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Re: [xmca] Vygotsky and Saussure
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- Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky and Saussure
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- Date: Thu, 30 Jul 2009 00:04:47 +1000
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I would just caution, Martin, on defining the "social
situation" as if it were a kind of environment or social
I see it as a set of relations between the child and others
hinged on meeting the child's needs through the child's own
activity and the expectations of the others.
Martin Packer wrote:
Can we agree then on something like this: the affordances/constraints of
the young child's social situation (especially relations and
interactions with significant others) contain sufficient
organization/information to able the child to acquire language on all
levels - acoustic (syllables not phonemes, following Vygotsky), lexical
(following Vygotsky, and also recent work by Eve Clark on how
child-directed adult speech provides information about conventional
word-meaning), and grammatical (following Bruner) - without needing to
appeal to innate capacities (such as the LAD)? (Though obviously since
chimps can't do it, something biological is necessary.)
On Jul 25, 2009, at 3:25 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
Yes, definitely! If you read pp. 49-50 in the Minick translation of
Thinking and Speech, we get Vygotsky's remarks on Saussure's phonology
in pure form. Of course, he rejects (again and again) the Saussurean
view of semantics; it's nothing but associationism. But since he
rejects associationism on the basis of its arbitrariness, its lack of
an intelligent link, and its lack of system, he has to reject
Saussurean phonemes too, no?
No! As you say, there are two points here for Vygotsky to appropriate.
The first is that the phoneme is part of a gestalt, specifically, a
contrast with some other word (e.g. "back" and "bag"). But the second
is that that gestalt is defined by MEANING and not by sound.
Here is where Vygosky really parts company, not only with Saussure and
structuralism but also with Gestaltism. For Saussure, the relationship
between phoneme and meaning is entirely arbitrary; but for Vygotsky it
is fully determined by the social situation of development.
For Gestaltism, the structural relationship is not unique to language;
it's shared with perception. But for Vygotsky the consciousness that
is created by thought is never reducible to the consciousness that is
created by perception.
The question I have is what Saussure would have made of all this.
Saussure was actually quite skeptical about his own system; he had
good reason to instruct his wife and students not to publish any of
his work. And as the article Mike sent around (on the Mandelshtam
poem) makes clear, he had big big problems with precisely the concepts
at issue: the arbitrariness and linearity of language.
Notice that Vygotsky doesn't really use the word "phonetic" very much.
The word which is usually translated as "phonetic" is actually
"phasal". But in the example Vygotsky gives about the psychological
vs. grammatical predicate/subject, where he talks about
psychological/grammatical gender, and number, and even tense, it is
very clear that for Vygotsky ALL the linear aspects of language, the
aspects which (unlike thought) include TIME in their compositionality,
are to be considered "phasal", not just phonetics.
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Fri, 7/24/09, Martin Packer <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Martin Packer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Intensions in context and speech complexity ; From
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
Date: Friday, July 24, 2009, 8:03 AM
On Jul 23, 2009, at 2:46 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
I think Vygotsky actually finds the single kernel of truth in
Saussure's course when he argues that a science of phonetics needs to
be founded on MEANING MAKING and not on the physical description of
noises people make with their mouths. However, his ability to find
this kernel in a mountain of structuralist chaff should not deceive
you; he is no uncritical consumer of Saussureanism.
Coincidentally I was reading yesterday the section in Problems of
Child Psychology (vol 5 of the Collected Works) where Vygotsky again
makes this point. It is evidently Saussurian linguistics that V is
enthusiastic about: he refers to it as phonology and contrasts it with
an older phonetics which focused solely on articulatory definitions.
Phonology has the advantage of seeing the sounds of language as a
system, and so the child never learns a single sound in isolation but
always one sound against the background of the others. V points out
that this is a basic law of perception: figure/ground, and also that
the ground in the case of oral language is provided by the speech of
adults (so the 'ideal' endpoint of development is present and
available from the start, as emphasized in the passage that Lois
quoted a few days ago).
V is critical once again of analyses that divide a phenomenon into
elements and in doing so lose the properties of the whole. Phonology,
he says, has the advantage that in studying the sounds of a language
as a system it doesn't divide it into separate elements, nor does it
lose the central property of language, namely that it has meaning. V
adds that sounds always have meaning: "the phoneme," he writes "is not
just a sound, it is a sound that has meaning, a sound that has not
lost meaning, a certain unit that has a primary property to a minimal
degree, which belongs to speech as a whole" (271).
V's analysis makes a good deal of sense to me. But my own limited
knowledge of Saussure - guided in part by Roy Harris' writing - has
indeed included the dogma that the sound level of language carries no
meaning. You are saying, I think, that V has a reasonable reading of
Saussure, if not the canonical one. Can you say more about this way of
reading Saussure? V seems to be suggesting that the child does not
learn first sounds, then words, but always acquires the sounds of
language in the context of the use of words in communicative settings,
and this has the consequece that the sounds would be aquired as
aspects of a meaningful unit. Am I on the right track here?
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Martin Packer, Ph.D.
Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA 15282
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Andy Blunden (Erythrós Press and Media)
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