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[Xmca-l] Re: The Stuff of Words

I will have to slip in a line about the cultural as well as historical variation in the concept of "chair", David. Thank you for that. :)

And yes, everything that is discussed in the paper about "useful objects", i.e., artefacts, applies exactly to words (which as Mike pointed out are artefacts). The great thing about making the point in connection with plain ordinary useful objects like spoons, chairs and tables is that it is all quite transparent and no special knowledge or facility in linguistics is required to follow the idea - anyone can grasp the point viscerally. I hope that I have given Heikki sufficient credit for this move while blasting him for his interpretation of the Philosophy of Right.


Andy Blunden
On 2/05/2017 7:53 AM, David Kellogg wrote:
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 chairs.

David Kellogg
Macquarie University

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

    David, in this paper

    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 Blunden
    http://home.mira.net/~andy <http://home.mira.net/%7Eandy>

    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 Blunden

        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
            of artifacts such as tables and knives which
            constitute material culture.
            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
            or as neuronal activity), whereas every table
            embodies an order imposed by
            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