chapter  4
15 Pages

Does language need rules?

It has long been held, by philosophers at least, that language is a rulegoverned practice. But is this really so? What does it mean? Ordinary people would probably think in this connection of rules of grammar (gender, syntax, etc.), as printed in grammar books and taught at school. But this is not the kind of rules that philosophers have in mind when they speak of language as being rule-governed. They have in mind, among other things, rules governing the meanings of words. ‘It is’, wrote A.J. Ayer,

a meaning rule of English that anyone who observes something green will be describing it correctly if he says that it is green; or that anyone who feels pain will be describing what he feels correctly if he says he feels pain . . . My knowing what experience it is, is my being able to identify it as falling under a particular meaning rule.