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Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of Unicorns: conversation


I'm sorry at having misrepresented some of your positions. In my zeal to
squeeze as
much from this discussion in as short a time as possible (during work
hours, no less),
I became tired and sloppy. You have been patient with me by continuing to
put up
resistance to my ideas for several go-arounds now, and for that I'm
indebted to you.

Before wrapping up this thread, I must tell you--and everyone else on this
that as a result of this discussion, I have come to a valuable realization
about the
relationship between word-meaning and utterance that had not dawned on me
It has led me to revise my proposal, and if you would all do me the favor,
I would like
to run this new idea by you.

Below is a revised diagram; you will see that "conversation" has been
removed and
replaced by "monologue". The modification may be small, but the practical
conceptual consequences of this change loom large.

(Embedded image moved to file: pic07433.jpg)
From the perspective of an individual child who is acquiring language and
communicative competence, the sequence on the "word" side (vocal activity)
is now more coherent and internally consistent:
words--sentences--monologues. The
movement on the "meaning" side (semantic activity) remains relatively

If we accept James Moffett's (1968) definition of a monologue as an
extended turn at
talk in a conversation, then we are also simultaneously defining the
monologue as a
single *utterance unit*, a la Bahktin. (Incidentally, if you do not already
own a copy of
Moffett's "Teaching the universe of discourse", Boston: Houghton Mifflin
drop everything and run out right now and buy it!  It is a must-read for
anyone with an
interest in a carefully and thoughfully conceived K-12 curriculum for
teaching discourse
skills. Forgive me if this is old news. But I digress . . . .)

What this change does is to break apart the one-to-one correspondence
between a
*sentence* and an utterance unit--a relationship that developmental
psychologists (who
took it from linguists) have adopted, implemented, and taken for granted in
their analyses
of children's speech development. I, too, was wedded to that relationship
until this
thread exposed it to the light. What I have been assuming was an utterance
unit is really
the *microstructure* of an utterance unit--if you adhere to Bahktin!  Oops!
My bad!

This reformulation of the relationship between an utterance unit and the
sentence may
well remove the confusion that has been clouding the issue of how word
meaning might
be applied to actual speech data. I have long felt that the linguists'
focus on the sentence
has been misplaced, and that the focus ought to be on the relationship
between the
sentence and the interlocutors who are exchanging it with each other. This
formulation just
might do it.

What do you think?


P.S.--I almost forgot: As promised, I am including a manuscript version of
my chapter
in the Robbins and Stetsenko volume, "Voices within Vygotsky’s
non-classical psychology:
Past, present, future (pp. 162-174). New York: Nova Science Publishers,

(See attached file: Private Speech--Cornerstone of Vygotskys Theory_Robbins
& Stetsenko_16October2001.pdf)

             Andy Blunden                                                  
             t>                                                         To 
             Sent by:                  "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"  
             xmca-bounces@webe         <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>               
             r.ucsd.edu                                                 cc 
             11/04/2009 07:17          Re: [xmca] The Ubiquity of          
             PM                        Unicorns: conversation              
             Please respond to                                             
             ; Please respond                                              
              "eXtended Mind,                                              

As a teenager one of my heroes was the mathematician Galois.
Without giving his life story, he died as he lived. He stood
up in the mess hall and proposed a toast to the Emperor.
Someone thought he was being ironic, challenged him to a
duel and shot him.

I will be very brief if I can, Peter, just taking up some
misunderstandings and going to the 1) and 2) at the end.

It is a contradiction in terms to say "conversation is a
unit". You can say "a conversation" is a unit, in which case
your comments about the Gettyberg Address can be multiplied
by 10. I think you must mean the subject matter of study is
conversation, I don't know. Still, many people go on about
"activity" being a unit of analysis, which is just as
senseless. [See Wertsch, "Vygotsky and the Social Formation
of Mind," p. 202 though Wertsch is confused too.] What does
"unit" mean to you?

I never said "conversation doesn't require an audience or
addressee." No comment possible.

I never said the Gettysberg address *cannot* be broken down.
I just said that it is an Utterance, just as David
explained. You can break anything down until you get to
quarks and strings, the point is: what is the unit for the
specific problem you are trying to solve? The Gettysberg
address was an act or a move in a war. An utterance.

[I confess to being a Bakhtin novice, but I do think that
the  frame or genre of an utterance is part of the utterance
and is necessary to understand it and is part of the unit.
If delivered at a football match, the Gettyberg Address
would not be the same.]

Finally on the Q&A at the end.

You say: "private speech is used essentially to *comment
upon* ongoing action, wheras in the later stages it is used
essentially to *plan and regulate* ongoing action," which
tells me that the unit of private speech includes the action
it comments on and regulates. That's what you say. It is H2O
and if you try to study the H without the O you will never
get to the nature of the water.

You say: "they are included in the analysis." Of course. I
get that. Like someone who studies both H and O, but not H2O.

thanks for your patience, Peter.

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Attachment: Private Speech--Cornerstone of Vygotskys Theory_Robbins & Stetsenko _16October2001.pdf
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