[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

[Xmca-l] Re: The Social and the Semiotic

I never thought of a hyphen as being diacritical (that is, indicating
different options in the pronunciation of a word), but of course Larry is
quite right: so for example the word "re-mediate" is pronounced differently
from the word "remediate". I suppose because so much of my work is
grammatical rather than phonological, I have always though of the hyphen as
having the same relationship to morphemes that a comma has to clauses: it
is a punctuation that is still stylistic rather than standardized, and it
is used to indicate that morphemes are linked but distinct rather than part
of a single unified morphological word (just as an Oxford comma is
stylistic rather than standard, and "She tore up the letter which upset me
(i.e. the letter upset me)" has a more linked meaning than "She tore up the
letter, which upset me (i.e. her tearing up the letter upset me)." So the
word "socio-cultural" always suggests to me process-and-product, while
"sociocultural" suggests a rather thoughtless conflation of the two (for
example, the way in which James Lantolf, Steve Thorne, and their students
use it as a synonym for "Vygotskyan").

I notice that the French prefer "historico-culturelle" to
"cultural-historical", and actually "historico-cultural" is what Vygotsky
himself says on the rare occasions he tries to name what he is doing. It
seems to me that here too we have process before product. I certainly don't
think that Vygotsky himself was modest about the idea of history as a
process leading to more complex forms of culture; one obvious sign that
human progress in that sense is a reality is that here in Australia the
attitude towards indigeneous peoples is sometimes one of patronization,
condescension, liberal "tolerance and acceptance", and sometimes
assimilationism, but it is not, as it was not so very long ago, outright
casual or state-sponsored genocide. I think that to say that this does not
represent human progress is a little like saying that the child's
acquisition of speech, of self-love, and of true concepts does not
represent development.

The problem is that all real development is nonlinear, U-shaped, and crisis
ridden. So on the face of it whales live a life something like the
primitive hunting and gathering peoples described by anthropologists like
Marshall Sahlins and Richard Lee: they are an "affluent society" that has
achieved affluence not by expanding their means but rather by restricting
their wants. It's a remarkable achievement, easily comparable to the kind
of progress we see in hunter gatherers who have created societies that
function on a fraction of the human labor required in modern societies. But
it's very easy to point to the seasonal weight loss of whales (similar to
seasonal weight loss in hunting and gathering societies) and imagine that
their creation of a distinct "road trip" phase of life in which no food is
taken in (and this is the period when calving occurs and mothers have to be
generating forty litres of whale milk a day!) is not a form of survival but
a form of suicide. As soon as we are able to distinguish as a period of
semiosis (which is NOT goal oriented activity in the CHAT sense) then I
think its value in the life cycle of the whale becomes a little clearer.

David Kellogg
Macquarie University

"The Great Globe and All Who It Inherit:
Narrative and Dialogue in Story-telling with
Vygotsky, Halliday, and Shakespeare"

Free Chapters Downloadable at:


Recent Article: Thinking of feeling: Hasan, Vygotsky, and Some Ruminations
on the Development of Narrative in Korean Children

Free E-print Downloadable at:


On Tue, Jun 27, 2017 at 12:53 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

> The inclusion of "historical" is quite loaded, James, marking the Soviet
> heritage of CHAT, and rejected by those who regard the inclusion of
> "historical" as a modern arrogance based on notions of social progress.
> Personally, I like "historical" while I reject the notion of cultural
> totalities which can be ordered unproblematically, whether chronologically
> or otherwise.
> Andy
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> Andy Blunden
> http://home.mira.net/~andy
> http://www.brill.com/products/book/origins-collective-decision-making
> On 26/06/2017 6:19 PM, James Ma wrote:
>> Hello David, I have an applied linguistics background too. My first
>> acquaintance with the term "sociocultural" was in the work of H Stern who
>> described sociocultural factors in language learning and teaching. I do
>> feel a bit strange that "sociocultural" appears to be interchangeable
>> with "cultural-historical" when people talk about Vygotsky and his
>> followers.
>> James
>> *_________________________________________________________*
>> *James Ma*  *https://oxford.academia.edu/JamesMa
>> <https://oxford.academia.edu/JamesMa>*
>> On 25 June 2017 at 23:09, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com> wrote:
>> A few years ago there was a minor theoretical kerfuffle at the
>>> International Congress of Systemic Functional Linguistics in Vancouver.
>>> Systemic Functional Linguists tend to be gentle, ruminant creatures, who
>>> frown on intellectual prize fighting (building "vertical" intellectual
>>> structures, like building chemistry on physics and biology on chemistry,
>>> is
>>> the goal rather than building "horizontal" knowledge structures like
>>> competing fields of sociology, psychology, cognitive science). But they
>>> also prize delicacy and like to make fine distinctions that account
>>> exhaustively for data (e.g. vocabulary is treated as nothing but most
>>> delicate grammar, and grammar as most general forms of vocabulary, hence
>>> the use of "words" for the latter and "wording" for the former).
>>> Accounting exhaustively for language as a social-semiotic phenomenon
>>> usually involves a delicate distinction between the social and the
>>> semiotic, something like the distinction between physics and chemistry on
>>> the one hand and biology on the other. But Jim Martin argued that
>>> semiotic
>>> activity does not occur independent of social activity and vice versa,
>>> so,
>>> by Occam's razor, the terms are redundant and the hyphen superfluous.
>>> Surely the distinction between social behavior and meaningful behavior is
>>> nothing like the distinction between animate and inanimate, sentient and
>>> non-sentient, carbon-based self-replicating matter and inorganic
>>> compounds.
>>> Yesterday, we went whale watching out of Sydney Harbour. The Southwest
>>> Pacitic humpback community, which numbers between thirty and forty
>>> thousand, spends the summer (that is, your winter) months in Antarctica
>>> feeding on krill and small fish; they have an ingenious method of feeding
>>> called bubble-netting which takes about 27 years for a whale to learn.
>>> It's
>>> a lot like Leontiev's description of a primitive hunt: twelve whales work
>>> together to emit a circle of small bubbles encircling the prey, and
>>> gradually shaping it into a tall cylinder about thirty metres in
>>> diameter.
>>> When the krill kill is shaped in this way, the dinner table is set. The
>>> whales just sluice up and down through the cylinder with their baleen
>>> plates agape, raking in thousands of fish and/or tiny crustaceans with
>>> each
>>> pass.
>>> But then they embark on the road trip which brings them past Sydney
>>> Harbour
>>> and to points further north. The migration lasts many months, during
>>> which
>>> the whales do not eat at all. Even mothers, who have to produce about 40
>>> litres of whale milk daily, fast the whole six months. I noticed that the
>>> whales we saw were always in groups of two or three and I wondered to the
>>> marine biologist on board if whales worked in small communities in
>>> Antarctica but then went on holidays in nuclear families. She pointed out
>>> that these dyads and triads were all the same size and gender. "They're
>>> just mates," she said.
>>> She also said that the study of whale songs is being
>>> "de-anthropmorphized":
>>> it was previously believed that since they vary much like languages, with
>>> regional dialects and some "multilingualism", they must have an economic
>>> function in feeding, a sexual function in mating, or a political function
>>> in establishing male dominance (no easy feat, because females are
>>> polyandrous and rather larger than males). None of this is the case:
>>> whales
>>> sing when they aren't feeding, when they aren't mating, and when they
>>> aren't fighting: they just like to sing. And in fact the four-tone songs
>>> vary more like pop-tunes than like regional dialects or functional
>>> registers.
>>> Now, when the kerfuffle broke out between Halliday and Martin in
>>> Vancouver,
>>> Halliday pointed to ants as a species who were social but not semiotic
>>> (there is no reason to believe that "meaning" as distinct from molecular
>>> biology is at stake). You might think the Southwest Pacific humpback
>>> community is a good counter example, since they clearly have both social
>>> and semiotic activity. But it seems to me exactly the opposite: they are
>>> a
>>> clear example that social activity is goal oriented in one way, and
>>> semiotic activity is goal oriented in quite a different way. I have never
>>> liked using the term socio-cultural to describe Vygotsky's theory (it is
>>> the term generally used in my own field of applied linguistics) because I
>>> thought it was redundant; now I am not so sure.
>>> --
>>> David Kellogg
>>> Macquarie University