Re: [xmca] sense and meaning

Date: Tue Jul 12 2005 - 12:10:12 PDT


I appreciate the complexities of this discussion as they pertain to
linguistics and the meaning associated with sounds.
      The general law of development says that awareness and deliberate

      control appear only during a very advanced stage in the development

      of a mental function, after it has been used and practiced

      unconsciously and spontaneously. In order to subject a function to

      intellectual and volitional control, we must first possess it

      (Vygotsky, Thought and Language (1999), pg. 168).

      As this quote pertains to the current discussion the conceptual

      meaning comes from an expert being able to communicate vast ideas

      with one or two words. The novice hears the word and may associate

      a complex with that particular word but the expert is able to

      associate a vast conceptual framework balanced upon the word. Using

      Marx as an example he uses a term such as "value of labor" to explain

      something far greater then merely how much a person should earn per

      hour worked.

      Is this making sense so far?


                      Roth To:
                      <> cc:
                      Sent by: Subject: Re: [xmca] sense and meaning
                      xmca-bounces who-is-at web
                      07/12/2005 01:19
                      Please respond
                      to xmca

For me, the position I outlined in my recently published TALKING
my version aligns itself with the one proposed by pragmatist and
language philosophers (e.g., Rorty, Davidson). The end result is that
knowing a language and knowing your way around the world are
indistinguishable. We do not have to privilege words from the outset.
It is not words we learn, we come to identify recurrent sounds with
situations (this is the position amply described by Felix Mikhailov,
who builds on Vygotsky, Leont'ev, and others.

I would suggest that to get around the privileging of words and
sentences, we do what Marx, Hegel, and others did. Let's start with a
historical reconstruction that ultimately led to the emergence of
language. At that point we understand language better than we do today
if we start with the presupposition that language is already there. It
has not been and is not in the experience of the child, for the word to
be word, has to be something different from Self and object, a
separation that only occurs some time during development. Even my
chicken and other people's dogs make the distinction between different
sound patterns I produce--when I call "Harko," my Harko chicken comes
rather than the Red Rocks, and Harko "knows" that this means slugs,
which "she loves" -- as I take from the way she devours them.

Eric, where is the conceptual meaning?

Another way of moving away of following linguists in their fallacy of
considering language and meaning as separate entities--pace
Vygotsky--is to look at linguistic practices. Let's see how words and
sentences are produced and reproduced in situation, for purposes, to
get work done, rather than talk about language "in the abstract".
Talking about language independent of situations leads us down a blind
alley, I think.

There is not even "a" language, as Derrida (Monolingualism of the
Other, 1998) points out. He puts it this way (p.7):

1. We only ever speak one language.
2. We never speak only one language

and then goes on to defend his thesis in this interesting little book.


On 12-Jul-05, at 10:41 AM, wrote:

> Michael;
> It is my understanding that Vygotsky goes beyond merely stating that
> meaning is tied to context by distinguishing between syncretic meaning
> (that which comes from the senses) complex meaning (that which comes
> from
> graphic/concrete everyday) and concept (that which is the abstraction
> of
> the first two). Once a person then moves to the conceptual meaning of
> words they are in a better position to be active in new ways.
> eric
> Wolff-Michael
> Roth To:,
> "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
> <> <>
> Sent by: cc:
> xmca-bounces who-is-at web Subject: Re: [xmca]
> sense and meaning
> 07/11/2005 11:36
> PM
> Please respond
> to xmca
> I think you can read Vygotsky, Il'enkov, Mikhailov, Heidegger, Marx all
> in the same way as meaning being associated with practical
> understanding, whole of activity, and generalized possibilities; sense
> is personal, associated with the relation of action to activity, and a
> concrete realization. Heidegger says that words do not HAVE meaning,
> they ACCRUE to meaning; that is, as Marx, for Heidegger meaning
> precedes sense, is associated with lived-in situations as a whole,
> involving not just individuals but collectives. Meaning transcends
> words--words, or rather utterances, have a sense in a particular
> activity, and as all actions, have a different sense in a different
> activity.
> If you say "I haven't got time" to your colleague asking you whether
> you want to write a review essay, this is one thing; it is a whole
> different ball park when you say it to your teacher who is asking you
> to finish some assignment, or something else of that nature. The sense
> of the expression is a function of the activity. . .
> Michael
> On 11-Jul-05, at 8:36 AM, Peter Smagorinsky wrote:
>> I tried to work out the sense/meaning tangle a few years ago
>> in a paper published in the AERA journal Review of
>> Educational Research. I think it was 2001, the title "If
>> meaning is constructed, what is it made from?: Toward a
>> cultural theory of reading." I'm traveling now so don't have
>> the ms. handy, but I can send it when I return home if I
>> remember. Peter
>> ---- Original message ----
>>> Date: Mon, 11 Jul 2005 21:59:12 +0700
>>> From: Phil Chappell <>
>>> Subject: Re: [xmca] sense and meaning
>>> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
>> <>, Mike Cole <>
>>> I'm not sure I can offer much here, Mike, but in the vortex
>> of voices,
>>> I'd like to add what I understand. Whenever I am confronted
>> with the
>>> concepts "sense" and "meaning" I immediately attend to the
>> notion of
>>> thought and context. Being an English speaker and therefore
>> only having
>>> an approximation of the semantic differences between sense
>> and meaning
>>> in Vygotsky's writings (meaning (znachenie) and sense
>> (smysl)), I ask
>>> is "sense" the socio-personal history of the communicative
>> use of a
>>> lexical item applied to the immediate spheres of human
>> activity; and is
>>> meaning the most predictable use of the word across social
>> contexts?
>>> SFL uses a theory of congruency that has come under
>> criticism for being
>>> deterministic, however if understood within the the genetic
>> approach
>>> used not only by Vygotsky, but also by SFL'ers (for example
>> Jim
>>> Martin), it is seen as an informed approach to social
>> semiotics - it
>>> looks at actual uses of language to make judgements about
>> language use
>>> in human activity. Sense and meaning can take on much more
>> critical
>>> applications; for example "sense" - for LSV word meaning in
>> the context
>>> of speech - can be thought of dynamically in the context of
>> ways that
>>> people engage with texts and the ways that these
>> communicative
>>> activities influence the social positions of the
>> interactants. Meaning
>>> can be thought of as "most expected meanings" in terms of
>> those taking
>>> a more synoptic view.
>>> Rough thoughts.
>>> Phil
>>> On 09/07/2005, at 9:56 PM, Mike Cole wrote:
>>>> In reading the work of Halliday, Hasan, and Bernstein, I
>> am unclear
>>>> about whether their
>>>> notions of meaning do or do not coincide with Vygotsky's.
>> One form of
>>>> this uncertainty is
>>>> whether and how a distinction between sense and meaning,
>> which is
>>>> central to LSV's
>>>> ideas about language and thought, are viewed from an SFL
>> perspective.
>>>> Perhaps its there
>>>> and I am blinded by my own past history?
>>>> mike_______________________________________________
>>>> xmca mailing list
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> xmca mailing list
>> _______________________________________________
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