[lit-ideas] Robinson Crusoe Meets Friday

  • From: "" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx" for DMARC)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 4 Sep 2015 08:12:31 -0400

Barnumiana -- or Robinson Crusoe Meets Friday

In a message dated 9/4/2015 3:11:12 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
Philosophical Research and Marketing Dept.
(Who recently listened to a BBC radio programme on Wittgenstein and
"private language" where a Professor claimed that Wittgenstein does not deny
I might have a sensation that is private to me in that you (contingently)
do not have access to it but is concerned to deny that I can have a
sensation that is "logically private". Aside from the dubious claim that
Wittgenstein is concerned with sensations per se rather than
what does "logically private" mean here? [Can we find the expression
"logically private" in Wittgenstein's work?])

Oddly, I was reading about 'private languages' recently, too.

It referred to P. T. Barnum, and it reminded me of Grice's
Deutero-Esperanto. In Barnum's and Grice's case, we ARE literally speaking of a
being private or semi-private (in Barnum's case).

In Grice's case, there are two references: Deutero-Esperanto ("a language
nobody but me speaks, which makes me the master of it") and the New Highway
Code (he invents while lying in his tub). In both cases, Grice allows for
the literal possibility of a literally private language, in that 'x' may
mean that p, for an idiosyncratic utterer. This is NOT Witters's case.

The Barnum case is more complicated and I have not done due research yet. I
read in Wikipedia:

"In 1860, Barnum introduced ... William Henry Johnson, ... who spoke a
mysterious language created by Barnum."

I'm not so sure how 'mysterious' that language could be. The fact that it
was created by Barnum is interesting. In that we suppose that W. H. Johnson
REPEATED what Barnum told him to repeat. Or: Barnum created, alla Chomsky,
the RULES that generated 'sentences' in that 'mysterious' language -- call
it Barnum's Language -- and so Johnson could speak the language. Barnum
would be able to understand what Johnson was saying that's why I say
'semi-private'. It would be totally private if Barnum had created the
language but used it himself and himself only.

This reminds me of Edward Lear who used to invent his own private language,
too, and practiced it in correspondence with friends. One letter in the
language is reprinted in the Thames & Hudson edition of "The world of Edward

But of course Witters is into something different.

I think the first, before Witters, to refer to the 'private language',
would use 'Robinson Crusoe' as a reference that everybody would understood.
Since this is based on a novel, we know that before meeting with "Friday" (on
a Friday, incidentally) Robinson apparently never used language at all,
since -- well, there was, no Griceian need for it.

(It may be argued that Robinson Crusoe's scenario is biased in that his
brain was wholly formed when he arrived in the island, and that he had learned
at least one public language -- English -- and so it contrasts with other
cases where 'new' languages can develop -- or not).


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