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[Xmca-l] Agent, Range, and Beneficiary



Martin:

No, we use the Russian. There isn't a German text for these lectures: it's
the 2001 "Lectures on Pedology" which has not been translated into any
language. I think we're the first, and it's going to be into Korean. My
Korean is still not publishable, so I use English, that's all. (My English
isn't really publishable either, but I found somebody who will edit it for
free.)

It's true that Vygotsky uses German words when he first introduces the
concepts: "Eigensinn" for wilfulness and "Trotz alter" for obstinacy. But
he switches into Russian right away, and a lot of his examples are pure
Russian (e.g. "Hu da!" for the critical threenager).

In the second (2001, Korotaeva) lecture,  which he begins by referring back
to the unfinished work of the first (1984/1998 RCW/ECW) fragment, Vygotsky
delivers the goods: he really does describe what is new, consider the
central and peripheral lines of development that leads to it, and give the
"zone of its proximal development"--that is, its relation to the NEXT zone
of development (measured in years and not in minutes as is the fashion
amongst impatient Western scholars).

This is the clearest example of critical periods as a "turning of the
tables"--a moment when the child tries to become the SOURCE and not just
the SITE of development, a moment when the child attempts to substitute his
own developing volition for the influence of the environment.

Sorry--I got the title wrong last time. "Agent", "Range", and "Beneficiary"
are part of Halliday's ergative model, a model which is becoming
increasingly important in English (and is already very important in
languages like Chinese). It's a model which gives the "Medium" of a
process equal importance with the "Process" which unfolds through the
medium, and in that sense it's quite different from, but complementary to,
the kind of Subject-Verb-Object transitivity we see in most English
grammars.

Compare:

"He shut the door." (Subject-Verb-Object)
"The door shut". (Ergative)
"She boiled the kettle." (Subject-Verb-Object)
"The kettle boiled." (Ergative)

Cooking verbs ("The stew boiled"), verbs for operating machinery ("The car
drives well"), and a wide range of scientific English ("Stalactites form")
are better analysed ergatively, but pain and disease can be analysed either
way:

"I am battling cancer." (SVO)
"The cancer metastasized." (Ergative)
"I am having a bad reaction to chemotherapy." (SVO)
"Chemotherapy really sucks." (Ergative)

You can see that there are different theories of experience at work: one
structure is good for emphasizing the role of man acting on an object in
his environment (the "tool" relation which is placed at the centre of
activity theory), while the other tends to work through the subject (the
"internalization" relationship which Vygotsky himself emphasizes). One
corresponds to the environmentalist, "brainwashing and torture" explanation
of why 21 Americans didn't return home after the Korean war, while the
other is much more internal and insidious.

Both are wrong of course, but that's the way with all these nature/nurture
explanations: the truth lies beyond both extremes, since neither nature nor
nurture nor even the two put together can ever give us free will.

David Kellogg
Macquarie University