Wittgenstein tells us that in order to understand what is around us, we need to look carefully, or from
a different angle, and simply describe what we see, because everything is in front of our eyes.
Moreover, we shouldn't try to explain. If this approach is applied to spoken language research, it
appears to advocate qualitative/ethnographic research methods, rather than quantitative (empirical)
However, Wittgenstein's approach does not square with the Ph.D. research requirement to provide (in
most cases) more than a description of the phenomenon under investigation. My thesis provides both
qualitative and quantitative analyses of naturally occurring spoken language, and alternative
explanations of the findings. Nevertheless, I feel that there is a tension between Wittgenstein's
approach, which makes sense to me, and the imposed Ph.D requirement demanding explanations.
What are your views on the matter?
I would ask you to consider the possibility that you have misread Wittgenstein. His concern is always
with philosophy, even when, on a superficial reading, he seems to be conducting linguistic 'research'
based on his own experience, and that of his students and readers.
'My task is to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to a piece of manifest nonsense.'
The problems of philosophy arise 'when language goes on holiday'. We fall into philosophical illusions
because we misunderstand the logic, the 'grammar' of our own language. — The Philosophical
Investigationsis full of methodological observations such as these, which leave the reader in no
doubt that the practice of philosophy, as Wittgenstein conceives it, is a strenuous meditation on the
ways in which, outside of philosophy, we use the words and concepts that trip us up so easily once
we begin to philosophize. Wittgenstein's method is to assemble a serious of 'reminders for a
particular purpose'. His aim is to tackle the deep problems of philosophy by revealing the illusions that
lie in wait to entrap us, or which we have already become entrapped by. It is, as he himself describes,
a process akin to therapy.
Ask yourself, What is the purpose of investigating 'naturally occurring spoken language'? You are
gathering empirical data. To what end? The aim can only be to discover meaningful patterns,
regularities. That doesn't mean you have to be looking for some 'grand theory'. Perhaps there is no
grand theory to be had. But surely some principle, or set of principles will emerge as providing the
best way to organize, classify the results of your linguistic research. It is indeed unlikely that only one
such set of principles will emerge. There will be different ways of looking at the data, different views
on which things are more or less important. There is no reason why these issues should necessarily
be expressed in quantitative terms — which was one of your worries — however, it seems difficult to
see how they would be resolved without admitting that the task is more than purely descriptive. To
classify is already to explain. The notion of things that belong together — a 'natural kind' — involves
the idea of theory, even if only implicit.
If, as you say, your thesis 'provides both qualitative and quantitative analyses of naturally occurring
spoken language, and alternative explanations of the findings' then I don't see that you have anything
to worry about. If the concern is that there is not enough explanation, that is something which is itself
difficult to quantify. My suggestion would be to look to contemporary philosophy of science, rather
than to Wittgenstein's philosophy, for models that would enable you to defend the view that the best
approach to the kinds of question in linguistics that you are interested in is one that sticks close to the