Re: LCA: Getting started with tools, signs and activity

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Wed Jun 15 2005 - 07:03:51 PDT

I am about to loose contact with this margin writing exercise but have the
readings with me and hope to peak in
on the discussion if access permits, at least until the july 4 weekend when
I should be home again. I want to
suggest two ideas, one sort of procedural, one substantive, as people read
and ask for help from our Russian
colleagues who access to the Russian texts.
 The "procedural" issue relates to translation. When Norris Minnick was
re-translating Thought and Language and it
became Thinking and Speech, LCHC was reading along with him with the
originals to hand, and there were a lot
of difficult translation issues that had no one definitive answer. It would
be interesting for someone to check the
translation from the collected works against the translation in the van der
veer and Valsiner readings to see if the
key terms come out the same. Did the term, activity (deyatelnost) really
appear in the mediator position at the
top of the diagram? Did the sentence in the paragraph Phil quoted really say
"conveyings man's activity"? Or
might words like "action" appear there? Just on surface reading, I am
sceptical of some of the translations
choices and they have theoretical consequences in a theoretical framework
where a relatively sharp distinction
is drawn between actin and activity. Ditto for terms like "conditioned
stimulus" in the first paragraph on signs,
not "conditional stimulus"? And is the link to Pavlovian theory clear to
all? How about "middle stimulus" in para
3 line 2?
 With such an international discussion, hopefully our Russian members can
help with such questions which cannot
be answered sitting in an airport reading the English!
 Theoretical issue. I am uncomfortable drawing too strong a distinction
between sign and tool. Note the following
kind of statement: "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."
 Now, if the sign changes the behavior or another and not just oneself, why
treat the directionality of sign and tool
as unidirectional, and why not consider them as differently oriented, but
where change in the "other" and the "self"
are both occuring as part of a single process?
 And with that. Poof. I am going to have to return to the texts and come
back later.

 On 6/15/05, Ana Marjanovic-Shane <> wrote:
> Dear LCA community (enthusiasts and skeptics),
> In the times before universal literacy and mechanical press, when books
> were written and published by hand, discussions of important texts were
> written directly around the original texts and published as the margins
> written by great scholars. What we are doing now (again on XMCA) is the same
> activity. With the contemporary technology we have something those ancient
> people could not even dream about: instant discussion across the whole
> planet, and instantly publishable for each other. Really amazing.
> Anyway, I spent the whole day reading the excerpts from Vygotsky -- the
> first reading on the list, and re-reading the other excerpts from Vygotsky
> -- from the "Concrete Human Psychology" on the same website for Winter 2005
> discussion. The two connect extraordinarily well.
> I just want to add some remarks on the margins of both texts:
> Since Phil started with the paragraph regarding the Diagram (on page 4 of
> the excerpts), let me continue. It is clear from this paragraph and from
> other places in this reading that Vygotsky wanted to make a distinction
> between the nature of the mediating function played by tools on one hand,
> and the nature of the mediating function played by signs, on the other.
> While tools change the nature of the physical act aimed at a specific
> material object(s), signs change the nature of the inner activity aimed
> controlling one's own behavior. This distinction is not always clear in
> contemporary expansions or critiques of Vygotsky's theory. But from the
> paragraph below and from several other quotations (in the "Concrete Human
> Psychology<>"
> reading) one can see the effort Vygotsky was making to clarify this
> distinction.
> In the "Concrete Human Psychology" he shows that signs are socially
> constructed in order to regulate or "control" social relations, and when the
> social interactions become internalized, signs then mediate between "the man
> and his brain" or between "me" and "I". In fact, it is the signs that enable
> construction of higher psychological functions out of the social relations,
> events and experiences. What is interesting here is the role of signs in
> internalizing interpersonal relationships into conscious, willful control of
> one's own behavior.
> And so, although both the tools and the signs act as mediators, they are
> very different and they act very differently in the processes of
> development.
> To make this more concrete (to ascend, so to speak :-), here is an example
> of what may become internalized.
> One of the very first words that my older son used to utter in the middle
> of the night when he was about one year old, was "my! my!". I would ask him
> "Do you want to come to MY bed?", and he would say "yes". That use of the
> word "MY" always impressed me (an adult, a mother and a researcher of
> language development) as a very deep foundation for what that word would
> develop into later. From "MY" - meaning really: "your bed", or "yours" or,
> maybe, "us together", or "warm", or "cozy", or "milk", or "take me to your
> side", or all of this together -- to "MY" as an indicator of something that
> belongs to "ME". From a clearly interpersonal meaning to a very personal
> meaning in the later life.
> Ana
> Phil Chappell wrote:
> 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...
> Phil
> 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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