Re: [xmca] Once Again, Learning and Development!

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Sun Jan 20 2008 - 20:41:26 PST

Mike and Andy:
  This is a bit long. Sorry. Blame LSV and VNV!
  V.N. Volosinov (Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, p. 117) asks:
  "How, in fact, is another speaker's speech received? What is the mode of existence of another's utterance in the actual, inner-speech consciousness of the recipient? How is it manipulated there, and what process of orientation will the subsequent speech of the recipient himself have undergone in regard to it?"
  That's the question for Hyosun's data. How do the kids receive the cartoon? What's the mode of existence of the cartoon in the inner-speech consciousness of the children? How do they manipulate it, and what process of orientation will it have undergone with regard to it when they do the role play?
  Volosinov is terribly interested in reported speech, for reasons that need not concern us here (though they are not irrelevant to reconstruing a cartoon as a role play). So he bangs on a bit like this:
  "What we have in the forms of reported speech is precisely the objective document of this reception. Once we have learned to decipher it, this document provides us with the information, not about accidental and mercurial subjective psychological processes in the soul of the recipient, but about steadfast social tendencies in an active reception of other speakers' speech, tendencies that have crystallized into language forms The mechanism of this process is located, not in the individual soul, but in society . It is the function of society to select and make grammatical (adapt to the grammatical structure of the language) just those factors in the active and evaluative reception of utterances that are socially vital and constant and hence that are grounded in the economic existence of the particular community of speakers."
  This sounds far-fetched, but it's simply true. When the children say that Caillou said 'left, right" (when he actually said "Look both ways") we have an objective document of how they manipulated what they heard.
  It's also true (as Andy's quote suggests) that IN GENERAL, in a given historical epoch, the way in which speech is reported reflects just those factors in the active and evaluative understanding of utterances that are key to our economic life. VNV's example is the big stone monuments of feudal ages vs. newspapers in modern life.
  The grammar reflects this too. The children say things like "Callou said 'left, right' to his Daddy" for the same reason that we say "I paid four hundred dollars to the repairman" or "Samsung Corporation owes more then ten trillion wons in back taxes to the government"; the way in which we conceive of utterances and even words is by analogy with coins.
  Even on this list, to my holy horror and heartfelt dismay, people tend to refer to the existence of something called 'symbolic capital' or 'cultural capital', a mysterious form of capital that cannot be consumed or produced and is never exchanged with labour. So the way we think about and report utterances does reflect the way we think about and exchange other forms of material culture.
  I was excited about Andy's quote because I thought it suggested ANOTHER source for the parts/wholes idea in LSV besides what Mike suggested in the seminar, which was the Gestalt psychologists. (Andy has since said that the Gestaltists had probably read Marx and certainly read Hegel.)
  Here's the idea I took as my starting point. It's from Chapter Seven of Thinking and Speech, Section Two, and it comes just after LSV has panned the Gestaltists for their inability to EXPLAIN understanding. Bit long, I'm afraid!
  "The unity of speech is a complex, not a homogeneous, unity. A number of facts in the linguistic development of the child indicate independent movement in the phonetic and the semantic spheres. We shall point out two of the most important of these facts. In mastering external speech, the child starts from one word, then connects two or three words; a little later, he advances from simple sentences to more complicated ones, and finally to coherent speech made up of series of such sentences; in other words, he proceeds from a part to the whole. In regard to meaning on the other hand, the first word of the child is a whole sentence. Semantically, the child starts from the whole, from a meaningful complex, and only later begins to master the separate semantic units, the meanings of words, and to divide his formerly undifferentiated thought into those units.
  The external and the semantic aspects of speech develop in opposite directions – one from the particular to the whole, from word to sentence, and the other from the whole to the particular, from sentence to word.This in itself suffices to show how important it is to distinguish between the vocal and the semantic aspects of speech. Since they move in reverse directions, their development does not coincide, but that does not mean that they are independent of each other. On the contrary, their difference is the first stage of a close union. In fact, our example reveals their inner relatedness as clearly as it does their distinction. A child’s thought, precisely because it is born as a dim, amorphous whole, must find expression in a single word. As his thought becomes more differentiated, the child is less apt to express it in single words but constructs a composite whole.
  Conversely, progress in speech to the differentiated whole of a sentence helps the child’s thoughts to progress from a homogeneous whole to well-defined parts. Thought and word are not cut from one pattern. In a sense, there are more differences than likenesses between them. The structure of speech does not simply mirror the structure of thought; that is why words cannot be put on by thought like a ready-made garment. Thought undergoes many changes as it turns into speech. It does not merely find expression in speech; it finds its reality and form. The semantic and the phonetic developmental processes are essentially one, precisely because of their reverse directions.
  The second, equally important fact emerges at a later period of development. Piaget demonstrated that the child uses subordinate clauses with because, although, etc., long before he grasps the structures of meaning corresponding to these syntactic forms. Grammar precedes logic. Here, too, as in our previous example, the discrepancy does not exclude union but is, in fact, necessary for union."
  One way to read this (which may be wrong) is that children UNDERSTAND from whole to parts but they EXPRESS THEMSELVES parts to whole.
  That's what Hyosun's data shows. They start with a NON-linguistic understanding of the whole story. They chunk this into scenes, and they understand each scene as a whole. They then chunk that into voices (turns of talk) which they also understand as a whole.
  Then they're stumped. Oh, they understand SOMETHING. But it's not a very linguistic something; it's still an unanalyzed whole.
  They can demonstrate their nonlinguistic understanding (more or less) by answering yes/no questions (or by multiple choice questions). They sort of know who did what to whom. They can even explain why, in Korean. But they can't say what people SAID. Not without some LINGUISTIC analysis.
  That doesn't happen until Hyosun goes BEYOND yes/no-questions and questions that are designed to test holistic comprehension. Hyosun says things like:
  T: Then who comes?
  S: Mommy.
  T: Mommy comes.
  Now the kids are starting to get the idea of agent roles. Similarly, WHAT questions focus on nouns and verbs, WHERE questions give us adverbials of place, WHEN questions give us adverbials of time, HOW questions give us adverbials of manner. "What is he doing?" gives us material process verbs, "What is he thinking?" focuses on mental processes, "What is he saying?" gives us the most difficult of all--verbal processes.
  Verbal processes are the key, because answering the question "What is he saying?" is what gives the children the actual LANGUAGE they need to RESYNTHESIZE the text as a role play.
  Now, can they use this in the role play? In other words, how do they manipulate it, and what process of orientation will the role play of the children have undergone with regard to it? That's the key question for Hyosun's data.
  How not? If Bakhtin's right, and understanding is NOTHING but the ability to formulate an adequate response to an utterance, then there should be virtually NO gap between understanding and expression.
  I FIRMLY believe that all understanding is implicitly responsive; when we understand things, REALLY understand things, we are translating what we hear into inner speech or something very like it (that's why you can read a lot faster than you can talk, although you have a distinct impression of a voice in your head when you do it).
  But of course people THINK that speaking and listening are separate "skills" (and we test and teach them that way). And the former DOES seem to lag behind the latter.
  LSV explains why: although they are one and the same form of skill/knowledge, although they fully overlap in their phonology, vocabulary, grammar and semantics, they proceed in different directions: first from whole to parts, and then from parts to whole.
  That's why the kids in Hyosun's data can't go straight from the cartoon into the role play. That's why they have to ANALYZE the non-linguistic stuff into LINGUISTIC units first. Then they can resynthesize it as expression.
  Mike asks:
     Is the example (of a transition from mostly understanding to mostly expressing)
  The child's experience of language is that nonlinguistic situations give rise to discourses. When the child goes to school, the child discovers that these discourse can be written down as texts (that's development right there).
  When the child learns a foreign language, the child must, by and large, REVERSE ENGINEER this process: the child has to start with a text, re-animate it as discourse (because that's how the kids analyze it) and then re-enact it as a situation. Double development!
  Mike asks: "Is comprehension subordinated to expression a "higher level"
>in some circumstances than others?"
  The child's initial comprehension is holistic and even nonlinguistic (because it's based on stories, scenes, voices rather than linguistic units). In this situation, the child's participation in discourse is mostly understanding and not expression. We can call this a lower level, I think; it's quite similar to the situation of the infant described in Volume Five.
  In order to take part in role play the child has to ascend to an understanding of utterances as differentiated parts (word meanings) in a single linguistic whole (the sentence). In this situation, the child's understanding (of what the other children say) is subordinated to the need for expression. For example:

  C: Go away!
  R: Open the door.
  M (S1): You make...
  S2: Rosie cry?
  C: No
  S: Seonsaengnim, geugeo malgo chaekeuro chiji malago hajanayo! (Teacher, that’s not it. Mommy says that books are not for hitting!)
  M: Books for
  S: reading not for
  M: reading not for hitting.
  Here the kids are so interested in expression that they are helping each other to understand, and expression and understanding are becoming hopelessly mixed and even obscuring the boundaries between voices. It is undoubtedly a HIGHER stage, the stage of the school child or the child at play and not the infant in the crib.
    Now let's flash forward, say, forty years.The child is a middle aged academic, pushing fifty. He wants to take part in a listserv but doesn't have enough time to read the stuff he should read (Hegel, Koffka, Cole stuff like that). He spends a lot of time posting on XMCA anyway.
  Now his voice sounds a little schoolboyish, because his comprehension appears to serve his expressionistic needs too narrowly. What was a higher stage for the elementary school children has become a lower stage for the middle-aged academic. Verily, the high shall be made low and the mountain become a valley when you don't do your homework.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

  Mike asks: "How do we we think of the example in
>terms such as
>"leading activity."

  I guess I prefer "neoformation", because I think LSV uses "leading activity" to contrast with "main activity". Also, he uses "neoformation" for some formations (e.g. autonomous speech, "negativism") which entirely disappear.

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Received on Sun Jan 20 20:43 PST 2008

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