Re: [xmca] Re: LCA: LSV: Thought and language

From: Wolff-Michael Roth (
Date: Wed Jun 29 2005 - 12:00:14 PDT

On 29-Jun-05, at 11:43 AM, Gordon Wells wrote:

> Eric,
> Rather than attempt to explicate Halliday's views myself, I suggest
> you go to his Towards a Language-based Theory of Learning (on xmca)
> and look particularly at Features 12-13 and 18-21. A key phrase is
> "reconstituting language means reconstituting reality".
> Interestingly, Vygotsky says something of the same kind in Tool and
> Sign in the Development of the Child (Collected Works, Vol 6 pp.
> 14-25). Discussing the effect of the development of speech on
> 'practical activity', he writes:
> The child's use of tools resembles the tool activity of apes only
> while the child is at the pre-speech stage of development. As soon as
> speech and the use of symbolic signs are included in the manipulation,
> it is transformed completely, superseding the former natural laws and
> engendering for the first time properly human forms of using
> tools.....
> These observations bring us to the conclusion that the child solves a
> practical problem not only with his eyes and hands, but also with the
> help of speech. ....
> The history of speech, flowing in the process of practical activity,
> is connected with profound reconstructions of the whole behavior of
> the child.

But one might add that this language FOR action is one that is very
different than language ABOUT action or language FOR conversation. Here
the analysis of the two Leont'ev's is helpful, as they subordinate
language to the activity, which in some situation is conversational
activity. Therefore, our analysis needs to begin with activity, of
which language is only an abstracted part.

The primary function of speech is communication, social intercourse.
When language was studied through analysis into elements, this
function, too, was dissociated from the intellectual function of
speech. The two were treated as though they were separate, if parallel,
functions, without attention to their structural and developmental
interrelation. (LSV: Thought and Language, Chapter 1)

Mikhailov adds in responding to his question, "Why does a word mean

But it means nothing outside the language of real life, outside the
developing forms of living, active human discourse. . . The real life
of language is, in fact, the real life of the individual in his
constant communication with others and himself. Otherwise language is
dead. . . (The riddle of self)

and he adds,

"language is indeed an organ or, which is the same, a part of an
organic whole, of active human intercourse. The part is determined by
the whole which creates the organs that are lacking for complete,
full-blooded concrete historical realization of the whole"

I want to emphasize the "real life of the individual" and the "organic
whole", which I take to be the UNIT that LSV talked about.


> Halliday's explication seems to me to be very similar in its overall
> thrust. But it is much more specific in explaining how developments in
> the child's control of the resources of language, both spoken and
> written, make possible the "reconstituting of reality" and thus
> his/her "whole behavior".
> Gordon
> --
> Gordon Wells
> Dept of Education,
> UC Santa Cruz.
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