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[Xmca-l] Halliday and Vygotsky



Martin--

I think, if you've read "Learning to Mean", you've got the essentials
(although there is a whole volume of Halliday's Collected Works, with
a huge CD of the complete Nigel Transcripts that supports this now).
And you've certainly got the esssential compability between Halliday
and Vygotsky that is lacking when I read Langacker.

Firstly, development. Halliday uses real data, from real people. The
latest work is entirely corpus based. As you can see from Langacker's
articles, he makes up his data. To me, this means he is all
explanation and no description.

Secondly, what develops is free choice. For Halliday, a system is
essentially paradigmatic, like Vygotsky's description of thinking in
Chapter Seven of Thinking and Speech. A grammatical choice like tense
or polarity is in essence a crossroads; it's a place where you can
turn left or right (and sometimes go straight, but for the choices to
be manageable to a human mind, they need to be fairly few). Langacker
doesn't see this: his way of handling complexity is not to give us
systems within systems but instead to give us superhuman powers of
access and activation (essentially, superhuman powers of empathy). But
as Vygotsky says in HDHMF, the concept of the development of higher
mental functions, the concept of cultural behavior, and the concept of
the development of self control are essentially one and the same
concept.

Thirdly, both Halliday and Vygotsky are Marxists, and they both insist
on a dialectical concept of development. I don't see this in Langacker
at all--instead, I see rather Piagetian remarks, like "Experientially,
each of us occupies the very centre of our universe, from which we
apprehend the world around us." Halliday is always interrogating
function about structure, and history about function. Langacker is
mosly interrogating made up examples.

I don't want to say that there are NO differences to be reconciled
between Halliday and Vygotsky. The most obvious difference, though, is
the least useful: Halliday talks of metafunctions that are made up of
grammatical systems, while Vygotsky wants us to accept that
psychological systems are made up of functions. I think this
difference is actually uninteresting, because when Vygotsky uses the
word "function" he's talking about choices (i.e. Halliday's systems)
and when Vygotsky uses the term "system" he's talking about
interfunctional relations (i.e. Halliday's metafunctions).

A more substantial difference is that Halliday sees the grammatical
system as being revolutionized during child development, while the
semantics are basically stable. Vygotsky sees speech as
revolutionizing thinking as well.

Finally, I think Halliday would reject the idea that Vygotsky argues
in Chapter Seven of Thinking and Speech--that thinking (that is, the
ideational metafunction, the representative function of speech)
happens somehow on an inner plane, which is then projected onto a
plane of "inner speech (that is, Rheme and New in the textual
metafunction) and then realized as "outer speech" (Halliday's
interpersonal metafunction).

For Hallliday, ideation, textualization, and interpersonalization
exist in thinking as well as in speech and at every point along the
way; they must be variously represented whenever we speak, and however
we do it, and at clause level they are mapped onto each other (as
transitivity, information structure, and mood). But the very fact that
Halliday, unlike Langacker, separates clause structure into these
three metafunctions, and that these three metafunctions (the
ideational, the textual, and the interpersonal) correspond very
precisely to "Thinking", "and" and "Speech" tells you quite a bit
about the latent affinities between Halliday and Vygotsky, there to be
brought out..

In practical terms, Halliday's sociology is not just Marxist but
Bernsteinian: if we really do not accept that language has a
potentially liberating effect, then we have to accept that it is also
has a potentially crippling effect. Interestingly, this was Stalin's
position against Marr and Vygotsky: language is not part of the
superstructure, it is part of the base.

My own view is that both are right--language viewed from economic
activity is superstructure, but language viewed from ontogenesis is
base.  So if we do not accept that that parent language has an effect
on a child's code and therefore on his or herl classpirations (pardon
my portmanteau), then we can conclude only either a) we already live
in a classless society (Leontiev), or b) language is more afterthought
 than aperitif (Piaget).

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies