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Re: [xmca] Vygotsky, Saussure, and Wolves with different dreams
I do indeed appreciate your push to consider concepts beyond
merely nouns, although as a speaker/thinker of academic
English, I wonder what non-noun concepts would look like and
whether there might not be some justification for putting
nouns on top of the conceptual hierarchy since they are the
most abstract and timeless (to put it in the terms of the
article, concepts rather than complexes or pseudoconcepts).
For example, to study how someone “reifies” something requires
a “someone” and a “something” and is thus much more specific
and context-bound than if one were to say that one is studying
“reification.” The person doing the latter will be much more
successful in academia than a person doing the former (this
has been my experience). (I'm being a bit cheeky here since I
am entirely sympathetic to what you describe as the static
worlds that we academics study).
I also like the time inflecting notion of English articles,
and how you try to link the English article to your desire to
capture movement and development across time. And yet I’m
struggling a bit with the notion that English articles inflect
for time. It seems that what they inflect for is the
availability of the concept (and “inflect” isn’t quite the
right word here, it really is about "indexing"). Thus, the
sentence “the apple is a delicious fruit” in some sense
presupposes a category of apple having been in existence prior
to the utterance, but not necessarily in the sense that you
seem to be suggesting – i.e., it isn't present in a narrative
chain of events, it's bigger than that [although I should note
that there is a parallel argument to this that treats Aspect
as temporality – Wolfgang Klein’s Time in Language is the best
articulation of this and I think you’d really enjoy it; and
his notion of “topic time” might be a particularly useful
notion for thinking about anaphora of definite articles].
There is an additional trouble here in that the definite
article can be used creatively to introduce or create a
concept. Imagine a story that begins: “The monk walked into
the temple and sat”. The only sense in which “the monk” was
present prior to the utterance is in the sense that she was
present in the mind of the reader as an imaginable entity (did
I say “she”? wasn’t it a “he”? Isn't the presupposable monk a
male? no?). Or imagine the sentence “the wuzziquib is a
ferocious creature”. Such a baptismal moment can create new
previously non-existent concepts - they can index objects that
didn't previously exist.
These “creative” (vs. presupposable) uses of definite articles
suggests to me 1) that they aren’t necessarily linked to
temporality and 2) this linguistic terrain is somehow vitally
linked to the development of concepts. But I am not convinced
that articles inflect for time.
What you seem to be suggesting is that grammatical categories
can contain concepts, a Whorfian notion indeed. Take, for
example, Lucy’s study of Yucatec Mayan speakers in which, Lucy
argues, the use of one language or the other (English vs.
Yucatec) leads subjects to be more or less likely to
habitually attend to the concept of “function” vs. “material”.
In Yucatec Mayan, instead of definite articles, nouns have
classifiers (e.g, in Yucatec Mayan, “a candle” is “un tzit
kib”, translatable as “one long thin wax”). Because the
grammatical category leads speakers to habitually attend to
the material properties of objects, they are more likely to
categorize objects by the material of the object rather than
by form or function (e.g. a wooden comb with handle is more
like a wooden comb without handle than it is like a plastic
comb with a handle). In contrast, English speakers are more
likely to categorize objects by function since English nouns
are organized primarily by the functions of object.
Considering this example of how grammatical categories can
entail concepts, one question that follows is: what are the
conceptual steps that are entailed by learning of the deictic
functions of the English definite and indefinite articles? I
don't think that the consequences are trivial and I do think
that they are linked somehow to the notion of the concept (as
opposed to the complex or the pseudoconcept).
As to kids’ “getting” (i.e., able to understand/use) the
deictic uses of referring expressions, Annette Karmiloff-Smith
(1979) did an interesting study regarding the development of
definite and indefinite referring expressions (which she calls
articles, and her "deictic" refers only to spatial copresence,
she uses "anaphora" to refer to what I called "discourse
deictics"). Her findings:
“Distinguishing between making reference to an object under
focus of attention and situating that object within the
general context of the setting, appears to be a problem, until
roughly 7 years, in both situations where objects are visible
and in story-telling tasks. Thus, it can be said that in many
instances under 8 year olds use definite referring expressions
when they should be using indefinite referring expressions”
(Karmiloff-Smith 1979, p. 147). I should note that as I looked
back on this article (happy to share with anyone interested),
I found that this is one of the origins of my argument for the
projection of spatial deixis onto discourse as a developmental
move. In her words:
"The point to be emphasized here is that what is initially
spatial deixis [the definite article "the" is initially used
as a spatial deictic and used primarily in conjunction with
pointing] later gets translated into the temporal dimensions
of the universe of discourse." (p. 217). A much more succinct
statement of the point I was after in my last message vis a
vis deixis and development.
As to my own “research” on the subject, last night while
shepherding my kids to bed and while they were brushing their
teeth, I asked them if they agreed that “the apple is a
delicious fruit.” Both agreed. When I asked them if it was a
problem that there was no specific apple in the room, Nicholas
(7.5) felt this was not a problem, but Sophia (4) felt that it
was a problem – she would have preferred to see an apple. But
then Nicholas said that it only would have been a problem if I
had said “the green apple is a delicious fruit.” It would seem
that there was something about the specificity of “the green
apple” that made it not feel to him like it was properly
suited to the abstract and generalizable category and that it
must refer to a specific token of the type “green apple”. It
seems like he’s got the right idea but isn’t quite there.
And finally, as I read your previous message, it sounded like
you consider the English definite and indefinite article to be
particularly important in development and I wondered what
sorts of linguistic resources you might find in other
languages (e.g. Korean) that accomplish this same work. I
suspect that this is a much more complicated question and not
one that is easily answerable, but I thought I would raise the
question again just in case you had something in mind...
>Date: Tue, 11 Aug 2009 21:34:37 -0700 (PDT)
>From: David Kellogg <email@example.com>
>Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky, Saussure, and Wolves with different
>To: Culture ActivityeXtended Mind <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>Content-Type: text/plain; charset=utf-8
>The English way of expressing the abstract universal noun as
a plural ("I like apples")Â certainly has both advantages and
>I think the main advantage is that it does draw a fairly
clear line between the indicative ("the apple")Â and the
nominative function of language ("an apple", "some apples",
"apples"). "The" is clearly, as you say,Â deictic: that is why
it is phonologically similar to "there", "then", "these",
"those", and, as you point out, "this" and "that".
>But the disadvantage is that the line between naming ("These
are apples")Â and signifying ("Apples apparently originated in
China")is quite blurry: we use the plural for BOTH â€œmore
than one appleâ€・ AND for the idealized concept â€œapplesâ€・.
>This is bizarre, to say the least; it is almost as if English
speakers were cavemen, for whom an idealized apple is just
â€œa whole lotta applesâ€・ (or, as Whitehead and Russell
might have put it, the set of all apples on earth).
>English, however, is a bizarre language in many ways; the
idealized form of the verb (the infinitive) has the
meaningless particle â€œtoâ€・. English also has a disturbing
number of consonant clusters, is promiscuously polyglot in its
lexicon, and the modal system is, to put it diplomatically,
quaint. It is hard to imagine a less likely candidate for a
world language, until we remember that French, and Latin, the
previous office holders, were probably selected for their
>Howeveever, being a relatively tolerant and very heterogenous
language community, English speakers can and do, as you point
out, use the singular noun to express a concept: we say â€œThe
apple is a delicious fruitâ€・. I would call both of these
examples forms of lexical reification: a single object is held
up as an exemplar of the abstract universal.
>Lexical reification in the form of a singular noun is (as far
as I can figure out) much more common in other languages than
the canonical English way of using the plural (â€œI like
applesâ€・). For example, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese use a
bare noun to express an idealized concept; plurals mean just
that and only that: more than one.
>In both English and non-English cases, though, we are really
only talking about one kind of concept, that is, a concept
based on an abstract, universal NOUN. Of course, not all
concepts are nouns. This is one of the biggest problems with
Chapter Five and the Vygotsky-Sakharov blocks test.
>Vygotsky chooses â€œbecauseâ€・ and â€œalthoughâ€・ as his
examples of concepts in Chapter Six. This makes it much easier
to separate the concept from its nounly garment and see the
kind of movement of thinking that produces the concept behind
the reification of the thought as an ENTITY:
>RELATOR: Apples contain fructose. Therefore, they are sweet.
Apples are tasty. However, they are expensive. (conjunct)
>CIRCUMSTANCE: Apples are sweet because they contain fructose.
Apples are expensive, although they are tasty.(conjunction)
>PROCESS: Fructose causes the sweetness of the apple. The
taste of apples contrasts with their expense. (verb)
>QUALIFIER: The resultant sweetness of the apple, the
unfortunate price of apples (adjective)
>ENTITY: The cause of the appleâ€™s sweetness, the shortcoming
of the apple (noun)
>Itâ€™s not so easy to do this with â€œlagâ€・, â€œmurâ€・,
â€œcevâ€・ and â€œbikâ€・; the archetypical syncretism is a
heap, the archetypical complex is a group of objects that have
something in common, and the archetypical concept is
inevitably something of an idealized noun, so in the Vygotsky
blocks test we really only get the concept as qualifier or
entity (e.g. â€œthe mur groupâ€・ or â€œI thought mur would
have five faces, but this one has sixâ€・). So Paula and
Carolâ€™s kids are thinking in terms of qualifiers and
entities rather than in terms of relators, circumstances, or
>It seems to me that (roughly) since the time of Galileo and
Newton we have had the tendency to express concepts as
qualifiers and especially entities. Again, this has many
advantages; it makes it easy for people to write sentences
that look like mathematical equations, and it also makes it
easier to classify and define concepts. But again, it has some
disadvantages; it leaves us a rather static, object-filled
world in which it is rather hard to describe DEVELOPMENT,
because nouns do not inflect for time.
>Articles do, though! Take a look at this:
>Once upon a time there was a mountain.
>On the mountain was a temple.
>In the temple was a monk.
>The monk was telling a story.
>You can see that â€œaâ€・ is used for NEW information, and
â€œtheâ€・ for old information. This is also reflected
(indexically) in the intonation; we STRESS the new information
(a MOUNtain) but not the old.
>I suppose this use of articles is discursive in this example,
but I think what is being expressed here is the arrow of time.
It seems to me that this alternation of indefinite and
definite articles to express the arrow of time occurs in all
the contexts you mention: physical, inner state (not inner
speech but the externalization of inner states using mental
process verbs like â€œlikeâ€・), discursive, and social.
>Do children â€œgetâ€・ this time sense of articles later than
the physical copresence sense? I think it depends what we mean
by â€œgetâ€・. If we mean they are metalinguistically
conscious of it, I think we can probably say that they will
never get it; I have never actually met a linguist who sees
this as a form of time inflection, much less a child. But if
we mean that they understand it, I think they get it very
>Seoul National University of Education
>--- On Tue, 8/11/09, Gregory Allan Thompson
>From: Gregory Allan Thompson <email@example.com>
>Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky, Saussure, and Wolves with
>Date: Tuesday, August 11, 2009, 11:07 AM
>Two questions come to mind with regard to your post:
>First, you say that English articles appear to you to be very
>important in â€œgettingâ€・ concepts. What types of linguistic
>resources are available in other languages (esp. Korean) for
>doing the same?
>Second, and relatedly, I wonder if you could further delineate
>the sort of indexicality (or deixis) that you are referring to
>with regard to the English article (or an article, or
>articles). As you point out in your example, the difference
>between using â€œan appleâ€・ vs. â€œthe appleâ€・ depends on the
>context of usage and whether or not there is an apple
>co-present to the speakers (although there are some exceptions
>â€“ see the third example below in which co-presence is not a
>physical co-presence but a â€œpsychologicalâ€・ one, and
>have the â€œconceptâ€・). But there are various realms onto which
>such indexicals (deictics) can be functionally projected --
>including physical contexts, discursive contexts, inner-state
>contexts, and social contexts. Here I focus on the first two
>of these (although my work focuses on the second two).
>As a possible answer to these questions, I offer the following
>taxonomy (I should note that this is not a rigorously
>developed taxonomy but rather is intended as a prod to think
>about the question).
>As an important aside (and speaking to the question of
>languages without articles), I include other deictics here
>like â€œhereâ€・, â€œthisâ€・, and â€œnowâ€・ (and Hegel fans
>that these were important for Hegel) in addition to articles,
>so that there is a â€œhereâ€・ where I am physically, but also a
>â€œhereâ€・ where I am discursively â€“ as in my previous
â€œwhat I am
>proposing here isâ€¦â€・. The critical feature of the English
>article is itâ€™s deictic/indexical function. Although the
>argument below may come through more cleanly if we were to
>trace the developmental trajectory of one of these deictics
>(e.g., "here"), I'll try to limit my discussion here to the
>English articles and their deictic/indexical functions.
>Taking the definite article, first there is â€œthe apple that is
>on the tableâ€・ (and you'll note that Iâ€™m assuming (or maybe
>creating?) a context here). I call this a physical-situational
>deictic because it indexes the physical context of the
>utterance. Second, there is â€œthe idea I am proposing here
>isâ€¦â€・, which I would call a discourse deictic because it
>indexes the previous discursive context of the utterance. And
>then there is a third more complicated form which gets most
>closely to the notion of the concept as it is being discussed
>here, â€œthe apple is a delicious fruitâ€・ (and one could
>what age are children able to a) understand such an utterance
>without looking around for â€œthe appleâ€・ that is being
>referenced and b) produce utterances like this in which they
>take categories as objects? Iâ€™ll have to ask Nicholas (7) and
>Sophia (4) tonight, although Naomi (1) won't have much to
>say). I would call this last one a metasemantically reflexive
>deictic because it indexes the category itself (Jakobson has a
>term for this that might be less of a mouthful but his
>framework is eluding me right now).
>This brief taxonomy is relevant to development of
>language/concepts because the child first gets the
>physical-situational deictic (â€œthe apple is on the tableâ€・).
>Then, later on in development, the child gets the discursive
>deictic and is able to use deictics with reference to discourse.
>The essential developmental move then is first to be able to
>understand the physical-situational deictic, which of course
>presupposes an understanding of word meaning (which itself
>develops from indexical to symbolic). Then, the key step to
>get into the world of conceptual thought is to be able to
>project this physical-situational form of deictic reference
>onto discourse itself such that language can be taken as an
>object. The connection with Vygotsky here is, of course, with
>his â€œdogâ€・ with the little horns. I had some students in
>psy class this summer run some simple experiments testing
>metalinguistic awareness with kids. Whether or not the kids
>(i.e., subjects) could â€œget itâ€・ (e.g., to know that you
>buy a candy bar with the word â€œdollarâ€・) depended on their
>ability to talk about or objectify language â€“ and this is
>somewhat obvious in that the experiment hinges on the word
>â€œwordâ€・ â€“ do kids understand what is meant by the word
>that is included in the question that the children are asked?
>I assume that once the child is able to use referential
>deictics, then they will be able to understand and produce
>utterances such as â€œthe apple is a delicious fruitâ€・, i.e. to
>â€œgetâ€・ the concept. To take a step back from the strong
>argument here about discourse deictics, Iâ€™m not so certain
>that proficient use of this form of language will be
>necessary, but I think that the some form of the general
>process that is described here is necessary â€“ of shifting from
>language used to index immediate physical co-present context
>and to language used to index discourse itself.
>But that may be a rather obvious point that bears little fruit...
>>Date: Mon, 10 Aug 2009 16:54:39 -0700 (PDT)
>>From: David Kellogg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>>Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky, Saussure, and Wolves with
>>Â Â Â dreams
>>To: email@example.com, Culture ActivityeXtended Mind
>>Â Â Â <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>>Content-Type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1
>>Oh, I wouldn't presume. But to me it is part of a jagged line
>which connects ostension, indication through gesture, naming,
>and signifying...and the English article system.
>>Of course Vygotsky probably never read Peirce. But to me that
>is of no consequence; I see internalÂ dependencies on the one
>hand (that is, common logic) and external common references on
>the other (e.g. the common reference to Hegel; I am sure that
>someday Vygotsky's copy of the "Logic" will be discovered and
>even Andy will be satisfied here).
>>Ostension is, as Greg says,is virtually iconic, in the
>Peircean sense; it's object-related meaning right there in
>your hand. Gesture involves what Toolan calls an analytical
>question: what of all the possible things in the line of the
>gesture is the speaker indicating? In Peircean terms, it's
>indexical, a form of secondness.Â Nomination is a form of
>thirdness; it involves interpretation. But once named, the
>name becomes an object, and we can start all over again.
>>What Paula and Carol are really interested in
>understandingÂ is signifying; that is, reference to idealized
>objects (complexes) and ultimately to objectified ideas
>(concepts). But they want to understand signifying
>GENETICALLY, as it arises from ostension, indication, and
>naming things that are present and not present, near and far,
>existent and non existent, in other words, signifying.
>>I think signifying can be explained in Peircean terms too.
>When, in Chapter Seven, Vygotsky explicitly links the rise of
>the concept to the transition from indicating to naming to
>signifying, he is essentially following a path well trod by
>Peirce, and whether he knows that he is not the first or
>whether he knows that the footprints he finds on the trail are
>those of Peirce are equally immaterial.
>>To your example. When you set out for the farmer's market,
>your idea of the apple you want to buy is not object related.
>It's a symbol, not an icon, nor yet an index. You have in mind
>not this apple nor that apple nor even these apples or those
>apples, but some idealized apples. You signify that apple,
>because you can neither grasp nor point to it.
>>When you arrive at the farmer's market, you point indexically
>to the objects you want. The farmer, if he is in the mood for
>ostension, will grasp one for you to examine. You reach for
>it, and rise to the concrete; it becomes for you an icon.
>>That idea of the apple in your head (as opposed to the
>experienceÂ of the apple in your hand or your moth)Â is only
>partly based onÂ the ghosts of yourÂ various object-related
>experiences in the pastÂ with apples. It is also based on the
>sum total of your culture's object-related experience withs
>apples. All this bears fruit, in conceptual form, in the word
>meaning "apples". When you look at "an apple" it becomes an
>example of a concept, and when you eat "the apple" you have
>absorbed it not only ideally but also materially, down to the
>>I think Paula and Carol's big contribution to my own
>understanding of this example has to do with the way they
>tackle the extremely muddy section of Chapter Five that deals
>with potential concepts. For a complex to become a potential
>concept, two things and not one are required.
>>First of all, we have to have abstraction and generalization.
>But abstraction and generalization are simply two modes of
>moving along the lines of longitude on that Chapter Six
>measure of generality which runs from object relatedness to
>>Secondly, we have to have a system and a hierarchy. System
>and hierarchy are what distingish science concepts from
>everyday ones, butÂ (nay, so)Â they are also present in much
>attentuated formÂ (e.g. the English article system) in
>>T: Do you like apples? (general concept)
>>(T takes an apple out.) (example)
>>Ss: Yaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!! Apple! (example)
>>(In Korean, the general concept AND the example are expressed
>by the bare singular of the noun. As far as I know this is
>also true of Russian, which similarly lacks an article system).
>>T: Yes, this is an apple. Now, is this apple MY apple or YOUR
>apple? (object related)
>>Ss: Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!
>>T: Maybe! The apple is the WINNER'S apple. Now, let's play!
>>Here too there is a rise to the concrete, although this is
>not exactly what Davydov had in mind!
>>Seoul National University of Education
>The Department of Comparative Human Development
>The University of Chicago
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