[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns: conversation

Peter, I am very happy to see how well developed the empirical and practical side of your work is! Have you published any of your studies, have more writings on your theory, etc.? I am actually quite excited by your work.

Your argument for viewing the conversation as a unit of word-meaning (in the Vygotskyan sense of "meaning through language use") seems compelling. I like this idea quite a bit, and find myself wanting to go with it, try it out, test it, play with it, see how far it goes. Once this simple and obvious relationship is pointed out, as you are doing so clearly and concisely, a lot of connections seem to fall right into place. They are the same old connections, of course, but more dialectical, more dynamic, more far-reaching. For me, anyway ...

For example, this concept makes me want to ask the reverse question: how can word-meaning be conceived **other** than in conversation? And how can the **parts** of conversation - parts of words, words, word- sequences, sentences, sentence-sequences - or utterance-sequences in general - as well as gestures, facial expressions etc. etc. - be conceived other than as just that - as parts of **conversations**? (This suggests that the conversation could actually be **the** structural unit of word-meaning - with everything else being parts of conversations - in the way we usually think of parts of sentences. Am I taking this too far?) These are not new questions, of course, but ones that your work revives in a new light.

This line of thinking makes me want to take this a step further - or "upward" - how can a particular conversation be conceived other than in its particular social, cultural and historical as well as psychological "context" (its concrete reality)? This idea, of course, has been deeply explored by Bakhtin and others. Have you had a chance to relate your thinking on this to Bakhtin, Volosinov, etc.?

Thinking of word-meaning this way is one of those ideas that has "been there" all along, but so big that I know that I for one never quite apprehended it in this way. I have always thought of a conversation as some kind of combination, sequence or interchange of "word- meanings" - not a "word-meaning" in and of itself. This in some ways is a mind-boggling concept. We think of our words as being in our conversations, but it is harder to conceptualize the opposite being the case - that it is our conversations that are in our words, and that our words and word-meanings actually mean nothing apart from and outside our conversations. Obvious, understood already in many ways, but also new and dizzying for me.

This viewpoint - and perhaps I am taking this too far and someone is going to have to rein me in - this view of word-meaning places, the dialogue, or the conversation, as the transmission mechanism, the concrete link between 1) the meanings of social relations and culture (the interpsychological) and 2) psychological meanings (the intrapsychological). I like putting conversation in the middle like that.

On one hand, of course, this is not at all a new idea. How else do we communicate? Hello? On the other hand, by viewing conversation as the **necessary** form that word-meaning takes - that is, that conversation IS word-meaning - this insight opens up new possibilities for harnessing Vygotsky's theory of word-meaning as a powerful lens into two simultaneous realms - 1) human social relations and activities, which are inherently language-based, and 2) individual psychology (the higher mental functions), which, according to Vygotsky, is also inherently language-based.

This seems to be exactly what your research is trying to do, Peter. You are showing how to look at the totality of an activity in a given situation - in this case, children playing while talking out loud - to see and show how human action and human meaning-making are a dialectical unity - using Vygotsky's classical theory of word-meaning as a lens into **everything** that is simultaneously happening - or, at least, that which is happening that you can figure out how to record and analyze!

An interesting reverse question to ask here about what you have observed in your studies so far: what are some of the **limitations** of Vygotsky's concept of word-meaning in trying to understand what these children are doing, thinking, saying, feeling? Above, I speak almost as though it can explain "everything". Can it? Probably not! LOL So what are the **limits** of this lens into human activity? (For example, it probably does not explain roles, personalities, membership in social classes ...)

To the extent that this approach is successful at viewing certain multiple levels of human activity at once, one can legitimately ask: how can this be so? I find myself answering that question with another: isn't this **precisely** what Vygotsky accomplished when he discovered word-meaning as a basic unit of analysis? To show how to view the **convergence** of the social and the individual? To see both realms at the same time at the place they meet and transform one another and together become something new? This is probably why I like this idea so much, it seems to expand Vygotsky's approach to do exactly what we want it to.

If we only apply the concept of word-meaning to "words," perhaps we are setting our sights too low, and only on certain details, missing the larger picture. But if we step back and include **the conversation** along with words and sentences, new possibilities seem to emerge. Maybe someone will shoot me down here and point out how I am going off the deep end with this (or more likely, just leave me be with my false hopes!) - but I think you are on to something, Peter. (Maybe you think I am going too far, too! LOL)

Another question: have you tried to apply Leontiev's activity theory (conditions-based tasks and operations, goal-based actions and action- sequences, lifestyle-motivated activities and activity systems, etc.) to your work on word-meaning and conversation? I am not aware of anyone who has applied these concepts to the dynamics of conversation, conversation analysis, etc. I wonder if they could be applied ...

One last question. Sorry about so many questions! Not all need to be answered all at once - there is always lots of time, no rush here, of course. My last question: have you given thought to how this expansion of the Vygotskyan concept of word-meaning could be applied to Vygotsky's work on concept formation (syncretic formations, concrete complexes, systematic concepts, etc.) - or perhaps, the other way around - how Vygotsky's work on concept formation might apply to your work on word-meaning?

- Steve

On Oct 29, 2009, at 5:03 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

I see you use utterance as a unit of analysis. In the previous mail you referred to using "conversation", but utterance is surely the unit of which conversation is made up. Do you have Bakhtin's idea in mind for "utterance" at all? Otherwise the notion of "turn taking" in private speech is very challenging, isn't it?

All sounds fascinating,

Hi, Andy.

My method of eliciting the speech involves children playing a game with a challenging cognitive component. I videotape each child (usually 4-, 6-, and 8-year-olds) individually-- with me in the room, at a distance, as a possible resource for interpersonal speech if the child is feeling motivated enough to seek it out. The child is given instructions about how the game works, what the objective is, and is told "it's a new game, and I want to know what you think of it, and whether other kids would like it." The game I have tended to use is a Piagetian task in which a child is asked to connect some straight and curved wooden tracks together in such a way that they fit between two fixed endpoints glued to a large gameboard placed on the floor. The children can crawl on the board and move the tracks around. The objective is to "build as many roads as possible with the tracks" that I provide them. To make the entire experience more fun (especially for the younger children), I also affixed to the board a miniature "school" area, a miniature "amusement park and zoo" area, a "lake" area, and a "mountain" area. These areas are situated so that the tracks can be constructed between the areas, and therefore create a very enticing fantasy-play opportunity. This was a conscious decision, for my aim is to elicit every type of private speech use-- particularly, "word play", "emotional expression", "descriptions of ongoing activity", "planning", "monitoring action", and the like. I want to have numerous examples of the full range of private speech productions, from the most impulsive to the most regulatory, so that I can examine the conversational structures and functions developmentally.

The analysis of the videotapes starts with a written transcript of the speech stream. This transcript is then used in conjunction with the videotaped speech and behavior, and serves as the place to record the codings that are then imposed on the data. The first cut is to segment the stream of speech into utterance units. Here we start to get quite conceptual already; how shall we define the boundaries? In general, the conventions for doing speech analysis are borrowed from linguistics, but when it comes to segmenting the flow of speech, developmental psychologists seem to have invented their own conventions that best suit their psycholoinguistic needs. My impression is that most analysts have adopted a set of criteria that more or less coincides with sentence boundaries. For my purposes, this is very helpful, for it divides the data neatly into two types: 1) single sentences, sentence fragments, phrases, single words, and even nonverbal behavior (such as facial expressions)--all of which are located within an utterance's boundaries; and 2) conversation-- connections between the utterance under investigation and other (adjacent and non-adjacent) utterances--if any. Since utterance boundaries are a matter of convention, I would like to see researchers make a collective, considered decision about how to slice and dice linguistic data, so that we can best serve our research agendas. In my case, the agenda is to test LSV's claims about the development of word meaning.

Once the data are segmented into utterance units, each unit can be "tagged" with attributes along the following lines: 1) Is it private speech or social speech? (direction of gaze, loudness, pitch, intonational contour, content, relation to ongoing action--all of these are relevant to making the decision); 2) Is it task-relevant, supportive of fantasy play, supportive to self-regulatory action, etc.? (evidence for these functions are marshalled as well); and, in my own approach (which very few private speech researchers seem to share), I ask: 3) Is the utterance in question part of a conversational sequence? (form, function, and content relationships to other utterances and to ongoing activity are considered); and 4) What conversational acts (speech acts) can be inferred from the deployment, production, and performance of the utterance? (words chosen, grammatical structure, literal propositional meaning, inferred meanings of individual words from sentential context, conversational context, and context of ongoing activity; other inferred meanings of the proposition from conversational context and context of ongoing activity, etc.).

Naturally, all of this takes training, time, funding, and persistence-- none of which are going to happen unless researchers are convinced that these (more extreme) measures are warranted.

So....if YOU were going to investigate LSV's concept of word meaning, dipping into the stream of conversation (or monologue, or narration) at various points in time to examine the key qualities that will allow you to determine the level of development of a child's activity of communicating (interpersonally or personally) with speech, I ask you: doesn't conversation have to be included in such an investigation? Is it possible to investigate LSV's claims about word meaning if the data are limited to just words, phrases, and sentences? How about the social, interpersonal "exchange" property? Words and phrases are just structures, but without conversation to breathe life into them, what have you got?

As you can tell, I have several axes to grind!

Thus, conceptual explorations of word meaning need to be tempered against the practical and pragmatic concerns involved with implementing and applying the concept to data. I am convinced that both theory and practice need one another for either one of them to develop.

Now that I've laid bare the methodology for obtaining the data that then become the empirical "facts" about word meaning, I would appreciate any help or suggestions you might have for improving or deepening the conceptual structure of this methodology, so that the "facts" we seek might be more in line with LSV's conception.

Sorry to be so verbose.


WHat experimental technique do you use, Peter, to observe
private speech?

Peter Feigenbaum wrote:

Thanks for the warm welcome.

I thought my response to the ongoing discussion would be useful,
but I can see that it will take more work on my part to demonstrate
the relevance of what I'm proposing.

I should also add that my orientation to LSV, private speech, and
word meaning is not just conceptual, but also practical. While I truly enjoy the erudite philosophical discussions on this listserve, and find them helpful in sharpening up crucial concepts, there is research to be done to verify these ideas, and that enterprise involves making concrete
decisions about conceptual possibilities.

As for your synopsis of my ISCAR presentation, you did a fine job. All I would add (and this was not spelled out sufficiently in my presentation) is a fuller description of the properties that emerge when speaking and thinking "converge". As I see it, that momentous convergence that LSV points to is none other than the momentous activity of a child uttering her first meaningful word. Several aspects of that new activity need to
be made explicit.

First, it's not just thinking and speaking that converge inside a child's
head; the whole activity is a convergence of infant and caregiver as
That is, a child's first word is spoken "to someone", and therefore
constitutes the very first instance of the infant engaging in
conversation--even though the infant is unaware of the rules and
conventions for conducting this new activity. Fortunately, adults step in and do the work of creating a state of mutual involvement until the child
is competent enough to do so on her own.

Which leads to the second point: if conversational activity is born with
child's first meaningful word, then tracking the growth and development
conversational understanding and skills needs to be a central aim of
Vygotskian research. Since the convergence of speaking and thinking is
also the same event in which word and meaning come together as one
to form a new activity, tracking conversational development is
with the development of word meaning.

To respond to your first question--is word meaning an activity of
through language use" or does it refer to a particular psycholinguistic structure--the answer is: both. Speech communication, word meaning, and conversation are, in my view, conceptually interchangeable. These terms all refer to the activity of making meanings with speech sounds. Thus,
particular speech structures are woven into the activity. That's the
thing about "activity"--it's a material process involving material
and from it can come "ideas" and "idealizations"!

If Vygotsky's claims about word meaning and its development are to be tested using empirical data, then the concept of word meaning needs to be translated and transposed so that it can take the form of an empirical methodology--while retaining its basic features. Personally, I don't know
one private speech researcher who uses LSV's concept of word meaning
when analyzing speech data--and to me, that suggests something is very wrong. So I have been focused on augmenting the concept of word meaning in order to create a corresponding method that can capture word meaning
and its development from a data-analytic perspective. That involves
certain conceptual choices, particularly regarding the linguistic units.

Your suggestion that there could be any number of linguistic units that
be proposed is certainly valid. My justifications for choosing words,
and conversation as the three major levels in the organization of speech
communication are based on both conceptual and pragmatic grounds. We
need a method of studying this phenomenon developmentally from a data
perspective, and this scheme seems tome to be the most workable one.

Does that help clarify my viewpoint?


-----xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu wrote: -----

To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
From: Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch@me.com>
Sent by: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
Date: 10/28/2009 07:19AM
Subject: 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

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
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
all into some type of transactional field”. I have
been working on an augmentation of LSV’s analysis of “word meaning”
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
our concept of word meaning and to enable us
to devise a methodological unit of analysis that can track this
throughout childhood. I am referring to: conversation.

Most linguists and developmental psychologists don’t think of
as a linguistic structure; instead, they regard
it more as a social or even behavioral activity that happens to be
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
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
speak “appropriately”. Are there rules for social
appropriateness with speech? Dell Hymes thought so. In 1962 he
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
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
(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
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
word meaning, which follows the same path as
the ontogenetic development of verbal thinking, or inner speech. In
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
speech, it is not sufficient to understand his words--
we must understand his thought. But even that is not enough--we must
know its motivation. No psychological analysis
of an utterance is complete until that plane is reached." I believe
gets at the heart of Michael (Glassman's) concerns.
To know what a speaker's utterance "means", a listener/data analyst
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
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
communicative intentions. He applied
John Searle's analysis of "speech acts" to conversation, enabling a
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
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
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,
           Sent by:                  <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
bounces@webe                                          cc

                                     RE: [xmca] The Ubiquity of
           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
sequence of events. Words are being used as instruments (some might
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
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
delimited meaning to them.  However if those individual continued
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
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

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list
xmca mailing list
xmca mailing list


xmca mailing list
Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov,
Ilyenkov $20 ea
xmca mailing list

Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov, Ilyenkov $20 ea

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list