[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [xmca] Kindergarten Cram: When is play?

I have been trying hard to unscramble the different lines of discussion
entangled in the last week of discussion. I did not help at all by
responding to Valerie before trying to get ahold of all she was responding

A general comment separately, here a reply to david's note below.

Thanks for the extra context, david. It helps a lot to understand what you
were working with and against. I'll insert some comments where I have the
illusion that I might have something useful to offer.

On Sat, May 9, 2009 at 1:16 AM, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com>wrote:

> Mike:
> I'm really not expressing my own views on this stuff at all; I'm trying to
> make sense of what Vygotsky writes about writing in Section Four of Chapter
> Six; for those of you who do not have access; it's EXACTLY the section of
> Chapter Six of Thinking and Speech which Andy has up on the Vygotsky
> Internet Archive at:
> http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/words/vygotsk1.htm
> The problem that Vygotsky's addressing in 6.3 is pure Vygotsky: it seems
> like a no-brainer, until you start to think about it, and then you find that
> you really haven't got a clue.
> WHY is written language such tough stuff for kids?
> For a terrifying moment, all you can think of is reasons why SPOKEN
> language should be tougher (and after all, it generally IS when you learn a
> foreign language). For example, there are WAY more phonemes than graphemes.
> The stuff of spoken language won't stay put while you look it up. It doesn't
> help to look stuff up anyway because the spoken language is absurdly
> polysemic and context bound.
> Until the 1960s, the one POSSIBLE clue we had was that the GRAMMAR of
> spoken language seems pretty straightforward. And then some idiot invented a
> tape recorder that even academics could afford, and the next thing we knew
> we were analyzing things like this:
> "But you can’t get the whole set done all at once because if you do you
> won’t have any left to use at home unless you just took the lids in and kept
> the boxes, in which case you wouldn’t have to have had everything unpacked
> first, but then you couldn’t be sure the designs would match so…” (Halliday,
> 1984: Introduction to Functional Gramamr, first edition, p. xxiv)
> Now, Vygotsky gives us three good answers, and they all have to do with
> abstraction: the sound is abstracted away, the interlocutor is abstracted
> away, and the microgenetic reason to speak (the initiate, to use discourse
> analytic terminology) is abstracted away.

I am not certain about the use of abstraction in this summary, David, but
summary is helpful. What I have focused on most in my own thinking is the
latter two reasons. Vai literates who have written letters are better at
orally describing a simple board game to an absent recipient of their
instructions in ways that Scribner and I linked to the absence of
interlocutor in the setting and their practice at dealing with the attendant
need for fuller description that takes account of this circumstance. I find
many versions of this in college student writing. Either the student can't
imagine an audience for what they are wriring or they imagine an omnicient
audience that renders the source of the writing a known answer question.

Even language learning toddlers display the problem of "the initiate" to use
your term in oral speech. This shows up in cases where children are
asked to repeate a sentence that they made on a prior occasion and fail,
reverting to gramatically incorrect, simplified versions of prior
The gap between using language to fulfill a current goal and to fufill the
goal of repeating what one has said in another context is made even more
difficult when there is a switch to written language.

You (LSV) may well be right on the first reason, although the influence of
the absence of sound has counterbalancing plus sides, like the presence
of the written word on the paper as an anchor.

In all these cases, there is an absence of situated support of some kind.
Whether this equals abstraction or not is what bothered me, and, from what
follows, is of concern to you as well.

> But in Vygotsky abstraction really is not a simple process: it's complex,
> and it's complex precisely because, as Mike says, it is in the final
> analysis (but only in the FINAL final analysis) always concrete.
> For example, the polysemy that we see in spoken language (the multiple
> meaning of words like "I", "you", "this", "that" and also words like "free"
> as opposed to "liberty") is a form of GENERALIZATION from the concrete, a
> decontextualizing blurring of distinctions.
> Abstraction is really the REVERSE process, a kind of sharpening rather
> than blurring of distinctions, and then a RECONTEXTUALIZATION, which I am
> not sure, but I think, is what Davydov calls ASCENT to the concrete.
> MIKE SAYS: "Is this reformulatable, David? Sure you do not mean that
> written words on
> pages are not sensuous, are not material and are purely ideal?"
> DAVID SAYS: Nothing nonsensuous is human to me. But there is an important
> sense in which my own external speech is more material and less ideal (even
> to me) than my own inner speech. That's the sense in which spoken language
> is more material and less ideal than written.
> Written language doesn't come with intonation and stress. It also doesn't
> come with facial expression and gesture. Finally, it doesn't come packaged
> in turns which can be interpreted, OCULARLY and AURALLY, through the
> interpretation of intonation, stress, facial expression and gesture, as
> requests or commands or questions or statements.
> MIKE SAYS: And the "sense" able aspect of words may be reduced, meaning
> being the most stable aspect of sense, but absent entirely?
> DAVID SAYS: No, you are right there. No, znachenie without smysl. Only
> smysl provides the cultural and historical environment in which
> znachenie emerges. But having emerged, znachenie becomes a tool for the
> elucidation and reconstruction of smysl, and virtually all of my smysls are
> constructed of znachenie.
> However, what we just said is really just a paraphrase of what LSV is
> saying about written language. The vast majority of human languages are
> spoken but not written; written language is a tiny fraction of language use
> even in languages that have scripts, whereas I don't think there has ever
> been a natural human language which was written but not spoken, at least in
> the beginning. Having emerged, however, written language completely
> transforms the way we talk and even the way we think.
> One way to read Chapter Two of Thinking and Speech is to say that for
> Vygotsky (and NOT for Piaget) so-called "egocentric speech", and then verbal
> thinking, inner speech, private speech, is literature for
> illiterates, abstract word meanings for the thinking analphabet, and emotion
> reflected in tranquility for the supposedly unreflective savage. That's why
> I think Piaget is ethnocentric and Vygotsky is very profoundly
> centro-ethnic.

Gotta think about this analogy. It relates to the issue of voluntary and of

> MIKE SAYS: And there is NO, however indirect and ephemeral "request to
> respond"? If all
> of this were pushed too far, I could make neither sense nor meaning of what
> you wrote and would not be answering.
> DAVID SAYS: No, you are right there too. I did a nice study on kids reading
> aloud using Wolff-Michael's "Praat" software to study intonation curves.
> Here was the text they used, written by a fourth grader:
> I want play alway
> Because I don't have play time.
> Why I don't have play time?
> Because School is over 3'o clock and I go to school (i.e. cram school) at
> 3' o clock and over is half past six.
> therefore I dno't have play time.
> But I'm not exasperating.
> Why? because that time I study.
> Then I increase ability.
> I play on Saturday.
> It even got published:
> http://d.wanfangdata.com.cn/NSTLQK_NSTL_QK13234206.aspx
> (Free pdfs available on request, as always!)
> My question was at what point the kids know that "Why?" has to be UPWARDLY
> intoned, because it's an imaginary response to an imaginary interlocutor.
> The answer is...very late (adulthood, in fact). The native speaking child
> voice actors we hire to do the tapes for the Elementary English textbook,
> for example, do NOT know this.
> What all this means is that your ability to communicate with me on xmca is
> late emerging, Mike. It requires considerable use of imagination on your
> part. Kids don't seem to be able to do it, and Vygotsky is really quite
> right to ask why.
> MIKE SAYS: No written language, no volition?
> DAVID SAYS: LSV has a kind of strange mode of argumentation by analogy
> here. Have a look:
> **
> "The substance is in the fact that the child knows how to decline and how
> to conjugate long before the child goes to school. Long before primary
> school the child has practically mastered the whole of the grammar of the
> mother tongue. He declines and conjugates but he does not know that he
> declines and conjugates. This activity is assimilated by him on a purely
> structural plane, just as was the case with the phonetic composition of
> sounds. If in the course of a particular experiment we ask the child in the
> first period of schooling to pronounce a given combination of sounds, for
> example “sk”, he will not be able to do it because such a voluntary
> articulation is difficult for hm, but in the word “Moskva” (Moscow) he
> pronounces the same sounds involuntarily and easily. In the interior of a
> determined structure these sounds appear by themselves in child language.
> Outside of this, these same sounds are not available to the child. In this
> way, the baby pronounces a particular sound but cannot pronounce it
> voluntarily. This is a central fact regarding all the other verbal
> operations of the child. It is a fundamental fact that strikes us on the
> threshold of the school age."
> Vygotsky has two logical leaps here that are a little hard to follow. At
> the beginning of the paragraph he argues that what the child gains from
> grammatical instruction is conscious awareness of his own syntactic
> processing. He then draws an analogy with phonetic processing. This analogy
> contains TWO assumptions.
> First of all, the analogy assumes that phonetic processing is really a
> special case of morphological processing, just as morphological processing
> is a special case of syntactic processing. Halliday would disagree with
> this; for Halliday, the line of arbitrariness divides phonetic processing
> from morpho-syntactic.
> To me it makes much more sense, because I don’t believe that
> morpho-syntactic processing is entirely driven by functional considerations
> and I don’t believe that phonetic processing is entirely arbitrary. So on
> the one hand. I think there is no particular reason why the English uses
> tense to talk about time, and on the other I think there are very good
> reasons why baby babble is incorporated into nursery rhymes and counting
> songs and even scat singing.
> The second logical leap is that consciousness of a particular linguistic
> process (e.g. declining nouns and conjugating verbs) is equivalent to
> volitional control of it. It is easy to think of examples where this is not
> true: I can be acutely conscious of hunger or of having to go to the toilet
> but quite unable to control it. Yet this very example suggests that there is
> more than a germ of truth in what Vygotsky is saying, even in the case of
> purely physiological processes, and in the case of the higher psychological
> processes it seems to me that Vygotsky is once again on very firm ground. To
> know a word meaning is to have volitional control over it; as Bakhtin says,
> understanding is really nothing more than the ability to at least
> potentially make an appropriate response in kind.
> The connection between volitional control of linguistic segments and
> writing is easy to demonstrated. For example, there are many writing systems
> which do not include phonemic analysis (e.g. Chinese). Adult Chinese people
> find it very difficult to make volitional combinations of well known
> phonemes, so for example, my mother in law, when she was here, simply could
> not say the word "kimchi" even though all of the phonemes in the word occur
> in Chinese. She kept saying "pichi", because for her the smallest available
> unit is the whole syllable (we made her eat piles of the stuff anyway, and
> she lost nearly fourteen pounds, poor thing).
Conscious and voluntary are all twisted up here with properties of spoken
and written language. This entire message is material for a full semester of
a class, not an email!

> MIKE SAYS: We only respond to the "immediate environment" (what is a
> non-mediated
> experience of the environment for an enculturated person?). If "in the
> beginning is the act," why such a sharp divide here between orgal face to
> face and written xmca discourse??
> DAVID SAYS: Oh, only because kids are very orgal face to face. They aren't
> yet enculturated into xmca.

Thats OLD fingers, not COLD fingers, David. The combination of being a lousy
typist and lousy speller sometimes saves me in written, but
not orgal situations. :-)

thanks for your patience.

> Perhaps I am not either; I have never met you in the flesh, and it's
> something I rather regret, even if you do have cold fingers.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
xmca mailing list