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

RE: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns: conversation

Ooooh, great connections are popping up!  I love seeing private speech
from these other perspectives!

The following points respond to comments made by Andy, Paula, and Eric.

1) Andy, your comments are very insightful. Thank you for sharing them.

First, let me correct a fallacy--it's *not* true that you've never analyzed
conversation in your life. You've been doing it since childhood! And
obviously very well!  It's just that all of your analyses have been done
*implicitly*. The struggle here is to make them all *explicit* (which, by
way, always renders them unrecognizable at first).

You are very perceptive to realize that the issue of establishing the unit
is not just a matter of creating rules for dividing up the data, but of
conceptualizing the unit. Thus, one must shuttle between Vygotsky's
concept of word meaning (which I claim is unfinished) and the practical
challenges presented by an actual stream of speech. Here is how I, as
a researcher, experience that conundrum:

On the one hand, the utterance unit is manipulable. Consider an analogy
between the utterance unit and the role of a microscope in biology. The
microscope provides a framework for viewing a cluster of cells--with the
proper magnification and with the proper focus, the biologist can see the
cells, their contents, their structure, and watch the functions that are
within them. But the microscope does not *create* these properties, it only
enables the biologist to see them. Similarly, the utterance unit does not
create linguistic structures, nor functions or their contents--but it does
them into focus.

On the other hand, speakers are the producers of an utterance. Speakers
emit utterances in time and place, and shape their linguistic contents and
functions in accordance with their communicative intentions. From this
perspective, the utterance is Ground Zero—the very substance of speech

So we must approach the problem from both a practical and a conceptual
perspective, and find a way to make them coincide. For Bakhtin, utterance
unit boundaries can be concretely identified by turn-taking. For Vygotsky,
word meaning is the irreducible unit of analysis, beneath which the
integration of word and meaning ceases to exist. If conversation is,
that irreducible functional unit, then what is the smallest concrete form
conversation can take? It cannot be defined as a turn at talk, for some
can be quite extensive, such as a monologue consisting of multiple
But if an individual utterance is defined in terms of a single word (at
or a single sentence (at maximum), and these linguistic structures are
to have the functional properties of conversation (i.e., they participate
in an
initiation-response structure with other utterance units or practical
then this unit would meet both the practical and conceptual criteria we
been discussing.

Of course, this does not address all of the problems associated with the
analysis of private speech utterances, for there is still the knotty
problem of
*who is conversing with whom*! But that moves the problem down a different
path, which is a whole other topic.

2) Paula, the private speech you describe is the exact same private speech
that I and others have observed even in situations where children are not
instructed to think aloud. In my own research, prior to putting children
into the
experimental situation, I have tested their verbal IQ using the WISC-R or
other standardized IQ test, and with some of the tasks (like placing
pegs in holes) the private speech just comes flowing out!  For example:
"Red one goes here, and the blue one there...." The more cryptic,
private speech—the kind Piaget referred to as "incomprehensible"—tends to
be the kind produced by older children (i.e., 6- to 8-year-olds),
especially during
challenging problem-solving activities.

You are right to question the impact that the presence of another person in
testing situation has upon a child's private speech. Numerous studies have
shown how sensitive the phenomenon is to conditions. But that doesn’t mean
that the expanded private speech you observed was designed for a listener’s
benefit. There is a “no man’s land” between speaking to others and speaking
to oneself. For example, Mead raised the possibility that speech can be
toward a “generalized other”, which is neither a concrete person present in
room, nor oneself.

3) Eric, I am unable to make a connection between Luria’s combined motor
method and the concept of conversation. Could you help by stating the
connection that you see?

I would love to hear the thoughts of the XMCA community in regard to these

Best wishes to all,

Peter Feigenbaum, Ph.D.
Associate Director of Institutional Research
Fordham University
Thebaud Hall-202
Bronx, NY 10458

Phone: (718) 817-2243
Fax: (718) 817-3203
e-mail: pfeigenbaum@fordham.edu

             Sent by:                                                   To 
             xmca-bounces@webe         "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"  
             r.ucsd.edu                <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>               
             11/03/2009 09:23                                      Subject 
             AM                        RE: [xmca] The Ubiquity of          
                                       Unicorns: conversation              
             Please respond to                                             
              "eXtended Mind,                                              

Hello All:

Enlivening thread!  I believe Luria's combined motor method is too
important of a tool to ignore when discussing the concept of conversation

what do other's think?

"Paula M Towsey" <paulat@johnwtowsey.co.za>
Sent by: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
11/03/2009 03:44 AM
Please respond to "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"

        To:     <lchcmike@gmail.com>, "'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'"
        Subject:        RE: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns: conversation

About Mike's question from Sunday:
"...The topic seems of great importance, and not unrelated to the once and
future thread of the "Vygotsky blocks" methodology.  Any private speech
observed there, Paula?"

Because participants are encouraged to "think out aloud" as they go ("you
know, like little children do when they say "I'm putting this one here
because..." or "I think this one goes here because...", okay?"), I think
this casts a very big (woolly) blanket over being able to distinguish
between what would perhaps have been private speech and what would not
been.  Because in effect what we're doing to participants is introducing
"outside" interlocutor in a rather artificial way: I use the qualifier
"outside" here to differentiate the term's use for this contrived
in particular from where, as I understand it to be in private speech, the
self is the interlocutor (but correct me here if I need it please?).  So
even if someone says "Okay... Let's see... maybe I could try putting...",
seems to me to be more a case of musing out aloud in a way where the
participant is possibly making private speech more coherent because there
an "outside" interlocutor.

And then if I've got Mike's very magic "thread" as he intends, it's about
word meaning and this question of a unit of analysis:  it is here that I
think the "thinking out aloud" by participants helps to make more explicit
the way in which they are making use of the various elements of this
structured experimental situation (the two kinds of stimulus means and the
stimulus objects). The blocks are specifically designed to reveal the
processes involved in coming to understand what the words cev, bik, mur,
lag mean through the activity of solving the problem of why different
belong together.  And yet, if the participants don't talk, it is very,
difficult to work out from their actions alone what is going on.

Back to Peter now for more enlivening...?

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
Behalf Of mike cole
Sent: 01 November 2009 02:40 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns: conversation

As usual, tardy to the party. Very interesting comments on private speech,
thanks for starting it Peter.

A couple of questions for different xmcaonaughts:

What about Peter's observation, Nacho?
"Personally, I don't know of one private speech researcher who uses LSV's
concept of word meaning when analyzing speech data--and to me, that
something is very wrong." That beautiful new book you have published on
private speech is devoid of an interest in meaning? Really?

And Peter, what about Andy's comment, which also struck me, that when you
talk about your data, your unit of analysis appears to be the utterance, a
la Bakhtin. And Bakhtin makes central to his analysis the idea that words
are always characterized by addressivity. Seems like grist for your mill.
But utterance is absent from your jpeg figure, and Bakhtin from your
discussion thus far. And does conversation start with the first
word spoken by the child? All Samoan children are said by their parents to
have as their first word, shit (or so ethnographers have claimed). What
would that imply for addressivity of first words, I wonder.

Someone asked about availability of published work for folks to read;
you post your article from the Robbins et al book? And, of course, we
be glad to post a video session and transcript. The topic seems of great
importance, and not unrelated to the once and future thread of the
blocks" methodology.  Any private speech observed there, Paula?

Thanks again for the enlivening discussion.
On Fri, Oct 30, 2009 at 10:08 AM, Peter Feigenbaum

> Steve--
> I am very gratified to see that you grasp the full thrust of my work on
> conversation
> as it relates to word meaning. You are the first to do so!  I feel
> vindicated and
> validated! Thank you.
> To be honest, when I first started down this path in 1981, I was working
> instinct--
> it felt right, but I was largely unconscious of the direction I was
> But in 2004
> I had an epiphany, and since that moment, all of the pieces have been
> falling into
> place, and I have become able to consciously articulate the consequences
> taking this particular stance. For many years I have had to cope with a
> fair degree
> of disorientation due to the fact that private speech is at the center
> so many
> philosophical knots. It was the shift of focus to conversation that
> made
> sense of so many issues, and that holds out the promise of making sense
> others (that I have yet to return to).
> The epiphany came in the form of an old "Snow White" refrain: "Mirror,
> mirror on
> the wall, who's the fairest of them all?". Periodically, I would ask
> myself: "Why do
> children talk out loud to themselves?", and the answer that returned was
> always
> "Because they are learning how to think." But on this one, surprising
> occasion,
> the answer that came back was: "Because they are learning how to talk."
> was
> at that moment that I realized that LSV never made explicit the obvious
> next step:
> after thinking becomes verbal, speaking becomes intelligent--because
> speech is then recruited for the purpose of talking! Once it became
> that
> inner speech--the mechanism for directing one's attention--was available
> for
> children to use in all realms of their lives, it was obvious that
> acquisition
> would become a major beneficiary of this new mental faculty. So Vygotsky
> deserves TWO Nobel prizes in psychology--one for conceptualizing how
> thinking becomes conscious, and the other for conceptualizing how
> master their native tongue. What a genius he was!
> Far be it from me to reign you in!  Because I only became conscious of
> path a few years ago, I have yet to see its limitations or
> do I think
> about them, for I am still uncovering all of the possibilities that this
> perspective
> affords. If you would be so kind as to humor me, let me point out a few
> the
> problem areas that I believe this new conversational focus sheds light
> besides the conceptual integration it provides, as you have so
> noted.
> 1) By looking at the development of word meaning from a conversational
> vantage
> point, Vygotsky's claims about the transformation of private speech take
> a new significance. I used to look at private speech as *causing* the
> transformation
> of thinking from unconscious and impulsive to conscious and deliberate,
> in
> fact, it is the development of word meaning that *causes* private speech
> change! Naive social speech, private speech, inner speech, mature
> (intelligent)
> social speech--these do not cause development per se, but instead are
> external
> forms in which the development of word meaning manifests itself. This,
> turn,
> prompts the question: Just what IS word meaning, and what causes it to
> develop?
> Sagely, Vygotsky (Chapter 7, again) points us to the answer: words
> in
> one direction, while meaning develops in the opposite direction. To be
> concrete
> about it, a child's first word does NOT correspond to its dictionary
> (lexical)
> meaning, as you might expect, but to its global, undifferentiated
> (conversational)
> meaning. In other words, the forms and functions of words and meanings
> "sprung" in an incompatible way from the start, and so development is
> merely the
> "unwinding" action brought about by the initial tension. This needs a
> visual (I hope
> this diagram comes through everyone's email system):
> (Embedded image moved to file: pic14204.jpg)
> The first stage (infancy) in the development of word meaning  takes
> in
> the form of social speech with a caregiver, and is represented in the
> diagram
> as the relationship between "word" and "topical" meaning". A child's
> word
> is a whole turn at talk, but all the child has available to express this
> thought is a
> single word. As the tension on both sides of this equation exerts
> on the
> child, the relationship between "sentence" and "propositional" meaning
> takes
> center stage. The child's focus alternates between the relationship of
> to
> sentence, and the relationship of topical to propositional meaning. The
> third
> stage, which I believe corresponds to the abbreviation of private speech
> (its final form before becoming abbreviated inner speech), moves the
> to the relationship between conversation and lexical meaning. The
> of abbreviation, which is tied to predication, involves the child in
> understanding
> how individual word meanings (lexical meanings) are related to the whole
> flow
> of conversation. The child must consider which words need to be uttered
> order to move the topic of conversation along, and which do not need to
> voiced. "Clots" of words are the result.
> 2) Dialectical materialism: What does this Marxist form of philosophical
> explanation bring to the problem? Although I have been a student of
> even longer than I have been a student of Vygotsky's theory, I was
> to
> formulate the connection between them--until recently. I believe the
> same
> diagram above applies to Marx and Engels' explanation of the development
> of human society--if you make some substitutions. For Marx and Engels,
> is
> the forms and functions of *labor (economic) activity* and *civil
> (political)
> activity* that are "sprung" in an incompatible way from the start,
> society to morph from primitive communism to slave society, to feudal
> society,
> to capitalist society, and (hopefully) to socialist society and
> to
> advanced communism. I don't expect everyone to agree with this
> interpretation,
> and I understand that introducing politics into the discussion is a
> business,
> but I think it's hard to ignore (and useful to acknowledge) the
> between
> Marx and Engels' stages and Vygotsky's stages of primitive social
> impulsive private speech, regulative private speech, abbreivated private
> speech, and (hopefully) inner speech and eventually advanced
> rational) social speech. Of course, the role of dialectical logic in
> Vygotsky's
> theory is much more involved than what I have outlined here, but my aim
> simply to draw attention to the "feedback" effect of Vygotsky's theory
> our
> understanding of Marx and Engel's theory. My experience thus far is that
> each
> of these two very special theories can be helpful in understanding the
> other.
> 3) The relevance of Bahktin and Voloshinov's analyses to LSV's theory:
> If we make an analogy between initiating and responding in conversation
> to throwing and catching a ball, then we can see the design of an
> individual
> "utterance" in a new light. In playing "catch" with a ball, each
> participant
> must first catch the ball before he or she can throw it back. Thus, a
> "turn"
> at catch involves first catching, then throwing. These moves are done in
> a smooth transition, constituting a "turnaround". Likewise, in
> conversation,
> a "turn" at talk involves first listening, then responding. This, too,
> performed
> (by competent communicators) in a smooth fashion. Listening flows right
> into speaking, enabling the conversation to move forward. Thus, each
> utterance by a speaker actually consists of *both* listening and
> *speaking*.
> Just waiting patiently for one's turn at talk--without listening to the
> other--does
> not constitute communication with speech. One must listen (and reflect?)
> before speaking, or else "responding" doesn't occur.
> This leads to the notion that every utterance is linked both backwards
> forwards. Every initiation responds to some thought (even ones that
> up
> a conversation), and every response constitutes a new initiation--a
> furthering
> of the ongoing conversation. Bahktin claimed that the relationship
> *between*
> utterances in conversation eventually develops into a relationship
> an utterance. Every utterance "anticipates" a response--the voice of the
> "other" is contained in every utterance. (I must confess that I am only
> beginning to look at the relationship of Bahktin's work to this new
> approach,
> so I may be off-base). (No pun intended)
> That's way more than enough for now. I don't want to dominate this
> discussion.
> But thanks for listening and responding, XMCA-ers!  You're marvelous!
> Best wishes,
> Peter
>             Steve Gabosch
>             <stevegabosch@me.
>             com> To
>              Sent by:                  "eXtended Mind, Culture,
>             xmca-bounces@webe         <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
>             r.ucsd.edu cc
> Subject
>              10/29/2009 10:58          Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of
>             PM                        Unicorns: conversation
>             Please respond to
>              "eXtended Mind,
>                 Culture,
>                 Activity"
>             <xmca@weber.ucsd.
>                   edu>
> Peter, I am very happy to see how well developed the empirical and
> practical side of your work is!  Have you published any of your
> studies, have more writings on your theory, etc.?  I am actually quite
> excited by your work.
> Your argument for viewing the conversation as a unit of word-meaning
> (in the Vygotskyan sense of "meaning through language use") seems
> compelling.  I like this idea quite a bit, and find myself wanting to
> go with it, try it out, test it, play with it, see how far it goes.
> Once this simple and obvious relationship is pointed out, as you are
> doing so clearly and concisely, a lot of connections seem to fall
> right into place.  They are the same old connections, of course, but
> more dialectical, more dynamic, more far-reaching.  For me, anyway ...
> For example, this concept makes me want to ask the reverse question:
> how can word-meaning be conceived **other** than in conversation?  And
> how can the **parts** of conversation - parts of words, words, word-
> sequences, sentences, sentence-sequences - or utterance-sequences in
> general - as well as gestures, facial expressions etc. etc. - be
> conceived other than as just that - as parts of **conversations**?
> (This suggests that the conversation could actually be **the**
> structural unit of word-meaning - with everything else being parts of
> conversations - in the way we usually think of parts of sentences.  Am
> I taking this too far?)  These are not new questions, of course, but
> ones that your work revives in a new light.
> This line of thinking makes me want to take this a step further - or
> "upward" - how can a particular conversation be conceived other than
> in its particular social, cultural and historical as well as
> psychological "context" (its concrete reality)?  This idea, of course,
> has been deeply explored by Bakhtin and others.  Have you had a chance
> to relate your thinking on this to Bakhtin, Volosinov, etc.?
> Thinking of word-meaning this way is one of those ideas that has "been
> there" all along, but so big that I know that I for one never quite
> apprehended it in this way.  I have always thought of a conversation
> as some kind of combination, sequence or interchange of "word-
> meanings" - not a "word-meaning" in and of itself.  This in some ways
> is a mind-boggling concept.  We think of our words as being in our
> conversations, but it is harder to conceptualize the opposite being
> the case - that it is our conversations that are in our words, and
> that our words and word-meanings actually mean nothing apart from and
> outside our conversations.  Obvious, understood already in many ways,
> but also new and dizzying for me.
> This viewpoint - and perhaps I am taking this too far and someone is
> going to have to rein me in - this view of word-meaning places, the
> dialogue, or the conversation, as the transmission mechanism, the
> concrete link between 1) the meanings of social relations and culture
> (the interpsychological) and 2) psychological meanings (the
> intrapsychological).  I like putting conversation in the middle like
> that.
> On one hand, of course, this is not at all a new idea.  How else do we
> communicate?  Hello?  On the other hand, by viewing conversation as
> the **necessary** form that word-meaning takes - that is, that
> conversation IS word-meaning - this insight opens up new possibilities
> for harnessing Vygotsky's theory of word-meaning as a powerful lens
> into two simultaneous realms - 1) human social relations and
> activities, which are inherently language-based, and 2) individual
> psychology (the higher mental functions), which, according to
> Vygotsky, is also inherently language-based.
> This seems to be exactly what your research is trying to do, Peter.
> You are showing how to look at the totality of an activity in a given
> situation - in this case, children playing while talking out loud - to
> see and show how human action and human meaning-making are a
> dialectical unity - using Vygotsky's classical theory of word-meaning
> as a lens into **everything** that is simultaneously happening - or,
> at least, that which is happening that you can figure out how to
> record and analyze!
> An interesting reverse question to ask here about what you have
> observed in your studies so far: what are some of the **limitations**
> of Vygotsky's concept of word-meaning in trying to understand what
> these children are doing, thinking, saying, feeling?  Above, I speak
> almost as though it can explain "everything".  Can it?  Probably not!
> LOL  So what are the **limits** of this lens into human activity?
> (For example, it probably does not explain roles, personalities,
> membership in social classes ...)
> To the extent that this approach is successful at viewing certain
> multiple levels of human activity at once, one can legitimately ask:
> how can this be so?  I find myself answering that question with
> another:  isn't this **precisely** what Vygotsky accomplished when he
> discovered word-meaning as a basic unit of analysis?  To show how to
> view the **convergence** of the social and the individual?  To see
> both realms at the same time at the place they meet and transform one
> another and together become something new?  This is probably why I
> like this idea so much, it seems to expand Vygotsky's approach to do
> exactly what we want it to.
> If we only apply the concept of word-meaning to "words," perhaps we
> are setting our sights too low, and only on certain details, missing
> the larger picture.  But if we step back and include **the
> conversation** along with words and sentences, new possibilities seem
> to emerge.  Maybe someone will shoot me down here and point out how I
> am going off the deep end with this (or more likely, just leave me be
> with my false hopes!) - but I think you are on to something, Peter.
> (Maybe you think I am going too far, too!  LOL)
> Another question: have you tried to apply Leontiev's activity theory
> (conditions-based tasks and operations, goal-based actions and action-
> sequences, lifestyle-motivated activities and activity systems, etc.)
> to your work on word-meaning and conversation?  I am not aware of
> anyone who has applied these concepts to the dynamics of conversation,
> conversation analysis, etc.  I wonder if they could be applied ...
> One last question.  Sorry about so many questions!  Not all need to be
> answered all at once - there is always lots of time, no rush here, of
> course.  My last question: have you given thought to how this
> expansion of the Vygotskyan concept of word-meaning could be applied
> to Vygotsky's work on concept formation (syncretic formations,
> concrete complexes, systematic concepts, etc.) - or perhaps, the other
> way around - how Vygotsky's work on concept formation might apply to
> your work on word-meaning?
> - Steve
> On Oct 29, 2009, at 5:03 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
> > I see you use utterance as a unit of analysis. In the previous mail
> > you referred to using "conversation", but utterance is surely the
> > unit of which conversation is made up. Do you have Bakhtin's idea in
> > mind for "utterance" at all? Otherwise the notion of "turn taking"
> > in private speech is very challenging, isn't it?
> >
> > All sounds fascinating,
> > Andy
> >
> Hi, Andy.
> My method of eliciting the speech involves children playing a game
> with a challenging cognitive component. I videotape each child
> (usually 4-, 6-, and 8-year-olds) individually-- with me in the room,
> at a distance, as a possible resource for interpersonal speech if the
> child is feeling motivated enough to seek it out. The child is given
> instructions about how the game works, what the objective is, and is
> told "it's a new game, and I want to know what you think of it, and
> whether other kids would like it." The game I have tended to use is a
> Piagetian task in which a child is asked to connect some straight and
> curved wooden tracks together in such a way that they fit between two
> fixed endpoints glued to a large gameboard placed on the floor. The
> children can crawl on the board and move the tracks around. The
> objective is to "build as many roads as possible with the tracks" that
> I provide them. To make the entire experience more fun (especially for
> the younger children), I also affixed to the board a miniature
> "school" area, a miniature "amusement park and zoo" area, a "lake"
> area, and a "mountain" area. These areas are situated so that the
> tracks can be constructed between the areas, and therefore create a
> very enticing fantasy-play opportunity. This was a conscious decision,
> for my aim is to elicit every type of private speech use--
> particularly, "word play", "emotional expression", "descriptions of
> ongoing activity", "planning", "monitoring action", and the like. I
> want to have numerous examples of the full range of private speech
> productions, from the most impulsive to the most regulatory, so that I
> can examine the conversational structures and functions developmentally.
> The analysis of the videotapes starts with a written transcript of the
> speech stream. This transcript is then used in conjunction with the
> videotaped speech and behavior, and serves as the place to record the
> codings that are then imposed on the data. The first cut is to segment
> the stream of speech into utterance units. Here we start to get quite
> conceptual already; how shall we define the boundaries? In general,
> the conventions for doing speech analysis are borrowed from
> linguistics, but when it comes to segmenting the flow of speech,
> developmental psychologists seem to have invented their own
> conventions that best suit their psycholoinguistic needs. My
> impression is that most analysts have adopted a set of criteria that
> more or less coincides with sentence boundaries. For my purposes, this
> is very helpful, for it divides the data neatly into two types: 1)
> single sentences, sentence fragments, phrases, single words, and even
> nonverbal behavior (such as facial expressions)--all of which are
> located within an utterance's boundaries; and 2) conversation--
> connections between the utterance under investigation and other
> (adjacent and non-adjacent) utterances--if any. Since utterance
> boundaries are a matter of convention, I would like to see researchers
> make a collective, considered decision about how to slice and dice
> linguistic data, so that we can best serve our research agendas. In my
> case, the agenda is to test LSV's claims about the development of word
> meaning.
> Once the data are segmented into utterance units, each unit can be
> "tagged" with attributes along the following lines: 1) Is it private
> speech or social speech? (direction of gaze, loudness, pitch,
> intonational contour, content, relation to ongoing action--all of
> these are relevant to making the decision); 2) Is it task-relevant,
> supportive of fantasy play, supportive to self-regulatory action,
> etc.? (evidence for these functions are marshalled as well); and, in
> my own approach (which very few private speech researchers seem to
> share), I ask: 3) Is the utterance in question part of a
> conversational sequence? (form, function, and content relationships to
> other utterances and to ongoing activity are considered); and 4) What
> conversational acts (speech acts) can be inferred from the deployment,
> production, and performance of the utterance? (words chosen,
xmca mailing list