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[Xmca-l] "Language" vs. "Speech"



First of all, I think the main problem with Haydi's "food for thought" is
not that it appears, deus ex machina, with a subject line that makes it
almost impossible to join to any current or even past thread. I think the
main problem is that it's not sourced. I recognize, it, though: it's a set
of quotations from Gordon Wells' 1999 work, "Dialogic Inquiry", which was
an attempt to synthesize Vygotsky's work with that of Michael Halliday.

I was enchanted with this book when it first came out, and I still find
passages of it quite remarkable (e.g. Wells' identification of ideation
with intra-mental uses of speech, something that I think neither Halliday
nor Vygotsky would agree with). But the part of it that Haydi wants us
(well, me, anyway) to remark is actually related to an issue that surfaces
now and again in many of our discussions (e.g. the extent to which
"perizhivanie" is untranslatable, the distinction between "obuchenie" and
"learning", etc..)

On the face of it, what Wells says is contradictory. If semiotic behavior
is by definition a process of meaning, how can material action be a form of
semiotic behavior without being a form of meaning?  It cannot. But in fact
what Halliday did was to distinguish between semiotic behavior and semantic
behavior. Semiotic behavior is everywhere--everything we do has to refer to
something else: backwards, to a motive, and forwards to an outcome. But
semantics is a stratum of language--it's what happens when we select from
the material world phenomena and processes that we intend (mean in the
intentional sense) to encode as language.

I think it goes without almost without saying (no pun intended) that
language is not the "tool of tools" but rather the neoformation of
neoformations: we see that in Vygotsky's ontogenetic stages, every major
neoformation is centrally concerned with language in general, and semantics
in particular. In fact, the formation of the personality is largely a
matter of selecting from the social situation of development those elements
which constitute the child's "I".

But then why does Vygotsky say that speech is only a neoformation in early
childhood, and that at school age speech becomes a peripheral line of
development? I think the answer is that "speech" in Vygotsky is actually
much narrower than "language". And this alone tells us how very wrong our
predecessors were to translate Vygotsky's magnum opus as "Thought and
Language".

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies