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[xmca] Vygotsky and Saussure Again
I just went over the two places in Chapter One of Thinking and Speech where (according to the notes to the Russian edition and even according to the redoutable Luciano Meccaci) Vygotsky supposedly refers to Saussure, though not by name.
The first ref, (which is on p. 46 of Minick's translation, "According to one of the most important spokesmen of contemporary linguistics" is probably not Saussure himself, or it would make some reference to his death instead of saying "contemporary). But it probably is one of Saussure's many Russian disciples (Sor, Petersen, Scherba, Baudoin de Courtenay, etc.). It's a highly critical reference, to a PURELY associative theory of meaning, and that fits Saussure to a T.
But for precisely that reason, the second, laudatory reference on p. 49, where Vygotsky says he has used this method in his own work has got to be incorrect. The Saussurean tradition, and Saussure himself considers the phoneme's relationship to meaning to be completely arbitrary. It is certainly not the case that Saussure's phonemes were units of affect and intellect.
So if he is NOT referring to Saussure or any of his disciples, who is he referring to? None of the English translations include an important and fairly longish citation which Vygotsky included in the original 1934 edition, from Edward Sapir. Sapir, of course, was an anti-Saussurean who believed that phonemes were PSYCHOLOGICAL units that were ultimately cultural in their origins.
In addition, a great deal of what he says about sound and evaluative tone, affect, and attitude of the speaker, both in this chapter and in chapter seven, smacks of Volosinov. For that matter, so does the whole idea of "social contact" as the explanatory principle and prime function of word meaning. And Volosinov's "method" and even many of his examples (from Dostoevsky and Tiuchev and Fet) are precisely what Vygotsky uses in Chapter Seven.
Vygotsky doesn't actually say (as the Minick translation has him saying) that this chapter only touches on certain issues as a way of indicating the importance of his method; what he really says is that he has to stop here but he strongly feels that the study is broken off at the threshold and not at the conclusion.
He must have known that nobody in the USSR would be able to follow his ambitious plan, and that the Germans were even less likely to. But he believed that somehow, somewhere, sometimes somebody just might be able to pick up the tangled thread and follow where it leads.
I have been unable to find the exact reference to the poetry of "Feta" (sic!) that supposedly links Vygotsky to Volosinov referred to on p. 283. Meccaci says this is a mistake, and not just a spelling mistake. But I think that Vygotsky's attempt to lay out a clear programme of research for us in the last part of this chapter is a kind of reference to the Tiuchev poem that Dot uses to begin Volume Six.
Seoul National University of Education
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