Preposterousness(?) certainly can be the end result of communication.
David, I believe we are talking apples and oranges. I will need a few days
to decode your post and then encode my own to try and explain my thinking.
I am in total agreement with everything you have written. My difficulty is
in trying to find at what point our ideas converge and diverge. Thank you
for your thoughtful post!
<email@example.com To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
Sent by: cc:
xmca-bounces who-is-at web Subject: Re: [xmca] process structure of semiotic mediation
Suppose I am helping you with shopping; we are carrying groceries. We open
the door to your flat and I notice that you have a number of different
tables in the kitchen, some of them clearly intended for work rather than
food preparation. Among these is a fiddle-shaped table. Your arms are full
of groceries, so rather than point (which is probably what you would
normally do) you say "Put them on the fiddle over there..."
Clearly it IS possible to call a table a fiddle and be understood. It is
also possible for red to mean go (as in "Be the Reds!" which is the World
Cup slogan meaning "Go, Korea!") and green to mean stop ("Stop polluting
our world!"). But it is only possible for this to happen with linguistic
signs, and not with stoplights.
In fact, it is above all "external" linguistic signs can be treated as a
fixed code. Internal signs (e.g. the signs that Valsiner cites, which are
concerned with the regulation of internal states) might be so construed.
But external signs must be negotiated in context; and what we take away
from these negotiations is not a fixed code but a set of procedures for
negotiating a temporary code.
This means that unlike other signs (e.g. the Pythagorean theorem), language
assumes contemporaneity; it assumes interaction in real time, an
interaction whose outcome is inherently unpredictable (because other people
are inherently unpredictable).
Even written discourse, as Volosinov points out, bears the marks of this: a
paragraph is really a vitiated dialogue with an imaginary interlocutor, and
this is why there is really no such thing as writing to an outline.
Now, it's very easy to counter this argument by saying that the idea of a
fiddle-shaped table is artificial, whimsical and preposterous, but as soon
as we begin to really examine real examples (e.g. Valsiner's 'fun') we
notice that they are generally far closer to these whimsical and
preposterous examples than they are to the dictionary definitions that we
were always told formed the real kernal of semantic meaning.
Let me use a REAL example, and you will see what I mean. Here is some data
that a graduate student brought in last week. She is playing a "pantomime
game" with the children, where one of them mimes an action and the others
have to guess what it is. Eungyeong mimes a baseball player.
So-eun: You are playing the baseball
Ss: Majasseo, Majasseo (That's right! That's right!)
(Eungyeong answers with a nod.)
T: Playing "the" baseball? No...
Ss: ...Majneundae...(But that's right!).
T: Everybody..!! Yedeura, undongkyeongi apeneun, 'the'reul anpuyeoyeo!
(Kids, when we are talking about a sport, we don't use 'the').
Ss: Bwa! Bwa! (See! See!)
Of course we do. We say, for example, "he hit the baseball out of the
park". But the teacher is perfectly understood by the children; they know
that what she means is that when we are talking about a sport and we are
emphasizing the action rather than the artifact with which we play, we omit
Now, it's tempting to generalize this, and indeed it is generalizeable to
many examples such as "I ate breakfast" or even "I went to prison". But
it's NOT possible to generalize to abstract structures and give a fixed
code, structuralist explanation.
According to the structuralists, "the" is a member of a class of
determiners, and its nearest relative is "a". But the kids tend to treat
"the" as an INDEX, whose nearest relatives are words like "this", "that",
"there", "then", "these" and "those" and which is often accompanied by
pointing. "A" on the other hand is related to "any" or maybe numbers.
The way the kids understand it is right, not least because it solves this
particular problem (we use "the" when we want to point to the ball). Of
course, they will need to learn a rather different use of "the" when they
begin to read. Part of Vygotsky's brilliance was that he recognized this:
he was the one who pointed out that writing is a form of "second order
I think it's easy to assume that LSV meant this is a crude Saussurean way,
that is, that writing is simply a way of recording the fixed code of spoken
language. It is easy to show that this is quite wrong for proficient
readers--we read much faster than we could ever talk.
I don't think that's what LSV meant. He believed that the negotiable
"sense" was what created the abstract "meaning", not the other way around.
Thus "external" spoken language is not a fixed code, and this is
particularly clear when we consider the semantic content of indexical
expressions like "this", "that", and "over there" (which is what you would
say if you had your hands free and you could just point to the
It's also true with reading. Even proficient readers need to treat deictics
as second order symbols and rummage around to find a lexical referent in
the text. This in itself may explain the ontogenetically delayed onset of
what should be a rather easier (because less contingent and more
predictable) form of language.When we grow, we grow too used to using codes
that can be negotiated in real time with real people, and that function in
tandem with pointing and seeing for ourselves.
Seoul National University of Education
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