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Re: [xmca] Experiences or an experience

Of course, language CAN be a unit of (cultural historical) analysis. Suppose we are trying to understand, for example, how languages change from standard languages into lingua franca (e.g. French in eighteenth century Europe, Latin in the middle ages, English today)and vice versa (e.g. Swahili). Then languages are a unit of (historical linguistics) analysis, but they are not a unit of psychological analysis.
I think that word meaning is indeed a unit of analysis for consciousness,  and it is a superior unit of analysis than "activity", which is too general and which often does not contain the properties of the whole (e.g. animal activity). But I think word meaning covers consciousness only after a particular point (the point at which speech becomes rational and thinking becomes verbal, let us say, age two). Perhaps Vygotsky was looking at "perizhvanie" as a rather more general unit of analysis for a different set of problems (not only consciousness as we know it, but thinking in preverbal children and schizophrenics).
It is a little fashionable, in my neck of the woods, to argue that cognitivist approaches to language acquisition and socio-cultural (a.k.a. cultural historical) accounts are "incommensurable paradigms", that comparing the ZPD to Krashen's "i + 1" (that is, the hypothetical "next structure" that a language learner can acquire) is a little like trying to measure mass with a unit of information (kilobytes instead of kilograms). See, for example, the work of Dunn and Lantolf.
It's a nice argument. It helps us stake out our own territory, on which cognitivists do not dare to tread, and it helps us exchange ambassadors with contiguous territories and sign mutual non-agression treaties and so on. It also gets us out of a lot of the unpleasant work of disposing of competing cognitivist theories; we simply declare them incommensurable and go our merry way.
Churlishly, I am not very sympathetic to this argument. Krashen is simply wrong: he has been empirically shown to be wrong (Huilstijn and Huilstijn, for example). There isn't a universal hierarchy of language structures any more than there is one of Piagetian cognitive stages (to which it is undoubtedly related). But the fact that we can show that Krashen's attempt to map out fixed rates and routes of learning doesn't work, that the zone of proximal development accounts for ranges and routes of development much better, tells me that at some level our paradigms are commensurable, because we are measuring the same kinds of things even if they don't exactly have the same names (Ohms and volts do not measure exactly the same thing either, but they are certainly measurements of the same phenomenon).
Vygotsky's whole point about "units of analysis" is that that some level at which paradigms are commensurable can be too elemental. We need a unit where the properties of the whole are still present, and the unit will vary with the practical problem we want to solve. For historical linguistics it is the language, for verbal thinking it is word meaning, for evolution it's the species.
The point at which hypotheses such as Krashen's can be proven wrong (the reduction of language into words and rules acquired in a given order) does not always help us answer the practical question we are asking (e.g. how DO we teach children that "There is a fire" is demonstrative and even indicative and "Fire exists" is not). For this set of practical problems, we may find different units of analysis, or different refinements of a same unit of analysis (I think, for example, that the difference here has to do with the word meaning of "a" as well as the word meaning of "there" and not necessarily the word meaning of "exists"). 
This is unfortunate, particularly for those of us who think that good fences make good neighbors. But the situation is really no different in physics: there is a level at which energy and information are (or at least may be) commensurable, but it's not the level at which we solve most of our practical problems.  
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education 

--- On Thu, 8/26/10, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Experiences or an experience
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Thursday, August 26, 2010, 8:50 PM

No. Particularity is not the issue. One can make general statements about units of analysis. The point is that word meaning can be a unit of analysis but language cannot.


Larry Purss wrote:
> Hi Andy
> I was pondering your question about experience and came across this quote by
> Peirce.
> [in an article written by S. Paavola, K. Hakkarainen, and M. Sintonen:
> "Abduction With Dialogical and Trialogical Means"]
> Peirce was discussing the role of indexical signs in relation to our shared
> world.
> "For  example, if example be needed, suppose a man to go out of his house at
> night and see the light of a distant fire in the sky.  He meets a neibour
> and remarks, "There is a fire."  If he had only said "a fire exists", he
> would have conveyed next to NO meaning at all. Not quite no meaning, since
> the remark would even so refer to that universe that is familiary known to
> both men.  But in saying "There is a fire" he refers to the common
> experience of THAT very PLACE and TIME, and virtually says that if the
> second person will raise his eyes and look about him, he will find the
> COMMON EXPERIENCE of THAT PLACE and TIME to connect itself with the
> experience of a light AS OF a fire, the mode of connection being the
> familiar one that the speaker INDICATED" [In collected papers of C.S.Peirce]
> Andy, was your question about "an" experience indicating the centrality
> of "particular" shared experiences as foundational for creating "common
> ground"  and not over generalized "lived experience"? [A term I notice I
> like to use]
> Larry
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> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
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-- ------------------------------------------------------------------------
*Andy Blunden*
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