RE: [xmca] Artifacts, Tools and Classroom

From: Peg Griffin (
Date: Sun Jan 15 2006 - 10:07:27 PST

That's an interesting use of the second language tool you have, Mike!
I'm going to try an approximation of it next time I see a puzzled response
to the matter.
Another aspect of the issue can be exposed by thinking about babies'
language socialization: As a baby appropriates and gets appropriated by her
or his native language and its system of phonological oppositions, the
access and use of the simply material (i.e., not social or ideational)
possible phonetic distinctions gets submerged and earlier responses to some
sound distinctions seems to be lost. I think this makes the same point as
your demonstration, but it just brings in the arrow of time in society.

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Mike Cole
Sent: Sunday, January 15, 2006 9:43 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Artifacts, Tools and Classroom


To start with Kevin's question about language and its materiality (and
remembering that we all have to read "forgivingly" because we read/write out
of order and with partial understanding of ourselves and others' views)...
For me it is fascinating that my students have a horrible time realizing
language has any materiality to it at all. My way of illustrating this is
to slip into speaking Russian for a few sentences. They can all continue
me as before, but somehow the ideality has either disappeared or been
radically transformed (e.g., they might interpret the sounds as a ravings of
lunatic professor, or someone playing a trick on them). Then I point out the
phylogenetically ("naturally") they are able to use the MATERIAL sound waves
produced by my MATERIAL body, a process that we can "see" traces of in a
mediated fashion on an oscilloscope. So they get the material part and
remember from some prior physiology class how it works more or less (except
for the deaf student sitting in the front row who is being signed to,
another opportunity to
discuss the material/idea/mediated nature of communication-- my topic in
this case). Then I ask who in the class understood what I said. These days I
will get a couple of hands up. Why do they understand me? Because we share a
past history of mediating our activities through the particular artifactual
system of the Russian languge. Where did the ideality disappear to for tne
non-Russian speakers? Etc.

I am uncertain how much the differences in thinking about
artifacts/tools/language externalized by Geraldine and her colleagues would
modify the relevance of
the actual examples used in the paper. I am still thinking on that issue. I
have contacted Geraldine and encourage her and colleagues to join the
discussion, which
I very much hope they will do. If Peter is around his views contra mine
would be helpful to think with as well. Who knows, maybe we can ALL learn
something. We sure have plenty of learning to do!

On 1/15/06, Kevin Rocap <> wrote:
> Dear Steve, et al,
> I'm also reading my messages a little out of order, so I see Mike has
> situated the word "table" as being material in the sense of "sound
> waves, hand movements, writing or neuronal activity"...somewhat similar
> to my list. So if that's the sense, that's clear to me. If there are
> other nuances, or differing perspectives, I'd be interested in those as
> well.
> In Peace,
> K.
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
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