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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Grice's Shallow Grammar: "In the use of words one might distinguish between superficial or shallow grammar and profound or deep grammar.


Wittgenstein refers directly to the ‘depth grammar’ only

in two loci, yet they are invaluable.

"But the words
significantly uttered have after all not only a surface but

also the dimension of depth."

After all, it just is the case

that something different takes place when they are uttered

significantly from when they are merely uttered.

How do I

express this is not the point.

Whether I say that in the first

case they have depth; or that something goes on in me,

inside my mind, as I utter them.

Or that they have an

atmosphere, it always come to the same thing.

Well, if we

all agree about it, won’t it be true?"


 “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 the sentence, the part

of its use that can be taken in by the addressee.

And now

compare the deep grammar, say of the word ‘to mean’,

with what its superficial grammar lead us to suspect.


wonder we find it difficult to know our way about” (Wittgenstein)

The distinction between deep grammar and superficial

grammar is not necessarily one perceived by the addressee.

Baker referred in the most comprehensive

article regarding Deep Grammar vs Shallow Grammar claims that we

are actually investigating the language game in which

someone uses a certain word but in fact refers to a wider

definition of language game.

Following Wittgenstein

Baker (who contributed to the Grice festschrift with "Alternative mind sytles" -- he was the philosophy tutor successor at St. John's) emphasizes that we should clarify the circumstances

in which a certain sentence is created rather than

the grammatical principles upon which it is structured

It is the philosopher’s task to examine

whether the word has a meaning that plays a role in

human activity and in light of the results examine the

various ways the given word integrates in such an activity.

Such an investigation can be carried out by studying the

created picture or the picture that accompanies a certain

word and the deep grammar can then be used to

emphasize the word’s use in its various shapes.

The goal

is not to offer a certain interpretation to a given sentence

the way ‘deep grammar’ does since according to

Wittgenstein one cannot even define what a sentence is


This is why such an investigation

is open to discussion and to different readings that are

dependent upon the addressee’s life experience and form
of life.

Although what Baker suggests can be referred to

as the main road of the Wittgenstein’s investigation it does

not contribute enough to understanding the distinction

between the two grammars -- shallow grammar and deep grammar -- since he ignores the reason of

use (the meaning) and focuses on result (the variety of


Wittgenstein does not exemplify the meaning of

deep grammar by using the verb ‘mean’ accidentally.

According to him the context each utterer pours into the

‘meaning’ of his expression actually is deep grammar.

Thus, one would like to follow a number of descriptions in the
Investigations that are significant to the clarification of the

term ‘meaning’. One would also like to exemplify how

Wittgenstein uses this term when talking about


Wittgenstein tried

to investigate the term ‘meaning’ from different directions

by examining the similarities and detecting family

resemblance between ‘meaning’ and similar concepts:

“meaning something is like going up to someone”

(Wittgenstein 2001, §457); or “’I am not merely saying this,

I mean something by it’ when we consider what is going on
in us when we mean (and don’t merely say) words, it

seems to us as if there were something coupled to these

words, which otherwise would run idle.

As if they, so to

speak, connected with something in us” (Wittgenstein

2001, §507). Deep grammar expresses all that accompanies

words when a certain person ‘approaches’ them and

uses them.

The subjective-human aspect of the utterer is

embodied in ‘meaning’ and the identification of meaning

enables us to point out the ‘deep meaning’ of whatever

has been said.

This is the direction that is preferred by Hacker as well.

According to Hacker,

the clarification of deep grammar done by describing the overall use of a

relevant expression is done after examining all the possible variations the

relevant expression can have, the circumstances in which it is used, and the

results of such use.

It is important to note that Hacker criticizes the 'deep'

metaphor and claims that it suits a Tractatus (in which there is seemingly a

distinction between what can be seen externally – suiting the deep grammar

definition – and what comes out in the investigation.

However, in philosophical

investigations, Wittgenstein emphasizes time and again that we can see

everything and that nothing has a ‘concealed essence’ that needs to be


Thus, the contrast is not between ‘shallow’ and ‘deep’ but rather

between ‘local space’ and ‘topographic space’.

Meaning is not the fruit of an unconscious
instinct of using grammatical rules but rather expresses the

ties that exist between a person’s soul, personality and his


"Why do you want to tell him about an intention too,

as well as telling him what I did?"

"Not because the intention

was also something which was going on at that time. But
because I want to tell him something about myself, which

goes beyond what happened at that time” (Wittgenstein

2001, §659).

Deep meaning is understood based upon a

whole set of activities into which language is woven and

receives its unique design from the utterer’s intention:

“what is happening now has significance in these


The surroundings give it its importance… (A
smiling mouth smiles only in a human face)” (Wittgenstein

2001, §583).

‘Surrounding’ and ‘face’ are not created at

random but actually are the ‘form of life’ from which

language use and understanding derive:

“By shallow or superficial

grammar we actually refer to all the formal grammatical

rules while by deep Grammar we refer to the circumstances

and relationships that dictate language use”

(Kripke 1982, p. 96).

This definition stresses the fact that

there are early assumptions and applications of use that

need to be taken into account when analyzing use (Ibid, p.


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