RE: [xmca] Translation Problem?

From: Griswold, Olga (
Date: Fri Feb 02 2007 - 11:58:19 PST


Unfortunately, no picture came through in my e-mail, either in the body of the message or in the attachment. Could you possibly resend it as, maybe, a PDF file? I would love to see it as I believe it would help me understand the passage better.


As a native Russian speaker, I can say that the translation is absolutely linguistically accurate. At the same time, as an anthropological linguist (or a linguistic anthropologist - whichever people prefer), I would hazard a guess that the desire to substitute "latitude" for "longitude" in the translation may be cultural. In English, I also like "latitude" better than "longitude."

Vygotsky would probably be the first one to say that perception of the world (and language in it) is a product of cultural learning. :-) Both latitudes and longitudes are continua, so whichever way one understands the author's metaphor should work for understanding the thrust of his message. The visualization of it may differ in its specifics from culture to culture and language to language, but the overall picture, I believe, would be approximately the same.

There is also a possibility that Vygotsky himself was not quite accurate in the use of these terms. I have had to struggle to visualize his metaphor when I was reading the passage in Russian.


-----Original Message-----
From: on behalf of Ana Marjanovic-Shane
Sent: Fri 2/2/2007 10:55 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Translation Problem?
You may be right in noticing that Vygotsky's use of the terms longitude
and latitude is different from standard geographic one. Longitude is
thought in geography as a distance (east or west) between any meridian
and the Prime Meridian. And therefore is on the "horizontal"
co-ordinate. While latitude is a location in terms of degrees of North
or South from the Equator, and therefore is on the "vertical" coordinate.
In my translation of Vygotsky to Serbo-Croatian, Vygotsky uses these
words in the same way as in your translation --and opposite from the
geographic usage.
What he called Longitude (Dolgota (Rus.)/Duzhina (Srb.)) described
points along a Meridian (i.e. different latitudes on the same
longitudinal degree).
And what he called Latitude (Shirota (Rus.)/Shirina(Srb.)) was the
east-west dimension, a place of a Meridian in relationship to other
Meridians (and usually called longitude).
In other words between the two coordinates he imagined the "vertical"
(South-North) one to be the "longitude" and the "horizontal" (East-West)
one to be the "latitude". I drew a little picture long time ago on the
margin of my copy. It looked something like this (if the picture does
not follow here, it will probably be in an attachment):

I imagined the concrete, sensual graphic quality of the concepts to be
on the "South Pole" and the abstract, general to be on the "North Pole".
What for me was important was an understanding that no individual has
all the concepts (around the globe) on the same degree of
generalization/abstraction (Vygotsky's longitude), and that at any point
of time in a person's life the state of all of the concepts could be
represented with a jagged graph line around the globe.
Elina, Why do you think that here Vygotsky did not follow the Hegelian
understanding of abstract and concrete?


Peter Moxhay wrote:
> David,
> Checking my copy of the Russian collected works (Vol. 2, pp. 273-274), it looks like the translation is correct: longitude for "dolgota" and latitude for "shirota."
> Peter
>>>> 02/01/07 4:22 PM >>>
> In Chapter Six of "Thinking and Speech" (in Volume One of the Collected Works), Vygotsky is discussing how scientific concepts, unlike spontaneous ones, emerge swaddled in a dense network of related concepts. He uses a kind of Cartesian grid, only he imagines it in three dimensions, as global coordinates instead.
> One set of coordinates gives the location of the concept in terms of what we might call "object/meaning" or "meaning/object": that is, is the concept identical with a concrete object or action (say, "my goldfish", or "I kicked the ball") or is it almost pure generalization (e.g. numbers, where the concept is only very remotely linked to the concrete action of counting)
> The other set of coordinates gives the location of the concept in terms of other concepts at the same level of generality (that is, the same proportion of "object/meaning").
> The problem is, which set of coordinates is which? Here's how the passage appears in the Collected Works:
> "Imagine that all concepts are distributed at certain longitudes (does he mean latitudes?) like the points of the earth's surface between the North and South poles. Concepts are distributed between poles ranging from an immediate, sensual, graphic grasping of the object to the ultimate generalization (i.e., the most abstract concept). The longitude (he must mean the latitudinal location) of a concept designates the place it occupies between the poles of extremely graphic and extremely abstract thought about an object. Concepts would then be differentiated in longitudinal (that is, latitudinal) terms depending on the degree to which the unity of concrete and abstract is represented in each concept. Imagine further that the globe symbolizes for us all reality which is represented in concepts. We can then use the concept's latitude (that is, longitude) to designate the place it occupies among other concepts of the same longitude (that is, latitude), concepts that correspond
> to other points of reality just as the geographical latitude designates a point on the earth's surface in the degrees of the earth's parallels." (226-227)
> I THINK I understand what he's trying to do. Unlike the Cartesian grid, he wants to have two distinct poles at which variation is not really possible: one of them (which we'll call the North Pole) is really the spontaneous concept, which is pretty much sui generis; the child does not have other concepts at the same level of generality as "wood" or "water" that occupy exactly that conceptual space. At the other pole (we'll call it the South Pole) we have the purely scientific or mathematical concept; the number of names of any particular number is infinite, but they all have exactly the same abstract meaning. In between we find concepts that are very much in between, that is, the conceptual space they occupy is slightly different from neighboring concepts which are hyponyms or hypernyms and thus vary on the North-South axis, but also different from analogous concepts which are at the same level of abstraction but which cover different conceptual spaces. That is why there
> are only two poles in this system.
> The problem is that the passage only makes sense to me when I substitute latitude for longitude and vice versa. At first I thought that it was my usual inability to keep "left" and "right" from getting mixed up. Then I thought maybe LSV was using "longitude" to mean "position on a line of longitude" (that is, latitude). I checked the Vakar and Hanfmann translation (1962) and they simply use "coordinate grid", which unfortunately doesn't allow poles. I also looked in a German translation from 1964, but it has the same text as the Minick translation. Can anybody clear this up? What does the Kozulin translation say?
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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