Re: [xmca] LCA: AA Leontiev and Landolf/Thorne question

From: Gordon Wells (
Date: Mon Jul 04 2005 - 19:19:12 PDT

Mike just reacted to A.A. Leontyev as follows:

>In seeking to figure out activity-language relations, a question I
>keep coming up against
>is what is meant by phrases such as
>"As far as psychology is concerned, speech is identical to any other
>activity" (p. 1 of AA Leontiev)
>or the phrase, "communicative activity." I know this is an old issue
>in Russian (at least Soviet) arguments about activity
>and Language. But it appears important to this discussion as well.
>I can understand how seeking to acquire a second language could be
>considered an activity (at least I think I do), but acquisition
>of a first language let alone using language in a case is "Mr Smith
>is not working today, he is out mowing the lawn" both seem
>questionable as candidates for activities.

I entirely agree: neither learning nor using one's 'native' language
is an activity in the sense in which A,N.L. defines activity. In
fact, in my view it is rarely even a goal-oriented action. When it
comes to second language learning, the answer is less clear-cut.
Krashen distinguishes between acquisition and learning - the former
similar to learning a first language and the latter similar to
learning to write (cf. Vygotsky on second language learning and
learning to read and write as volitional, conscious 'activities' in
chap 6. of Thinking and Speech). But whether deliberately learning a
second language is an activity in A.N.L.'s terms is questionable. I
am deliberately trying to learn Spanish so that I can interact with
Spanish speakers and writers, but if and when I am able to do so, my
use of Spanish will be somewhere between sub-action and operation
within some more overarching activity. For the moment, I certainly
engage in learning actions, using grammar books, dictionaries, CDs,
as artifacts that mediate my deliberate learning. But I would
hesitate to call my learning an activity in its own right. Part of
the problem in answering your question, Mike, is the fact that
'activity' may be used with the technical meaning, as in A.N.L.'s
theory, but also in the very general sense of different culturally
recognized actions that succeed each other in daily life, such as
taking a shower, getting breakfast, driving to work, etc.


Gordon Wells
Dept of Education,
UC Santa Cruz.

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