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[Xmca-l] Re: The Stuff of Words

Personally, I think the first and most persistently important thing is to see how much alike are tables and words.

But ... Vygotsky was very insistent on the distinction because he was fighting a battle against the idea that speech ought to be subsumed under the larger category of labour. He had to fight for semiotics against a vulgar kind of orthodox Marxism. But we here in 2017 are living in different times, where we have Discourse Theory and Linguistics while Marxism is widely regarded as antique. As Marx said "Just as philosophers have given thought an independent existence, so they were bound to make language into an independent realm." and we live well and truly in the times when labour is subsumed under language, and not the other way around.

Everyone knows that a table is unlike a word. The point it to understand how tables are signs and word are material objects.


(BTW David, back in 1986 I walked in an offshoot of the bionic ear project. The ear has a little keyboard that works like a piano keyboard in reverse, making a real time Fourier transform of that air pressure wave and coding the harmonics it in nerve impulse. The brain never hears that pressure signal.)

Andy Blunden
On 3/05/2017 7:06 AM, Alfredo Jornet Gil wrote:
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: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.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
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