Re: [xmca] Vygotsky ?s historicism

From: Carol Macdonald <carolmacdon who-is-at>
Date: Sat Apr 12 2008 - 02:54:48 PDT

This is Carol with a delayed response (delayed by a gum operation) and on a
topic we weren't supposed to get on.

The learning paradox is a favourite with my colleagues in the School of
Education. Sure on the face of it, how do you come to know something you
don't know is a seductive paradox, but I (humbly I hope) think that we can
work with this on at least two levels.

The first one is the child learning language. You are quite right we can't
have grammar without vocaulary, but is in real life language. But you can
study constituent structures in linguistics, which of course an esoteric
exercise. The shortest sentence is an instruction of one word e.g. "Stop"
(which is a predicate).

Now to children: they start with what seems to be a semantic base, without
grammatical rules. Then grammar emerges. OK, there may be some hardwiring,
but the fact of the mater is that children's *performance exceeds their
competence*. This sounds strange. But children love practising structures
they haven't heard before, and only later does the new structure fit into
their evolving language system. So that is how they get a leg up.

I think I have written enough for now, but for adults, we can invoke
intuition. hunches, analogies, hypothetico-deductive throught. Margaret
Dondaldson in one of her books thanked her husband for standing by her while
she had a thought and then took a whole book to prove it right. In applied
maths, you can design an argument, and then you get your PhD student to work
out a sufficient number of proofs to support the veracity of your argument.

So in my humble reductionistic way I am not a fan of the learning paradox.

On 10/04/2008, David Kellogg <> wrote:
> Here's what I've never understood about the "learning paradox". In Fodor's
> version, the problem arises when we attempt to explain how a more powerful
> conceptual system arises from a less powerful one.
> For example, if we accept that "grammar" and "vocabulary" are two separate
> entities (which I don't), then we have to say that grammar is a more
> powerful system for meaning-making than vocabulary is. Vocabulary grows item
> by item, while grammar grows exponentially, generating a potentially
> infinite number of sentences from a very small number of abstract
> relationships.
> Since grammar is the more powerful conceptual system, it should be
> possible to derive vocabulary from grammar but not grammar from vocabulary.
> But how is it possible to imagine a 'grammar' without any vocabulary? What
> would such a thing look like?
> Of course, the developmental evidence is the other way around; a
> surprising amount of the language I hear on the subway has vocabulary but
> not grammar, and that's just the adults. I've never heard of babies
> speaking grammar without any vocabulary, or of languages developing the
> former before the latter. This has to be one of the least thinkable ideas
> I've ever tried to think up.
> Traditional Tibetan Buddhist developmental thought is highly speculative,
> and so rather odd in a lot of ways (they are fervant recapitulationists, for
> one thing: a woman's pregnancy recapitulates man's descent from the apes).
> But they are pretty good on the origins of language: they consider that
> "acting", "thinking" and "speaking" must have co-evolved during the course
> of many kalpas (eons). Besides, like all profoundly evolutionary thinkers,
> Tibetans have no problem with the idea of a higher level system arising from
> a lower level one!
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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Received on Sat Apr 12 02:56 PDT 2008

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