Re: [xmca] neoformation

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Tue Jan 22 2008 - 11:23:41 PST

In the original San Diego-Helsinki discussion (back beginning of November) Olga Vasquez asks about the difference between "neoformation" and "leading activity".
  Pentti Hakarainnen doesn't REALLY answer this; but he does refer to Yrjo Engestrom's work on activity more generally, talks about the DIFFERENCES between LSV and ANL on whether activity or semiosis should be the focus of analysis, and even, at one point, suggests that the relations which constitute the social situation of development IS development (which destroys its explanatory status altogether).
  I've been worrying about this ever since. I think what I want to do is to try (in a highly tentative and hedged sort of way) to make an argument that a "neoformation" is NOT a leading activity.
  I gave two reasons before (in the Korean leg of the discussion, which you can see on the XMCA website at:
  The reasons I gave were:
  a) A "neoformation" occurs in periods of crisis as well as in noncritical periods of development. These critical neoformations (autonomous speech, negativism) disappear completely; their function is purely catalytic. The "leading activities" (manipulation of objects, play, study) given by Elkonin and Leontiev persist and do not disappear.
  b) LSV uses the term "neoformation" in a way that suggests that it has a semiotic rather than a chiefly behavioral form. In other words, neoformations tend to lie, at least in form, within people, and activities tend to be (again, formally) outside and between them.
  And I also added one:
  c) LSV uses "leading activity" to contrast with "main activity". But it's not at all clear what it is that contrasts with "neoformation".
  Lately I've been thinking of the following set of analogies:
  Listening Understanding (Lived Experience?)
  Speaking Expression (Meaning?)
  Interaction Dialogue (Anticipating and Incorporating speech by others)
  Leading activity? Neoformation?
  By way of connecting these sloppy analogies to theory on the one hand and data on the other, here's a kind of executive summary of my thoughts on that long quotation I inflicted on our poor beleaguered Mike:
  LSV says this:
  The unity of speech is a complex, not a homogeneous, unity.
  Listening and speaking are both speech processes. Viewed from within, they have a common knowledge base in grammar, vocabulary, and phonemic awareness. Viewed from without, they include the same skills: wording, word choice, and matching words with sounds.
  But although they are linked, they are also distinct. In fact, they are linked BECAUSE they are distinct; they are reversible. They depend on each other to make up complex whole, namely interaction.
  In Hyosun¡¯s t-s discussion, she depends on the listening children to complete the exchange with an answer, but they depend on her speaking to provide the grammatical framework (in the form of a yes-no or wh-question). This is a complex unity.
  Listening and speaking are also distinct because they are linked. In fact, they are distinct BECAUSE they are linked; they are mirror images of each other. The output of speaking is the input of listening and vice versa.
  Now, if this were all there were to it, then we would have to say that an exchange is a complex unity (consisting of speaking and listening), but that a lesson as a whole is a homogeneous one, because there¡¯s nothing going on except talk, talk, talk (= listening + speaking) at every phase of the lesson.
  But when we look at the lesson from the child¡¯s point of view, we see that Hyosun¡¯s lesson is a complex whole too. The t-s discussion is mostly carried out with the aim of learner understanding, and there is a lot more listening going on than speaking. But the role play is aimed at learner expression, and here we hear more learners speaking to each other than listening to the teacher.
  So, from the children¡¯s point of view, the ratio of speaking to listening and of understanding to meaning develops as the children move from teacher help to peer help to self help. When we look at Hyosun¡¯s lesson from the learner point of view, we can see that the unity is not homogeneous. Once again, it is a complex unity.
  LSV goes on to say.
  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.
  The procedures that Hyosun used for realizing the cartoon text as a role play discourse are complex and integrated. But they also take time. This time lag creates an apparent gap between listening and speaking, and its tempting to use this gap to argue that listening and speaking are separate and speaking can develop in asymmetrical discourse (in second language learning) or through a silent period (first language learning).
  Let's resist this temptation. LSV says that this time lag is NOT because listening and speaking are separate skills which can develop in isolation from each other. It is because they are linked skills which move in different directions towards different goals (in fact, towards each other!).
  LSV says there are two important facts that lead us to believe this. Let¡¯s see what the first of these two important facts might be:
  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.
  Yes, that¡¯s what we saw when we watched the children build up the one or two word responses they made in the t-s discussion to much longer, fuller, sentence like structures in the role plays. LSV goes on like this:
  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.
  This we saw when we noticed the children using non-linguistic information to digest scenes into turns, turns into utterances, and utterances into semantic roles like subject, verb, and object (in response to ¡°what¡± and ¡°why¡± and ¡°who¡±). We saw it again when we heard the teacher using wh-questions to break down the transitivity structures (the verb and its arguments) into agent, patient, time adverbials and so on.
  LSV continues:
  The external and the semantic aspects of speech develop in opposite directions &#8211; 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 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.
  So it¡¯s not just a matter of the speaking ¡°skill¡± and the listening ¡°skill¡± moving in different directions towards different goals. It¡¯s a matter of knowledge: of meaning and understanding. Expression of lived experience and comprehension of lived experience, not simply speaking and listening of words, proceed in different directions: towards each other.
  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.
  The children go from whole but undifferentiated idea of the Caillou situation to constructing a highly differentiated role play characer by character, utterance by utterance, and phrase by phrase. And when they do this as a class of speakers, they also go as a class of listeners from a non-linguistic understanding, to a break-down of the scene into voices and then a breakdown of the turns into utterances, phrases, and agent roles.
  For LSV, not only do speaking and listening form a complex whole, but speech (that is, speaking/listening) on the one hand and thinking on the other are linked but distinct.
  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.
  In the short run, of course, thinking shapes speaking in obvious ways: we think of things we want to say and then we say them (that's what it feels like, anyway). But in the long run, speaking shapes thinking: it turns the vague cloud of feelings in the child¡¯s brain into a clearly formed utterance made up of different, distinct, and mutually dependent parts. Those parts are not simply whole utterance themes. They are also abstract word meanings, and some of these abstract word meanings are scientific concepts.
  This is what Seonmi¡¯s data suggests to me, and why I think it might ALSO make a good article. We often think of LSV¡¯s distinction between znachenie and smysl as being merely equivalent to "connotation" and "denotation". We see this idea in Paulhan, and also in AAL and even in Pentti Hakarainnen's idea that play is "sense-making" rather than "meaning-making". But I think this idea is very wrong.
  LSV said there were TWO important facts about the apparent late emergence of expression. The first was that understanding and expression appear to be mirror images of each other, headed in different directions (towards each other). But what is the second?
  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."
  In Hyosun¡¯s data, we can see ¡°listening¡± and ¡°speaking¡± not as skills, but as shorthand for particular forms of knowledge that develop as a result of doing these things, namely ¡°understanding¡± and ¡°meaning¡± (perhaps a better way to put this is the way Volosinov does, that is, ¡°experience¡±, that is, the understanding of lived experience, perizhevanie, and expression, that is, the expression of lived experience, "meaning" the way Halliday uses it in "Learning How to Mean").
  This view is ESSENTIAL if we are going to correctly understand what LSV really means in his distinction between znachenie and smysl. Both of them are forms of word meaning. But one of them is the knowledge that develops as a result of a particular KIND of interaction, namely WRITTEN language, and the other is the knowledge product that develops as the result of concrete, face-to-face, contextualized SPOKEN interaction.
  Only one of these will develop into a SCIENTIFIC understanding of "because", that is, the decontextualized, written form. Only one of these will develop into a DIALECTICAL understanding of "although". I used to think that it was the same one, but you know what? Now I am really not so sure!
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Tue Jan 22 11:28 PST 2008

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