Gordon Wells on Halliday

From: ruqaiya hasan (Ruqaiya.Hasan@ling.mq.edu.au)
Date: Sat Jun 25 2005 - 22:43:55 PDT

First, I thought a lot of what Lantolf and Thorne had to say resonates very
well with the social semiotic approach of systemic functional linguistics.
And so far as SFL is concerned we have never even doubted that Halliday's
position on language and society is very sympathetic to Vygotsky's, tho
there are differences. Regret I couldn't get into the discussion until
now -- especially on sign and material tools.

Here are a few reactions to Gordon on Halliday:

Gordon comments (perhaps emphasizing nature's gift to humanity) that we
could carry out many fundctions 'unaided' by any kind of mediation. I have
some reservations on this. Of course readers' orientations so their
interpretations and focus will vary: for me, one of the most important
comments made by Vygotsky in regard to mediation is that it changes 'the
nature of the human activity' and along with that the working of human mind
by altering the existing structures of both the known and the ways of
knowing. Further let us not forget Vygotsky's claim that the higher mental
functions (sociogenetic therefore semiotically mediated) are the essentially
human functions.

In comments on language and learning in Halliday, I would make one
reservation: for Halliday 'learning through language' does not equal just
'techologized/ theorized knowledge': rather as Gordon later clarifies MAKH's
point is that language mediates in learning of every kind: local as well as
official knowledge, theorized and explicit as well as non-theorized and
implicit knowledge such as is needed for everyday living. So we cannot say
that linguistic mediation for Halliday is necessarily limited to the mastery
of grammatical metaphor. Gordon is naturally (by his calling) more
interested in those sorts of [scientific/technologized] concepts: they have
been very important in the shaping of our life and culture - both its
comforts and its curses. And while extolling our achievements, our powerful
exosomatic adaptational strategies, we must try not to forget its downside.

Re Gordon's penultimate para: it occurs to me that none of us knows a world
that has not already been semioticised. Which also means that we do not know
what mediation by other modalities - whether semiotic or material, and if
semiotic, whether linguistic or non-linguistic - would look like, and what
any such mediation would achieve outside of a semioticised world: for the
most part, we separate to analyse, while the secret of the living of life is
to combine. The very fact that neonates have to be cared for by adults and
that adults are always already acculturated beings is highly important. What
Bourdieu called embodiment and habitus begin to get formed very early, and
always through interpersonal relation, which is where Vygotsky is so right,
which is where we must remember that being acculturated is a varied
condition: we are all acculturated , but not necessarily the same way.


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