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Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns: conversation

Welcome, Peter! I liked your presentation and paper at ISCAR 2005 a lot, and am very glad to see you getting involved here on xmca.

Your post outlines a very interesting concept, extending Vygotsky's concept of word-meaning to the linguistic unit of conversation.

I took a quick re-look at your 2005 paper, A Dialectical Model of Vygotsky's Theory of Speaking and Thinking. I like the way you describe Vygotsky's three stages of thinking/speech development, and the way you propose a fourth that completes the full developmental "cycle".

Here is a quick synopsis of your paper (in my clumsy terms). As you describe them, each of these stages takes two 'forms', so to speak, a speaking form and an intellectual (thinking) form.

The paper describes  Vygotsky's three stages of speaking/thinking as:
1) interpersonal speech, which combines the speaking form of external social speech dialogues, and the intellectual form of implicit practical thinking; 2) personal speech, which combines the speaking form of external private speech monologues and the intellectual form of explicit verbal thinking; and 3) personal speech, which combines the speaking form of internal inner speech monologues and the intellectual form of explicit verbal thinking.

To these stages outlined by Vygotsky, you suggest a fourth stage:
4) interpersonal speech, which combines the speaking form of inner speech/social speech with internal monologues and external dialogues, and the intellectual forms of explicit and implicit verbal thinking and practical thinking.

In this post, you extend Vygotsky's concept of word-meaning beyond the word and the sentence to the conversation as a unit of analysis. A key element that emerges in the second and third stages of speaking/ thinking development - that element being the monologue, or inner speech - creates the basis for the fourth stage. And the monologue is also a key element of how you are looking at conversation. Very interesting analysis!

Please correct the rough edges of my synopsis - and where I am off-base.

As for considering conversation a "third level" linguistic unit, following the word and the sentence, I have a naive question. The term "word-meaning" that Vygotsky uses in Russian - znachenie slova - as I understand it (via Holbrook Mahn's paper at a recent AERA conference), means something more like "meaning through language use" rather than "individual-word-meaning". In this sense, Vygotsky may not have been referring specifically to any linguistic unit when he spoke of word-meaning. Yes? No?

As for linguistic units, I have another naive question. Apologies for using non-technical terms here. We have things like parts of words, words, phrases, combinations of phrases, sentences, and then perhaps sequences of directly related sentences. And then, of course, we have conversations. And the distinctions can get a lot more complicated than that when we look at syntax. This leads me to ask: what permits us to say that "words" are one level, "sentences" are a second level, and that "conversations" are a third? Are we skipping any necessary levels? Or creating a level that we shouldn't?

I don't mean to undermine the idea of that different structural levels contain, transmit and transform meaning in qualitatively different ways. Units smaller than sentences, complete sentences, and conversations are clearly on very different levels. My question is: how can it be demonstrated and explained that these three levels are the right ones for this job?

It would be very sweet and simple if this were the case ...

- Steve

On Oct 27, 2009, at 8:34 AM, Peter Feigenbaum wrote:

Greetings, fellow members of XMCA.

My name is Peter Feigenbaum, and I’m a private speech researcher. Some of
you may know me from my presentations
at ISCAR. I have been following several of the threads on this listserve
for the past few weeks (time permitting!), and I
believe I might have something useful to contribute to this particular

What prompted me to chime in is the frustration expressed by Michael
Glassman regarding how to construct the question
of meaning in such a way that brings “activity and rules systems and words
all into some type of transactional field”. I have
been working on an augmentation of LSV’s analysis of “word meaning” that
might be just what Michael’s seeking.

In LSV’s day, the field of linguistics recognized only two structures
capable of subserving speech communication: words
and sentences. But there is a third linguistic structure that entered the
discipline several decades ago and, although it is
still marginal as opposed to mainstream, it has the potential to transform
our concept of word meaning and to enable us
to devise a methodological unit of analysis that can track this activity
throughout childhood. I am referring to: conversation.

Most linguists and developmental psychologists don’t think of conversation
as a linguistic structure; instead, they regard
it more as a social or even behavioral activity that happens to be useful
in organizing the interpersonal exchange of
linguistic utterances. But once you get past the obvious turn-taking
conventions that regulate the superficial participatory
structure of speech communication, you find a deeper set of rules that
govern how participants are expected to “think”.
For example, most cultures have a tacit rule about “sticking to the topic”.
If you have ever doubted such a rule, just try
speaking in non-sequiturs and see how far you get before the listener
gently suggests you consider checking in to rehab.

In 1977, C.O. Frake asserted that, in order to become a competent
communicator with speech, it is not sufficient to know
how to speak grammatically, or even sensibly; one must also know how to
speak “appropriately”. Are there rules for social
appropriateness with speech? Dell Hymes thought so. In 1962 he proposed
that ethnographers go out and record what he
called an “ethnography of speaking” for every culture. By that he meant “a
specification of what kinds of things to say, in
what message forms, to what kinds of people, in what kinds of situations”.
Consider, by way of example, “familiar” and
“formal” verb endings in French, Spanish, Italian, and other languages. So
powerful is the influence of formal and familiar
social relations and social situations on our conversations that these
relations ended up being institutionalized in language
in the form of their very own words! (And pity the person who missteps and
uses terms that are reserved for familiars in
the context of a formal situation).

More importantly, however, there are two other fundamental structures of
conversation that make it tremendously advantageous
to include conversation as the third “layer” in Vygotsky’s analysis of word
meaning: one is the division of conversation into
alternating “speaking” and “listening” roles, and the other is the
“initiation-response” structure of conversation, which obliges
speakers and listeners to play certain proscribed functional roles on their
respective turns at talk. In fact, the real power of
conversation lies in the initiation-response structure, IMHO, which defines
(implicitly) how two utterances are related in
a conversational sequence. The very best illustration that I know of is the
question-answer pair, which uses the cultural
convention of initiation-response to set up a predictable cognitive
relationship between the two utterances. Once a child
learns how questions are conventionally related to answers, and how answers
are conventionally related to questions
(as in the TV game show, Jeopardy), he or she becomes capable of, and
attentive to, using questions strategically—yes,
I mean consciously, volitionally, and deliberately—to get at desired
answers. The initiation-response structure of conversation
has all of the linguistic properties that are necessary for a speaker to be
able to use one utterance to get at another. This is
the basis for the self-regulatory, self-reflective, self-monitoring
qualities of private speech--in its later stages.

In Chapter 7 of Thought and Language, LSV walks through his analysis of
word meaning, which follows the same path as
the ontogenetic development of verbal thinking, or inner speech. In the
final step of the movement "inward" from word
to thought, LSV refers to Stanislavky's approach to word meanings that
highlights the role of the speaker's communicative
intentions. LSV ends that topic with the claim, "To understand another's
speech, it is not sufficient to understand his words--
we must understand his thought. But even that is not enough--we must also
know its motivation. No psychological analysis
of an utterance is complete until that plane is reached." I believe this
gets at the heart of Michael (Glassman's) concerns.
To know what a speaker's utterance "means", a listener/data analyst must
consult the words and their lexical meanings,
the sentence (in which the words are embedded) and its propositional
(literal) meaning, the sentence's grammatical
structure, the conversational context (related utterances, prior topics,
etc.), and the situational context in order to appropriately
infer the speaker's intention. Only after answering the ultimate "why did
he say that?" can a listener come close to grasping
what the speaker "meant". Incidentally, my mentor, John Dore, an analyst of
the development of children's conversational
skills and competencies, created a coding scheme for capturing a speaker's
communicative intentions. He applied
John Searle's analysis of "speech acts" to conversation, enabling a data
analyst to identify the "conversational acts"
produced by speakers on an utterance-by-utterance basis.

There is much more that conversation lends to Vygotsky's analysis of word
meaning--besides the "transactional space"
it provides in which word meanings are exchanged--but I won't take any more
time or space here. I fear I’ve already worn out
my welcome! Let me just end by saying that Chapter 7 of Thought and
Language confused me for the longest time by its
references to the movement from “outside to inside”, from “word to
thought”.  But once I began to cast this movement in terms
of basic conversational roles, it became clear (to me, at least) that LSV
was referring all along to the activity of *listening*
(i.e., word > thought)--as opposed to the activity of speaking (i.e.,
thought > word), which embodies the reverse movement.
No wonder he likened his investigation of "thinking" to that of astronomers
studying "the dark side of the moon"--listening
is certainly the "dark side" of speaking!

Thanks for your indulgence. Hope this helps, Michael.

Best wishes to all,

P.S. If anyone cares to hear more about this, such as how the addition of
the conversational layer affects LSV's analysis
of the *development* of word meaning, I would be more than happy to come to
your university in person and deliver a
presentation on the topic! (I've been very busy lately developing this

Peter Feigenbaum, Ph.D.
Associate Director of Institutional Research
Fordham University
Thebaud Hall-202
Bronx, NY 10458

Phone: (718) 817-2243
Fax: (718) 817-3203
e-mail: pfeigenbaum@fordham.edu

<MGlassman@ehe.os To u.edu> "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
            Sent by:                  <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
xmca- bounces@webe cc
Subject RE: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns
            10/24/2009 11:42

            Please respond to
             "eXtended Mind,

Hi Michael,

I have been mulling over your question about meaning for the last day
trying to figure out how to convey it in a way that bring activity and
rules systems, and words all into some type of transactional field. I have
been feeling trapped because as soon as I say what meaning means I am
reifying it, from an objective, almost realist perspective.  It is so
damned hard to escape the realist and idealist traps that are lurking
everywhere. If I was going to describe what meaning is I would have to do it through showing an activity where meaning is determined by transient and
yet very powerful rule systems (perhaps an addendum to Marx's false
consciousness).  Then this morning I came across the column

"We Know What he Means" by a very good columnist named Bob Herbert. I hope
this link goes through.


Meaning is definitely being established by Guiliani and Bloomberg in theses sequence of events. Words are being used as instruments (some might say weapons) to achieve a goal. The fact that those who speaks the words, and
probably many of those who listen, do not in any way agree with the
superficial aspects of the conversation (e.g. New York is in danger of
becoming 1967 Detroit) very specific meanings are at the same time being
established in order to achieve goals.  What is interesting is that I
wonder how people who don't know the rules around urban politics would take the words - and I would suggest that the words actually have a much more delimited meaning to them. However if those individual continued reading Bob Herbert's columns for a year, or good Herbert and racial politics, they would I believe be able to get the same meaning as those who are from New



From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of Wolff-Michael Roth
Sent: Fri 10/23/2009 3:58 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns

Hi Michael,
you must have misunderstood me. We have two interconnected orders,
one of sound patterns, which we hear or read as words, the other one
some world generally. I didn't write about "meaning" because I don't
(try to) use it, because it is overused and abused. The two orders
are interwoven, and a sound can change the other order, "Step aside"
may get a person to move and therefore the world changes, but it also
may earn you a fist on the nose, and the two effects are different.

I think Wittgenstein and especially later philosophers would agree
that there is NO system of rules sufficient to explain language in
use, which was precisely the point in the discussion between Derrida
and Searle on speech act theory, and the various interpreters of the
exchange, as people like Culler and Habermas subsequently further

The rules themselves are made as we go, and this is what I attempt to
capture (at least in part) with the notion of con/texture and con/
texting, where text not only "means" but also establishes the very
context within which it definitively "means" (to use your verb). (See
I can mention use, thereby also use, and the difference between
mention and use becomes undecidable, in the very sentence preceding
this parenthesis.)

I have no idea in which sense you use "meaning". What does someone
understand when they understand the "meaning". What is "meaning"? The
trouble is with the word that users point to something obliquely.
What is the "meaning" of Bildung?


On 23-Oct-09, at 11:23 AM, Michael Glassman wrote:

But Michael,

Isn't this taking something of a realist approach to words?  That is
that certain words mean certain things, which the reader can actually
know and therefore use to help interpret of the meaning of the text
around them.  This means that there are certain words that can be
known and can't be known, based on experience.  I am thinking of
Wittgenstein's observation of the chess game, where if you saw two
people playing from a distance you would think they were playing the
same game with the same rules you were playing, but this is only an
assumption, because they do not share the community's understanding
of the rules.  But I am thinking that Wittgenstein saw this more as
an issue of cultural capital rather than absolute knowledge.  If it
is important to teach an individual the rules of the game you can
teach them.  I think somebody like Rorty might argue that this was
inevitable as long as the players, those reading the text, were
interested and active in the understanding.  When an individual
writes a text he is writing at least to some degree to teach what all
the meanings of the word are.  So somebody reading a text reads the
word Bildung in the text, he or she is confused, but is interested in
understanding.  They return to the text again as they attempt to get
their horizon to meet with the author's (hat tip to Gadamer).  In the
end the reader may not be able to describe Bildung outside of the
text, outside of the authors specific vision.  And may not be able to
describe it to somebody who is not sharing that particular horizon.
But they understand the meaning and the role that word is playing in
the text in an important way.



From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of Wolff-Michael Roth
Sent: Fri 10/23/2009 2:04 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns


On 23-Oct-09, at 10:51 AM, ERIC.RAMBERG@spps.org wrote:

consciousness has developed.  David Kellogg has provided numerous
of how native Korean speaking people do not grasp basic concepts of the
english language.  Some of the low achieving students I work with have

I think, with Heidegger, Derrida, Rorty, Wittgenstein, Davidson,
Deleuze, and others, that the difference between knowing a language
and knowing one's way around the (cultural) world is undecidable.
Concepts are not just concepts of English language, they are
irreducibly interwoven with the way of life.

This is why Anglo-Saxons tend to have difficulties with activity
(Tätigkeit, deyate'nost) and activity (Aktivität, aktivnost'). This
is why there is no concept like Bildung, because in the conduct of
life of Anglo-Saxons, there is no equivalent segmentation to which
the concept could refer, and there is no inter-concept relation where
such a distinction would be useful.

I do find the concept of "concept" problematic, because it is being
used on this list without working out just what it stands for. (in
general use, it appears like meaning that is somehow related to words.)

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