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[Xmca-l] Re: The Ideal and Nicaraguan Sign Language

Vygotsky says:

  4-49] Представим себе, что у ребенка в среде отсутствует эта
идеальная форма, т.е. развитие ребенка не подчиняется тому закону, о
котором я говорил только что, именно, что конечная форма отсутствует,
не взаимодействует с начальной формой, но ребенок развивается среди
других детей, т.е. есть среда его сверстников с низшей, начальной
формой. Будет ли тогда развиваться соответствующая деятельность,
соответствующие свойства у ребенка? Исследования показывают, что
будут, но чрезвычайно своеобразно, т.е. они будут всегда развиваться
очень медленно, очень своеобразно и никогда не достигнут того уровня,
которого они достигают, когда есть в среде соответствующая идеальная
форма. (Imagine a child in this environment where there is no ideal
form, i.e. that the development of the child is not subject to the law
of which I just spoke, namely, that the final form is not available
and does not interact with the beginning form, but that the child
develops in an environment with other children, i.e. there is an
environment of his peers and the lower, beginning form. Will the child
develop appropriate activities, appropriate properties? Studies show
that he will, but it in a very peculiar way, i.e. they will always
develop very slowly, very peculiarly and at no moment will they reach
the level which they achieve when there is in the environment the
appropriate ideal form.)

Three things that are worth keeping in mind here about the context of
this statement.

a) Vygotsky is talking to a group of students in a teacher training
course--he is trying to build on what they already know and believe
(about which more below).

b) Vygotsky is interspersing his lectures with visits to his clinic,
and in his clinic there are a number of victims of child abuse. One
common forms of child abuse, often quite inadvertant but nevertheless
severe in its developmental results, is when hearing parents try to
raise a deaf child by themselves, without the presence of the deaf
community to which the child belongs by right. This results in "home
sign", the form of mimicry which Vygotsky--quite correctly--is
denouncing when he appears to be denouncing sign language in general
in his defectological work. "Home sign" is not sign--it really is a
set of gestures with only very limited grammar, and the terrible
plight of deaf children who, deprived of contact with the deaf
community, have had to re-invent language by themselves, is well
documented (as Mike points out) in the work of Susan Goldin-Meadow.
See especially "The Resilience of Language" and "Hearing Gesture".

c) Vygotsky's argument agains the Language Acquisition Device is not
made in this lecture; it belongs to the previous lecture on heredity
which I sent around earlier. It is indeed a theoretical argument
(although Vygotsky DOES support it with a "monozygotic/dizygotic"
comparative twin study). The argument is not, however, an
"environmentalist" argument: Vygotsky simply says that heredity and
environment are BOTH elements and therefore no analysis which reduces
speech acquisition to the one or to the other is an analysis into
units. The unit we are looking for has to include both (and in fact
word meaning does include both, because "sense" represents the
contribution of the senses and "signification" the contribution of
social contact).

Interestingly, what we argued about when we translated this passage
was not whether Vygotsky was correct to say that a language which
evolves without the presence of the ideal form would be peculiar and
slow (actually, it seems to me that the Nicaraguan example, which we
did know about, is also a confirmation of this, even though it rightly
belongs to sociogenesis rather than ontogenesis). What we argued about
was whether Vygotsky's statement that such a situation NEVER occurs in
socogenesis can really be said to be correct.

Vygotsky lived in a country where hunter-gatherers, herdsmen,
subsistence farmers, industrial capitalism and the rudiments of
socialism existed side by side. The problem, of course, was that the
interaction between these very differently developed forms (for so
Vygotsky saw them) was not always one of guidance! In addition, it was
by no means clear to people which form represented the ideal.

Consider a slightly different case, the reanimation of a language
without a final, complete (or "ideal") form. In the late eighteenth
century, King Kamehameha the Great united the Hawaiian Islands into a
single nation. With the help of missionaries, he developed a script
for the Hawaiian language (it had only twelve letters, so that it
would be easy to learn) and began to create a literature. The Kingdom
of Hawaii was probably the very first country on earth to have
universal, compulsory education--the WRITTEN constitution declared
that anywhere in the kingdom where fifteen children lived in one
village there had to be a Hawaiian language school. Within only two
decades of the creation of a Hawaiian script, nearly half the
population of Hawaii was literate, and texts were being developed that
were so aesthetically advanced that people find them very hard to read

In 1893, a group of American sugar and pineapple planters launched a
coup against Queen Liliuokalani, the last of the Kamehameha line, in
order to try to join the USA and get around the tariffs that growers
in California were imposing on Hawaiian produce. They eventually
succeeded, although it took some years to get it (Grover Cleveland was
a personal friend of Liliuokalani!). During the short-lived "republic"
they declared, Hawaiian was banned in schooling, and the ban actually
lasted until 1986 (I remember, as a child, being taught to dance the
hula, but not sing the words).

Even before the ban was lifted, some Hawaiian parents started private
preschools in Hawaiian (a handful of native Hawaiian speakers survived
on the island of Ni'ihau, where they played a minor role in the first
act of World War II, by capturing and killing a pilot who crash-landed
on the island after Pearl Harbor). The problem is that the people of
Ni'ihau were sheep farmers, not school teachers. When immersion
programmes in Hawaiian were started in a desperate attempt to save the
language from extinction, there were almost no materials for math and
science (and in fact even old Hawaiian, having developed in a
pre-modern society, was quite poor in words for things, and lacked,
for example, a general, abstract word for "container"). When the
teachers translated materials from the English (and borrowed words)
Hawaiian parents, objected--some of them thought it was more important
that their language should live than that their children should be
able to make a living.

The problem is that the two really go together. The first cohort of
immersion children emerging from the Hawaiian immersion programmes was
not an unqualified success. About a third of the children were well
behind grade level in English, because the kind of English they
acquired outside school ("da kine tok" which I remember from growing
up in Hawaii) was a Creole Pidgin, also not adapted to academic
concepts. During the NCBA years, immersion kids were given tests
translated from English--and the results were not promising. I think
it's for this reason that Hawaiian immersion is still limited to only
twenty schools. Interestingly, the children also seem to "level off"
in Hawaiian around junior high, and none of the children appear to
have really taken to the advanced literary texts left behind by the
generation of Kamehameha the Great.

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

On 14 October 2014 23:45, mike cole <mcole@ucsd.edu> wrote:
> I suggest that people pause to check out the phenomenon of  Nicaraguan
> Sign, and that someone with linguistic sophistication and knowledge of the
> case join the discussion. The
> basic facts can be found at
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicaraguan_Sign_Language.
> Googling Senghas Nicaraguan Sign Language will turn up a lot. Vygotsy
> seemed to be saying that left to themselves, a group of deaf kids would not
> invent a language. These kids do.
> BUT, as Julian (?) pointed out, these kids, while cut off from the language
> of the adults who brought them together (LSV did not specify the conditions
> of such a gathering), even the sign language which was
> Spanish/finger-spelled, literacy derived, they do, OVER GENERATIONSj of
> kids coming to the center, form a more and more complex communication
> system that now,. several generations later, looks a whole lot like a
> normal language.
> Where is the ideal form that is the end in the beginning? That is the
> question.
> I do not know the answer. However, from other evidence collected by
> Goldin-Meadow and others, I believe that the "ideal form" a culturally
> organized form of life IS there at the beginning for the kids in their
> social environment, including the organization of their own joint
> activities together outside of the purview of adults. This latter
> interpretation is discussed  in a textbook by wife and I wrote and
> elsewhere. I can send the summary of that bit of amateur
> speculation/inference if the topic of the centrality of the end being in
> the beginning, and LSV's analysis of that topic in the article we are
> reading, is of interest.
> LSV is not "proven wrong" by this case. The complexity of the issue,
> however, is certainly easier to grasp.
> mike
> PS-- There is fascinating work by my colleague, Carol Padden, on another
> such case in the Negev desert that is a few generations old and for which
> the entire genetic mapping from the initial deaf originator as the language
> grows and spreads in the community is part of the research. The grammar of
> the language is unlike either Hebrew or Arabic, the two languages that
> exist in the environment of these people.
> On Tue, Oct 14, 2014 at 7:08 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
>> How would you explain then, Carol, how the Nicaraguan children managed to
>> acquire such a sophisticated language in a couple of generations?
>> Are elements of language implicit in social practices? How does it happen?
>> Andy
>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> *Andy Blunden*
>> http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
>> Carol Macdonald wrote:
>>> Hi
>>> I am sorry it took me so long to read the post - I am with Tomasello on
>>> this. I don't think this is evidence for LAD. The LAD has very specific
>>> reference to universal parameters, and the history of theoretical
>>> linguistics in the  last 55 years or so has had to step back and back to
>>> parameter setting so the "universals" are more and more abstract. Perhaps a
>>> linguist on the site could resolve what they are now.  Phonology has the
>>> most developed set.  And how does this relate to communication per se? Can
>>> anybody help? Even the notion of verb-ness and noun-ness as universals are
>>> contested.
>>> Pidgins arise when people have a need to communicate; then they become
>>> creoles.  The children and their caretakers had such a need.  We have no
>>> idea how abstract, or signified, when this first began.
>>> In South Africa this happened when mineworkers from all over South Africa
>>> needed to have a common form of communication.  It has never developed to a
>>> creole, because the speakers have their own Bantu languages, and the need
>>> underground is so specific and restricted that there has been no further
>>> development.
>>> ISN has had a very strong motivation to develop. Creoles do become
>>> languages - Jamaican is a case in point. In my situation, Afrikaans can be
>>> regarded as  creoloid, where the mother language - Dutch has been
>>> simplified.  The Afrikaners historically has access to the Bible in High
>>> Dutch, but we know the Bible deals with a wide range of concepts, so
>>> Afrikaans has had to take on board scientific concepts.  There is generally
>>> a "correct" Afrikaans term, and a related word which can be regarded as
>>> closer to English.  Both are included in their lexicon.  The latter
>>> characteristic is part of language planning/development per se.
>>> Perhaps I have seen so much in a multi-linguistic environment, that I see
>>> this as more fluid. I think this is enough for me now - can someone respond?
>>> Carol
>>> On 14 October 2014 02:46, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:
>>> ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:
>>>     Mike has drawn our attention to the Nicaraguan Sign Language
>>>     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicaraguan_Sign_Language
>>>     as a counter-example to Vygostsky's claim:
>>>        "that if no appropriate ideal form can be found in the environment,
>>>        and the development of the child, for whatever reasons, has to take
>>>        place outside these specific conditions (described earlier), i.e.
>>>        without any interaction with the final form, then this proper form
>>>        will fail to develop properly in the child."
>>>     In my opinion, this once-in-human-history event does not
>>>     invalidate the principle Vygotsky was elaborating. Just like every
>>>     attempt to say what distinguishes the human being from the animal
>>>     seems to be faulted by the latest clip from YouTube, all such
>>>     absolute claims are almost bound to fail at some point. But the
>>>     principle, illustrated by the fact that children growing up in
>>>     Russia speak Russian and understand the meaning of perezhivanie
>>>     whereas we don't, etc., is hardly faulted by NSL.
>>>     The other thing that Mike suggests is that the principle of the
>>>     ideal being present in the environment carries with it the
>>>     negation of the idea of the social formation itself being subject
>>>     to continuous change. Again, I think Vygotsky just takes this as
>>>     outside the concerns of Psychology. His essay on Socialist Man
>>>     http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/1930/socialism.htm
>>>     shows that in fact he saw the psychology of people as primarily
>>>     determined by the social formation of which they were a part and
>>>     he saw that social formation as evolving. He was of course a
>>>     modern, albeit I suspect a modern with a considerable capacity for
>>>     irony.
>>>     Now, this raises the difficult question of what Vygotsky may have
>>>     meant by "ideal." Or, what he thought is a mystery, but what
>>>     should *we* understand by ideality? It is well known that Vygotsky
>>>     was surrounded by a number of fellows who were aficionados of
>>>     Hegelianism, even if Vygotsky himself had never studied Hegel, so
>>>     it is fair to suggest that the Hegelian concept of the Ideal is
>>>     relevant in this context, of reconciling "ideal" as the norm in a
>>>     given social formation and "ideal" as the notion of infinite,
>>>     historical perfectability. For Hegel, "ideality" expresses both
>>>     these principles; that is, that any relation contains within it a
>>>     "gap" which makes it open to perfectability, and that "gap" is
>>>     ever present, and its existence expresses what Hegel calls The
>>>     Idea, that is to say, the ever-unfolding spirit of human freedom.
>>>     Etc. It only requires that the Idea is present for any relation to
>>>     be mutable. This is deep and challenging philosophical stuff which
>>>     we don't really need, if we can just accept that "the ideal" does
>>>     not mean something fixed and final, just an evolving norm:
>>>     ever-shifting goal posts.
>>>     Andy
>>>     --     ------------------------------------------------------------
>>> ------------
>>>     *Andy Blunden*
>>>     http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
>>>     <http://home.pacific.net.au/%7Eandy/>
>>> --
>>> Carol A  Macdonald Ph D (Edin)
>>> Developmental psycholinguist
>>> Academic, Researcher,  and Editor Honorary Research Fellow: Department of
>>> Linguistics, Unisa
> --
> It is the dilemma of psychology to deal with a natural science with an
> object that creates history. Ernst Boesch.