Re: [xmca] The Chinese Room

From: Shirley Franklin <s.franklin who-is-at>
Date: Tue May 15 2007 - 00:23:13 PDT

What a lovely analysis, David
On 15 May 2007, at 03:35, David Kellogg wrote:

> There's a beautiful moment in Chapter Four of Thinking and Speech
> when Vygotsky tries to say exactly what it is that separates human
> communication from animal communication.
> The usual (and persistent) answer to this question is grammar.
> Even Wray argues that it's the ability to deconstrue formulaic
> expressions (which have no internal structure) and reconstrue them
> as novel utterances that sets us apart. (She argues that this not
> only sets children apart from animals, it sets them apart from
> adults, because adults really LOSE the ability to ask in what sense
> "running a business" is about running.)
> Now why should GRAMMAR be the dividing line? There's certainly no
> Chinese wall (if you'll pardon the expression) between vocabulary
> and grammar, any more than there is a Rubicon between gesture and
> vocabulary. Some languages don't even recognize the distinction
> between a big word and a small sentence (including English: "Look!
> Listen!")
> Besides, grammar is more easily recoverable from the physical
> environment than vocabulary. A gesture has a natural, VISUAL,
> Subject-Verb-Object structure ("I threw spear", "Spear killed
> auroch").
> So what about stories? Neppur! A narrative has a natural Subject-
> Object-Verb structure, and even a natural Speaker-Spoken structure.
> When Chinese parents are pestered for stories by their children,
> they respond:
> "Once upon a time there was a mountain.
> On the mountain was a temple.
> In the temple was a monk.
> The monk was telling a story.
> The story went:
> '''Once upon a time there was a mountain...."'
> So many grammatical structures, unlike lexical ones, have a
> structure that is directly recoverable from material experience. As
> soon as we accept that, there's no reason to think that grammar is
> uniquely human.
> Sure enough, Savage-Rumbaugh et al. show that chimpanzees raised
> in tandem with humans can easily do this, and even understand and
> obey complex and counter-intuitive phrases like "give the potato a
> shot with a syringe and then take it outside and put it in the potty".
> So what is human about human language? Vygotsky's answer (lifted
> from Stern) is that kids go around ASKING for the names of things
> and ASKING for words. That is what actually causes the vocabulary
> spurt around 24 months of age, and it's from this point on that
> children begin to organize vocabularies around grammatical lines
> (as parts of speech).
> That means that what sets children apart from animals (and what
> sets the man in the Chinese room apart from the computer) is, as
> you say, volition. What Stern does NOT tell us is where the
> volition comes from.
> Bruner claims that Vygotsky doesn't answer this one either, but I
> think he does; Bruner just doesn't like the answer.
> "A basic, indisputable, and decisive fact emerges here: thinking
> depends on speech, on the means of thinking, and on the child's
> sociocultural experience. The development of inner speech is
> defined from the outside." (Thinking and Speech, p. 120).
> To a non-Marxist mind, this suggests a negation of free will. But
> once the development of inner speech IS defined from the outside,
> the child is perfectly free to go around asking...and asking...and
> asking.....
> "Once upon a time there was a mountain..."
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> ---------------------------------
> Moody friends. Drama queens. Your life? Nope! - their life, your
> story.
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Received on Tue May 15 01:24 PDT 2007

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