LCA: Getting started with tools, signs and activity

From: Phil Chappell (
Date: Tue Jun 14 2005 - 04:26:59 PDT

Dear Language, Culture and Activity enthusiasts,

We finally have the papers posted on the site; I've included the URL
again, with a ? at the end, as for some reason it fails to launch an
updated version in some browsers

You'll see we have three broad strands for discussion, the first, which
I'm introducing here, being a kind of eclectic mix of readings. The
Vygotsky extracts are there as a refresher for many on the fundamental
role of tools and signs in human activity. The A.A. Leontiev paper,
focusing on speech activity, is for me a deceptively easy read, but
underlying it is a solid foundation of activity theory developed by
A.A.'s father, A.N Leontiev. For example, AAL invokes the consciousness
of the learner in the learning process, considering motives, actions
and operations, as well as considering speech operations in speech
acts. So, a paper introducing, so to speak, a mediational theory of
mind involving tools and signs, and a paper based upon activity theory
that considers foreign language learning.

Once we have covered these, Steve Thorne will lead the discussion of
his co-authored paper on what he and Jim Lantolf have called a
"Linguistics of Communicative Activity", or LCA. That will then provide
some kind of segue into a main theme of this enterprise - how the work
of Halliday and colleagues might inform the theory of human activity in
which so many of us are interested.

I'm never very good at asking such a diverse group of scholars a
question that will hopefully motivate you to tap away at your keyboard,
so I'd rather paste a paragraph from the Vygotsky extracts that for me
sums up the essence of what LSV was "meaning", and ask for some
comments and clarification, especially on the role of language.

Over to everybody...


We must emphasize also that our diagram [FIGURE 1 ON PAGE 4 - PC] is
intended to present the logical relation of the concepts, but not the
genetic or functional (on the whole, real) relations of the phenomena.
We would like to point to the relation of the concepts, but not in any
way to their origin or real root. So conditionally, but at the same
time in a purely logical scheme of relations of the concepts, our
diagram presents both types of devices as diverging lines of mediating
activity. The second point we have developed consists of this. A more
substantial difference of the sign from the tool and the basis of the
real divergence of the two lines is the different purpose of the one
and the other. The tool serves for conveying man's activity to the
object of his activity, it is directed outward, it must result in one
change or another in the object, it is the means for man's external
activity directed toward subjugating nature. The sign changes nothing
in the object of the psychological operation, it is a means of
psychological action on behavior, one's own or another's, a means of
internal activity directed toward mastering man himself; the sign is
directed inward. These activities are so different that even the nature
of the devices used cannot be one and the same in both cases.

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