Re: LCA: Toward another LCA

From: Steven Thorne (
Date: Thu Jun 23 2005 - 12:06:41 PDT

hi all -- building on ana and peter's comments, i agree that the
appropriate unit of analysis within an LCA framework must be
supra-word and intimately integrated with gesture (as described by
McNeill and others).

as ana notes, a supra-word unit of analysis is hardly a new argument.
as has been discussed for some years, in their very fabric,
utterances are interpersonal and social-historical at the level of
production (e.g., collaborative completions), emerge from as well as
re-articulate history (Bakhtin's responsivity), and are
cataphorically responsive (addressivity), and that meaning making
processes are deeply contextual (Rommetveit). what is compelling in
current (often applied) linguistics research is the variety of
massively empirical studies that support the claim that utterances
are the glue of communicative activity (corpus research; see also
arguments that formulaic sequesnces are valid units
psycholinguistically, e.g., Schmitt, Grandage, and Adolphs, in
Schmitt & Carter 2004).

i'm particularly excited to explore Hallidayan approaches to units of
analysis -- clause and (in a different sense) moves -- as well as
other aspects of SFL. i look forward to Gordon's, Ruqaiya's, and
others' insights and pespectives over the week(s) to come.

lastly, like many on the list, i've been other-oriented lately (we
welcomed Benicio, a baby boy, to our family last friday -- mother and
baby are both well, and father is ecstatic (if also a touch weary and


>Dear Phil and everyone,
>It is probably the summer lull or something similar -- every culture
>has its own reasons to explain such things. But they are probably
>always different.
>I can't wait to hear/read Gordon's introduction of Halli day's
>notions and their relation to Vygotsky. And in the meantime I was
>reading Lantolf/Thorne's Introduction chapter to the Sociocultural
>theory and the genesis of second language development. So I'll pick
>up with your offer to discuss the "unit of analysis".
>What is evident from the discussion and from the almost century long
>line of discussions is that the unit of meaning cannot be equated
>either with single words, nor with "sentences", and that the move is
>toward "utterance" and the emergent aspect of meaning making.
>Vygotsky saw this difference as the difference between the stable
>"meaning" and a more fluid "sense" -- as the meaning realized in a
>particular context of a particular situation. Rommetveit, as L&T
>quote him, talked about meaning "potential".
>I think that even an "utterance" (with all the situatedness it
>carries in itself) is not quite right as a unit of meaning. The
>reason for that is that if utterance is considered as a units of
>meaning then the "meaning" is still a category in the domain of the
>interpretables, i.e. what is a resulting meaning of a particular
>utterance in a particular situation -- is not only a matter of
>interpretation by the participants in that situation but also by a
>researcher. In other words, a researcher is still looking for what
>"chunk" or "fragment" of linguistic behavior refers to what "chunk"
>or fragment of the reality to which the participants refer at each
>point of development (on all developmental scales). However,
>referentiality of any size of the sign (word, sentence, utterance)
>is just one component of meaning making.
>Consider the following example from Kittay:
>"If I absentmindedly or emphatically utter 'Would you mind passing
>the salt?' you generally presume that I am making a request, and not
>inquiring into what you do or do not mind, at the same time you need
>not be at all concerned with what I am thinking about or otherwise
>intending at the time. I may care less about making the request and
>more about informing my host that he has once more overdone his
>fetish of providing salt-free food." (*Kittay)
>This is a situation in which the speaker has or creates more than
>one audience, by simultaneously "passing" two different meanings by
>the same "utterance". But the speaker does that by being able to
>simultaneously enact two "meaning" activities in one "utterance".
>For me this example illustrates several points that I want to make.
>First -- I think that a "unit of analysis of meaning" has to be
>dynamic and contain "acts" that are done by the interlocutors in the
>process of dialogue.
>Second -- the attributes a unit of meaning have to include the
>"acters" , i.e. the relational identities of the participants and
>the particular point in the history of the relationships at the time
>of the utterance;
>Third -- the referentiality of the signs also has to be studied in a
>genetic (developmental way) -- but with a caution that the
>researcher may not be in a position to know what exactly is being
>referred to. I'll illustrate this with an example of a very young
>child's language. (from my collection)
>This is a translation from Serbo-Croatian:
>While my mother and I were having a conversation in her room, my
>nephew Jovan (2 years, 4 months) took two long narrow cushions from
>his grandmother's bed. He crossed them on the floor, sat on the
>construction and said:
>J: "I'm building an airplane. It is not a mineral airplane, it is a
>plain airplane."
>This translation is a result of interpretation which was not
>automatic. In other words, what Jovan said was not immediately
>meaningful to us. In fact, when we (me and my mother who was Jovan's
>grandmother) first heard Jovan utter that phrase, we heard him say
>"Sour airplane" and "plain airplane". That was strange and did not
>make sense in his play. However, the juxtaposition of the adjectives
>he used: "sour"/"plain" ("kisela"/"obicna") lead us to think of
>something else: In our household in Belgrade, where we all lived
>together,we spoke frequently about "mineral water" and "fresh or
>plain" water. In Serbo-Croatian, although the adjective "kisela"
>means "sour", "kisela voda" means "mineral water" instead of "sour
>We thought that Jovan's use of the word "kiseli" was actually
>referring to "mineral" and not to "sour" because of the following:
>Jovan's mother did not let him drink mineral water, only fresh
>water. But, of course, he loved mineral water and he secretly took
>it whenever he could from the other members of the household.
>In addition, the cushions Jovan took to play with, also were
>something he was not allowed to touch. However, he took them off the
>bed while me and my mother were standing in a conversation of our
>We agreed that what Jovan wanted to say to US was that he was doing
>nothing bad or prohibited (like "mineral water"), but, on the
>contrary, he was claiming to just be playing a "plain" i.e.
>unforbidden game.
>I apologize for the length of this example, but it illustrates the
>difficulty in which every researcher (and not only of children's
>language) finds her/him-self whether they are aware of it or not: in
>order to analyze the construction of meaning, one has to be able to
>interpret the end-point, the resulting referential meaning, at least
>as well as every participant in the situation, and maybe even better
>then them.
>In addition, this example illustrates the need to know the "root"
>and the history of meaning development of particular "chunks" of
>linguistic phrases (be it words, sentences, utterances, etc).
>Finally, the MEANING as a process, as an activity of building
>particular relationships among the participants has to be analyzed
>as a relational activity: Jovan's words would not have meant
>anything to anyone else (and they almost did not mean anything to
>us!!!), but when we "understood" them, we understood what Jovan was
>telling us. And that was something that could only be interpreted
>as: "Please let me play with these cushions. I am not doing anything
>prohibited". We were the participants in the situation, and Jovan's
>closest relatives from the same household. That gave us relevant
>background knowledge.
>Finally, I think that Vygotsky's work opens more issues, let's us
>wondering more than it answers questions. For instance: if we are to
>understand the dual orientation of the sign -- as pointing outwards
>-- to control the others in communication; and as pointing inwards -
>to control one owns thought and feeling processes, we need to
>analyze the actual acts that are performed by an utterance. It is
>not only a matter of a correct interpretation of other people's
>utterances. It is also a matter of finding out what categories of
>such acts exist, what are the similarities and differences between
>acts that point outward and those that point inward, i.e. the nature
>of the transformation from communicative to intellectual acts.
>*Kittay, E.F. (1987), Metaphor: Its Cognitive Force and Linguistic
>Structure, Oxford: Clarendon Press; NY: Oxford University Press
>Phil Chappell wrote:
>>Dear All,
>>It is always perplexing when a discussion on XMCA stops dead in
>>it's tracks! But it has, probably because everyone is reading the
>>papers, pondering the topics, or busy elsewhere... co-facilitator
>>Steve Thorne, like many I suspect, is unfortunately in the last
>>category for a few
>>it would be good to keep the discussions moving, as Gordon is
>>waiting in the wings to introduce the Vygotsky/Halliday
>>language/learning component. But in the meantime, those who are not
>>familiar with the Hallidayan school might look at the discussion in
>>the Lantolf and Thorne paper on Hopper's emergent grammar, and it's
>>unit of analysis, as with Rommetveit and Bakhtin, as the utterance
>>(the move and clause in Hallidayan theory). Arguments for the
>>"sentence" as a unit of analysis are questioned in the paper, and a
>>fundamental difference between spoken and written language is
>>foregrounded. What I find challenging both for the language teacher
>>and the researcher investigating the talk that goes on between
>>students during classroom communicative activity is the idea of
>>speech NOT constituting an ellipted form of some reified linguistic
>>system (e.g. "Slab" ellipted from "Please bring me the slab" - see
>>the example from Wittgenstein on page 9 of the paper). It poses
>>some serious challenges for what we are teaching, how learning may
>>be facilitated and how we might interpret what is being said. And
>>of course a theory of context is involved.
>>Lantolf and Thorne:
>>we speak of ellipsis of elements, as if the elements had originally
>>been there or are there underlyingly and then are deleted in the
>>actual production of the utterances in question. However, this is a
>>consequence of the jargon inherited from linguistic theory which
>>posits underlying forms that are deleted in certain contexts. The
>>claim of emergent grammar is that nothing is missing or deleted in
>>the examples just considered; it is that interlocutors
>>intentionally combine linguistic forms and contexts to produce
>>utterances that give rise to specific local meanings (Hanks 1996:
>>120). In communicating, then, 'actors continually reach beyond
>>themselves and the pre-established forms of language to create
>>meanings that were not there before' (Hanks 1996: 121).
>>To all the language educators, researchers and other interested
>>parties - what do you think? And to those still pondering more
>>philosophical questions such as "When is a tool?" and "When is a
>>sign?".....ponder on. There is a point when we might archive the
>>question of what Heidegger said for a later move ;-)))
>>Looking forward to hearing from all those who were interested last
>>April in this endeavour.

Steven L. Thorne
Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics
Linguistics and Applied Language Studies
Communication Arts and Sciences
Associate Director, Center for Language Acquisition
Associate Director, Center for Advanced Language Proficiency 
Education and Research
The Pennsylvania State University
Interact > 814.863.7036 | | | IM: avkrook

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