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[Xmca-l] Re: Why Computers Make So Little Difference

Yes, that was Leonard Bernstein's theory--that "mmm" was the first word in
every language, and also the first musical note. Vygotsky prefers Lear:
"When we are born we cry that we are come/To this great stage of fools."
And the girl in the advertisement for lunch boxes was certainly agreeing
with Vygotsky: "ing! ing!" is how Koreans transcribe the sound of weeping.

Last night in my class on "Teaching Young Learners" we got to discussing
what Vygotsky means when he distinguishes so starkly between the naming
function and the signifying function of language: how exactly are they
different? One way to look at it is to say that naming is sticking labels
on physical objects--that is why children who do this are convinced that
names are part of the object itself, the way that a label is part of a milk
carton and the carton is what gives shape to the milk within. Signifying,
on the other hand is just like naming, but the named "object" is purely
imaginary--something like a mathematical set--a concept.

The problem is that putting it this way makes it all about the object that
is being named or signified, and I'm pretty sure that's not what Vygotsky
is thinking about--or anyway it's not the only thing that he's thinking
about. Both Piaget and Vygotsky take as their starting point the
interesting fact that the child rejects the idea of calling the sun "moon"
and the moon "sun", and claims that the sort of a cow that you can call
"dog" will have little horns and give a little milk (not dog milk but cow

But as usual from the same fact they draw totally different conclusions.
Piaget's conclusion is that the child will eventually have this illusion
crushed and come to terms with the meaninglessness of the connection
between sign and signifier on this great stage of fools. Vygotsky's
conclusion is that there really IS a set of words of which this true!

First of all, we have words like "blackbird" and "sidewalk" where an
important, if epiphenomenal trait of the object really is encoded in the
word itself. Of course, you can complain that there isn't anything "black"
in the word black, but that doesn't change the fact that if you want to go
around call bluebirds "blackbirds" and sidewalks "center-runs" then you are
going to have to make major changes to more than one word in your language
system.  And, as Vygotsky demonstrates, if you go back in the etymology of
almost ANY word you will find something like a blackbird or a
sidewalk--even the word "cabbage" means "head" in its Latin root.

Secondly, as Rod points out, there is onomatopoiea and what we in Korean
call "ouiseongeo", or words which are intended to imitate the sounds made
by actions and thereby signify the action (e.g. "crash", "smash", "bash",
"mash", etc.). Here the sound of the word is surely part of the meaning,
and here too the child is right when he/she insists on the
non-interchangeability of words. Both "shhhhhh" and "Ker-splash!" have the
sound /sh/ in them, but that doesn't make them interchangeable.

So Vygotsky turns the whole question rather on its head: where and when
does the interchangeability of terms arise? When do we learn to look at
language and laugh that we are come to this great stage of tomfoolery?

Perhaps here:


Magritte's painting is not an apple or even part of an apple; it's a
painting of an apple. In the same way, if a child plays "war", the child is
not a soldier but a "painting" of a soldier. It's this negative
relationship between the sign and the thing which is abstractly everywhere
the same, and everywhere abstractly interchangeable: all words are NOT the
things that they signify.

There's a very beautiful and bloody children's story in Korea called "Sun
and Moon" about two children with those names. They are orphaned by a
tiger, but they take revenge on the tiger by climbing up ropes to heaven,
offering a rotten rope to the tiger, who tries to follow and kills himself.
Once in heaven, the girl named Moon at first insists on shining all day and
the older brother named Sun shines at night only. But after the first day
on her new job, Moon decides that she is shy--and she would rather have her
older brother's job. So they switch. After all, it's just role play.

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies


On 17 March 2015 at 01:39, HENRY SHONERD <hshonerd@gmail.com> wrote:

> Hello All,
> The following has occurred to me as I follow this thread:
> -Perhaps it would be useful to think of computers as on the
> environmental-literacy side of literacy, as contrasted with a more intimate
> book-in-hand side of literacy. Vera John-Steiner, in her Notebooks of the
> Mind, discusses how writers choose their tools: Some write long hand;
> others type. The mix of technologies seem to affect the reading/writing
> process in very deep ways. I wonder if this sheds any light on the tool vs.
> sign distinction elaborated in Andy’s Academia article on tool vs. sign.
> -No one, as far as I remember, has discussed on this web the differences
> between logographic (Chinsese) and alphabetic writing systems. Again, this
> seems to me to be a continuum, given the capacity, on the one hand, of
> Chinese literacy to write phonetically and the flood, on the other hand, of
> icons in alphabet-based writing (take the McDonald arches).
> -Rod’s post reminds me of a long-standing problem I have with l’Arbitraire
> du Signe “law” that there is no necessary connection between the
> phonological pole and the semantic pole, with the relatively unusual
> exception of onomatopeia or the MMMMM/YUCK distinction made by little
> gourmands. The best counter evidence, it seems to me, are the choices we
> make in how much our writing in English draws on vocabulary of Anglo-Saxon
> origin and how much of Latinate origin.
> I’m not sure if I am hinting at a wider issue of how much culture reflects
> differences BETWEEN cultures and how much reflects the way in which the
> mixes of technology of each culture point towards universal tendencies of
> seeking balance, some sort of homeostasis. Some may think I’ve bit off more
> than I can chew. Yuck or Yum?
> Henry
> > On Mar 16, 2015, at 2:59 AM, Rod Parker-Rees <
> R.Parker-Rees@plymouth.ac.uk> wrote:
> >
> > I wish I could remember where I read that the first 'words' are
> variations of 'yum' or 'mmm' for approval and 'yuk' for disgust -
> exaggerated vocalisations oral 'taking in' - ingesting what is pleasurable
> and spitting out, ejecting what is unpalateable. So is 'ing' Chinese for
> 'mmm'?
> >
> > Rod
> >
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:
> xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of David Kellogg
> > Sent: 16 March 2015 08:28
> > To: Haydi Zulfei; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> > Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Why Computers Make So Little Difference
> >
> > This morning I went out shopping and noticed a billboard selling
> lunchboxes. It featured a young girl whose boyfriend was obviously off
> doing military service (two and half years of rigorously institutionalized
> bullying and beatings); she was dressed up in a military uniform and eating
> out of a lunchbox in solidarity with the absent one, and the sound she was
> making was "ing! ing!"
> >
> > My sentiments exactly! I have been kicking myself, if not quite beating
> myself with a shovel, for arguing yesterday that consonants are
> differentiated before vowels. I am currently reading a set of studies
> coming out of China that try to argue this, and try to explain it on the
> grounds of the greater salience of consonant sounds. But vowels and
> consonants are not part of Chinese; the smallest meaningful difference in
> Chinese is a whole syllable. It's just another example of the imperialism
> of Western linguistics--everything has to be treated as if it had, deep in
> its guts, a Western alphabet trying to get out.
> >
> > Even in English, it seems to me that vowels and consonants have to be
> differentiated side by side, out of some prior sound that is neither. And
> that prior sound? Well, actually, it's the most common sound in the Chinese
> repertoire--the naseopharyngealized semi-vowel that babies make when they
> are born, which rhymes with "ing".
> >
> > David Kellogg
> > Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
> >
> > On 15 March 2015 at 17:16, Haydi Zulfei <haydizulfei@rocketmail.com>
> wrote:
> >
> >> Thanks , David ! I'm following the case using what you wrote as clues
> >> to clarification .
> >>      From: David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com>
> >> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu>
> >> Sent: Sunday, 15 March 2015, 1:12:48
> >> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Why Computers Make So Little Difference
> >>
> >> Well, of course, from the child's point of view, "Baby Bites" is
> >> probably not even monosemous, merely alliterative.
> >>
> >> As Haydi says--how does the child avoid Buridanism before speech? I
> >> take it that what he means is that in order to master the system, what
> >> is required is not simply the mindless internalization of some purely
> >> external resource but rather (as in the crises we find in other forms
> of development, e.g.
> >> sociogenesis and even phylogenesis) the constraining of some
> >> super-productive neoformation that emerges at the interface between
> >> the child and the environment--that is, the narrowing of the available
> >> choices we find in ('autonomous') child language to fit the
> >> phonological system of the mother tongue (as Halliday points out,
> >> learning a mother tongue is really learning a second language!).
> >>
> >> I think the answer is that the child initially treats speech as
> >> something that is not even monosemous but merely alliterative--sound
> without meaning.
> >> So how does the child master the sounds? According to the genetic law,
> >> sounds would be initially constrained by imitation and then elaborated
> >> by
> >> self-imitation: that is, repetition. But how?
> >>
> >> Alliteration appears to be clearly differentiated before rhyme in
> >> English poetry (c.f. "Gawain and the Green Knight"). Ontogenesis too?
> >> That would mean that the child is aware of a choice of different
> >> consonants before the child is aware of a choice of different vowels,
> >> and that does seem to be the case.
> >>
> >> David Kellogg
> >> Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> On 15 March 2015 at 01:40, Martin John Packer
> >> <mpacker@uniandes.edu.co>
> >> wrote:
> >>
> >>> Nonsense, David, she's reading the list of ingredients printed on
> >>> the bottom!
> >>>
> >>> And isn't "Baby Bites" wonderfully polysemous?
> >>>
> >>> Martin
> >>>
> >>> On Mar 13, 2015, at 4:17 PM, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com>
> wrote:
> >>>
> >>>>
> >>>> http://www.greatnewplaces.com/images/Kids/img7189_30122012121700.j
> >>>> peg
> >>>>
> >>>> My students were struck by the fact that the child, surrounded by
> >>> elaborate
> >>>> tools not of her own making, seems much more interested in the
> >>>> objects
> >> as
> >>>> objects than in their use as signs.
> >>>
> >>>
> >>>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
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