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[Xmca-l] Foot, Footprint, Footnote


Here in Australia, we have a weekly seminar on Halliday and Hasan from two
of Halliday's leading disciples--now both professors and (like Halliday and
Hasan) married to each other. Sometimes they present and sometimes we do,
but no matter who presents the seminars always end the same way, with David
and Annabelle arguing about something that Halliday or Hasan once argued
about. It's by far the most interesting part of the seminar, and sometimes
the most useful too. So I don't think it mattered very much that we argued
about indexicality in front of the kids. They probably just wondered if we
were married.

If I remember correctly, the problem was that I wanted to talk about what
classroom observers see when they don't know any language, what they hear
when they start to notice things like stress and intonation and pausing and
speech rhythm, and what they understand when they finally crack the
lexicogrammatical code. I thought that icons, indexes and symbols was one
way to start sorting the data, and, since we're starting with data, I
thought I would compare icons to flesh and blood feet, indexes to
footprints on the wet sand, and symbols to a word like "foot" or "pied" or
"jiao". Peirce for dummies. But useful.

Now, as I understand Silverstein, he is reading Peirce because he can't
stand Saussure (apparently Silverstein thinks that Saussure is
anti-Semitic, for which the evidence is a little thin to say the least).
For Saussure, who likes dualisms, the distinction is essentially between
natural (experiential and logical) associations and non-natural
(conventional, or "arbitrary") associations.

Saussure incorrectly thinks that all linguistic associations are not
natural (in fact, only phonological associations are not natural) and that
all non-linguistic ones are natural. Silverstein points out, correctly,
that there are many associations (e.g. between black people and hip hop)
that are not linguistic...but not exactly natural either, and he chooses to
call these indexical.

Silverstein's point is correct, but his phrasing is a little problematic
for what I want to say, because I want the students to be thinking about
language specifically, and not the context of culture generally,
comparing how much they can do without any experience of Korean culture at
all with what they can do with some hypotheses based on their own language,
and then comparing those with what they can do with real knowledge of the
language. I'm not really making the case for the one over the other: I'm
just laying out options; the actual decisions that people make will
inevitably have to do with the linguistic resources at their disposal.

But if I remember correctly, all we did was to set up a new set of terms.
The foot is biomechanical, the footprint is indicative, and the word is
signifying. That's a fairly typical social science move--when you find
that someone is occupying the terminology you want to occupy, you just
invent a new terminology. It explains why we have so many words for the
same basic concepts. My point is that it's not a typical natural science
move--in natural science you have to build on the terminology you find, not
just slash, burn and move on.

It seems to me that these two different tendencies are natural--that is,
they are motivated, and each has strengths specific to its domain. The
strength of the social science move is that it resists reductionism: social
scientists resist the kind of article I read the other day in a medical
journal, from a researcher who wants to "explain" the desire to learn
language by a kind of functional pleasure released biochemically in the
brain whenever we learn a new word. The strength of the natural science
move is that it resists dualism: when you believe that biology rests on the
foundation of chemistry and that chemistry rests on a foundation of
physics, you live one world and not three. But just that one world is big
enough to include feet, footprints and footnotes.

David Kellogg
Macquarie University