Conditions for Description

Conditions for Description

Conditions for Description

Conditions for Description

Excerpt

LANGUAGES have often been compared with games, for example chess. Just as we cannot play chess without observing certain rules, so the use of a language is impossible without a system of rules. It does not matter in a game of chess what the different pieces look like, but it is important to know the rules of the game stating the various ways in which the position of the pieces may be altered; similarly what matters in language are not the individual sounds, but the rules determining the use of these sounds. It is just as important to be able to define the checkmate situation, the ultimate goal of the game in chess, as it is for a language to serve a purpose, whether the object is to impress our surroundings, to give a description of reality, or merely to convey a message. We may alter the rules of a game quite arbitrarily, so long as we do it consistently; similarly, we may to some extent alter the rules of language, provided that we carry these alterations to a logical conclusion. In this connection we are less concerned with the rather trivial rules of substitution, which can be expressed by means of explicit definitions, than with such radical alterations of the language-structure as we meet, for example, in non-Euclidean geometries.

Language may in certain respects be compared with a game; the analogy fails, however, if applied to the symbolical function, the most characteristic aspect of a language. In chess it is irrelevant whether we regard the pieces as symbols or not. On the other hand, we can hardly speak about language except in connection with symbols which may be used for description, or which may be interpreted.

Frequent attempts have been made, especially in former times . . .

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