Ludwig plays the lexicography game

The Guardian has a curious story about the recent sale for £75K of the proofs of a 42-page spelling ‘dictionary’ compiled by Wittgenstein in the 1920s when he was in non-philosophical mode. Listing bits of language to make a dictionary is of course a certain use of language, and in W’s later philosophy would presumably have been a type of ‘language game’, something you can do with words, a ‘form of life’ as he put it, with its own rules and institutions.

Dictionary making is certainly a virulent form of life on the web today. After the tedious grind, high cost and gross under-use of lexicographical products in the world of print, these days you can hardly start clicking without someone’s dictionary site popping into view. Now that almost any full word (not prepositions or articles etc) in any language offers an advertising entrée into some product or service, aggregating almost any dictionary resources looks like a money spinner. Still, few of them will ever reach the equivalent of 2000 bucks or so for one page of Wittgenstein’s Wörterbuch für Volksschule


Andrew Joscelyne
European, a language technology industry watcher since Electric Word was first published, sometime journalist, consultant, market analyst and animateur of projects. Interested in technologies for augmenting human intellectual endeavour, multilingual méssage, the history of language machines, the future of translation, and the life of the digital mindset.

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