Re: [xmca] sense and meaning

From: Ana Marjanovic-Shane (
Date: Wed Jul 13 2005 - 10:03:09 PDT

I think that play begins before or at the same time as language. Bruner described "peeka-a-boo" as very early forms of play that adults introduce, but it quickly becomes "asked for" by children.
The way how I think that play -- like peek-a-boo and other more developed forms -- is relevant for our discussion of meaning is that there is an activity, a joint activity that is framed (Bateson). Within the play frame, there are different rules of relating to each other and different rules of creating meaning (Bateson). Creating a play frame and establishing these different rules and different ways of meaning making than in the "real", non play world is the begining of being able to embed a different, framed context of a playworld into an act of relating to someone else. This why I think that play is very relevant for our analysis of the activity of creating and using symbols that can be in a way "detached," or in Ruqaia's words, language which embodies its own "context" across different activities and situations.
The second issue you touch upon is the "invariance" of sounds and their relationships to the activity and its concrete material settings. I would also disagre here. People use language in ways that are far from invariant. Take just the pronouns: "I", "you", "she" "They" etc. These constantly refer to different people or groups of people. Or, take the deictic words like: "here", "thret", "this" "that" etc. Then, take words like nouns and verbs adjectives etc -- they are used with a great variablity: just a fact that a "dog" can be a "Chihuahua" and also a "St. Bernard" is astounding: What "belongs" and does not "belong" to a class of object/actions/features described by each word -- is a matter of a very long learning -- and yet, children use language to successfully communicate long before their concepts have developed to the stereotypical classes of a subgroup they belong.
That is why I cannot agree that meaning grows just by an invariant association of sounds and particular activities. However, I also do not think that conceptual thinking exists before language -- like in the traditional Piagetian psychology. I do believe that language represents a cultural tool to create conceptual thinking, and that thinking arises from the practical concrete activities and communication in them. It is just that I see this process as a more complex one. Questions that I ask are questions regarding the nature of the acts of communication and the nature of the transition from situation determined "invariant" signals to the more complex symbolic meaning construction necessary to even start talking about "generalization actoss situations", and also necessary for explaining the polysemy and variance of using language and its emergent characteristics.

-----Original Message-----
From: Wolff-Michael Roth []
Sent: Wednesday, July 13, 2005 01:04 PM
Subject: Re: [xmca] sense and meaning

> point is that there is one more step between communication with
> signals and communication using symbols. What exactly enables signs to
> detach from the immediate, unmediated situation and start to be used
> in such a way that you can talk about past, and future, about
> fantastic never existing creatures, about unknowns and never
> experienced -- what enables them to become a means of deeper
> exploration and a means of understanding?

Preceding play, the children participate in all sorts of activities,
which is where language starts. In play, when sticks become horses or
the witches broom, we are well beyond the split you are writing about

But I don't think it is right to say that "signs detach from the
immediate . . .", it is people (children) who use invariant sounds as
part of activity. It is out of such activities, concrete participation
in material settings, that children begin to participate in using these
invariant sounds in other concrete settings.

The ascension from abstract to concrete means that a sound, initially
associated with one setting, and therefore, according Marx/Hegel, and
the like, "the general" comes to be recognized as the same sound used
in another setting, for another tree, etc. It is when the child
recognizes the tree as an object (Gegenstand), different from itself,
and another tree, as another Gegenstand with similar properties, while
recognizing its own self as an in-itself that is invariant, where you
have a contradiction that becomes a growth point, leading to a
separation of the sound from immediate situations, concretizing, i.e.,
variegated, many situations, . . .

I think the achievement of Hegel and Marx lies in the fact that they
pointed us to historic-genetic explanations; we cannot begin with our
preconstructions, as if language and mind had existed always. . .
because then we are in traditional psychology, which reifies common
sense concepts. . . . rather than engaging in a scientific, categorical
reconstruction of the phenomenon, which inherently is historic and


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