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

From: lcclarke (
Date: Wed Jun 22 2005 - 23:00:58 PDT




I have not fully grasped your distinction between tools and signs but I am
very interested in your treatment of self-awareness as "directly born in the
process of internalization of a mediated social relationship." I am
contemplating if the same can be said of self-confidence (a state of being
in control-the ability to make conscious, intentional choices) which can
lead to self-determination and personal responsibility and perhaps good
markers for student achievement and success.


In their recent book, "The culturally proficient school: An implementation
guide for school leaders (Corwin Press,)" Lindsey, Roberts & CampbellJones
(2005) addressed self-confidence within the context of "feeling-to-action"
connection and school leaders' internalization progressing to a continuum of
reactions ranging from anger to guilt with confidence somewhere in the
middle. The linguistic implications are indeed significant but more so the
sociocultural and political implications for schools, teaching and learning
for all students especially minoritized students. Is anyone out there aware
any supporting literature for the development of self-confidence from an
activity/sociocultural theory perspective?




-----Original Message-----
From: Ana Marjanovic-Shane []
Sent: Friday, June 17, 2005 2:47 AM
Subject: Re: LCA: Getting started with tools, signs and activity


Steven and all,
I think that the primary difference between tools and signs is in the
different place and function of the mediational processes. Both tools and
signs change both the nature of the individual's and culture's relationship
to the environment, on the one hand, and the nature of the relationships
between individual people, between individuals and institutions and between
segments of culture to other segments of culture. However there is a
difference in WHERE the mediation occurs and how the process is started and
by what means it is carried out. Moreover, those differences are systematic
and not random.
Tools mediate the "subject" - "object" relationship. They not only enable
different and further reaching transformations of the environment, but also
enable specific conceptualizations of the "object", making certain aspects
of the "object" more "visible" than the others. I am using the notion of an
"object" in a very abstract way -- not just material environment, but also
people if "objectified" -- like in our own dialogue about the nature of
human communication, or relational objects like "electricity", "power" etc.
Semiotic signs, on the other hand, mediate the relationships between
persons, the "subject" - "subject" relationship, changing it form direct
affective response relationships (attack/defense; appeal/appeal; rivalry;
power domination; etc) to relationships ABOUT something else that is
addressed in the semiotic signs. Semiotic tools also change the
subject/object relationships, however only within the subject/subject
relationships. This is where the significance and the meaning of the
semiotic signs are forged. So, tools change the nature of the subject-object
relationship first and through that, they indirectly affect and change
social relationships (through the division of labor and through changing the
nature of social possibilities, norms and rules. Semiotic signs, on the
other hand, change the nature of social relationships from direct emotional
ones based on immediate reactions between the subjects, to relationships
which are mediated by topics and themes far out (in place and time and the
nature) of the immediate present reality. Through mediating interpersonal
(and inter "institutional") relationships, signs give the "object" to which
they refer a different significance and meaning, and thus also mediate the
subject/object relationships. What is also important is Vygotsky's notion
that the sign mediates between "I" and "me" -- i.e. that when an
interpersonal process is internalized, then, not only signs become tools of
self direction, but because the interpersonal relations are changed from
immediate ones to the mediated ones, the nature of identity is changed from
immediate emotional, sensory-motor one (primary psychological functions) to
a person with a meaning (not just "me" but also "I") -- in other words,
self-awareness is directly born in the process of internalization of a
mediated social relationship.

I think that this distinction is relevant, because it creates a functional
explanation of different types of mediating processes and the relationships
between them.

Steven Thorne wrote:


Hi all --


Following up on Gordon Well's post, I too believe there is a distinction
between (material) tools and semiotic (language-based) signs. But the
dividing line between them is problematic, especially in the area of
pre-existence vs. dialogical emergentism (a binary that is analytically
useful but ontologically too discrete).

Material tools do exist in material form prior to use whereas the actual
vocalized utterance, scribble on the page, ASL sign, or pixel on a screen
display does not. However, there is also a case to be made that material
tools, in part, dialogically achieve their ideality through the immediacy of
use. For instance, two users may differentially understand and employ the
"same" material tool, or adapt to or learn from one another's tool use over
time. Or together users will create a new culture-of-use for a tool.

With language, I will pose the counter point. Each instantiation of an
utterance carries with it the redisua of prior occasions of use. As Gordon
intimated, this is one of Bakhtin's primary contributions, that language use
and learning is a process, more or less creative, of the appropriation of
others' words (I paraphrase Bakhtin here), with both anaphoric and
cataphoric forces mediating its construction.

In this sense, while many facets of communicative activity are emergent,
signs are, in a very real sense, pre-existing, at least in ideal forms.
Indeed, as Jim Lantolf and I describe in our paper for this week, corpus
analytic research demonstrates that supra-word constructions and formulaic
sequences (i.e., pre-existing utterances) comprise the majority of both
spoken and written utterances.

Though it is likely unnecessary to say this to participants on xmca,
language matters both at qualitative (meaning, significance) and
quantitative (frequency and distribution) levels. As the L1 researcher Dan
Slobin argued more than 20 years ago that "language evokes ideas; it does
not represent them" and "linguistic expression is not a natural map of
consciousness or thought. It is a highly selective and conventionally
schematic map" (1982: 132).

This articulates with our interest in cognitive linguistics and linguistic
relativity research. Contemporary efforts in this area, while not
uncontroversial, provide compelling empirical support for the relations
between communicative activity and the formation of higher order mental
functions (discussed not so much in the intro chapter available for this
minicourse but later in the book).

Returning to the opposition that opened this post - I'll finish up with a
sticky utterance. Building on Rommetveit, it is clear that dialogical
contingencies radically shift the contours of languaging activity and its
relation to perception and cognition. But so too is there a dialectical
tension between the "pre-existing" ideal form(s) of an utterance and its
"more or less" creative deployment in goal-directed communicative activity.




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.


Steven L. Thorne Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics Linguistics and Applied Language Studies and Communication Arts and Sciences Associate Director, Center for Language Acquisition Associate Director, Center for Advanced Language Proficiency Education and Research The Pennsylvania State University

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