RE: [xmca] Kevin's paper for discussion: causality

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Sun Jul 16 2006 - 11:36:08 PDT

Hi Kevin,

The below on indexicality was very helpful. I
have some more questions, if I may. You explain
that deictics such as pronouns are clear examples
of indexical signs. Would the distinction
between an absolute reference "the Empire State
Building" and a relative reference "that building
you am looking at" capture the sense of
"indexicality"? In other words, is there more to
it than "absolute" versus "relative"? As for
presupposing indexicality versus entailing
indexicality, would you provide some examples of
each? You suggest there is always a constant
tension between presupposing and entailing
indexicality in any interaction. This seems to
me to be a profound inference about human
communication. Would you elaborate a
little? Finally, you related this tension to
"Bakhtinís tension between centripetal and
centrifugal forces in an utterance, one tending
toward closure and the other towards
openness." What illustrations of that come to mind?
Thanks much,
- Steve

At 12:03 AM 7/11/2006 -0400, you wrote:
>Hi all,
>I'm enjoying the interesting discussion of my
>paper, and Iím sorry I havenít participated more
>up to now ≠ I was out of town for the past week
>or so and had unexpected difficulty getting
>online. Iím now working my way through the
>discussion, which has given me a lot to think
>about ≠ some of the directions the discussion
>has taken are not directions Iíve foregrounded, so itís been provocative.
>I want to respond briefly to a request for
>clarification made by Steve early in the
>discussion, pertaining to how I used the notions
>of presupposing and entailing indexicality. The
>concepts are taken from semiotic accounts of
>culture within anthropology, originating in the
>work of Silverstein, and have an important place
>in that discipline that goes far beyond what I
>used them for. Iíll summarize only my more limited use of these ideas here.
>Indexical signs take on meaning through a
>relationship of contiguity with their object, or
>what they represent. So indexical meaning is
>always context-bound. Clear examples of
>linguistic indexicals are deictics, such as
>pronouns, which can only be interpreted in the
>context of their occurrence. (These kinds of
>denotational indexicals have a particularly
>important role in semiotic theories of culture ≠
>and while Iíve written about these elsewhere,
>they were largely backgrounded in the paper
>under discussion.) All linguistic forms can
>serve as indexical signs, though ≠ certain forms
>occur with greater than chance probability in
>certain places, among certain kinds of people,
>and in certain social practices, and become
>associated with those places, people, and
>practices. So the use of these forms indexes,
>points to, implicates the existence of, a
>certain kind of place, person, or practice; to
>speak in a certain way is, at least potentially,
>to make an occasion into a particular kind of
>occasion. It was these kinds of indexicals that
>were the main focus in the paper being discussed.
>Indexical meaning isnít necessarily established
>straightforwardly, though - the use of a given
>form doesnít determine the context, since in any
>given stretch of discourse, there are always
>multiple potential projections of context, some
>of which are inevitably in tension with one
>another. For an interaction to proceed, there
>must be some presupposable context or frame
>within which utterances can be interpreted and
>that gives some degree of stability to the
>interaction. This presupposed context is always
>contingently achieved, though, and can always be
>transformed or dissolved if other potentially
>available indexical
>connections-to-other-contexts are made relevant
>- that is, if certain linguistic signs come to
>have entailments for the course of the
>interaction. So these presupposing and
>entailing aspects of indexicality are always in
>tension with one another in any
>interaction. Itís useful for me here to think
>of Bakhtinís tension between centripetal and
>centrifugal forces in an utterance, one tending
>toward closure and the other towards
>openness. My intention in using these dual
>aspects of indexicality was to try to
>demonstrate some limitations in the kinds of
>analyses which are typically done of ďsituated
>learning contextsĒ ≠ that is, a primary focus on
>an official presupposed context, and a relative
>neglect of one type of indexical entailment,
>i.e., the intrusion of other, unofficial and
>most likely unwelcome contexts into this
>official construal of whatís happening.
>I hope this clarifies somewhat. Iím enjoying
>the discussion, and will jump in again. Iím
>interested in how ideas of causality and units
>of analysis are being discussed here, and want
>to say something about those issues.

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