Re: [xmca] Talking Science

From: Phil Chappell (
Date: Thu Jan 18 2007 - 03:39:13 PST

Hi David,

I'd love to give your questions a good response and will once I'm
free. In the meantime, have you read Halliday's paper 'Is learning a
second language like learning a first language all over again?'. I
have attached it and hope to have a bit of time over the weekend to
look at your questions - but I'm also packing up my life and heading
back to Oz after 12 years in Thailand and all my books etc are
somewhere between here and there!


On 18/01/2007, at 12:54 AM, David Kellogg wrote:

> Dear Jay and Phil:
> Thanks for your various forms of assistance; I'm in the throes of
> writing and I need all the help I can get.
> My real criticism of Christie is that of someone who is
> interested, as Vygotsky was, in primary foreign language teaching.
> It's a strange interest, because more than usually concerned with
> TENOR (Teaching English for No Obvious Reason) and sometimes I
> think Vygotsky was the only person on earth who really understood
> what it was for.
> Halliday says:
> “The reason learning a foreign language can be so extraordinarily
> difficult for an adolescent or adult who has not grown up
> multilingual is that there is a real-life contradiction between
> these two modes of processing language: that of learning it for
> future use, and that of using it. They can no longer both learn
> language and ‘mean it’ at the same time. The teacher cannot resolve
> this contradiction, but has somehow to transform it from a
> constraint into a condition which enables and even enforces the
> learning process. (Collected Works Vol. 3: 141).”
> I think Vygotsky fully embraced this contradiction when he
> perversely CELEBRATED the differences between learning the native
> language and learning a foreign language and compared it to
> learning every day (spontaneous) concepts and scientific concepts
> (in Thinking and Speech, Chapter Six). But only Vygotsky has really
> made the case that foreign language learning is the logical way to
> complete a child's knowledge of his/her first language.
> Vygotsky's writings on primary foreign languages are not
> extensive, but not a single word is banal or superficial, or
> anything less than strikingly counter-intuitive. He doesn't argue
> that foreign language learning should be made more like native
> language learning. His understanding of native language learning is
> very near Tomasello's: in the native language, the child goes from
> fixed expressions, to "pivot grammars" and item based expression
> (e.g. "I like X" or "I want Y" or "Let's Z")s, to "abstract
> constructions" based on an understanding of functional categories
> like noun, verb, grammatical subject, etc. But in the foreign
> language the progression is, if anything, the other way around. I
> think this puts him at odds both with Christie and with Jay, but
> for different reasons.
> Christie wants to do away with activities like "Show and Tell"
> and "Morning News" where children are called upon to work with
> abstract constructions before they are fed the fixed expressions
> and formulaic language they need. Vygotsky would disagree with
> this; he would argue that such situations, where the child is
> called upon to do more than he or she can with fixed expressions or
> item-based "islands", are precisely the starting point of foreign
> language learning.
> Jay is quite right to point out that both he and Christie agree
> on the key point, namely that kids should be given more
> opportunities to "talk science". But they disagree on what talking
> science really means. For Christie, it's a matter of learning the
> register, while Jay thinks that it's largely a matter of bending
> the register, using ordinary, every day language to discuss
> scientific concepts, acquiring the concepts and discarding the
> empty shell of the mystique.
> Mutatis mutandem, this means using the native language to discuss
> foreign language concepts, something that Vygotsky too believes in
> (and something that is absolutely consistent with what I consider
> the true goal of primary foreign language teaching, which is not
> functional foreign language acquisition but rather teaching the
> child a scientific understanding of what his/her native language is).
> But Jay also seems to deny that concepts have structure. On p. 91
> (of "Talking Science") he says that they are simply bits of
> thematic relations. Later, he relates this to Halliday's theory of
> grammatical metaphor, though not in so many words. He writes:
> “It is very common in scientific language to take a small
> thematic pattern, give it a name (e.g. ‘orbital configuration’),
> and then link it to other thematic items as if it were a single
> item itself. This is the phenomenon of thematic condensation which
> makes scientific language often seem so dense and impenetrable to
> the nonexpert who does not know how to expand these condensed items
> to recover their full meanings.” (95-96)
> And that brings me to my final question! Halliday says that
> grammatical metaphor only works one way:
> relatoràcircumstanceàprocessàqualityàentityàmodifier
> (Collected Works, Volume 5: 76)
> So for example, we go from "X, so Y" to "X causes Y" but not the
> other way around. Similarly, we go from "X orbits Y" (process) to
> "The orbital motion of X" (entity) but not the other way around.The
> progression is always from the more abstract to the more concrete
> (and also, I would argue, from the more inter-mental form of
> discourse to the more intra-mental form of grammar, and from
> relations that cannot be expressed mathematically to those that can).
> I would like this to be true, not least because it is so
> obviously Vygotskyan. But is it? On p. 192 (Of Vol. 5, The Language
> of Science), Halliday gives this example:
> An electron moves in an orbit-->The orbital motion of the electron
> It's absolutely the case that a process (moves) turns into an
> entity (motion). But isn't it also the case that an entity (orbit)
> turns into a quality and another entity (electron) turns into
> another quality? Or am I confusing "quality" with "modifier" here?
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> ---------------------------------
> It's here! Your new message!
> Get new email alerts with the free Yahoo! Toolbar.
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Feb 01 2007 - 10:11:33 PST