Re: signs/symbols etc

From: Jay Lemke (
Date: Tue Jan 11 2005 - 20:56:31 PST

Sorry, when I refernced Peg on different dimensions, I really had this in
mind from Ana. JAY.

At 06:40 PM 1/9/2005, you wrote:
>A key to understand what guided Vygotsky, I think is his belief that the
>"meaning" and "concept" are but two sides of the same coin. Thus he
>identified "word meaning" and "concept", seeing cultural mediation in the
>way how having a word with its culturally delimited "meaning" guides the
>processes of concept development. He even talked about "pseudo-concepts"
>-- when a child can use words for all intents and purposes as if s/he had
>fully developed concepts, but is not yet able to explicitly define these
>concepts independently of their usage. (Thought and Language). As if the
>word holds together all the ingredients necessary to form a concept before
>it has been formed.
>This leads me to think that Vygotsky really had in mind something like
>Ogden and Richard's model (Symbol-Thought-Symbolized).
>A transition between word meaning to sentence meaning and finally to the
>utterance meaning is not just a transition to a bigger and a more complex
>analytic unit. It seems to be a transition to a different dimension (or a
>different scale?) -- from a Symbol -Thought (Concept) - Symbolized set of
>relationships to a more communicational set of relationships as in Speaker
>-Listener - Topic set of relationships.
>One thing that strikes me is the fact that these two sets of relationships
>(Symbol-Concept-Symbolized and Speaker-Listener-Topic) have traditionally
>been studied by different disciplines -- and the knowledge has been
>compartmentalized and expressed in different terminology.
>Meaning as a process (in Jay's sense of the word) does not have coincide
>with syntactical units like "word", "phrase", "sentence" or even
>"utterance". Meaning can be distributed between several people in an
>interaction, and even over greater periods of time than just a single
>event. But on the other hand, and in difference to other communicative
>tools, language can also pack concepts, even whole universes into a single
>"word". That is why I think that it should be very interesting to put
>these different aspects of the study of meaning together.
>Peg Griffin wrote:
>>The best way I know of to think about 'speaker meaning' actually has been
>>recently reported in the NY Times Magazine year end obituary about Sidney
>> "The most widely circulated tale -- in many renditions it is even
>>presented as a joke, not the true story that it is -- was his encounter with
>>the Oxford philosopher J. L. Austin. During a talk on the philosophy of
>>language at Columbia in the 50's, Austin noted that while a double negative
>>amounts to a positive, never does a double positive amount to a negative.
>> >From the audience, a familiar nasal voice muttered a dismissive, ''Yeah,
>>[Ryerson, J. 12/26/04 "Sidney Morgenbesser [ b. 1921 ]; Sidewalk Socrates"
>>NYT ]
>>While the utterance meaning of "Yes" and "Yeah Yeah" might have been (at
>>least near) synonyms; the speaker, Morgenbesser, exploits connotations (of
>>the informal/slang), discourse role conventions, and expressive intonation
>>(at least) to mean the antonym of 'yes'. Austin was working on sentence
>>meaning (and that itself is more than combinatrics of the lexicon) in
>>language as a cultural tool that can yield utterances when speakers use it.
>>And I wonder, too, about Vygotsky's sense/meaning and the three distinctions
>>I noted. I think that the sort of dead or at least dormant prepared part is
>>'meaning' in the one paradigm and 'sentence meaning' in the other. Then I'm
>>thinking 'sense' for Vygotsky has two aspects for others, both are lively
>>constructed constrained and effected by the dead 'meaning/sentence meaning'
>>tool but 'utterance meaning' makes it communal/social and the 'speaker
>>meaning' makes it populated idiosyncratic open-ended unpredictable creative
>>and misunderstood (but gets us to those same things as a part of history --
>>Bakhtin/Volosinov's "previously occupied -- in spite of the golden arrow of
>>Going back to Mike's other question (1. Are all tools only symbols and never
>>signs?), I think that's a better question for Jay and others. Like Jay, I
>>think of symbols as a kind of tool and I think some tools are not symbols.
>>Rakes and typewriters are just tools, but once computers came along, hmmm
>>not clear where tool leaves off and symbol comes in since its a new kind of
>>exploitation/expression of mathematical systems.
>>In the water example, I think two different ideas about symbols are
>>intertwined there, but again something probably better for others to answer
>>than me.
>>(By the way another wonderful Morgenbesser conversation is reported in the
>>same article: ''Let me see if I understand your thesis,'' he once said to
>>the psychologist B. F. Skinner. ''You think we shouldn't anthropomorphize
>>----- Original Message -----
>>From: "Mike Cole" <><>
>>To: "Xmca" <><>
>>Sent: Sunday, January 09, 2005 11:32 AM
>>Subject: signs/symbols etc
>>>Jay-- This summary was helpful to me:
>>>For Peirce, and usefully for many influenced by his semiotics, SIGN is the
>>>most general term, and SYMBOL is a special case (contrasted usually with
>>>"index" and "icon") where the interpretation or construal of a relation
>>>between the symbol (as form, i.e. signifier, aka representamen) and what
>>>it's taken to be a symbol of or for is based on a culturally conventional
>>>and otherwise arbitrary relationship unrelated to any physical-causal
>>>connection or to any formal similarity.
>>>SIGNs are not just symbols, but all possible types of 3-way relationships
>>>in which something (1) interprets a relationship between (2) one item
>>>(form, event, thing, whatever) and (3) another, which is not reducible to
>>>simple sum of pairwise relations.
>>>So, would it be fair to say that Vygotsky really was talking about
>>>sign mediation of at least the index and symbolic subvarieties? (I am
>>>not so sure about icons because of his writing on "natural"
>>>psychological processes where images are precursors of signs). Then
>>>when he slips into using the term symbol as in "symbolic activity"
>>>(see index of collected works) he is not making some new point we
>>>should focus on?
>>>And, what should WE really be talking about? From an earlier message,
>>>Peg, in November,
>>>wrote in response to a note from Peter:
>>>The definitions you found for sign and symbol make me think of Grice's
>>>discussion of natural and non-natural meaning. "These spots mean measles"
>>>is an example of natural; "Three rings of the bell means the trolley is
>>>about to
>>>stop" is an example of non-natural.
>>>Tools and symbols would both be non-natural. Signs would be natural.
>>>For language, there is also a tripartite distinction among sentence
>>>utterance meaning, and speaker meaning. Maybe that distinction would come
>>>in handy when thinking about symbols that re-present in/for a
>>>socio-historical community of users.
>>>So, Peg, if we talk about a word like "water" it can operate as a
>>>sign in the sense of Jay's para 2, but also as both "a culturally
>>>and otherwise arbitrary relationship unrelated to any physical-causal
>>>connection or to any formal similarity" and "symbols that re-present
>>in/for a
>>>socio-historical community of users." It operates as a sign if I say
>>>"The rain in southern
>>>california is finally filling our reservoirs with water" but as a
>>>symbol when I say " Water reminds us of the cycle of living matter, of
>>>the fragility of life in southern california, and of life
>>>But if this is a reasonable way to think two questions come to mind:
>>>1. Are all tools only symbols and never signs?
>>>2. The three kinds of meaning you mention do not map easily for me
>>>onto the sense/
>>>meaning distinction in vygotky, in particular "speaker meaning."
>>>Wouldn't speaker meaning be sense?
>>>As usual, confused in southern california.
>Jay Lemke
>University of Michigan
>School of Education
>610 East University
>Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>Tel. 734-763-9276

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