Re: [xmca] artefacts and apples

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Thu Jan 10 2008 - 11:06:54 PST

  I'm working hard on this too. Here's what I've come up with.
  T: Do you like apples?
  S1: Yes. I do. Yummy yummy apples.
  S2. No, I don't. Yucky yucky apples.

  This is a song from our third grade book. Notice two things:
  a) "Yummy" and "yucky" are indicative rather than signifying. This is really what Peirce means by "secondness" (which is quite different from what Wartofsky means by "secondness"). In fact, I think the are verbal gestures--the consonant /m/ suggesting swallowing or smacking the lips and the consonant /k/ suggesting spitting or clearing the throat.
  b) "Apples" is plural, not singular. In English and in other Standard Average European languages (but not in non-Standard Average European languages) the plural of a countable noun is used to express the CONCEPT. In Korean and Chinese when we use the plural it just means more than one (and in Chinese you really have to specify a number when you say a plural). It doesn't have the idea of generalization beyond number and if you want to express the idea of genus you need to do something else with the word.
  But here "apples" means something like "the idea of apples" and it implicitly excludes rotten apples, sour apples, unripe apples etc. The "essence" being expressed is not really "dumb", but it is expressed differently in different languages and it's not an artefact of the language you use. It's also expressed differently in English, by the way; we CAN express generality by the plural of a countable noun but we can also use the definite article, e.g. "the Market", and sometimes an abstract noun ("Marriage").
  Hostess: How about some fruit? Would you like an apple?
  Guest: Oh, have you got one?
  Hostess: I've got Braeburns and Granny Smiths. Oh, and here's a Red Delicious.
  Guest: I'd like the green and yellow one please.
  You can see that in the course of this conversation the generalization is gradually diminished by linguistic means. We go from "some fruit" which is very general, to "an apple" which is less general. "Have you got one" is at the same level of generality, and it exposes the relationship between number and the indefinite article. But "a Red Delicious" is more specific.
  Now, why is "the green and yellow one" the MOST specific of all? Because, like "yucky" and "yummy" it is combined with a gesture, and completed by reference to a physical object (rather than a name like "Red Delicious").
  The reference to specific physical objects seems terribly important to me. First of all, it limits the speaker in time and space. The subject's activity on the object is a visible part of the meaning of "this one" and "that one" and even "the green and yellow one". Secondly, it has a DEVELOPMENTAL role.
  This is why I'm with Volosinov. For developmental purposes, tools are NOT signs. On the desk in front of me is a board marker, and it says "board marker" on the side. The board marker is a tool, and the words "board marker" are signs.
  If I want to write on the white board, I need to use the board marker and not the "board marker". If I want to know what the object is called in English, I need to use the "board marker" and not the board marker.
  One of the points I try to make in our Seoul contribution to the ongoing dialogue on Vygotsky's unfinished concept of "development" (Vygotsky's developing concept of development, now viewable on the XMCA website and soon to be accompanied by quotable Powerpoints for discussion) is that child language develops.
  In the beginning, it is full of words that have an indicative function but not a signifying function ("yucky" and "that" but not "apples"). In the end, and in the classroom, it is full of words that have a signifying function but not an indicative one ("apples" and not "the apple").
  I guess one way to put this is to say that child language develops from something whose central function is a tool and whose peripheral function is a sign to something whose central function is a sign and whose peripheral function is a tool.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Thu Jan 10 11:09 PST 2008

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