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

Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns: conversation

Oh, boy. You sure know how to present some tough challenges, Andy!

Yes, I guess I do conceive of an utterance as a limit case of a
conversation. But
I disagree that it is incoherent to speak of conversation as an irreducible
unit of
communication, and that conversation doesn't require an audience or
and that the Gettysburg Address can't be broken down into smaller units,
and that
to do so would destroy its integrity as a conversational "move".

I appreciate your skepticism, though. Experience shows that analysis is
if it is not counterbalanced by synthesis, which is why I believe LSV took
great pains to design word meaning as his irreducible unit of
analysis--that is, to
keep the integrity of the relationship between word and meaning intact when
would rend them apart.

It is my impression that you don't accept my proposal that conversation is
missing layer in Vygotsky's concept of word meaning. That means you
also don't accept my assertion that conversation is invoked along with a
child's first
word, or that conversation serves as the organizing principle for all
communications using speech. This is going to be a tough sell!

Please consider the following analogy:  The structures of language--words,
and conversations--are like the structures found in the construction
trade--bricks, walls,
and buildings. Of course, in neither case do these materials organize
it takes a speaker and a builder, respectively, to construct the higher
orders out
of the lower ones. Now, your statement above about "no addressee" implies
sentences and conversations, just like walls and buildings, can be
constructed without
any *user* in mind--that is, no intended recipients, not even oneself. This
strikes me as
highly unusual behavior. Why build? Why talk?

If you are willing to concede that these activities typically *do* have an
user/audience in mind, then building and talking--regardless of the level
organization involved (let it be a single brick or a single word)--cannot
be construed
as anything but a social, collaborative activity. In the case of language,
we call that activity "communicating with speech". You may disagree with my
claim (made in an earlier exchange on this listserve) that "communicating
speech" and "word meaning" and "conversation" are one-and-the-same, but if
please tell me how you see them as different. If you agree that they are
the same, then it follows that every word uttered (to someone or to the
self) is a
conversation. That is how I come to the conclusion that conversation is an
irreducible quality of any analysis of speech communication. If I might
Steve's earlier comments on this topic into my own words: You can take the
word out of the conversation, but you can't take the "conversation" out of
the word.

Regarding the problem of segmenting a long stream of speech into units,
assume that Bakhtin is right about breaking the stream into utterance units
demarked by speaking turns. (To do so, we would definitely have to accept
idea that we are dealing with conversation and addressivity.) Each turn
constitute a "move" in conversation, and in this piecemeal fashion the
of conversation would gradually develop. Perhaps the topic of conversation
is planning an advertising campaign, in which case some of the "moves"
might involve brainstorming, while others might involve formulating a plan
of action based on the ideas that came from the brainstorming portion of
conversation. The net result of these individual micro-moves is a plan for
advertising campaign.

If we consider the Gettysburg Address in a similar fashion, then each word
sentence, for example, has its part to play in the overall address and in
overarching message. Each part contributes something unique, and together
they create a higher-order communication. What damage is performed by
dissecting the Address into its constituent linguistic structures, so long
the integrity of the whole is also preserved? In fact, isn't the Address
marvelous entity that it is precisely because of its microstructure? What
happen if Lincoln changed a few words, or re-arranged the sentences a bit?

Finally, as for your two questions to me:
1) "Is private speech always associated with practical actions?"
Yes, private speech and practical action are closely associated. In the
stages, private speech is used essentially to *comment upon* ongoing
wheras in the later stages it is used essentially to *plan and regulate*
action. That is, the relationship between them "flips".

2) "If so, aren't these actions part of [my] unit of analysis?" Yes, they
are included
in the analysis insofar as they function as a "turn" in conversation. Let
me put
this as simply as I can: As a child starts to apprehend the conversational,
turn-taking structure of speech communication, he or she starts to construe
his/her own acitivity as a participant in dialogue. For example, after
a wonderful new toy, a child might blurt out (to herself): "What a great
In my analysis, the psychic event of noticing the toy is a conversational
(but, strictly speaking, nonlinguistic) initiation, while the overt
utterance constitutes
a linguistic response. Or "Ouch" after pricking oneself. Similarly, when a
is solving a practical problem, he might utter: "Wait!", followed by a
moment of
inaction. The utterance is a conversational (linguistic) initiation, but
the momentary
inaction constitutes a conversational (nonlinguistic) response. This is
what it
means to "think dialogically", in my opinion. Once the process is set into
**anything** can be construed as a participant in a conversation--your pet,
the car
that cuts you off on the highway, or the placement of a puzzle piece in a
jig-saw puzzle. Like grammar, conversation supplies "slots". With
the slots are for initiating and responding; therefore, even nonlinguistic
action can
be used to fill those slots.

Once you understand how to use a hammer, everything becomes a nail.


             Andy Blunden                                                  
             t>                                                         To 
             Sent by:                  "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"  
             xmca-bounces@webe         <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>               
             r.ucsd.edu                                                 cc 
             11/03/2009 08:30          Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of          
             PM                        Unicorns: conversation              
             Please respond to                                             
             ; Please respond                                              
              "eXtended Mind,                                              

Peter, it is very interesting to me to discuss something I
know nothing about. How else can we subject our fundamentals
to test?

Firstly, Peter, I think it is incoherent for you to talk of
"conversation" as an "irreducible functional unit."
"Conversation" is the whole animal not the cell. And in any
case, it's not actually a conversation, though you might
conceive of it as a limit case of a conversation if you
wanted to. But you could also conceptualise what is going on
as a performance, and a performance requires a script,
scenes and stage directions; it *can* have an audience but
doesn't have to have an audience (addressee).

Also, I don't think being a long monologue is any bar to
being an utterance. Luther's 95 theses was an utterance in
my reading, as was the Gettysburg Address. They can be
broken down, but if they are, they cease to be an utterance
and cannot be understood in that way as "a move".

Question: is private speech always associated with practical
actions? If so, aren't these actions part of your unit of


Peter Feigenbaum wrote:
> 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
> word meaning is the irreducible unit of analysis, beneath which the
> functional integration of word and meaning ceases to exist.
> If conversation is, indeed,
> 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
> turns can be quite extensive, such as a monologue consisting of multiple
> sentences.
> But if an individual utterance is defined in terms of a single word (at
> minimum)
> or a single sentence (at maximum), and these linguistic structures are
> shown to have the functional properties of conversation (i.e., they
> in an initiation-response structure with other utterance units or
> activity),
> then this unit would meet both the practical and conceptual criteria we
> have 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
> path, which is a whole other topic.

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list