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

From: Gordon Wells (
Date: Thu Jun 16 2005 - 12:00:55 PDT

I have recently been reading Anna Stetsenko's introduction to the
section in The Essential Vygotsky (Kluwer, 2004) entitled 'Scientific
Legacy: Tool and Sign in the Development of the Child.' I found it a
very helpful situating of the tool/sign issue in the larger Vygotsky
project. Anna has agreed to have the article reproduced for our
discussion and I intended to scan it and then post i.t. Unfortunately
the software that comes with my scanner won't launch. But I'll keep
on trying.

Following on from previous discussion, I feel there is another
distinction to be drawn between tool and sign (while acknowledging
their similarity in mediating action). Tools (of a material kind) are
usually already to hand and are 'used' in order to benefit from their
affordances for the achievement of the intended action. Signs (of a
linguistic kind) seem to me to be different. They don't preexist the
signing/languaging operation that mediates an action which is often
not fully envisaged in advance. Furthermore, signing occurs in a
dialogic interaction with one or more other signers who contribute
their own interpretation of the sign. Signs (or 'utterances' as
Bakhtin would say) look in both directions - both to preceding
utterances and to the anticipated response. To a degree, this still
holds when the dialogue takes place in inner speech as such inner
dialogue is ultimately part of a social activity involving other
people and the tools that are also involved.


Gordon Wells
Dept of Education,
UC Santa Cruz.

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