Re: [xmca] Concepts as Meta-Artefacts

From: Mike Cole <lchcmike who-is-at>
Date: Sun May 11 2008 - 10:18:24 PDT

DAvid-- I went and checked at the xmca archive, but your change of subject
line has disconnected these comments from Cathrene's so I am failing to pick
up the thread.
I understand that we do not hammer nails with the meaning of hammer, but
your last line confuses me. (To hammer in a nail ("a" nail not "nails"), you
use a theme, "the hammer", and not a meaning "hammers". ).

     *Why cant I hammer nailS but can hammer a nail?
      What is the larger point here that I am missing?


On Mon, Apr 28, 2008 at 4:05 PM, David Kellogg <>

> Pardon the change of subject line, but I think that Cathrene has brought
> in a distinct change of topic, and it's (for me) quite an illuminating one.
> At first I was quite taken aback at the sudden interjection of LSV's use
> of "sense" and "meaning" from Paulhan. I think these two terms do NOT mean,
> in Vygotsky's mouth, what Paulhan meant, and they CERTAINLY don't mean what
> they meant in A.A. Leontiev's ears (that is, "sense" is nothing more than
> connotation, and "meaning" is merely dictionary denotation).
> I think they mean what Volosinov meant when he distinguished betwen
> "theme" and "meaning". Consider a word like "I" or "you" or "it" or "this"
> or "that". What do they "mean"? Well, that depends entirely on who is saying
> the word, where, and when. And even then the meaning doesn't last for very
> long. Like a grunt (or like the drunken expletive in Dostoevsky that both
> Volosinov and Vygotsky use), it is all theme and no fixed meaning.
> Now consider a word like "hammer" (thanks, Martin!). Of course, this too
> can vary; if I am pounding in nails with a rock I can call it a hammer, and
> in China in the early eighties the word "iron hammer" meant Lang Ping, the
> captain of our volleyball team, who famously slew the Americans at the Los
> Angeles Olympics. But the RATIO of invariable ("self-identical", normative)
> dictionary meaning to variable (mutable, flexible, polymorphous) contextual
> meaning is clearly much higher than with pronouns, demonstratives, and
> deictics.
> Still, "the hammer" and even "a hammer" is not yet a concept. In English,
> conceptitude is rather confusingly expressed by the plural, "hammers". This
> conveys the "meaning" (as opposed to a theme) of an abstract, hypothetical
> set of all hammers. This is a bizarre quirk of English (and not very
> consistent in English either, since we use "Man" to express the concept of
> "humans" and we go around saying things like "Marriage is a market").
> It is untrue of other languages, which treat the plural as simply
> referring to "more than one" (e.g. Korean), and it's an endless source of
> difficulty for Korean elementary school students who, with the utterance "I
> like an apple" have turned our lesson "I like apples" into a prosaic version
> of Prokofiev's "Love of Three Oranges".
> What is the difference between this abstract set of all conceivable
> hammers and a real, concrete box of hammers at the hardware store? In
> English, there is no way to express this difference at the lexical level
> (other languages, more reasonably, use the bare form of the noun for the
> concept and the plural form to express the idea of more than one concrete
> object). It has to be expressed at the thematic level, as an utterance.
> So Cathrene's comment, after all, turns out to be key: the concept of
> "hammers" is no ordinary artifact but a meta-artefact. Like any concept,
> it's a word meaning, a droplet of consciousness, a generalization which has
> been formed and shared through words.
> Yes, these words are about things. Yes, the things they are about are
> tools. But no, you can't break a walnut with the meaning of "hammers" any
> more than you can with the name hammer or Lang Ping or M.C. Hammer. As my
> dad always says, you need the right tool for the job. To hammer in a nail
> ("a" nail not "nails"), you use a theme, "the hammer", and not a meaning
> "hammers".
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
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Received on Sun May 11 10:19 PDT 2008

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