Re: [xmca] RE: meaning and sense and has anyone any opinion

From: Vera Steiner (
Date: Sun Jul 24 2005 - 07:36:04 PDT

Re: [xmca] RE: meaning and sense and has anyone any opinioThanks, Gordon.
I have been away from the discussion because of a problem with my laptop while on vacation. But last night, I was wondering whether anyone has made the parallel with the old distinction between episodic and semantic memory, which bears some similarity to that of sense and meaning. In the former, the specificity of the situation with all its sensory aspects is reflected, while the latter is part of a semantic network, where individual items are defined in terms of broader, categorical features. Thus meaning in its dictionary form.
The dialectical weaving together of these distinctions are based on temporary opposites --which however are necessary to bring movement and emotional and intellectual force to their syntheses.Otherwise, joint action and communication are anemic
Vera .
  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Gordon Wells
  To: ; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
  Sent: Friday, July 22, 2005 6:48 PM
  Subject: Re: [xmca] RE: meaning and sense and has anyone any opinion

  Michaels and Others,

  I feel very comfortable with your suggestions. I should like to add some thoughts on the relationship among 'meaning', 'sense' and 'emotion' from the chapter by Vera John-Steiner and Holbrook Mahn in Learning for Life in the 21st Century.


    Making Meaning
    Vygotsky's examination of meaning as central to human consciousness has provided the foundation for its extensive study by sociocultural theorists (Prawat, 2000; Yaroshevsky & Gurgenidze, 1997). Vygotsky's analysis of meaning, in which he approached the hidden, complex, affective dimensions of thinking and speech by studying the emotional subtext of utterances -- what he referred to as "sense" -- is also central to his analysis of perezhivanie.

    A word's sense is the aggregate of all psychological facts that arise in our consciousness as a result of the word. Sense is a dynamic, fluid, and complex formation that has several zones that vary in their stability. (1934/1987, p. 276)

    While meaning is often conceptualized as external and sense as internal, there is a social aspect to sense. The individual sense of an utterance includes attributes that are shaped by culture and appropriated through social interaction. The manner in which Vygotsky examined the similarities and distinctions between meaning and sense illustrates his methodological approach -- seeking out the integrative, dialectical connections among complex, separate, and interdependent processes. He concluded, "Meaning is only one of the zones of sense, the most stable and precise zone"(1934/1987, p.245).

    In his examination of meaning and its interrelationships with previous experience and affect, Vygotsky borrowed both from the French psychologist, F.Paulhan and from the Russian stage director and theoretician, Konstantin Stanislavsky. Stanislavsky searched for the sense of words in order to identify the characters' motives behind them; he was thus able to help his actors express these motives through gesture, intonation, vocal range, and emotional tone. Vygotsky's familiarity with and admiration for the work of Stanislavsky contributed to his understanding of word sense. He also relied on Paulhan's distinction between an individual's sense of a word and the more general meaning of a word. Vygotsky used this distinction to explain the way an individual uses language to capture and appropriate affective aspects of social interaction -- an important aspect of perezhivanie. This concept was foundational for his examination of the relationship between affect and thought.


    You suggest:

    "personal" to situate "sense."

    Perhaps that gives us an entry point to understanding meaning, as a
    generalized version of personal sense, that is, the possibilities of
    sense available at the collective level.

    Personal sense certainly seems to be what is mean't. (Where personal
    is a synthesis of self-other interactions/experiences). And meaning is
    generalized, embodied in words and other semiotic means. Meaning changes,
  but at a cultural-historical, not an ontogenetic or microgenetic time scale..
    We might be able to use this same example to illlustrate the way in which
    meaning, having become generalized (used to mediate activity in many settings)
    is "relatively" stable-- relative to the stabililty of the local dynamics of life, at least.

    I hope this makes sense. I am somewhat unuzed tothinking in triple dialectics, Michael,
    but your summary is plausible to me.

    On 7/22/05, Wolff-Michael Roth <> wrote:

      hi all,
      When I was reading Peg's lines, MY first question was not about
      linguistic issues but about what people are making in "meaning-making".
      Then after reading Mike's and Gordon's comments, I was further thinking
      about meaning and its relation to sense.

      If I understand right, sense is tied to the relation of activity
      (something collectively motivated) and action (something individually
      realized). So sense arises from the dialectic relation of self and
      other, individual and collective. Some writers use the qualifier
      "personal" to situate "sense."

      Perhaps that gives us an entry point to understanding meaning, as a
      generalized version of personal sense, that is, the possibilities of
      sense available at the collective level.

      Such an approach would allow us to approach meaning in a dialectical
      way, paralleling the individual|collective dialectic, and therefore
      locating it as the dialectic of two other dialectics.



      On 22-Jul-05, at 8:08 AM, Mike Cole wrote:

> Great timing, Gordon. you answered part of my question re Halliday and
> the
> equivalent distinction. Thanks!
> mike
> On 7/22/05, Gordon Wells <> wrote: >Gordon, I've often
> thought along the lines you explore about how it relates
>> >to Vygotsky's meaning/sense discussion.Maybe it reflects his roots
>> in
>> >philology.If so, then maybe we can push it a little further.
>> >
>> >Gordon's list of alternatives were: "dynamic/everyday/narrative v.
>> >synoptic/scientific/paradigmatic modes of meaning-making."When I
>> see
>> >"paradigmatic," I look for "syntagmatic."Maybe for Gordon this is
>> in both
>> >or either "dynamic" and "synoptic?"
>> >I understand paradigmatic and syntagmatic as mutually constitutive
>> not so
>> >much "versus."So, for example, for linguists (I think whether you
>> look
>> >back to Prague School or further to Panini) the copula verb ("to be"
>> in
>> >English) as a paradigm (for example: be am is are were been) is
>> relentlessly
>> >tied to/emerging with its syntax (I am. She is. etc.).The
>> syntagmatic
>> >patterning is not just a methodological frame for the morphological
>> >paradigm; neither one is necessarily primitive to the other (but
>> theories of
>> >language might explore to establish this).Each constitutes the
>> other.
>> >
>> >So, maybe 'meaning' can be understood as the paradigmatic and
>> 'sense' as the
>> >syntagmatic of a mutually constitutive set.
>> Peg,
>> I agree that syntagmatic complements paradigmatic. One way of
>> interpreting Bruner's narrative/paradigmatic distinction might be
>> that narrative is concerned with the relations between constituents:
>> who does what to whom, when and for what reason. Similarly,
>> Halliday's dynamic/ synoptic distinction might be equated with
>> narrative/syntagmatic - to some degree!!, while synoptic highlights
>> the paradigmatic relationship between alternative lexicogrammatical
>> realizations of the same event, with a focus on grammatical metaphor
>> through nominalization.
>> I think I'm happy with your final paragraph above but I'll give some
>> more thought to this.
>> Gordon
>> --
>> Gordon Wells
>> Dept of
>> Education,
>> UC Santa Cruz.
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Gordon Wells
  Dept of Education,
  UC Santa Cruz.


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