Re: [xmca] Material cognition

From: Wolff-Michael Roth <mroth who-is-at>
Date: Wed Oct 31 2007 - 05:57:45 PDT

Hi all,
why not use the three levels of artifacts to think about language,
primary, secondary, tertiary (Wartofsky)? This brings reflexivity in
at higher levels which language does not have in everyday use, I
mean, the conscious selection of words is absent, much like tools are
used without requiring consciousness.
On 31-Oct-07, at 4:32 AM, David H Kirshner wrote:

David K.,

It seems you're conflating volitional use of language (e.g., conscious
imitation of language, and later "humor, language play, creativity")
with conscious access to linguistic structure. Indeed, I would assume
that foreign language instruction that regards linguistic structure as
tacit, implicit, or unconscious would highlight the need for volitional
use of language in exactly the ways you seem to favor. Instead, you
report that based on notions of "emergence", current instruction
features "a kind of 'bottom up' learning of 'grammaticized lexis'." But
this approach is not informed by the usual assumptions of unconscious
grammatical structure:

"In linguistics, lexis describes the storage of language in our mental
Lexicon as prefabricated patterns that can be recalled and sorted into
meaningful speech and writing. Recent research in corpus linguistics
suggests that the long-held dichotomy between grammar and vocabulary
does not exist. Lexis as a concept differs from the traditional paradigm
of grammar in that it defines probable language use, not possible
language usage. This notion contrasts starkly with the Chomskian
proposition of a "Universal Grammar" as the prime mover for language;
grammar still plays an integral role in lexis, of course, but it is the
result of accumulated lexis, not its generator." (Wikipedia)

David K.

-----Original Message-----
From: []
On Behalf Of David Kellogg
Sent: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 2:07 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] Material cognition

Let me put in a word for consciousness and explicit learning, namely (as
usual) "volition" (that is, voluntary access to knowledge). In language
teaching, for some decades now, we've had exactly the contrary bias from
the one Reber complains about. Only implicit language learning is
considered "real" learning. As far as I canmake out, there are two

   a) There is no language whose grammar has been fully described in
explicit terms. So the assumption is that all fluent use of language is
implicitly learnt.

   b) There is usually no time in real interaction to retrieve and apply
explicit knowledge about grammar (much less HOW you pronounce a
particular sound). So the assumption is that only implicit knowledge is
actually used in communication.

   Both these arguments seem radically wrong to me. First of all,
is much more likely to come from volitional imitation and even more
volitional variation than it is from "implicit" knowledge. Imitation is
conscious and deliberate; otherwise variation would not be possible.

   Secondly, when we speak, we only speak the small language that we
know, and we only actually use a small part of that at a time. When we
go outside that, we do find disfluencies and uncertainties, exactly as
we would expect if language use too depends on explicit knowledge
rendered implicit through use.

   Downgrading explicit learning in language teaching has been quite
disastrous (and very disempowering for hard working Asian students of
English): first the idea of "comprehensible input" automatically causing
something called "acquisition" (not to be confused with learning). More
recently the idea of "emergence", a kind of "bottom up" learning of
"grammaticized lexis" that once again denigrates choice, volition,
conscious creative construction (and humor, language play, creativity.).

   LSV assures us, foreign language learning is really topsy turvy with
respect to native language learning; we START with volition in
everything, including pronunciation. In fact, foreign language learning
is really nothing more than applying the principle of volition (that is
conscious and explicit choice) to a whole language system (and even a
whole culture) rather than merely a sound or a word or a clause.

   About a month ago in London I heard a reasonably well known linguist
argue that language MUST have an innate genetic basis because
comprehension is involuntary and automatic and never depends on explicit
knowledge. I objected that I actually found comprehension strenuously
voluntary when I read, say, Hegel or Peirce or when I had to take part
in grad student orals in Korean and that I frequently required long and
very explicit explications, and he interrupted me. This shows that his
(in)comprehension was voluntary!

   Besides, the inflated value of "implicit" linguistic knowledge
privileges native speakers and disenfranchises non-native creativity
(viz. "error"). It's simply NOT possible to cover an infinite world with
a finite vocabulary, without more than a little deliberate and
conscious inventiveness and explicit knowledge. That is why we find that
in language learning, it is FAR better to open your mouth and be thought
an idiot than to keep your mouth shut and remove all doubt.

   David Kellogg
   Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Wed Oct 31 06:05 PDT 2007

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