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[Xmca-l] Re: meaning and sense

As you suggest, Greg, we know from elsewhere that Vygotsky is acutely aware of the cultural and historical variation of word meanings, as well as polysemy. But that is *not the topic of this paragraph* (in the last chapter of T&S). He is making a point about psychology, about thinking and speech. The statement "Isolated in the lexicon, the word has only one meaning," is of course only a relative truth. But actually I have never accept that the so-called meaning of a word found in a dictionary is what Vygotsky is concerned with when he makes "word meaning" a unit of analysis for the intellect. I have always taken "meaning"as a gerund.

The word "dog" has one meaning in the dictionary (OK, of course it has dozens, but let's restrict it to the four-legged canine for the purposes of making a completely different point). But when spoken, i.e., in the context of speech, saying it to another person for some reason, the word acquires in the mind of the speaker a whole plethora of "psychological facts," which have nothing to do with the definition of "dog." What they might be depends on the situation of course: danger, friend, help, teeth, loud, close ... It is around this same point in T&S that he talks about thinking being "predicative" and the psychological subject or object not being the same as the grammatical subject or object. He is talking about the transition back and forth between the linear flow of words in speech and the complex dynamics of thinking. Here I think "sense" has to be understood quite differently than it is taken in linguistics.


Greg Thompson wrote:
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 <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:

    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
    which has
       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
    of the
       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
    lexicon, 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,
        and thought,
        unembodied, returned to the hall of shadows."

        In the quote here, I think LSV is somewhat overstating the
        stability of
        meaning across contexts; yes relative to the microgenetic
        processes of
        sense making capturable with
        modern technologies, but not totally "context independent."
        Even dictionary
        meanings change, as LSV was well aware from his interest in
        the history of
        words in relation to their appearance in children's
        vocabularies in

        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

*Andy Blunden*
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/concepts