Meaning is use

Currently I’m taking the free online course called ‘Think Again: How to Reason and Argue‘ at Coursera. It has been starting since 26 Nov 2012, but I just finished watching video lectures and doing exercises for the 1st week today. One of the video mentioned languages , which the professor referred to the quote by Ludwig Wittgenstein. I had never heard the quote or his name before so I searched for his information on the Internet. He was considered by some as one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century.

meaning is use—words are not defined by reference to the objects they designate, nor by the mental representations one might associate with them, but by how they are used.

Wikipedia| Philosophical Investigations –

From the explanation in the video of the quote ‘Meaning is use’, I quite agree to this statement. I may not 100% get the theory behind this quote; however, I think they reasonably describe languages.

When I studied English language during my school years, I was taught about vocabularies and their meaning. I had dictionaries both English – Thai and English – English. I liked to look for meaning of English words and tried to memorize them. Before starting my freshman year in University, I could remember more than 1000 English vocabularies along with their synonyms. Moreover, I could memorize many English idioms (phrasal verbs). Back to those days, I was confident in my English vocabularies and grammar.

Nowadays I am working in multinational company and my management want Thai staffs to get better English communication skills. Therefore, they support us by arranging English courses for us. My English language teacher is from the US. He’s taught us most areas of English language skills. One useful thing that he tells us is how to correctly use English words and grammars. For me, I know words’ definition as well as all of the tenses in English. But there are some hard moments for me that I don’t know how or when to use words or grammars. For example, I know the structure of past tense and past perfect tense but I’m not quite sure how and when to use them correctly in the contexts.

So basically we still need to know definition or structure or rules in languages that we want to be able to understand, however it’s very important for us to realize how or when to use them correctly. That’s the way we can make efficient communication with others.


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