Wittgenstein, Translation, and Semiotics

Dinda L. Gorlée
University of Bergen, Norwa and Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, USA

Wittgenstein discusses interlingual and intersemiotic translation, both in its own right and, more often, as an object of comparison. In his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922), he puts forth a pictorial view which can be construed in Saussurian terms. This rule-governed notion of translation is, in Wittgenstein's later work, dynamized and based upon the use of signs. Translation is one of the language-games in Philosophical Investigations (1953). Wittgenstein's language-game of translation approaches Peirce's semiosis. Language-games are thirds which, in their nonverbal aspects, also partake of secondness and firstness. The language-game of translation occurs, at least theoretically, in three stages corresponding to the three logical interpretants.

Table of contents

One hundred years ago, on 26 April 1889, Ludwig Wittgenstein was born in Vienna, Austria. To commemorate this event, I will in this article look at Wittgenstein's views on translation. Wittgenstein's remarks on this phenomenon, though numerically rather modest, are, as I intend to argue, significant in that they reflect the various stages of his thought. Wittgenstein used them to illustrate and clarify key notions in his language-philosophical thought, such as rule, use, and language-game. The language-game issue will be the pièce de résistance of this discussion. Subsequently, I will venture a 'translation' of Wittgenstein's concepts into the framework of a Peircian semiotics. While there is little likelihood that Wittgenstein and Peirce knew each other's publications, their works reveal remarkably similar views of language. This conceptual connection will add a new dimension to the study of translation. At the same time, it will, it is hoped, broaden and enhance both the Wittgensteinian and the semiotic perspectives.

Full-text access is restricted to subscribers. Log in to obtain additional credentials. For subscription information see Subscription & Price. Direct PDF access to this article can be purchased through our e-platform.


Aguirre, Manuel
1981 “A Matter of Choice”. Restant 9(4): 191–206.Google Scholar
Chatterjee, Ranjit
1986 “Wittgenstein”. Sebeok 1986 : 1162–1164.Google Scholar
Deledalle, Gérard
1988 “Epistémologie, logique et semiotique”. Cruzeiro Semiotico 8: 13–21.Google Scholar
Eco, Umberto
1979A Theory of Semiotics. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
1984Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language. London and Basingstoke: MacMillan. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
1984a “The Frames of Comic ‘Freedom’”. Umberto Eco, V.V. Ivanov and Monica Rector, Carnival! (= Approaches to Semiotics, 64). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 1–9.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
1986 “Dictionary vs. Encyclopedia”. Sebeok 1986 : 201–206. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Finch, Henry Leroy
1971Wittgenstein—The Early Philosophy: An Exposition of the “Tractatus”. New York: Humanities Press.Google Scholar
[ p. 93 ]
1977Wittgenstein—The Later Philosophy: An Exposition of the "Philosophical Investigations“. New York: Humanities Press.Google Scholar
Fogelin, Robert J.
1976Wittgenstein (= The Arguments of the Philosophers). London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Gorlée, Dinda L.
1986 “Translation Theory and the Semiotics of Games and Decisions”. Lars Wollin and Hans Lindquist, eds. Translation Studies in Scandinavia (Proceedings from the Scandinavian Symposium on Translation Theory (SSOTT) II, Lund 14–15 June, 1985) (= Lund Studies in English, 75). Lund: Gleerup. 96–104.Google Scholar
1989Wittgenstein et Peirce: Le jeu de langage”. Semiotica 73, 3/4: 219–231.Google Scholar
Greenlee, Douglas
1973Peirce’s Concept of Sign (= Approaches to Semiotics, Paperback Series, 5). The Hague and Paris: Mouton. DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Hardwick, Charles S.
ed. 1977Semiotic and Significs: The Correspondence between Charles S. Peirce and Victoria Lady Welby. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
1979 “Peirce’s Influence on Some British Philosophers: A Guess at the Riddle”. Kenneth L. Ketner and Joseph M. Ransdell, eds. Studies in Peirce’s Semiotic: A Symposium by Members of the Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism (= Peirce Studies, 1). Lubbock, Texas: Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism. 25–30.Google Scholar
Hintikka, Jaakko
1969 “Quantification and the Picture Theory of Language”. The Monist 53: 204–229.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Hintikka, Merrill B. and Jaakko Hintikka
1986Investigating Wittgenstein. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.Google Scholar
Jakobson, Roman
1959 “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation”. Reuben A. Brower, ed. On Translation (= Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature, 23). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 232–239.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Peirce, Charles Sanders
1931–66Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Charles Hartshorne, Peter Weiss, and Arthur W. Burks, eds. 8 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. (References are to CP followed by vol-umes and paragraphs.)Google Scholar
1976New Elements of Mathematics, Carolyn Eisele, ed. 4 vols. The Hague: Mouton. (References are to NEM followed by volumes and pages.)Google Scholar
Ransdell, Joseph
1976 “Communication and Community: Wittgenstein and Peirce”. The Pursuit of Wisdom: A History of Philosophy (= Intelman Library, 7). Santa Barbara, CA: Intelman Books. 399–432.Google Scholar
Rorty, Richard
1961 “Pragmatism, Categories, and Language”. Philosophical Review (April): 197–223.   DOI logoGoogle Scholar
Schwayder, D.S.
1969 “Wittgenstein on Mathematics”. Peter Winch, ed. Studies in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein (= International Library of Philosophy and Scientific Method). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 66–116.Google Scholar
Sebeok, Thomas A. gen.
ed 1986Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics (= Approaches to Semiotics, 73). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
Sheriff, John K.
1981 “Charles S. Peirce and the Semiotics of Literature”. Richard T. DeGeorge, ed. Semiotic Themes (= University of Kansas Humanistic Studies, 53). Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Publications. 51–74.Google Scholar
[ p. 94 ]
Short, T. L.
1986 “Life among the Legisigns”. John Deely, Brooke Williams, and Felicia E. Kruse, eds. Frontiers in Semiotics. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press. 105–119.Google Scholar
Steiner, George
1975After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Wittgenstein, Ludwig
. [1922] 1960Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (= International Library of Psychology, Philosophy and Scientific Method). Trans.C. K. Ogden. 8th impr. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. (References are to TLP followed by paragraph numbers.)Google Scholar
. [1953] 1968Philosophical Investigations. Trans. G.E.M. Anscombe. Rprt. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. (Refererences are to PI followed by I—Part I—and paragraph numbers, or II—Part II—and page numbers.)Google Scholar
Wittgenstein, Ludwig.
[1958] 1960The Blue and Brown Books (Preliminary Studies for the ‘Philosophical Investigations’, Generally Known as The Blue and Brown Books). Rush Rhees, ed. Rprt. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. (References are to BBB followed by page numbers.)Google Scholar
Wittgenstein, Ludwig
1967Zettel, G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright, eds. Trans. G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. (References are to Z followed by paragraph numbers.)Google Scholar
1980Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology I, G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright, eds. Trans. G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. (References are to RPP,I followed by paragraph numbers.)Google Scholar
1980aRemarks on the Philosophy of Psychology II, G.H. von Wright and Heikki Nyman, eds. Trans. C.G. Luckhardt and M.A.E. Aue. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. (References are to RPP,II followed by paragraph numbers.)Google Scholar