[xmca] cuckoos magpies phonemes

From: Peg Griffin (Peg.Griffin@worldnet.att.net)
Date: Sat Jan 06 2007 - 10:57:19 PST

In the earliest 5th Dimension, children sometimes complained when grownups
helped other children -- especially if the children had constructed or
imported a competition. So I would tell them to say very slowly "teach" and
very slowly "cheat" and then I'd say, "See? The same but forwards and
Many of them got it -- both the phoneme manipulation joke and the "same but"
way of reasoning about teaching/learning and the role of others in the
processes. (I think "same but" and "as if" are operators or functions in
need of exploration, elaboration, and use in some future mathematical logic,
don't you?)

Some of the undergrads in the 5th D didn't get the joke. I think some were
being "hyper-orthographic" so dis-easing phoneme manipulation. It's common
to develop phoneme awareness in tandem with early days of alphabetic
reading, to get better tactics (orthographic patterns)for word
identification at about 3rd or 4th grade, and then "lose" phonemic awareness
until/unless a linguistics or teacher ed course or unless it is enshrined in
a play ritual like uppy duppy (and other child culture games like the
Brazilian one I now forget the name of -- there are several sound
manipulation games in Brazil apparently the same in that they involve sounds
but at least one manipulates phonemes not syllables nor onset/rhyme/coda
Maybe learning to read and linguistics courses and that kind of play are the
SAME since both provide occasions/impetus/tools for tapping the 'everyday'
entities of language into 'scientific' ones -- BUT isn't it tempting to
think of 'scientific' as having/being first order and second order systems?

So suppose we think about phonemes in everyday contrasted with two orders of

AND, about the cheating teaching cuckoos and magpies. Maybe undergrads have
rhetorical/cognitive blocks, too -- "same but" thinking is devalued (wimpy)
and/or unpracticed (defend your point essays) in the face of the comfort of
the "right answer," the excitement and reflected glory of being taught by
the "answerer," the glamour of the generation Zed seesaw -- "the powers that
be are always wrong so pick out one thing you can mangle with any kind of
argument or quality of evidence" seesawing to "if the expert opinions are
not timeless truths without exception or condition, let's go surfing until
they get it straight and into digestible form." And then the seesaw goes

Thanks for chance to think about things.
aka Puppeg Gruppifuppin

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
Behalf Of Leif Strandberg
Sent: Saturday, January 06, 2007 3:09 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity; mcole@weber.ucsd.edu
Subject: Re: [xmca] Magpie Writing Systems


I like this thread about magpies, palimpset and ZPD.

First, about magpies: In my country - Sweden - magpies hatch their eggs
in nests of their own! I have a lot of magpies near my house so I can
confirm that they are decent concerning nests. But! The magpies steal!
They steal silverspoons! The Swedish cuckoo on the other hand puts its
eggs in other's nests.

But, isn't "stealing" and "using other nests" what ZPD:s are all about.
I prefer though to use the words "borrow" and "lend" when I try to help
kids in schools to interact with peers and adults. "Go and borrow some
ideas, methods etc instead of sitting here, feeling that you do not

So, we can learn from magpies and cuckoos.

I agree with Mike that phonemes must have had a very long history
(history!). I came in contact with

Steven Mithen,s book: "The Singing Neanderthals: The origins of Music,
Language, Mind and Body" (Wedenfeld and Nicolson, 2005)


Michael Corbalis "From Hand to Mouth - the Origins of Language"
Princeton University, 2002

where they (among other interesting things) say

1 The Neanderthals developed their gestures into grammatical quality.

2 The organ of language internalized (imitated) these gestures (with
its grammatical quality).

I am sorry I can't give you the exact quotes (I have not access to
these books where I am sitting right now). But I recommend them.


2007-01-05 kl. 21.00 skrev Mike Cole:

> Thanks a lot for that careful exposition, David. I found it really
> thought
> provoking.
> I guess I am of the belief that for humans, phonemes are potentially
> there
> owing to a long phylogenetic heritage such that newborns show
> categorical
> perspection of sounds along
> phoneme borders, so far as I know, universally. They loose plastiticy,
> selectively, under constraints in their lingustic/ environment.
> I carry around with me this slogan attributed to Goethe that I once
> saw in
> the lab of valued
> local colleagues: "Everything has been thought of betore, the trick is
> to
> think of it again in the
> right circumstances."
> So, I am unsure how much LSV directly read Janet. I am certain that
> Leontiev
> did and I presume
> LSV would have read some. But that he would interpret it within his own
> version of Marxist
> Durkheimian and (many more prior and contemporary thinkers) to come
> up with
> his own
> ideas seems sufficient, especially if one of his formulations can help
> make
> subtler sense of
> others, for example, Tomasello.
> I am not sure how to say palimpset in Russian, but LSV uses the layered
> metaphor of the
> "levels of the psyche" as Joe noted in an earlier note, and that
> seems to
> me a three D time-
> inclusive way of thinking about palimpsets.
> mike
> On 1/5/07, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com> wrote:
>> Dear David P and Mike (C):
>> Yes, Viva Tomasello! It's a marvelous read, and in some ways,
>> "Constructing Language" remedies some of the deficiencies David Preiss
>> points up. Although it is even more focused on the subjective nature
>> of the
>> sign, it has a more thorough (and more genetic) understanding of the
>> heterogeneity which is inherent in all language.
>> I just used "Constructing Language" to construct a coding system for
>> creative improvisations in English by Korean primary school kids.
>> Basically,
>> I used the school syllabus to analyze the children's utterances into
>> "fixed
>> expressions", "item-based constructions" that were not
>> generalizeable, and
>> "abstract constructions" that showed emerging grammatical categories
>> that
>> were generalizeable.
>> Interestingly, the "abstract constructions" generally appear LATE in
>> an
>> exchange. This is true even though kids tend to use this to talk
>> about new
>> contextual elements and new contextual elements tend to occur early
>> in the
>> role play.
>> The reason is (I think) Janet's Law--that is, abstract constructions
>> are
>> the "short and fat" intra-mental grammatical fruit of "tall and thin"
>> inter-mental discourse trees; they are the living proof that "each
>> higher
>> function was originally shared between two persons". The abstract
>> constructions can only emerge when the topic or the actual text has
>> already
>> been well prepared by previous speakers.
>> A language is NEVER a single homogenous system; it's always a
>> palimpsest
>> of different systems. For Tomasello, it's fixed expressions,
>> item-based
>> "islands", and abstract constructions. In my data, it's also Korean,
>> iconic
>> meaning (laughter), indexical meaning (gesture, deixis), and symbols
>> (some
>> of which are clearly second order symbols for Korean meanings). The
>> idea of
>> language as a fixed system is just a fantasy that linguists have.
>> This is even more true of the "palimpsest" of writing systems, because
>> they tend to last. If we look back in the history of ANY letter (not
>> just
>> "a") we will eventually find some kind of pictograph. And if we look
>> forward
>> in the history of any system (e.g. Chinese) we find sound-based
>> notations
>> for abstract ideas, which are almost always borrowed from foreign
>> languages.
>> For example, Ancient Egyptian writing systems were clearly evolving
>> in the
>> direction of a sound-based system. English has a ridiculous spelling
>> system
>> because (like Latin from Greek) we borrow our scientific concepts from
>> foreign languages spoken by more advanced civilizations (that is,
>> virtually
>> everyone else on the planet, right now). That means borrowing THEIR
>> sounds.
>> What Tomasello is really gloating over is the invention of a writing
>> system that ties written marks to PHONEMES. Frankly, I'm not
>> impressed. Like
>> most Chinese speakers, I don't believe that phonemes exist. I think
>> that
>> syllables are probably the units that children work with. Phonemes are
>> simply reifications which developed from the writing system and not
>> the
>> other way around; like the idea of a fixed, homogenous system, they
>> are just
>> a fantasy that linguists have..
>> But even if phonemes did exist, I don't think that writing systems
>> tied to
>> them were invented only once. When you look at Korean, you notice
>> that it
>> was borrowed, not from Western alphabets, but from Chinese characters.
>> But the marks that compose the square little characters are tied to
>> phonemes. The consonants, interestingly enough, derive from
>> pictographs that
>> show the position of the tongue in pronouncing them, while the vowels
>> show a
>> rather elaborate cosmology of heaven, earth, and man and woman
>> (because
>> there are "bright, light vowels" associated with ying and "damp, dark
>> vowels" associated with yang).
>> In other words, the system is once again not a homogenous system, but
>> a
>> palimpsest of square shapes borrowed from Chinese, iconic pictographs
>> for
>> the consonants and pure symbols for the vowels! And this is a
>> language that
>> was invented by a committee of linguists working for Sejong the Great
>> in the
>> fifteenth century.
>> So even invented writing systems like Hangeul are hand-me-downs and
>> patch-me-ups. And that brings me to the other question I was trying
>> to solve
>> was this one: Is the principle that "every higher function was once a
>> social
>> relationship" also a hand-me-down when Vygotsky got to it?
>> I think the answer is no. Valsiner and van der Veer (and also Julia
>> Gillen) have argued this principle and even the ZPD are not really
>> original
>> to Vygotsky. I haven't read through ALL of Janet, yet, but on the
>> basis of
>> what I've read, this seems wrong.
>> Yes, Janet did mean that cultural transmission is what allows an
>> individual idea to become a system. Yes, Janet did think that the
>> social
>> factors were key to understanding personality.
>> "En résumé, les homes agissent incessament les uns sur les autres et
>> les
>> influence socials sont parmi les cause les plus puissantes de santé
>> et de
>> maladie, de depression e d'excitation." (In sum, people act
>> incessantly upon
>> each other, and so social influences are among the most powerful
>> causes of
>> health and sickness, depression and stimulation.) Janet, P. (1919)
>> Medications Psychologigues III Paris: Librairie Félix Alcan. p. 417:
>> But saying that social factors are important in the etiology of mental
>> illness is one thing, and actually REVERSING the then accepted
>> relations of
>> causality between cognition and culture is something very different.
>> Similarly, I think that saying that a function like language is
>> simply an
>> idea that has been culturally transmitted from our ancestors is one
>> thing,
>> and actually REVERSING the then accepted relations of causality
>> between
>> development and learning is something very different.
>> In sum, then, or rather on the basis of what I've been able to find of
>> Janet's work, it simply isn't true that Vygotsky stole the idea from
>> Janet.
>> If anything, the opposite is true: Vygotsky attributed a whole system
>> to
>> Janet when in fact all Janet had was a fairly small idea.
>> This kind of thing is pretty hard to imagine for career building
>> academics
>> in the West, but apparently the Russians did this a fair amount
>> (Holquist
>> claims that Bakhtin regularly donated whole books to his disciples).
>> I have
>> seen similar things done by Chinese academics anxious to gain Western
>> prestige for their own ideas.
>> David Kellogg
>> Seoul National University of Education
>> PS: Here's another bit of Tomasello that bothers me. He says (in
>> "Cultural Origins of Human Cognition"):
>> "In all cases, then, the use of a particular linguistic symbol
>> implies
>> the choice of a particular level of granularity in categorization, a
>> particular perspective or point of view on an entity or even, and in
>> many
>> cases a function in a context. And there are many or specific
>> perspectives
>> that arise in grammatical combinations of various sorts (He loaded
>> the wagon
>> with hay vs. he loaded hay onto the wagon or she smashed the vase
>> versus the
>> vase was smashed). Although more will be said about this process in
>> Chapter
>> 5, I take it as obvious that the only reason languages are
>> constructed in
>> this way is that people need to communicate about many different
>> things in
>> many different communicative circumstances form many different points
>> of
>> view—otherwise each entity or event or even each type of entity or
>> type of
>> event would have its own one true label—and that would be the end of
>> it."
>> Well, it's not at all obvious to me that this is why languages are
>> constructed in this way. The fact that language is tri-stratal—that
>> sounds
>> refer to wordings referring to meanings (or, if you prefer, that
>> sounds
>> referring to wordings refer to meanings)—explains two things and not
>> one.
>> a) There are many different ways of referring to the same event.
>> b) There are many different events which can be referred to in the
>> same
>> way.
>> It seems to me that in both ontogenesis and phylogenesis, it's
>> going to
>> be b) that is of the most immediate importance, because poor mankind
>> finds
>> himself in an infinitely rich universe with an extremely poor means of
>> describing it at his disposal.
>> dk
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