This is written in response to a Quora question, which asks about direct implications of Wittgenstein’s work on natural language processing. Feel free to vote there for my answer on Quora!
How could Wittgenstein have influenced modern NLP? Yorick Wilks cited by the question asker hints at three possible aspects:
- Distributional semantics
- Symbolic representations and computations
Wittgenstein likely played an important role in the establishment of distributional semantics. We mostly cite Firth’s famous "You shall know a word by the company it keeps", but this was preceded by Wittgenstein’s "For a large class of cases—though not for all—in which we employ the word ‘meaning’ it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language." This formulation was given in his “Philosophical Investigations”, published posthumously in 1951, but he started to champion this idea as early as 1930s. It likely influenced later thinkers and possibly even Firth.
Let’s move onto the symbolic representations. In his earlier work Wittgenstein postulates that the world is a totality of facts, i.e., logical propositions (which is called logical atomism). It is not totally clear what could be the practical consequences of this statement (should it be implemented as an NLP paradigm). In addition, Wittgenstein rejected logical atomism later in life. He also declared that it is not possible/productive to define words by mental representations or references to real objects: Instead, one should focus exclusively on the word use. This sounds very "anti-ontology" to me.
Last, but not least, modern NLP has a statistical foundation. However, Wittgenstein never advocated an empirical approach to language understanding. I have found evidence that he dismissed weak empiricism.