Re: [xmca] neoformation

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Tue Feb 12 2008 - 12:38:21 PST

  We disagree (again!), but we're disagreeing on a really KEY point, and sometimes that's a lot more useful than agreeing on something that's universally agreeable.
  It seems to me that we need a distinction between neoformations that are internalized and those that are externally destroyed and whose destruction brings about a new stage of development.
  Neoformations that are internalized are those that they are in some sense no longer externally mediated, that they are internally mediated by volition or even non-mediated and automatic.
  For example, when I learned to play soccer as a very small child I called it "no hands football". In order to keep from touching the ball, I would sometimes play with my hands in my pockets or hold them behind my back. But this became unnecessary when I was older, because I could simply will myself not to touch the ball. Now, when I play soccer with the physical education department majors, no willpower is necessary at all; I can lose without even thinking about my hands.
  Neorformations that are externally destroyed are those which conflict with BETTER neoformations, more ADAPTIVE neoformations, more DEVELOPMENTAL neoformations.
  Since you live in St. Paul, you probably know the KSTP radio station near Prospect Park, right across the street from Snyder's Drug Store. They have (or anyway, in the 1960s, when I was a kid, they had) a beautiful lawn, and we used to play (American style) football there.
  We had a rule that you could only play on your KNEES--you had to hike the ball, pass it, catch it, "run" with it, and tackle people without getting to your feet. At the time I don't think we really knew WHY we had this rule
  But thinking back I realize we were very different ages and it must have been a little terrifying for a three foot kid to get jumped by seven or eight kids who were four or five feet tall. The "on your knees" rule kept everybody pretty equal and made it easier for different sized kids to play the same game.
  This particular neoformation was not very adaptive; the rule got us in a LOT of trouble, because it destroyed our trousers and eventually the KSTP management called the police who told us we were destroying their lawn too. I suppose some of us (wimps and pansies and professors' kids--Prospect Park was/is near the U of M) replaced it with touch football, and others learned to play wearing armour like the real players do, and others (me) just gave the whole game up. So the neoformation completely disappeared.
  I think THAT'S what happens with so-called "autonomous" speech. Notice that LSV ALWAYS puts this term in scare quotes, because for him it's not really autonomous at all. The one year old child is REALLY trying to participate in language. The chld knows that languages have intonation and stress, and when you listen to "autonomous" speech you can hear that the child is using sounds purely as vehicles for intonation and stress. But the chld doesn't yet know about vocabulary and grammar.
  As a vehicle for intonation and stress, the child is using made up words like "poo-foo" (LSV's example). These "words" have similar properties in all languages (variation of the onset and repetition of the coda). But for that very reason they do not have lexical meaning; lexical meaning accrues from sharing sense and not from inventing it. As soon as the child discovers lexical meaning, this neoformation completely disappears.
  Well, not COMPLETELY. As Volosinov points out, it lives on in the form of expressions like "well well!" "Ah ha!" and also what we call "wiseongeo" and "witaeeo" in Korean. These are expressions like "hickory-dickory-dock" (which refers to SOUND and is therefore a "wiseongeo") and "higgledy-piggledy" (which refers to ACTION and is therefore a "witaeeo"). Volosinov's own examples are things like "so so" and "well well", which are reduplications that merely serve as vehicles for intonation.
  And of course intonation does NOT disappear--intonation and stress are actually the FIRST kind of neoformation, the kind that is positively selected for and does not die away. But intonation and stress is something that was always there, perceptually available, for the child, it's given and not created, and thus not really part of the child's neoFORMATION. "Autonomous speech" as speech completely disappears; it is not internalized, but destroyed by a superior, more adaptive neoformation, namely vocabulary and grammar (which is also realized by stress and intonation).
  I think we can make a very similar argument about "negativism" in the crisis at age three. What LSV is referring to is NOT simply negation--not the ability to say "no" which is, as you say, internalized and does not disappear. What LSV means is the tendency of the child to say "no" without any real volition, even when the child is given a choice that the child really wants to take.
  One day when Yang-yang was very little my wife and I took her to a little park near our house in Xi'an. She wanted EVERYTHING she saw, and since I like to spoil my little neice I had a great time taking her on rides and buying her "tanghulu" (sour crab apples covered with sugar). When she came out of the park she saw a guy going by on a motorcycle and asked to have one. She cried when I said no, and my wife (who grew up during the Cultural Revolution) laughed, "Comrade Yang, under the relentless waves of the reform policy and opening up to the commercial economy, has lost her revolutionary compass!"
  A year later she came to visit us in Seoul. She had completely changed. She hadn't exactly acquired a revolutionary compass, but she sure knew how to say "no". In fact, when I asked her if she wanted to go to Seoul Land (a kind of Disneyland we have in Korea) she said "no" even though she really wanted to go. I soon learned not to ask; we just told her that we were going, and then she would go along.
  Today she's very different. My wife tells her that we are going out, and she asks if she can come along. It used to be that my wife would say that she could only come along if she has done her Chinese calligraphy homework or her math for the day. Sometimes her grandmother will ask her to go for a walk, and she will say something like "I haven't done my homework yet, so I can't" or even "If I want to be a scholar like Auntie Fang (my wife) I have to do my homework and I haven't got time to waste with you". (She got a real hiding from her grandma for that!)
  I don't really know if Comrade Yang has at last found her revolutionary compass. But I think that THIS is what LSV means by internalization and Comrade Yang's "negativism" stage is clearly quite unrelated.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Tue Feb 12 12:41 PST 2008

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