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

Mike, yes, I would like to see your and Sheila's speculations on the case of Nicaraguan Sign Language.
Two things.

   * I think that when a positive developmental principle (e.g. sign-
     and tool- use is the essential feature of human development) is
     transformed into an absolute "ontological" claim: only humans, not
     animals, can use/create signs/tools, it inevitably fails. But the
     principle which the claim expresses is not destroyed thereby. It
     just turns out to be relative not absolute.
   * Nonetheless, it is always enlightening to study in detail the
     surprising exceptions to the absolute "ontological" claim, i.e.,
     exactly how and under what conditions chimps create/use signs/tools.

So, although I don't believe that NSL disproves the principle Vygotsky was arguing for, I am sure that an understanding of what took place in Nicaragua will enlighten us about how language develops normally. It seems that the "ideal" is not just the language-use itself!

*Andy Blunden*

mike cole 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.
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 <mailto: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
    Are elements of language implicit in social practices? How does it
    *Andy Blunden*

    Carol Macdonald wrote:


        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

        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?


        On 14 October 2014 02:46, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net
        <mailto:ablunden@mira.net> <mailto:ablunden@mira.net
        <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>>> wrote:

            Mike has drawn our attention to the Nicaraguan Sign Language
            as a counter-example to Vygostsky's claim:

               "that if no appropriate ideal form can be found in the
               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
            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
            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
            to continuous change. Again, I think Vygotsky just takes
        this as
            outside the concerns of Psychology. His essay on Socialist Man
            shows that in fact he saw the psychology of people as
            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

            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
            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
            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
            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 Blunden*

-- 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.