I'm not convinced that this gets to the cultural-historical
transformation of meanings. Seems like he is saying that a word can
have different meanings in different contexts.
He says "Isolated in the lexicon, the word has only one meaning." That
seems to suggest a culturally historically synchronic view.
But that is not to say that Vygotsky doesn't have a strong
appreciation for the transformation of meanings across time (it would
be weird if he didn't). Just that I'm not seeing it here in this example.
On Thu, Aug 22, 2013 at 12:24 AM, Andy Blunden <email@example.com
I was just looking into this business about Vygotsky imputing
excessive stablility to word meaning. The following key passage
from Chapter 7 of "Thinking and Speech" does not, it appers to me,
to imply such stability:
"First, in inner speech, we find a predominance of the word’s sense
over its meaning. Paulhan significantly advanced the psychological
analysis of speech by introducing the distinction between a word’s
sense and meaning. A word’s sense is the aggregate of all the
psychological facts that arise in our consciousness as a result of
the word. Sense is a dynamic, fluid, and complex formation
several zones that vary in their stability. Meaning is only one of
these zones of the sense that the word acquires in the context of
speech. It is the most stable, unified, and precise of these zones.
In different contexts, a word’s sense changes. In contrast, meaning
is a comparatively fixed and stable point, one that remains
with all the changes of the word’s sense that are associated with
its use in various contexts. Change in the word’s sense is a basic
factor in the semantic analysis of speech. The actual meaning
word is inconstant. In one operation, the word emerges with one
meaning; in another, another is acquired. The dynamic nature of
meaning leads us to Paulhan’s problem, to the problem of the
relationship between meaning and sense. Isolated in the
word has only one meaning. However, this meaning is nothing more
than a potential that can only be realized in living speech, and in
living speech meaning is only a cornerstone in the edifice of
As I read this, the stability of meaning is merely relative to
that of sense, i.e., in the context of speech, rather than "teh
aggregate of all psychological facts." He is not at all denying
the fact of polysemy or the cultural and historical migration of
mike cole wrote:
I agree, very clearly statements of the sense/meaning
relation, along with
the Mandelshtam line, " I forgot the thought I wanted to say,
unembodied, returned to the hall of shadows."
In the quote here, I think LSV is somewhat overstating the
meaning across contexts; yes relative to the microgenetic
sense making capturable with
modern technologies, but not totally "context independent."
meanings change, as LSV was well aware from his interest in
the history of
words in relation to their appearance in children's
Keeping the simultaneous relevance of several time scales in
mind in these
discussions seems really important, as hard as it is to do.
Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
883 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602