Re: [xmca] Etymology and Comprehension

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Sun Mar 11 2007 - 19:22:02 PST

My old set of tires would entirely agree and so would
my very tired body, in need of a re-tread, which has just concluded a 400
mile round
trip through sunny, firey, and traffical california!


On 3/11/07, michael boatright <> wrote:
> Alas, after reading Lakoff & Johnson's Metaphors We Live By, retiring
> money-language metaphors from circulation would be impossible in late
> stage capitalist countries. Even the word "retiring" is not free from
> its clutches.
> Best,
> Michael
> On 3/11/07, David Kellogg <> wrote:
> > Some discussions in this space really do have immediate and very full
> "surrender value" (as they say when you try to cash in your life insurance
> policy) and others are much slower to mature. This morning, for example, in
> combative mood after crossing swords with Martin and Andy, I was re-reading
> A.A.Leontiev's "Linguistic Meaning" in Wertsch's edited volume on (now not
> so) "Recent Trends in Soviet Psycholinguistics" instead of reading the
> lingerie ads on the Seoul subway.
> >
> > Well, at first I was appalled. Leontiev simply takes over a lot of
> Marx's discussion of money and applies it to linguistic signs. This seems to
> me to be a terrible mistake, similar to all the phrasemongering about
> "cultural capital" and "the political economy of the sign" which ignores the
> obvious fact that as far as language is concerned every man is his own mint
> (not, alas, true of money).
> >
> > Leontiev abandons the analogy precisely where it would do some good.
> On p. 25 Leontiev claims that "meaning cannot exist outside of language". Of
> course, linguistic meaning cannot exist outside of language; that's a
> tautology. But if meaning cannot exist outside of language, out of what does
> language develop? Marx was careful to point out that there were two very
> different kinds of value, and one develops out of the other.
> >
> > So too with etymology and comprehension, but paradoxically I think it
> is the former which develops out of the latter. When Volosinov and Mrs.
> Volosinov are sitting by the window reading in late May, and Volosinov
> notices it starting to snow, the meaning of the snowfall (another six weeks
> of winter) exists utterly outside language, and even when he chooses to
> "mint" the meaning as linguistic coin and pass it to Mrs. Volosinov ("Sigh!
> Oh, well...") language is quite peripheral to the exchange. Once coined
> however, "sigh" and "oh, well" may go on to develop an etymology.
> (No--comprehended, not coined--let's retire ALL these 18th century
> money-language metaphors from circulation!)
> >
> > Halliday has an odd formulation that I still haven't quite made sense
> of. He argues that phylogenesis, ontogenesis, and microgenesis (which he
> calls "logogenesis") all have basically the SAME relationship. Phylogenesis
> provides the environment for ontogenesis, but ontogenesis provides the raw
> material for (the next stage of) phylogenesis. Similarly, ontogenesis
> provides an environment for logogenesis (the unfolding of a text) but
> logogenesis provides the raw stuff of the next phase of ontogenesis.
> >
> > My first reaction to this was that it was utterly un-Vygotskyan,
> because Vygotsky clearly denies this kind of recapitulation and indeed
> argues for INVERSION at some level (which is why I was banging on and on
> about the inversion of volition and automaticity in more microgenetic
> foreign language learning compared with more ontogenetic first language
> learning).
> >
> > Now I am not so sure! There are some things that are inverted (viz,
> the relationship of elements within a unit of analysis, for example volition
> and action in the example of first and second language learning). But what
> Halliday is talking about is not the precise configuration of the elements:
> it's the social environment of learning in which this inversion takes place
> and the provision of the actual stuff that gets inverted.
> >
> > At school there are posters about "pedagogy", transliterated from the
> English into Korean characters. This has a distinctly more modern and
> political feeling than the word for what I teach, English "kyoyukhak" or
> "education", which comes from Chinese, and is correspondingly more stately,
> scientific, and objective.
> >
> > So Mike is right, etymology and even historical linguistics, are part
> of the way we understand words. But what part are they? Perhaps they are
> more part of smysl than they are part of znachenie.
> >
> > Take, for example, the Korean word for "lingerie" which is simply
> translated from the French. It has a gorgeous, voluptuous texture utterly
> unlike the word "panty" borrowed from the English (and in Korean is used to
> mean MEN'S underwear). Part of this is undoubtedly etymological; in much the
> same way words with French stress are more effeminate in English than words
> with Germanic stress (compare a word like "balloon" with a word like
> "table").
> >
> > Both Korean "lingerie" and Korean "panty" are different from Korean
> "nei ot" (literally, "underwear") which just means anything you are wearing
> inside of something else. "Nei ot" is a delightful hybrid etymologically;
> half Chinese and half pure Korean, just as the word "homosexual" is half
> Greek and half Latin. But because languages are miscegenistic magpies,
> etymology is sometimes misleading (misreading?). The further away we stand
> from Volosinov's window and his snow, the more unreliable a guide etymology
> is to smysl.
> >
> > David Kellogg
> > Seoul National University of Education
> >
> >
> > ---------------------------------
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