Re: LCA Gordon Wells on Halliday

From: Gordon Wells (
Date: Sun Jun 26 2005 - 08:52:09 PDT

Thanks for restarting the discussion, Ruqaiya.

Just a point of clarification. You comment:

>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.

I thought I had made it clear that I think we can NOT carry out many
functions unaided. On the contrary, as you say, according to the
evidence available, one of the two the features that distinguished
the earliest humans from other primates was the mediation of action
by artifacts; the other was the social, other-orientation that
enabled them to cooperate in group living. Both of these occurred in
the pre-speech millennia. So, from the very earliest times,
ontogenesis took place within a semioticized world. So I largely
agree with your final paragraph. The point I wanted to emphasize was
that, at every point of cultural-historical development, activity was
and is mediated by all the artifact-mediated modes of knowing and
communicating. Language is certainly the most powerful, but not the
only modality.

>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.


Gordon Wells
Dept of Education,
UC Santa Cruz.

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