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Re: [xmca] DA-L2: II

On p. 223 of Thinking and Speech (Minick translation) Vygotsky addresses precisely this problem (that is, the problem of whether word meanings develop in foreign language learning the same way they do in the learning of science concepts). Here's what he says:
"Problems arise, however, if we attempt to extend this analogy further. In learning a foreign language, a system of developed meanings is given from the outset int he native language. The existing system is a prerequisite for the development of the new system. In the development of scientific concepts, on the other hand, the system emerges only with the development of the scientific concept and it is this new system that transforms the child's everyday concepts. This difference is more critical than the kinship between these processes because it identifies what distinguishes the devleopment of scientific concepts from the development of new forms of speech such as foreign languages or writing."
This isn't actually the first time Vygotsky's raised this problem, which I think ultimately stems from the fact that every foreign language is somebody else's native language. In his remarks on Tolstoy on p. 172 Vygotsky notes that Tolstoy "is not concerned with the concepts that the child acquires in learning a system of scientific knowledge, but with words and concepts that are woven into the same fabric as those that have developed in the child." (Interestingly, though, many of the literary "Russian" words that Tolstoy is teaching the kids, e.g. "impression", are really French words in a Russian disguise.)
There's an even more interesting example of how foreign language learning is different from scientific concept learning, and in some respects less conducive to developing a new system, in Poehner and Lantolf's own data. This example MIGHT seem to refute what I am saying, because it's really a grammatical example and not a lexical example at all, but I think if we look at it on the continuum of lexicogrammar (that is, on a continuum of modes of meaning which emphasize repetition and other modes of meaning that emphasize variation) we will see that it only EXTENDS my argument rather than refuting it.
On p. 320 of Poehner and Lantolf, Donna is trying to retell a scene from a movie. She begins correctly, with the passe compose and then switches to the imparfait. There is a long analysis of this incorrect "correction" which focuses on the actions of the mediator.
But there are three things which do NOT figure in the analysis which are really much more important. 
First of all, Donna is uptaking, that is, taking up the last tense she used, and sticking with it, as we often do in telling a narrative. That's why she unthinkingly gets it right. If you start off in one tense you tend to stick with that tense, unless there is some good reason to change it. This is normal, and it is one reason why deliberate, concept based decisions often produce INCORRECT decisions as in this case. The language is designed, nonintentionally and nonvolitionally, but nevertheless designed, by the everyday narrative activities of native speakers, and it's designed to NOT be deliberate or intentional or volitional in any way.
Secondly, Donna is uptaking from her own native language. That is why she THINKINGLY gets it wrong. The problem is that "elle a dit" really resembles, externally, the English imperfect, that is, "she has said". So, sure enough, Donna is taking over a meaning which is ready-made from her own language, and that is the whole source of the problem.
Thirdly, the "mediator" DOES uptake this mistake, but sticks to the the "therapist" role of simply being an echo chamber. The mediator does not mediate PRECISELY where this mediation would be useful in a revolutionary seizure of conscious awareness. Instead of showing Donna that "ella dit" is only EXTERNALLY similar to "she has said", allowing Donna a metalinguistic understanding of how the two aspects instantiate the same story in very different systems. (I think this is probably due to the fact that the mediator himself/herself is not particularly sure of what s/he is doing--at least this is suggested by the fact that the transcript actually mistranslates "il a e/te/" as "has been" in line 5.)
Now, I am not arguing that the concepts of time are different in English and in French (as Neguerela has done). I guess I don't think that tense or even aspect is time at all, and therefore I don't think that tense or aspect is a concept. It seems to me that both tense and aspects are sprawling chain complexes, formed precisely through narrative use of the language. 
Yes, it is possible to conceptualize it. That's what linguists get paid to do. And that is what the mediator could have (and should have) done. But that is not what native speakers do for the very simple reason that every foreign language is also somebody else's everyday language, and as Vygotsky reminds us, a lot of what adults think may look conceptual but it really isn't.
Jim has one part of my argument absolutely right. I am not arguing that vocabulary learning is learning, and grammar learning is development. That is obviously not true, and I don't think it would be true even if we could consistently and coherently specify where vocabulary learning stops and grammatical development starts. 
I am saying that if we plot ontogenetic word learning on a chart, we will discover that over the years it is relatively linear, and that is why we have people like Paul Bloom talking about the number of words learned, on the average, per month, from the age of twenty-four months to the age of twenty-four years. In contrast, grammar learning obeys WILD U-shaped curves of development, as any language teacher will tell you (and as Donna actually demonstrates, albeit microgenetically). And I am saying that there this difference is not accidental and tells us something very profound about the difference between learning and development that will ultimately apply to both grammar and vocabulary.
Yesterday I had to judge a perfeclty dreadful "teaching contest" at our university. For the most part the "lessons" were set pieces, with none of the real excitement and interaction of real lessons and consequently no "development" not even in the narrow microgenetic sense (for one thing, no children!). 
But I did notice that every lesson had a particular point where the teacher asked the nonexistent children to somehow make some sentence of their own, e.g. "Let's go...blah, blah, blah" or "Can you ...bip bip bip" or "I'm very..jeom jeom jeom...today". That "X" marks the spot!  
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education
PS: I would like to agree VERY STRONGLY with Larry's gentle but insistent implicit criticism of the editors of this issue. All of the studies are indeed synchronic, and that means that the approach to truly ontogenetic DEVELOPMENT is only speculative and theoretical. 
There's an even worse problem. All of these synchronic studies are really first world studies: we are EITHER looking at the learning of English in English speaking countries or we are looking at the learning of foreign languages...in English speaking countries. 
This is the TESOL-USA view of the world, the view from the inner, Anglophone circle, where monolingualism is strongest and foreign language learning and teaching is weakest. It conveniently leaves out the VAST majority of language learners and the most exciting language teaching frontier in the world today.
 --- On Fri, 12/3/10, James P. Lantolf <jpl7@psu.edu> wrote:

From: James P. Lantolf <jpl7@psu.edu>
Subject: [xmca] DA-L2: II
To: xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
Date: Friday, December 3, 2010, 1:32 PM

1.We appreciate Andy's comment that several scholars associated with Marxian theory have argued that the criterion for truth is found in practice. However, we don't agree that Marx "never talks about the criterion of truth." While Marx might not have actually used the exact wording "criterion of truth" his Second Thesis on Feuerbach does indeed address the issue rather directly. In the words of Sanchez Vasquez (1977, p. 120) "Thesis II is significant because it reveals a new dimension of the role of practice in knowledge; it provides not only the object of knowledge, but also the criterion of its truth." Sanchez goes on to expand on this point in greater detail.
2.Clarification of "natural" in our discussion of Education. Perhaps the way we phrased things is the reason for Mike's concern and justifiably so. We were certainly not saying that cultural concepts are acquired through a natural/biological process (e.g., we in no way buy into Chomsky's view of language acquisition as the mere triggering of pre-specified knowledge. In fact, in Lantolf and Thorne, 2006, we support Tomasello's usage-based approach to acquisition, including non-instructed adult language acquisition). We were trying to reflect Vygotsky's position that culture, whether everyday or formal education, empowers humans to gain control over processes that are part of our natural biological endowment. Here is a nice quote from A. N. Leontiev that reflects our orientation with specific reference to language: "language is the objective product of the activity of previous generations. In the process of development, the child appropriates language.
 This means that in the child specifically human abilities and functions are formed: the ability to speak and to understand, the functions of hearing and articulating spoken language. Naturally, these abilities and functions are not innate; rather they emerge in ontogenesis. What makes them emerge? Above all, the existence of language in the environment. With regard to the biological characteristics [e.g., human auditory apparatus, human vocal apparatus] inherited by the child, they constitute only the necessary conditions to enable the formation of these abilities and functions." (Principles of Mental Development and the Problem of Mental Retardation. 1959.)
3.With regard to learning L2s, we don't agree with David that learning of vocabulary is a linear process. It isn't simply learning new labels for concepts we already have in our first language (we aren't saying that David makes this claim, but many in the L2 literature have made this assumption, although, to be sure, things are beginning to change). Learning that the Spanish word for mother is madre, as Vygotsky argued, is the beginning not the end of the process. There is a rich set of cultural entailments that one must appropriate to fully know the Spanish word and these are radically different from Anglo-American concept of mother. On this topic see the 1997 dissertation by Howard Grabois (1997). Love and power. Word associations, lexical organization and second language acquisition.
4.Gaining control over the feature of aspect in a language such as French or Spanish is indeed all about development. By control we mean the ability to consciously understand the concept of aspect and the ability to deploy that concept as a semiotic tool to make and convey the kinds of meanings one wants to make and convey in specific communicative circumstances. This does not mean using the concept in precisely the way native speakers do. It means the ability to use the concept in perhaps innovative ways. Indeed, the average native speaker (i.e., one who has not study language formally in school) do not have conscious and sophisticated understanding of the conceptual features (grammatical, lexical, pragmatic, discursive) of their language. Yanez-Prieto (2008) On literature and the secret art of invisible words : Teaching literature through language (Ph.D. dissertation), among other things, documents how L2 learners gain control over Spanish verbal
 aspect and use it to create communicatively powerful texts. One student, for instance, relates a story about her mother's illness using imperfective and perfective in what would otherwise seem to be a « non-native » manner. Normally, imperfective is used to set background information (set the stage) for a story and perfective is used to relate the major events of the story. The student intentionally used the imperfective to relate the major events of the story as a way of drawing the reader into the action as if it were unfolding before one's eyes. It seems to us that this type of control of a key temporal concept shows genuine development.
5.The examples that David provides deal with children learning an L2, this may or may not be a different process from adults learning an L2. Indeed, a recent book by one of the leading neurolinguists working on bilingual acquisition, Michel Paradis in his (2009) book (Declarative and Procedural Determinants of Second Languages) provides empirical evidence to support the position we are arguing for regarding learning languages in educational settings. In a nutshell, he proposes that adult language learning rarely entails the same kind of implicit, non-conscious learning that occurs in the case of L1 and possibly L2 learning in childhood. Instead, it involves conscious and intentional learning of explicit knowledge, which can never convert to implicit knowledge. This knowledge can, however, be used in an accelerated way in oral and written communicative activities. We integrate Paradis's model with Vygotsky's approach to formal education in our new book on
 instructed second language learning.
6.We have always interpreted "cultural" in sociocultural as a historical formation. It plays a major role in our approach to language education, since for one thing we have to confront the language educational history of our students, who, by the time they enter university language courses, have, in most cases, already internalized knowledge of a particular language that is by and large inappropriate, incomplete and in many cases wrong. To even begin the educational process, we have to first bring out the history and then get the students to confront it and recognize that in most cases it is problematic.

Jim & Matt

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