Re: [xmca] process structure of semiotic mediation

From: Kellogg (
Date: Sun Nov 05 2006 - 15:11:11 PST

I have a simple-minded linguist's question about the Valsiner article, but being a simple-minded linguist (and not a psychologist) I can't seem to answer it myself..

Valsiner says:

"In the case of continuous use in communication,t he sign undergoes a process of abbreviation (Lyra & de Souza, in press). Abbreviation entails partial or (full) disappearance of hte external manifestations of the sign, yet it is retained in an abstracted and generalized intra-psychological domain. In this way, the sign acts as a semiotic reserve for future needs of semiotic regulation." p. 86

I gather what Valsiner is talking about is something like this:

A: How are you?
B: Fine, thanks, and you?

In B's rejoinder, it is commonly believed (by linguists even more simple-minded than I) that there are missing signs, to wit, what B is really saying is an abbreviated form of this:

B: (I am) fine. (I give you many) thanks. And (how are) you?

But there is an enormous amount of evidence against this account. First of all, intonationally "And how are you" is not a paraphrase of "And you?"; one contains a referring back intonation (upwardly pitched) while the other contains a future-oriented downard pitch.. Secondly, "I give you many thanks" is a far less common phrase in English than "thanks"; it is not credible that people store this extremely rare sentence in their minds as a translation of the more common one. Thirdly, and most importantly from where I sit, it's just not developmental; it presupposes that written language ontogenetically and even phylogenetically antedates speech (Derrida's position) and spoken utterances derive from otiose, grammatically "complete" sentences.

I think Bakhtin would reply that there are indeed three units in B's rejoinder, but they are not sentences and they are certainly not composed of elided signs. They are utterances, which we may define (rather as real language users do) as units which are bounded by a real or potential change of speakers.

A: How are you?
B: Fine.
A: Glad to hear it.

A: How are you?
B: Fine, thanks.
A: Glad to hear it.

A: How are you?
B: Fine, thanks, and you?
A: Not bad.

This shows why we think there are three parts to B's rejoinder (which is precisely what the intonation suggests) and also why those three parts cannot be sentences or ""partial (or full) disappearance of the external manifestations of the sign (...) retained in an abstracted and generalized intrapsychological domain".

I think, in general, Valsiner does not take seriously enough the possibility that signs can exist mainly and even wholly extra-psychologically. Dragonflies are a sign of the typhoon season in Korea whether they are internalized or not, else Pierce's "iconic" meaning would not be possible. A smile is not necessarily the "partial or full disappearance of the external manifestation of a sign"; on the contrary, it may be all there is.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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