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Re: [xmca] Leontiev and Sign
I've had a long familiarity with Silverstein's work. Two of my best
friends were his doctoral students many years ago, and his work has
interesting parallels to my own, though we've never really had a
Silverstein was a pioneer in bringing linguistics and anthropology
together, sort of the next generation after Dell Hymes. But he was not
so ethnographically oriented (as Dell's own students were, e.g.
Michelle Fine, Judith Irvine, Elinor Ochs et al.), and was more of a
theoretician, trying to compete with the Chomskyans, setting a
functionalist paradigm against the formalism dominant in linguistics.
He was a student of Roman Jakobson at Harvard, and he must have
encountered Voloshinov and probably Vygotsky, if not then, later.
What he has mainly tried to do is to show how the reflexive capacities
of language for talking about talk, and for talk as a form as action
(cf. Austin), help us understand how it becomes a powerful tool for
social action and a bridge between culture in the macro-social sense
and semiotic action in the micro-social sense. From Jakobson he took
the key linguistic idea of "shifters", more formally called
indexicals, and broadened its application to understand how what we
say always both says something about us and at the same time helps
remake ourselves and the situation we are talking about into what it
then is (or is for us).
Silverstein is not easy to summarize, and he is even harder to read,
and hardest of all to understand when he presents orally
(hyperfluent). Unfortunately for some reason he never wrote a magnum
opus (or hasn't yet), so his ideas are scattered among many papers,
each one quite brilliant in itself.
I think Stanton Wortham, one of his former students, reads xmca and
might give a better overview.
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
On Oct 5, 2009, at 3:32 PM, Tony Whitson wrote:
The questions L is asking make me think of the linguistic
anthropologist Michael Silverstein. (Anybody here have views of his
work?) A relevant collection, including some Silverstein, but also
Wertsch, Holzman, and others is SOCIAL AND FUNCTIONAL APROACHES TO
LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT, edited by Maya Hickmann, Academic Press 1987.
There's only one Leontyev ref in the index, which is in a string of
citations incl. Vygotsky, Luria, Leontyev, Scribner & Cole, LCHC
1981, and Wertsch. That appears in a chapter by Elinor Ochs, with
whom, if I'm not mistaken, David Kirshner has had some acquaintance.
L's conjecture (below) seems harmonious with Peirce, it seems to me,
except that Peirce would start not with perception, but with
"feeling," which we can't really know directly because it is
eclipsed by any thinking about it. But Peirce was very much
concerned with how more advanced signs spring from and depend on
such things as feeling and perception. Again, though, the caution
that he wrote as a logician, not as a psychologist or linguist.
On Mon, 5 Oct 2009, Achilles Delari Junior wrote:
In his letter to Vigotski, A. N. Leontiev wrote about a number of
that he understood "fundamental". The fifth one touch the problem
He said, for instance that "my intuition here is that the sign is
I think that is very important to recognize that Vygotsky's theory
an activity theory, but is there some study that searchs Leontiev's
to "semiotic mediation" theory?
"5. In addition to these it is essential to work out theoretical
directly guiding specific research.
It seems to me that among them belong: (a) The problem of
S[ystems]: “possible” (i.e., something like quantum)
relations and “possible” functions of functions (after all a system
is not a
spring salad, but something presupposing only the possible, i.e.,
combinations); (b) Determination of i[nter]f[unctional] relations
under which they arise, the process of their birth, factors (=
here an experiment in their artificial formation is necessary,
that is, a “dynamic argument” is needed, an experiment along the
“ingrowth”). Here, it is necessary to think through the place, the
the sign; my belief, or more precisely, my intuition here is that
is the key! Roughly speaking, the first operations with quantities
perception, further, the f[unctional] s[ystem] of perception, an
intell[ectual] operation. What has transformed the perc[eption] of
this simple operation, into a higher intell[ectual] function? The
inclusion of a unique sign—the concept of numbers, that is, the
medium of intell[ect] (thought!). If this concept is real, then
operations with quantities using it specifically, is also included
syst[em] of conceptual thought. This is all very crude and the
has not turned out successfully (it seems—there is no time to
(c) The problem “intellect–will,” that is, the problem (figuring
problem!) of intention (this is already a given!); and (d)
personality as a
syst[em] expressed in concr[ete] problems, that is, how it is
(LEONTIEV, 2005, pp. 74-75)
Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, vol. 43, no. 3,
May–June 2005, pp. 70–77.
© 2005 M.E. Sharpe, Inc.
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