Ludwig Wittgenstein

Born in Vienna to a very wealthy family, his father was a friend of Andrew Carnegie and had a near monopoly on steel in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Three of his four brothers would commit suicide, the fourth would lose an arm in World War I but still manage to become a concert pianist using only his left hand. His sister Margaret was a patient of Sigmund Freud’s and would later be painted by Klimt.

Ludwig went to the same elementary school as Adolf Hitler. There’s no clear evidence they met, although they were only two grades apart and it is possible but by no means agreed upon that the two as boys appear in the same school picture.

After studying in Berlin Ludwig worked on designing plane propellers with jet engines, he got a patent on one, but became frustrated. He spent some time “experimenting with kites at the Kite-Flying Upper Atmosphere Station near Glossop in Derbyshire.” He went to Cambridge in the UK where he pestered Bertrand Russell. John Maynard Keynes invited him to the join the Apostles, the gay-skewing secret society. Ludwig wasn’t that into it.

In 1913 his father died and Ludwig became one of the richest men in Europe. He moved to a remote village in Norway.

(his cabin used to be to the left of this picture, I’m told)

Eventually he found this place too busy.

When the Great War broke out, Ludwig volunteered for the Austro-Hungarian army, though he probably could’ve gotten out of it for health reasons. He served on a ship, was wounded in an explosion, became an officer directing artillery from no-man’s land, won several medals for bravery. He was there during the Brusilov offensive, where somewhere between 200,000 and 567,000 of his comrades were killed. He kept notes during the war:

The meaning of life, i.e. the meaning of the world, we can call God.
And connect with this the comparison of God to a father.
To pray is to think about the meaning of life.

In summer 1918 he took leave and went back to Vienna where his family had many house.

It was there in August 1918 that he completed the Tractatus, which he submitted with the title Der Satz (German: proposition, sentence, phrase, set, but also “leap”) to the publishers Jahoda and Siegel.

He went back to the front, this time to Italy, where he was captured and spent nine months in an Italian prison camp. After the war he gave away his huge inheritance to his siblings, and went to train to become an elementary school teacher. He became a teacher in a mountain village in Austria.

In 1921 the Tractatus was published. Here is the first sentence:

Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist.

Plug that into Google Translate, or use the standard translation, and you will get:

The world is everything that is the case.

Does that comma matter? Should it be:

The world is everything, that is the case

Or, in the Ogden translation, the first English version, approved by LW? Although he didn’t really speak English at the time?:

The world is all that is the case.

What about “case”? I have no background in German but looking up the word Fall it seems to also have connotations of drop, fall, instance.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten in the Tractatus. It doesn’t get easier from there:

The world is everything that is the case.[1]

1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.

1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by these being all the facts.

1.12 For the totality of facts determines both what is the case, and also all that is not the case.

1.13 The facts in logical space are the world.

1.2 The world divides into facts.

1.21 Any one can either be the case or not be the case, and everything else remain the same.

The decimal figures as numbers of the separate propositions indicate the logical importance of the propositions, the emphasis laid upon them in my exposition. The propositions n.1, n.2, n.3, etc., are comments on proposition No. n; the propositions n.m1, n.m2, etc., are comments on the proposition

Here’s my source. I have not decompressed all 75 pages.

This book will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it—or similar thoughts. It is therefore not a text-book. Its object would be attained if there were one person who read it with understanding and to whom it afforded pleasure.

As LW himself says.

After several years as an apparently terrifying rural elementary school teacher Ludwig hit a slow-witted kid on the head so hard he collapsed. In trouble, Ludwig resigned his position. He worked for a while as a gardener at a monastery. He designed a house in Vienna:

It took him a year to design the door handles, and another to design the radiators

He made some long confessions to friends, about things like white lies. He went back to Cambridge for awhile. He would relax by watching Westerns in the front row of the movie theater. Invited by the President of Ireland, Eamon De Valera, himself a former math teacher, to come over there, he did. He went back to the UK and during World War II he worked in a hospital.

He started working at Guy’s shortly afterwards as a dispensary porter, delivering drugs from the pharmacy to the wards where he apparently advised the patients not to take them.

After the war there was another Irish period, along Killary:

The nearest shop/post office was 10 miles away. He had to do his own housework and saw nobody except Tom Mulkerrins, who brought him his milk and kept him supplied with turf and conversation. He used the kitchen table mostly to work on, writing his aphoristic sentences on slips of paper and taking great pains to arrange them in the correct order. He did little cooking and almost all his food came out of tins. He spent hours watching seabirds and talking to them in German. The Mortimers, who were his next nearest neighbours, thought he was mad, perhaps because he wanted them to shoot their dog, whose barking disturbed him.

(source on that).

Realizing in 2012 I took a walk along Killary Harbour (it’s a fjord) not far from where he was holed up, it looks like this:

You can walk seven miles without seeing a person, easy. It’s along Killary Harbour too that Martin McDonough set The Beauty Queen of Leenane, a masterpiece of comic cruelty. I’d be curious what Wittgenstein thought of that play.

Ludwig took a trip to the USA, he went back to the UK, he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer, he died in 1951.

Just trying to wrap my head around the basic facts of this guy’s deal, prompted by this New Statesman article on the 100th of the Tractatus.

Say what you will, this guy was something!


Sapir’s special focus among American languages was in the Athabaskan languages, a family which especially fascinated him. In a private letter, he wrote: “Dene is probably the son-of-a-bitchiest language in America to actually know…most fascinating of all languages ever invented.”


I’ve been doing some work to learn:

This is a good journey, but challenging.

Sometimes it leads me to stuff like this:

which: ok, how much can we trust these linguists?  Are we sure we’re on solid ground here?

The big categorizing of native American languages was done by Albert Gallatin in the 1830s.

Could he have been wrong?  People were wrong a lot back then.

Well, after looking it with an amateur’s enthusiasm, I feel more trusting.

I feel confident Navajo/Diné is connected to languages of what’s now Alaska, British Columbia, and nearby turf.

Navajo / Diné speakers can be understood by speakers of other Athabaskan languages, and most of the words in Navajo seem to have Athabaskan origin.

Edward Sapir wrote a paper about internal evidence within the Navajo language for a northern origin to this people.

Sapir was wrong* about some things, but no one seems to doubt he was a pretty serious linguist.

How about Michael E. Krauss?

After completing a dissertation on Gaelic languages Krauss arrived in Alaska in 1960 to teach French at the University of Alaska.

Krauss’ largest contribution to language documentation is his work on Eyak, which began in 1961.  Eyak was then already the most endangered of the Alaskan languages, and Krauss’ work is all the more notable considering that it represents what today might be considered salvage linguistics. While some Eyak data had been previously available, they were overlooked by previous scholars, including Edward Sapir. However, Eyak proved to be a crucial missing link for historical linguistics, being equally closely related to neighboring Ahtna and to distant Navajo. With good Eyak data it became possible to establish the existence of the Athabaskan–Eyak–Tlingit language family, though phonological evidence for links to Haida remained elusive.

If anyone makes any progress on native American language classifications while under precautionary self-quarantine, let us know

* I’m just teasing poor Sapir here, I don’t think it’s fair to “blame” him exactly for the “Sapir-Whorf hypothesis,” which maybe isn’t even wrong, and as far as I can tell it was Whorf not Sapir who misunderstood Hopi

Iko Iko and Mobilian Jargon

Reading up on the New Orleans classic Iko Iko, made famous by the Dixie Cups, I find myself reading about Mobilian Jargon.

Mobilian Jargon (also Mobilian trade languageMobilian Trade JargonChickasaw–Choctaw trade languageYamá) was a pidgin used as a lingua franca among Native American groups living along the Gulf of Mexico around the time of European settlement of the region. It was the main language among Indian tribes in this area, mainly Louisiana. There is evidence indicating its existence as early as the late 17th to early 18th century. The Indian groups that are said to have used it were the Alabama, Apalachee, Biloxi, Chacato, Pakana, Pascagoula, Taensa, Tunica, Caddo, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Chitimacha, Natchez, and Ofo.

A possible meaning?:

Another possible translation interprets the third and fourth lines as:[30]

Chokma finha an dan déyè
Chokma finha ane.

Chickasaw words “chokma” (“it’s good”) and “finha” (“very”), Creole “an dan déyè” from French Creole “an dans déyè” (“at the back”), and the Creole “ane” from the French “année” (“year”).


It’s very good at the rear
It’s a very good year.

What about the possible voodoo origin?

Louisiana Voodoo practitioners would recognize many aspects of the song as being about spirit possession. The practitioner, the horse, waves a flag representing a certain god to call that god into himself or herself. Setting a flag on fire is a curse. The man in green, who either changes personality or whose appearance is deceiving, would be recognized in Voodoo as possessed by a peaceful Rada spirit, inclining to green clothes and love magic. The man in red, who is being sent to kill, would likely be possessed by a vengeful Petwo spirit.[33]

Haitian ethnologist Milo Rigaud published a transcription in 1953 of a Voodoo chant, “Crabigne Nago”[34]. This chant to invoke the Voodoo mystère Ogou Shalodeh is similar to “Iko, Iko” in both pentameter and phones.

Liki, liki ô! Liki, liki ô!
Ogou Shalodeh.
Papa Ogou Jacoumon,
Papa Ogou Shalodeh.

More on the topic can be found in an article in a 2008 issue of Southern Anthropologist – we find ourselves amidst controversy:

Right from the beginning, Galloway (2006: 225-226) belittles the amount of linguistic information available, which she evidently takes as a justifi cation for not addressing specifi c linguistic and historical data that Crawford and I have accumulated and analyzed over the years. Although Galloway (2006: 228) recognizes my book of some four hundred pages as “the most thorough study of Mobilian jargon (sic) now available,” she oddly does not use a single piece of linguistic data from it in her own essay; nor does she review the substantial amount of sociohistorical documentation that both Crawford and I assembled for what anthropologists and linguists had long thought lost. Instead, Galloway (2006: 240) has curiously drawn on a short, seven-page essay by Kennith H. York (1982) for inspiration and “the insight of a sophisticated native speaker of Choctaw,” which demands a short appraisal

The linguistic origin of the song is the subject of a 2009 Offbeat article by Drew Hinshaw, who traces it to Ghana:

One afternoon, 1965, the three Louisianan sisters/cousins who gave you “Chapel of Love,” unaware that the studio’s tapes were still rolling, recorded for posterity two minutes of delightful historical intrigue that had been circulating in oral obscurity for generations unknowable. “Iko, Iko,” they called that tune. The English chunks of the record came from an all-too-obvious source—R&B singer “Sugar Boy” Crawford who claimed he never saw “just dues” from the top 40 hit—but the cryptic refrain of the Carnival standard is of a lost language, entirely mysterious: “Eh na, Iko, Iko-ahn-dé, jaco-mo-fi-na-né.” You know these words. “Sugar Boy” said he remembered them from the Mardi Gras Indian tribes of his salad days, while the girl group said they heard it from their grandma, Which is where the song begins: “My grandmaw and yo’ grandmaw….”

Reminded me of this cool, dialogue-less scene in Twelve Years A Slave which probably tells us about as much as can be known about the earliest origins of New Orleans music:

Not sure why I bothered writing this post, as I already texted with MMW about this topic (he suggested I look into Pidgin Delaware) but the oddest topics have lured readers to Helytimes, and really, what else is this site for but

1) to peer into the past until the view becomes a crazy fantastical kaleidoscope

2) to celebrate the rich weirdness of the world, and

3) to delight that there are people out there fighting over Mobilian Jargon?