That philosophical concept of meaning has its place in a primitive idea of the way language functions. But one can also say that it is the idea of a language more primitive than ours.
Let us imagine a language …The language is meant to serve for communication between a builder A and an assistant B. A is building with building-stones; there are blocks, pillars, slabs and beams. B has to pass the stones, and that in the order in which A needs them. For this purpose they use a language consisting of the words ‘block’, ‘pillar’, ‘slab’, ‘beam’. A calls them out; –B brings the stone which he has learnt to bring at such-and-such a call. — Conceive this as a complete primitive language(Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations).
“That philosophical concept of meaning” refers to the aforementioned Augustinian pictorial-correspondence understanding of language. When Wittgenstein problematizes conceiving of the most fundamental function of a language as the correlation of a word’s “meaning” with a picture or an idea, he is not saying that it is an illegitimate way of conceiving of the relation of language to reference or meaning. He is simply saying that to reduce language to this function as its most essential one is reductionistic and unjustified. Thus, in this context, by “primitive”, he means oversimplified(Baker & Hacker, 2008).
In order to demonstrate that Augustine’s pictorial understanding of language does not describe the most fundamental function of language, he conceives of a sort of proto-language which Augustine’s understanding of language for which Augustine’s description of language does not adequately account. Wittgenstein conceives of a syntax-less proto-language consisting of:
1) A context – building activities(Baker & Hacker, 2008).
2) Speakers – builder and assistant(Baker & Hacker, 2008).
3) Use of vocabulary – The name of the item the builder is using is called out when he wishes to use it for something(Baker & Hacker, 2008).
What is unusual about this proto-language is that:
1) It has no syntax(Baker & Hacker, 2008).
2) It has no rules for sentence-formation(Baker & Hacker, 2008).
3) It expresses only particularity, not generality(Baker & Hacker, 2008).
4) The only mood it uses is the imperative(as opposed to the indicative or the subjunctive, for example)(Baker & Hacker, 2008).
But can one really refer to a syntax-less proto-language such as this as a legitimate language?:
One might think that syntax is essential to language, since it is a prerequisite for the creative powers of language that distinguish arbitrary signs from symbols in a language. Equally, truth and falsehood are often supposed to be essential to anything that can be deemed a language, but are absent here. Philosophers frequently assume that assertion is the most fundamental speech-function[yet Wittgenstein’s language, as we have seen, lacks the indicative mood], and that non-assertoric speech-functions must be explained in terms of the assertoric. But this ‘language’ contains no possibility of assertion. It is held that the distinction between sense and nonsense is essential to language, but it has no grip here. Finally, one might suppose that it is essential to language that it express thought(Hacker & Baker, 2008).
Wittgenstein insists in remark 494 that it is a language; only a very primitve one. Indeed, its tendency to consist solely of the correlation of gestures and sounds with objects for imperatival purposes closely mirrors the way Augustine believed language is learned by humans. He wonders aloud, likewise, in remark 19, whether or not the imperative “Slab!”, by which such our primitive language-using builder orders his assistant to hand him a slab, constitutes a legitimate sentence. It certainly seems to function in a manner similar to a sentence, in spite of the fact that it lacks any discernible syntax(Baker & Hacker, 2008). Wittgenstein points out that, though such an imperatival utterance lacks syntax, this does not mean that it lacks a sense/nonsense distinction. Such a distinction would be operative even in such a primitive language-game were the builder to call out the name of a building object that did not exist or was not present(Baker & Hacker, 2008).
Baker, G. P., Hacker P.M.S., “Wittgenstein:Understanding and Meaning: Volume 1 of an Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations, Part II: Exegesis 1-184.” Hoboken : John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2008. 01/01/2008 1 online resource (384 p.