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[Xmca-l] Re: labour and signs
William C. Stokoe ("Sign and Culture", and also the brilliant volume
"Gesture and the Nature of Language") makes a very convincing case
that the first true languages were sign languages, and this is another
reason why I assume that languages are undergoing convergent rather
than divergent evolution. Gesture, then, is a kind of fossil of the
pre-linguistic origins of sign and non-sign languages.
The reason I resist reducing word meanings to "affordances" is really
the same reason that I resist collapsing the distinction between tool
and sign in "artifact" or even "mediating activity". Of course, it is
always possible to find a more abstract and general term for any
phenomenon you want to analyze, and of course there is a high premium
on using abstract and general terms in academia. Some of the premium
that we collect from abstraction is actually valuable: we can make the
important links between disciplines that I've been calling "Thematic"
only by the use of abstract and general terms. But there is a certain
One of the key problems Vygotsky set out to solve was to describe the
difference between human beings and animals, and within humans, to
describe the difference between higher psychological functions and
lower ones. Some people claim that he abandoned this distinction
utterly before he died (and in fact there is no mention of it in
Thinking and Speech), but we have been translating the lectures he was
working in the very last months of his life, and sure enough, the
distinction is still very much there. The way that Gibson describes
the affordance erases this distinction; an "affordance" applies to the
tiger in the jungle as well as to the two year old looking for his
favorite brand of cereal in the supermarket.
To tell you the truth, even the term "sign" is too abstract and
general for me when it comes to language: it applies equally well to
the size and color of the box as to the lettering on it, and while one
of them is perfectly manageable usig lower psychological functions,
that is not true of the the other. So I am no longer convinced that a
general theory of meaning (as opposed to a genetic account of meaning)
needs to include signs at all; it seems to me that at a certain point
the term "mental representation" is actually more useful, because it
helps me understand what actually happens in the process of
We sometimes talk as if culture just kind of rubs off on children in
the process of using tools and signs, like a layer of dirt or a film
of oil, or perhaps a splinter that goes into your hand when you grasp
a stick, or a set of automatized mental skills that you unfold when
you grasp a word. This simply can't be true; if it were, then Piaget's
discovery learning would actually work and there would be nothing more
to understanding words than going through familiar mental routines.
Nor do I think that the acts of empathy that are undoubtedly part of
recognizing the intentional nature of signs is enough for a child to
internalize the culture that must go with them, because that reduces
the social to the purely interpersonal. Just as the child learns to
ignore the size and shape of the cereal box and read the label
instead, at a particular point we stop reading labels and go about
creating small cultures that exist, in the end, in rather than for a
larger culture, but for rather than in ourselves.
So I think we need different words, and I am not surprised the the
word "affordance" will wear out when you try to use it to describe a
phoneme. If something works okay to describe a plank, then it is
should not surprise us at all that it doesn't work so well to describe
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
On 5 December 2014 at 13:41, HENRY SHONERD <email@example.com> wrote:
> Exactly what I was getting at. I have a friend who works with signed language (ASL is one signed language). He takes issue with the assumption that language developed first as speech and signed languages are derivative. Suppose the first signs of language were derived from recurrent gestures inherent in (collaborative) work activity, I am assuming others have conjectured as much, or it wouldn’t have come to me. Research shows us that children learn sign earlier and faster than spoken language. (Have you seen “Meet the Folkers?”) Is that saying anything about ontogeny and phylogeny? This issue relates, I think, to the power/diversity thread which is developing, since it would be of interest to the Deaf community.
>> On Dec 4, 2014, at 5:21 PM, Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>> As I see it, Vygotsky takes speech as the archetype of language-use; understanding Sign Language and gesture as well as written speech and internal speech, is derivative from understanding the spoken word.
>> *Andy Blunden*
>> HENRY SHONERD wrote:
>>> Andy and Haydi,
>>> Does it make any difference to this discussion that in the link to “Word and Action”, word is equated with speech? What if word is equated with gesture, as in sign language? Henry
>>>> On Dec 4, 2014, at 6:58 AM, Andy Blunden <email@example.com> wrote:
>>>> Haydi, exactly what Vygotsky's idea was about this or that, at this or that time, is something beyond my powers to know. I just try to make sense as best I can of what I find in his writings. So I can only say what conclusions this has led me to. Participation in the labour process obviously conditions our activity and our thinking. But I take it that *true concepts* appear only through the use of signs. It will still be the case that such concept formation rests on tool-use - you can't eat words. Participation in the labour process (however broadly understood) necessarily entails using tools. I think the relation between tool and sign in concept formation is found in those two passages to which you drew our attention on "Word and Action":
>>>> I don't think these two lines of development are separate - they are *distinct*, but not separate.
>>>> I tend think that "historically" tool use was "prior" but it may not be the case, and I don't really think it matters. For example, according to Marx, the first phase of development of capital entailed gathering workers together in a workshop as wage workers, without making any change whatsoever in the labour process itself, and all the revolutionising of machinery only happened later.
>>>> So if that was how it worked in the dawn of humanity, that is, that the form of cooperation preceded the revolutionising of the means of labour, this would support the claim for sign use to pre-date tool-use in the formation of intellect. But I don't know and I doubt that anyone knows. The point is just that these two lines of development have their distinct bases and develop side by side in connection with one another.
>>>> Hope that helps, Haydi.
>>>> *Andy Blunden*
>>>> Haydi Zulfei wrote:
>>>>> I'm no authority to say things act this way or that way but I'm allowed to display my understanding . In this very piece , V challenges "instrumental method" . In "Crisis" , he does the same . I wonder what you might take by encountering so much talk about the "New Psychology" or the "New Methodology" with lots of evidence he showers on us to document his sayings . Shortly , was he a Marxist of the Day or Not ? This could help us with many things . What seems to be ambiguous for me is the last three lines of the paragraph . Is that what you mean by pre-linguistic stage that after this stage , no use of tools is to be observed ? I'm sure you won't . Mike is all right with the term 'rudimentary' because the to-be MAN (primitive) acts on the instant , is interested in THROWING bones or dice not in their physical or chemical properties as is the case with later stages . Hence use of stimulus-device not sign-device . But with full use of tools and their sophistication we approach the appearance of language which converts the NATURAL functions . V even locates their due places , one the stem of the brain , the other the different layers of the cortex . We know about ANL saying a day might be reached when scientists become full workers and workers full scientists or quasi-scientists but that day has not yet arrived . Not to become lengthy , I refer to the important point that we do not internalize tools but we do internalize signs , speech and this is where V warns us against . The reason that Vygotsky gives us this story about the knot in the
>>>>> handkerchief and the coin-toss is that he wants to suggest a genesis of
>>>>> the semiotic use of artefacts which does *not* originate from the use of
>>>>> tools for working on matter.
>>>>> Yes , yes , Vygotsky says , I parrot it many times . Then , I put the question where does it come from (before rudiments) . Let me once again stress on the fact that V asserts the two lines of development are separate one from the other in phylogenesis .
>>>>> His claim is of course entirely speculative
>>>>> and I take it to be a rhetorical move. So far as I know, Vygotsky is in
>>>>> agreement with the idea that collaboration creates the situation in
>>>>> which people need to share generalisations and thus "invent" speech
>>>>> properly so called. Here is in agreement with Engels, but I think he
>>>>> wants to assign only a very early (pre-linguistic) role to the tool,
>>>>> holding that the tool can only give rise to the *potential concept* and
>>>>> not a *true concept* as such. This idea is consistent with what the
>>>>> distributed cognition people want to do and also with the phylogenetic
>>>>> story told in the labour paradigm. In our own day, the role of tools in
>>>>> the formation of mind is really unmistakable. But I think we need to be
>>>>> just as flexible as I think Vygotsky was on these questions.
>>>>> What V says is use of tools finds its meaning within 'work activity' of which you are a master . But these lines smack of historic precedence of speech and co-constructing of speech over working activity . Where have I got wrong ?