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Re: [xmca] Vygotsky and Saussure Again
Well, I admit, Tony, we are a slender reed. But Vygotsky's words have, in the past, rested on even slenderer ones, and his meanings are with us still!
And we do have certain advantages, chief amongst which is the Korean language. We have often found that translating an idea like the "Ur-wir" into English is virtually impossible, whereas in Korean there is a word that even sounds similar: "uri", which Koreans use to mean "we", particularly in the sense of the child's first family relations.
The problem of translating "meaning" is a case in point. Of course, Wolff-Michael is right about Saussure: he doesn't write about "meaning" as such; he writes about something called "signification". But Vygotsky doesn't write about "meaning" either: he really has three distinct concepts: "znachenie", which is something like semantic meaning, "smysl", which is something like pragmatic meaning, and then he uses "znachenie" to as a superordinate concept to mean both, explaining that semantic meaning is really just the most stable, fixed, socially anchored, objective zone of smysl. So too we've got a CHINESE word for znachenie (waemi) and a homely, everyday word in plain Korean which means "vouloir dire", namely "ddut".
My point was that Saussure's model of signification is pure associationism, and this is nowhere clearer than in Saussure's discussion of the link with between phonemes and "concepts" (section 158).
Sapir will have none of this. Sapir says phonemes are psychological facts, and not acoustic ones or physiological ones (Saussure's section on phonemes is called "Principles of Physiological Phonetics) and they can only be understood psychologically:
"In English, for instance, the sequence g plus o in the word 'go' is an unalyzable unit an the meaning attaching to the symbol cannot be drived byrelating to each other values which might be iputed to the go and the o independently. In other words, while the mechanical functional units of language are phonemes, the true units of language as symbolism are conventional groupings of such phonemes." (p. 9) In other words, words.That's why Sapir says language is not only "an intimate associative fact" it is also a contextual one, rooted in a concrete situation. ('The Nature of Language', in Selected Writings of Edward Sapir, University of California Press, p. 11).
Vygotsky uses this stuff almost word for word, including what Sapir has to say about the overemphasis on communication. He uptakes Sapir's very suggestive remark "The autistic speech of children seems to show that the purely communicative aspect of language has been exaggerated" and elaborates it for fifty pages in Chapter Two and another two dozen in Chapters Six and Seven.
The English translations do not attribute any of this to Sapir. But Vygotsky himself did credit him, right here, in a long citation which is not available in any English translation of Thinking and Speech:
"In the sphere of instinctive consciousness, in which rules perception and passion, only infection and contagion is possible, not understanding and social contact in the true sense of the word. Edward Sapir has wonderfully explained this in his work on the psychology of speech. Elements of language,” he says must be connected to an entire group, to a defined class of our experience. “The world of our experiences must be enormously simplified and generalized before it is possible to make a symbolic inventory of all our experiences of things and relations; and this inventory is imperative before we can convey ideas. The elements of language, the symbols that ticket off experience, must therefore be associated with whole groups, delimited classes, of experience rather than with the single experiences themselves. Only so is communication possible, for the single experience lodges in an individual consciousness and is, strictly speaking, incommunicable.
To be communicated it needs to be referred to a class which is tacitly accepted by the community as an identity.”
Vygotsky uses this to link communication with affective experience.
"Social contact (that is oбщение), based on rational understanding and on the intentional transfer of thoughts and lived experiences (“переживаний”, or “perizhivanie”) requires without fail a known system of means, the prototype of which was, is and will always remain human speech, which arose from the necessities of social contact in the labor process. But up until now the matter has been presented in conformity with the dominating view in psychology, in an extremely simplified form. It is assumed that the means of contact is the sign, the word, the sound. This error stems solely from the incorrect use in the solution of the entire problem of speech of an analysis which decomposes into elements."
It seems to me that this "perizhivanie" idea is really what Vygotsky uses to replace the old idea of the social environment of learning. When we read Vygotsky's EARLY work (e.g. "Educational Psychology", or "Preface to Thorndike" or even "Pedology of the Adolescent") we see that he refers a lot to "the social environment of learning". Now, he's clearly thinking of this in very hard, fast, almost mechanical terms: the social environment of learning is something real, concrete, and physical: a crib, a house, a preschool playroom, and eventually a classroom.
Mike points out that there are really big problems with this. As soon as the child gets out of the crib, there is more than one social environment of learning. As Bronfenbrenner remarks, the most developmentally significant "social environments of learning" may actually be social environments in which the child does not take part at all and is not even present (e.g the WORK SITUATION of Mommy and Daddy).
By the time Vygotsky writes the play lectures, the material on preschool which becomes Chapter Six of Mind and Society (that is, "Interaction Between Learning (sic) and Development"), and Chapters Six, Seven, and One of Thinking and Speech, he has discarded his mechanical, vulgar materialist conception of the social environment of learning. He has also introduced the distinction between learning on the one hand and development on the other.
The social situation of development is concrete, but it is not material: it is the relation of the child's VERBAL THINKING to the social environment, including the social environment unseen. I think that is what Vygotsky is describing in "The Problem of the Environment" and I think that is why we can consider "perizhvanie" to be functionally equivalent, in his theory, to the Social Situation of Development with respect to the child's emotional-affective development.
Naturally, there's a very good Korean word for this kind of emotional-affective unit of experience which includes the environment as well as the experiencer in a single relation: jigak, which also means consciousness.
Did Vygotsky have us in mind here in Korea? Well, Vygotsky was given to WILD hopes, you know. And apparently, according to Dobkin and to Dot Robbins, very taken with this verse of Tiutchev's:
Whatever else life might have taught us,
our hearts believe in wonders made:
there's a strength which never falters
there is beauty which won't fade,
and we know that earthly blighting
will not touch this flower's bloom
the heat which blasts the dew in morning
will not dry the drops by noon
and this faith will still deliver
If you live it first to last
Not everything which blooms must wither.
Not all that was is past
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Mon, 11/23/09, Tony Whitson <twhitson@UDel.Edu> wrote:
From: Tony Whitson <twhitson@UDel.Edu>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky and Saussure Again
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
Date: Monday, November 23, 2009, 7:21 AM
On Sun, 22 Nov 2009, David Kellogg wrote:
> 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.
Would he have guessed Korea?
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