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[Xmca-l] Re: The Stuff of Words
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- Thread-topic: [Xmca-l] The Stuff of Words
David (and or Mike, Andy, anyone else), could you give a bit more on that distinction between words and tables?
And could you say how (and whether) (human, hand) nails are different from tables; and then how nails are different from words?
From: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org> on behalf of David Kellogg <email@example.com>
Sent: 01 May 2017 08:43
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] The Stuff of Words
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
were previously a part and which they mediate in the present (e.g., the
a pencil carries within it the history of certain forms of writing). They
in that they are embodied in material artifacts. This principle applies
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
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
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