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[xmca] Is the Transition from "Roaming" to "Scanning" Developmental?
The Seoul subway has installed televisions on most cars for public service announcements, but they are silent and subtitled. The subtitles go by pretty fast, and the announcers are usually young and extremely attractive (in a blooming, refreshing, corn-fed, healthy but quite unsexy way that reminds me of my own students).
So I often find myself concentrating on the features of the speaker, and trying to lip-read rather than struggling with the text. After only a few journeys, I began to discover certain things about Korean sentence structure that I had pretty much ignored in both my speaking and my reading.
One is that every Korean utterance tends to end with an INTERPERSONAL element. Grammatically, this marked by the presence or absence of an honorific at the end of the verb (and thus the end of the sentence). But visuallly, it is usually marked by a smile (informal) or a slight bow (formal). Where particles in middle of the sentence contain epistemic or deontic elements, you see pretty much the same thing.
Now, the way I discovered this was to IMAGINE the intonation without any of the grammar or vocabulary while trying to "lipread" and checking my hypotheses against the subtitles. In other words, intonation and facial expression represents a kind of "internalization" of the external grammatical markers.
This internalization is less complete in women and young people and more complete in men and elderly people; that is, women and young people tend to rely more on intonation and facial expression to convey the interpersonal element of their speech and the less telegenic men and older people tend to rely on grammar and vocabulary.
Marilyn Fleer and Marianne Hedegaard, in their article, appear to assume that Andrew's replacement of "roaming" behavior by "scanning" behavior is a similar instance of development. Bodily displacement has been "internalized" by the displacement of eye contact.
The problem I have with this extremely intriguing idea is that it appears to me to be, like my own discovery of the connection between facial expression and grammatical honorifics, a step sideways rather than forwards; I can't see how it will lead to WRITTEN LANGUAGE, which seems to me to be the real next step in the disembodiment of meaning, both for me and for Andrew.
I guess this is related to what I see as the chief THEORETICAL flaw in the article, which is the interpretation of "social situation of development" in a rather objectivist "community of practice" sense rather than a semiotic one. I note that there is no actual verbal data from Andrew at all, and only one page of verbal data from his mother.
It seems to me that life is full of nonadaptive sidesteps, and classroom life is especially so. For hundreds of years, it was assumed that translation was a step forward in foreign language learning; the mapping of foreign sounds onto native word meanings represented the acquisition of vocabulary. This is undoubtedly true in many cases, and it may be truer as we move upwards, towards more universal concepts. But in every language there are certain core structures (e.g. tenses and articles and so on) which are untranslatable, and the attempt to translate them only leads to trouble.
Now, the current dogma is that it's better to GESTURE than to TRANSLATE. I am unconvinced. The mind is an economical thing; and it seems to me to likely that I will remember the gesture and the pragmatic circumstance and not the word or the semantic meaning, just as I understand and remember the English and forget the Korean when I translate.
It seems to me that the transition from translation to gesture, like the transition from roaming to scanning and the transition from relying on intonation to relying on facial expression, may be yet another step sideways.
Seoul National University of Education
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