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

[xmca] Exaptations and Revoicings

This week the new volume of our Korean edition of Vygotsky’s works came out: Tool and Sign in Child Development. See the attached front cover (the back cover carries recommendations from Mike, Vera, and Anna, for which MANY thanks!)
The front cover shows a painting by Bogdanov-Belsky, an exact contemporary of Vygotsky’s, called “A New Fairy Tale”. It depicts (I think) the arrival of one of those little children’s magazines of fairy tales in a remote village of herdsmen.
Whenever I look at it, I think of Chapter Three and the beginning of Chapter Four. This is the part where Vygotsky and Luria first make the point that oracy, literacy and numeracy are really external lines of development, corollaries, a kind of revoicing or exaptation of inner processes such as the development of verbalized perception (i.e. vocabulary), the development of voluntary, narrativized attention (the ability to tell stories about things that are not there and which have never been seen) and logical memory (he ability to think about quantity separately from objects themselves).
I was working on this part of the book (translating and commentating it) while we were driving around a very remote area of Sichuan Province in China. This area is grassland; it's flat and grassy but very high up, because it's part of the Tibetan plateau, and the people there are Tibetans. 
They are mostly herdsmen; they herd yaks, which unlike mountains are discrete, countable objects. My sister-in-law wanted to ride a horse, so we stopped at a tent where there were some horses tethered. There were some young men inside, and they immediately started to bargain in approximative Chinese. My brother-in-law offered them ten yuan per horse per person, and they asked for twenty. I think they were pretty surprised when we agreed (although twenty yuan is a little less than three dollars).
Four of us went horse riding for an hour or two and then it was time to move on. But the herdsmen were confused when it came time to collect the money and my brother in law gave them eighty yuan. Why were we giving them more than twenty yuan? 
My brother in law explained that there were four of us, and that four times twenty yuan was eighty yuan. The herdsmen could not understand this and my brother-in-law tried to explain by handing them twenty yuan, saying the word for “horse”, and then another twenty yuan and another "horse" and so on. 
The herdsmen still could not understand. Although one of them did understand what we were trying to do, he was clearly confused by the fact that there were two ten-yuan notes for each horse, and he kept losing track of the relationship between the notes and the horses and the riders. So we all lined up like yaks, each rider with twenty yuan in his or her hand, and gave them the money one by one. 
This is business life without numbers. The herdsmen think of twenty yuan as two objects--two pieces of paper--and not as twenty units. Business is really BARTER and not EXCHANGE: good for goods and not quantities for quantities.  
It reminds me of the MCA article (12, 3-4) back in 2005 by Geoffrey Saxe and Indigo Esmond reported on in New Guinea, where people use fingers and then other body parts such as wrist, elbow, shoulder, ear, chin, nose, etc. to count and they cannot count without body parts. (Strangely, Vygotsky uses this SAME example in his chapter on arithmetic!)
Saxe and Esmond report that in the 1970s a two-unit bill of money was introduced by the New Guinea government, and the New Guineans began to use a gesture which had previously meant only "more than twenty four" to mean "use two unit bills", so that they only invented a primitive form of multiplication as the exaptation, that is, a revoicing, of a gesture which meant previously just meant "many".
 This is what Vygotsky means when he says that counting and logical memory are simply two aspects of one and the same function. They develop together—each one exapts, that is, revoices, the other one. 
David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

Attachment: %B5%B5%B1%B8%BF%CD_%B1%E2%C8%A3_%C7%A51_ngladduck.jpg
Description: image/pjpeg

xmca mailing list