Understanding Wittgenstein: Studies of Philosophical Investigations

By J. F. M. Hunter | Go to book overview

Twenty-Four
DEPTH GRAMMAR

664. In the use of words one might distinguish 'surface grammar' from 'depth grammar'. What immediately impresses itself upon us about the use of a word is the way it is used in the construction of a sentence, the part of its use -- one might say -- that can be taken in by the ear. -- And now compare the depth grammar, say of the word 'to mean', with what the surface grammar would lead us to suspect. No wonder we find it difficult to know our way about.

HERE Wittgenstein introduces a new notion, 'depth grammar', with only the sketchiest of explanations of what he means by it, and immediately asks us to put it to work, promising that the results of doing so will be interesting. While he has elsewhere used the word 'grammar' often enough, he appears to attach an unconventional sense to it, which he nowhere explains; and we do not even know, although perhaps we could figure it out, whether by grammar simpliciter he means surface grammar, depth grammar, the whole of which surface and depth grammar are parts, or something else. We are asked to compare the depth grammar of 'to mean' with what its surface grammar would lead us to suspect, without being given any examples of surface grammar leading us to suspect anything, or any examples of the kind of thing this is to be compared with. No wonder indeed we find it difficult to know our way about.Let us anyway review the clues we are given, and some assumptions it is fair to make:
1. If Wittgenstein is not completely perverse in his use of the word 'grammar', there ought to be something in common between what we all know as grammar, the grammar we learn

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