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[Xmca-l] Re: The Stuff of Words

A magnificent paper, Andy--I particularly like the distinction between
project and practice. We tend to think of (pedagogical) practices as
repetitive, self-reinforcing, and reactionary; this is a distinction that
makes a difference.

Koreans aren't really into chairs. We know about them, of course; just as
we know about office cubicles, neckties, and French wines.  But chairs are
really for work; when you get home, you sit on the floor. If guests come,
they sit on the sofa. And if they are really good friends, they sit in a
row on the floor with their backs against the sofa, and you sit opposite
them covering the TV set with your back, with a small floor-table (i.e. a
table that is about ankle high) bearing cut persimmons with toothpicks in
them between you, looking deep into their eyes. I don't think any of this
is encoded in the structure of chairs, sofas, or TV sets. It's part of the
way in which they have all been ripped from one cultural history and
imposed on a very different one. I think you have to say the same thing
about the stuff of words as well.

As Vygotsky pointed out, every lexicogrammar is a rich emulsion, with
islands of foreign wordings. On the one hand, the original significations
of the words are often accessible to us through etymological analysis, so
long as the language is familiar to us (e.g. so long as an English child
knows enough French to know that a "clairvoyant" was originally someone who
sees clearly). On the other, these original meanings are often a
distraction from the sense that the words now have today (e.g. the English
child must know that a "clairvoyant" sees darkly and mistily, as if through
a veil of black gauze).

Word stuff in English tends to go "DA-da" if it hangs around along enough.
So for example, the name "An-DRE" becomes "AN-drew" within a few centuries
of the Norman Conquest, and the diminutive "Andy", which is child-like in
its refusal to end in a consonant sound like a proper man's name (compare:
"Andrew") or to end in a vowel sound like a proper woman's name ("Andrea")
is in some ways an exaggeration of its Englishness. This process of
Anglicization makes it very hard to recover the original sounding. And of
course meaning and sounding is solidary, in words if not in tables and

David Kellogg
Macquarie University

On Mon, May 1, 2017 at 5:44 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

> David, in this paper https://www.academia.edu/30657582/
> if you do a search for "chair" you will see an extended quote from a
> Hegelian called Heikki who is using production of chairs rather than tables
> as an example for concepts, after which you will see my critique (with
> which I am sure you will agree) and then if you flip to the mention of
> "chair" at the bottom of page 7 you see a surprising thing about the
> production of chairs which illustrates Mike's point about how pencils are
> carriers of historical practices.
> Andy
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> Andy Blunden
> http://home.mira.net/~andy
> http://www.brill.com/products/book/origins-collective-decision-making
> On 1/05/2017 4:58 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>> And tables carry with them the practice of eating "at table" and meeting
>> a the board room table etc., it not that the table carries the idea of
>> table but is the bearer of practices, which have refined the size and shape
>> of tables for eating, talking, etc. LIkewise pencils are for cursive
>> writing on paper. not scratching hieroglyphics into clay.
>> Great quote from Mike! There is a LOT of resistance to this idea ...
>> everywhere. It smells of Marxism.
>> Andy
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> Andy Blunden
>> http://home.mira.net/~andy
>> http://www.brill.com/products/book/origins-collective-decision-making
>> On 1/05/2017 4:43 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
>>> Gordon Wells quotes this from an article Mike wrote in a Festschrift for
>>> George Miller. Mike is talking about artefacts:
>>> "They are ideal in that they contain in coded form the interactions of
>>> which they
>>> were previously a part and which they mediate in the present (e.g., the
>>> structure of
>>> a pencil carries within it the history of certain forms of writing). They
>>> are material
>>> in that they are embodied in material artifacts. This principle applies
>>> with equal
>>> force whether one is considering language/speech or the more usually
>>> noted
>>> forms
>>> of artifacts such as tables and knives which constitute material culture.
>>> What
>>> differentiates a word, such as “language” from, say, a table. is the
>>> relative prominence
>>> of their material and ideal aspects. No word exists apart from its
>>> material
>>> instantiation (as a configuration of sound waves, or hand movements, or
>>> as
>>> writing,
>>> or as neuronal activity), whereas every table embodies an order imposed
>>> by
>>> thinking
>>> human beings."
>>> This is the kind of thing that regularly gets me thrown out of journals
>>> by
>>> the ear. Mike says that the difference between a word and a table is the
>>> relative salience of the ideal and the material. Sure--words are full of
>>> the ideal, and tables are full of material. Right?
>>> Nope. Mike says it's the other way around. Why? Well, because a word
>>> without some word-stuff (sound or graphite) just isn't a word. In a
>>> word, meaning is solidary with material sounding: change one, and you
>>> change the other. But with a table, what you start with is the idea of
>>> the
>>> table; as soon as you've got that idea, you've got a table. You could
>>> change the material to anything and you'd still have a table.
>>> Wells doesn't throw Mike out by the ear. But he does ignore the
>>> delightful
>>> perversity in what Mike is saying, and what he gets out of the quote is
>>> just that words are really just like tools. When in fact Mike is saying
>>> just the opposite.
>>> (The part I don't get is Mike's notion that the structure of a pencil
>>> carries within it the history of certain forms of writing. Does he mean
>>> that the length of the pencil reflects how often it's been used? Or is he
>>> making a more archaeological point about graphite, wood, rubber and their
>>> relationship to a certain point in the history of writing and erasing?
>>> Actually, pencils are more like tables than like words--the idea has to
>>> come first.)
>>> David Kellogg
>>> Macquarie University