Language game

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Under language game (engl. Language game ) is generally understood to be a spoken utterance which occurs within a particular use situation. The term became popular primarily through Ludwig Wittgenstein's (1889–1951) major work Philosophical Investigations and established itself in the philosophical discourse.

Language game according to Wittgenstein

In general, language play can be understood to mean any form of linguistic utterance within a practical context, i.e. the innumerable ways in which signs , words and sentences are used. Wittgenstein emphasizes this with the term that "speaking the language [is] part [...] of an activity or a way of life" . These linguistic utterances can range from small sounds like "Ouch" or "Help!" To complex linguistic systems: Philosophy , a technical language , a joke , a literary text or other forms of language can therefore be described as language games.

In a broader sense, forms of expression such as those of mathematics or formal logic also count among the language games. Compared to other everyday language games, these are characterized by a comparatively high degree of precision in terms of the expressions used.

Within Wittgenstein's own work, language games are often specific thought experiments in which a narrowly defined use of words is shown in order to study their way of using simple examples. These language games are to be distinguished from everyday language. Wittgenstein tries, however, to use them to explain certain aspects of language practice in general. Wittgenstein's precise representation of language games mostly serves the purpose of tracing the origin of philosophical problems back to misunderstood language games.

The central idea behind Wittgenstein's concept of language game is that every linguistic utterance is at home in a human practice. The many different language games only make sense within this (largely non-linguistic) practice. A word, a phrase or a sentence thus has its importance not matter what you, with this word the term or phrase is doing and in what situation you express it. In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein reduced this to the formula:

"I'll also call the whole thing: the language and the activities with which it is interwoven, the" language game "."

- Wittgenstein, PU § 7

In the Brown Book , a preliminary stage of the Philosophical Investigations , Wittgenstein described language games as "self-contained systems of understanding". However, this formulation no longer appears in the Philosophical Investigations . Language games are basically open, at least in theory they can be expanded or changed as required. In Wittgenstein's view, it also makes sense in the rarest of cases to demand or seek a “closed”, i.e. clearly defined and delimited use of a term. Many terms (many language games) are practicable precisely because one can not draw precise limits for their use. Wittgenstein explains this using the term "game" as an example:

"Consider e.g. Take, for example, the processes that we call "games". I mean board games, card games, ball games, fighting games, etc. What do they all have in common? - Don't say: "They must have something in common, otherwise they won't be called 'Games'" - but see if they all have something in common. - Because if you look at them, you will not see something that would be common to all, but you will see similarities, relationships, and indeed quite a number. As I said: don't think, look! - Look z. Take board games, for example, with their manifold relationships. Now move on to the card games: here you will find many equivalents with that first class, but many common moves disappear, others appear. If we now move on to the ball games, many things in common are retained, but much is lost. - Are they all 'entertaining'. Compare chess with driving the mill. Or is there winning and losing everywhere, or competition between the players? Think of the patience. In the ball games there is winning and losing; but if a child throws the ball against the wall and catches it again, that pull is gone. See what role skill and luck play. And how different is skill in chess and skill in tennis. Now think of the round table games: here is the element of entertainment, but like many of the other traits have disappeared! And so we can go through the many, many other sets of games. See similarities appear and disappear. And the result of this observation is now: We see a complicated network of similarities that overlap and cross one another. Similarities on a large and small scale. "

- Wittgenstein, PU § 66

Wittgenstein calls these similarities, through which the language games are related, family similarities .

The term “game” in the word “language game” emphasizes, on the one hand, that language games are embedded in human practice: Linguistic utterances (language games) only make sense if they have a specific use and function within a form of life . On the other hand, the term game refers to the fact that the many different language games are not necessarily based on anything in common.

Some language games build on one another. In order to take part in a philosophical language game (for example, when discussing the use of the term “language game”), one must already have mastered many other language games. A person cannot immediately begin to philosophize, but must first acquire the language , that is - in Wittgenstein's words - be “trained” to use many words and sentences (PU § 27).

Every language game has certain rules: every word, every sentence has certain rules for its use. These rules for the correct use of language are conventions or customs that people share within a form of life. A language game is therefore only conceivable in a social context. According to Wittgenstein, one person alone would not be able to establish a language game. Wittgenstein tried to show this in his famous private language argument .

Playing with the language in preschool education

The term “language game” is also used in a broader sense of “playing with language”. It is about a creative and playful handling of structures and meanings and even the optical dimension of written language . An example are children's anecdotes, counting rhymes and playful repetitions. Such " game languages " are subject u. a. preschools - as related to language development, but also in conjunction with an educational conception, resulting in the child's situation and its language skills trying to empathize.

While adults have more differentiated knowledge and skills that allow them to understand and produce complex linguistic constructs, the use of language by children is more informal and more creative in dealing with language norms and vocabulary. The playful delight in language is a strong motive for language acquisition . Often adults only discover an imperfection of linguistic expression in it.

Playing with the language in literature

Language games in the broader sense could also be used to describe concrete poetry (visual poetry), which primarily uses the optical and acoustic aspects of language as an opportunity to deviate from the official norms of language and to vary forms of representation in an unconventional way. According to their theory, “concrete poetry” no longer represents facts - except itself. In this respect, playing with language is the goal of this type of language manipulation.


Language game in philosophy
  • Reinier F. Beerling: Language games and world views. Reflections on Wittgenstein . Translated from the Dutch by Jan M. Broekman . Verlag Karl Alber, Freiburg / Munich 1980. ISBN 3-495-47380-7
  • Wilhelm Beermann: Negative dialectics and language game. On the relationship between Adorno's philosophy and Wittgenstein's philosophy. (Wittgenstein Studies 1-96; 1996). Vienna, New York.
  • Kai Buchholz: language game and semantics . Munich: Fink 1998, ISBN 3-7705-3277-5 .
  • Jürgen Habermas : Language game, intention and meaning. On motifs in Sellars and Wittgenstein . In: Rolf Wiggershaus (Ed.): Speech analysis and sociology. The social scientific relevance of Wittgenstein's philosophy of language . Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, ​​1975, pp. 337-338
  • Jean-François Lyotard : The Postmodern Knowledge . Vienna u. a .: Böhlau 1986.
  • Kurt Wuchterl: Structure and language game in Wittgenstein. Frankfurt am Main 1969.
Playful handling of language in children
  • Hans Domenego, Christine Nöstlinger u. a .: The language handicraft book . Vienna, J&V, 1996, 12th edition.
  • Norbert Kühne: 30 kilos of fever - the poetry of children. Zurich 1997, ISBN 3-250-10326-8 .
  • Norbert Kühne: How children learn language. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2003.
  • Kurt Werner Peukert: Language games for children. rororo, Reinbek 1975.

Web links

Wikibooks: Language games  - learning and teaching materials
Wiktionary: Language game  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Ludwig Wittgenstein: Philosophical Investigations , § 23
  2. Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Brown Book , p. 121.