[xmca] Lantolf and Lukacs

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Mon May 19 2008 - 23:05:15 PDT

Jose David:
  There's a recent issue of TESOL Quarterly where Luke Prodromou refers to Lantolf and Thorne's view of grammar as "emerging and emergent".
  The distinction they give is really Hopper's. "Emerging" simply means that there is a finishing point in development, or at least a point where quantity passes over into quality. "Emergent" means that the phenomenon is not stable but metastable; the only thing that is constant is change itself.
  Both mean that grammar is basically epiphenomenal; the phenomena are collocations and colligations, "lexical primings", affinities between one word and another, and the grammatical rules which codify this (e.g. if a NOUN is plural it takes an "s" but if a VERB is singular and in the third person it takes an "s") are not in any sense pre-existing.
  One way to see the difference is as a matter of scale. What we call "grammar" is simply the most rigid and unflexible form of linguistic style, associated with the emerging of a national bourgeoisie bent on universal literacy.
  This kind of grammar is "emerging" rather than "emergent", because it produces a finished product which can be written down in a grammar book and taught in a classroom, where it causes the "emerging" of idiosyncratic meanings in hapless schoolchildren.
  This is "emerging" grammar is a historical truth (at least seen from the vantage point of the present). But for that reason, it's very different truth from the one Prodromou takes from Wertsch (who takes it from the last chapter of Thinking and Speech). LSV is talking about how a word in inner speech absorbs the sense of surrounding words and extends its semantic horizons almost indefinitely.
  You can see that this is well described as "emergent", both because there is no clear limit to the word's sense and because the word is no sooner thought than it is displaced by the unending stream of words.
  And you can see the problem. If the process of lexical "priming" (building affinities between words) is primary, and it is individual words that are primed in individual minds, then we have a situation where it the individual which constructs the social rather than the other way around.
  There is a lot I DISLIKE about Lukacs (his bombastic love of words like "always", "never", "only", "purely", etc., his criticism of Engels for not accepting Kant's argument in exactly Kant's terms, his thoroughly mystical and silly book on novels as modern epics). But here's something I found in "History and Class Consciousness" that I find really useful:
  "It may be the case, as Heraclitus says, that one cannot step into the same river twice; but as the eternal flux is and does not become, i.e. does not bring forth anything qualitatively new, it is only a becoming when compared with the rigid existence of individual objects. As a theory of totality eternal becomign turns out to be a theory of eternal being; behind the flowing river stands revealed an unchanging essence, even though it may express itself in the incessant transformations of the individual objects." (p. 180)
  From the point of view of the individual mind, grammar is not only only emerging (and not emergent) it is already emerged. From the point of view of the surrounding society, grammar is not only emergent, it is has not even begun to emerge. Of course, a new historical grammar will emerge from what is today merely a psychological one. But not yet. And even when it does so, it will do so only as a result of the already emerged grammars laid down by ghosts of psychological grammars past.
  There are also, as I've said before in this space, some things I don't like about Lantolf. One of them is that he associates play with private speech (and thus denies that the main motive of play is social or even that it is fun). Another is that he and Patricia Geneung put together an article based on a single learner's complaints about her Chinese language TA and called it classroom research.
  It seems to me that BOTH of these in express a (in my view misguided) prioritizing of the emergent over the emerging, and the psychological over the social. Something to think about before you decide on Penn State!
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Mon May 19 23:07 PDT 2008

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