf die Vergangenheit des Erzählers man aus ihnen ziehen kann!" Wittgenstein 1958, p. 109-110.
5 "[...] so denken wir oft, als läge unserm Denken ein Denkschema zu Grunde; als übersetzen wir aus einer primitiveren Denkweise in die unsre" Wittgenstein 1958, p. 156.
6 "Mit seinen Worten "Als ich das Wort hörte, bedeutete es für mich..." bezieht er sich auf einen Zeitpunkt und auf eine Art der Wortverwendung. [...] Und der Ausdruck "Ich wollte damals sagen..." bezieht sich auf einen Zeitpunkt und auf eine Handlung. Ich rede von den Wesentlichen Bezügen der Äußerung, um sie von andern Besonderheiten unseres Ausdrucks abzulösen. Und wesentlich sind der Äußerung die Bezüge, die uns veranlassen würden, ein im übrigen uns fremde Art des Ausdrucks in diese bei uns gebräuchliche Form zu übersetzen". Wittgenstein 1958, p. 175.