Here is a response from Jaan to David's recent message. The IMATRA paper he
refers to is being posted on xmc papers for discussion. I am sort of
planning entering the discussion
of these issues for Feb, but lets see how things develop.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Jaan Valsiner <JValsiner@clarku.edu>
Date: Nov 11, 2006 4:46 AM
Subject: RE: [xmca] process structure of semiotic mediation
*The enclosed inserts (in CAPS) are meant to feed into further discussion
in the xmca, so feel free to pass them on. Thanks to David for careful
*From:* Mike Cole [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
*Sent:* Mon 11/6/2006 8:02 PM
*To:* Jaan Valsiner
*Subject:* Fwd: [xmca] process structure of semiotic mediation
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Kellogg <email@example.com>
Date: Nov 6, 2006 4:33 PM
Subject: Re: [xmca] process structure of semiotic mediation
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I think we are BOTH right. That is, Valsiner WOULD say that "how" places a
certain constraint (or "hierarchy" or "paradigm") on the conversation
(although, as I show below, it is merely a grammatical constraint and it is
easy to break with the inter-personal resources of discourse). And he ALSO
believes that grammar is an intra-personal set of relations which allow the
elision of elements in inter-personal discourse.
YES, THIS IS ACCURATE-- I EMPHASIZE THE HIERARCHY OF SEMIOTIC MEDIATORS--
DYNAMICALLY EMERGING, POTENTIALLY MAINTAINED DURING INTERACTION, AND ALSO
ENCODABLE INTO FIXED FEATURES ENVIRONMENTS (E.G. AS SOCIAL HIERARCHY MARKERS
BY SPECIFIC STONE LOCATIONS FOR GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES IN OLD KOREAN ROYAL
PALACE IN SEOUL). GRAMMAR INDEED BECOMES INTERNALIZED AS ORGANIZING
FRAMEWORK OF THESE SEMIOTIC REGULATORS
I think that is the basis for my criticism (though this criticism is really
just an aggressively ignorant question). It seems to me that Valsiner really
holds a "fixed code" theory of language, whereby "meaning" is the essence of
a linguistic sign (rather than "sense", which is LSV's position, or "theme",
which is Volosinov's). WELL, I LOOK AT THE RELATION "MEANING<>SENSE" AS A
DYNAMIC DUALITY (NOTE -- NOT "DUALISM"-- I REJECT ALL THE REDUCTION OF
DUALITIES TO "DUALISMS" AND INSTEAD TREAT SINGULAR CONCEPTS AS DUAL PARTS OF
A MUTUAL PROCESS-- SEE MY "INDEPENDENT DEPENDENCE" NOTION OF THE 1987 BOOK,
RE-PUBLISHED AND ELABORATED IN 1997-- Culture and the development of
childrens action, Wiley)
MORE ELABORATE COVERAGE OF MEANING<>SENSE RELATIONS YOU CAN FIND IN MY
"GUIDED MIND" 1998 IN THE SEMIOTICS CHAPTER-- BUILDING BEYOND DE SAUSSUE
"LANGUE<>PAROLE" OPPOSITION AND FURTHER BASED ON KARL BUHLER'S ORGANIN
MODEL. YET IT IS TRUE THAT THE IMPLICATIONS OF THAT DIRECTION OF THINKING
HAVE NOT BEEN WELL ELABORATED. HENCE THE CONFUSION-- "meaning --essence of
linguistic sign"--> DEFINITELY NOT, MEANING IS A CONSTANTLY EMERGENT FIELD
IN RELATION WITH THE SENSE FIELD (VERY CLOSE TO VYGOTSKY HERE)
Let me return to my example (and I should reiterate that this example is my
own, and I'm not even really sure if this kind of elision is what Valsiner
means when he talks of abbreviation).
A: How are you?
B: Fine, thanks, and you?
This is what Halliday would call a preferred response; a default reponse.
AND I WOULD CONSIDER IT INDEED "ABBREVIATED RESPONSE". SEE SITUATIONS WHERE
A HAS NO TIME TU UTTER THE QUESTION, BUT B RESPONDS ANYWAY-- TWO BUSY PEOPLE
MOVING PAST EACH OTHER IN A CORRIDOR
Interestingly, the VAST majority of responses in our Elementary English
textbook are of this nature, e.g.
Ann: What a nice day!
Nami: Yes, it is.
But when we put the kids in groups for "verbal volleyball" or in pairs for
"pair pinpong" (a game in which they have to keep the conversational ball in
motion for as long as possible or lose a point), this is what we get:
Ann's Team: What a nice day!
Nami's Team: A nice day? It's TERRIBLE.
Ann's Team: Terrible? Look at the sky...
YES, EVEN MORE DIRECTLY:
A: HOW ARE YOU?
B: I AM TERRIBLE
A (DISAPPEARS AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE... LACK OF TOLERANCE FOR TURNING OUT OF
ABBREVIATION TO EXTENSION)
The kids have realized that it is possible to resist the constraint of
whatever grammar the initiator places on the conversation by giving a
THIS AMOUNTS FOR ME TO "BOUNDARY BEHAVIOR" (IN KURT LEWIN"S TERMS) AND
"ACTION UPON CONTRAINTS" IN MY OWN
As Halliday points out, a dispreferred response always gives the respondant
more discretionary power than the initiator expects him to have.
I HAD NOT THOUGHT OF THAT, BUT AS STATED-- WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREE! I THINK
HERE THE IDEA OF COMMUNICATION AS CROSSING CONSTRAINT BOUNDARIES MAY LEAD TO
A NICE NEW THEORY.
What he doesn't point out is that discretionary power is not intra-personal
grammatical power (the dispreferred response STILL obeys the hierarchical
grammatical constraint of "how" in that it must be paraphrasable by an
adjective or adverbial phrase). It is inter-personal, and therefore
discoursal rather than grammatical in nature.
FOR ME, THE OPPOISITION "INTRA-PERSONAL" VERSUS "INTER-PERSONAL" IS OF NO
INTEREST. I TREAT THE INTRA-PERSONAL AS BEING BASED ON INTER-PERSONAL
(THROUGH INTERNALIZATION) AND FEEDING FORWARD TO INTER-PERSONAL (THROUGH
To return to my example (which also appears in our fifth grade English
textbook here in Korea):
Mrs. Smith: How are you, Jinho?
Jinho: Not so good, Mrs. Smith.
Here Jinho has power over Mrs. Smith, because Mrs. Smith is now CONSTRAINED
to ask what is wrong. But the constraint is not grammatical in nature; it's
OK, VERY GOOD POINT... I SUBSUME GRAMMATICAL AMONG OTHER FORMS OF
Mrs. Smith can ask "Why?" or "What's the matter" or "Tell me about it" or
even "You look okay to me".
*OR IMAGINE ESCALATION:*
*Mrs. Smith: How nice to hear that.
(This is true of ANY kind of dispreferred response. The situation is
identical if Jinho beams and answers in an unusually exuberant tone of voice
that he feels wonderful.)
There is nothing grammatically fixed about this discoursal constraint that I
can see, and it is not easy for me to see how the underlying inter-personal
discourse rule could be "abbreviated" or internalized.
SEE THE ONTOGENETIC WORK OF MARIA LYRA ON MOTHER-INFANT INTERACTION.
LIKEWISE-- MY LOOK AT HYPER-GENERALIZED SEMIOTIC FIELDS (ABBREVIATION
I think I am content to let it remain embedded in context as most language
users who are not psychologists do. I think it is not systematically
distinguishable from non-linguistic contextual factors, such as Jinho's
pallor, background knowledge about his relationship with his girlfriend, the
state of his digestion, etc.),
I think here and in many places, Valsiner resists this inter-psychological
"intergrationalist" attitude towards language as irretrievably embedded in
context. For example, Valsiner appears to use "sign" and "linguistic sign"
almost interchangeably; I think this is misleading because some sign systems
are undoubtedly decontextualizeable ( e.g. traffic lights) but language is
not one of them. In some of his diagrams and examples "e.g. "I am ANGRY",
SEE MY "IMATRA PAPER" FOR ELABORATION OF THESE ISSUES
Valsiner comes dangerously close to implying that a sign "stands for" a
feeling or a psychological process, at least in the middle levels (away from
"speechlessness"), something he admits is NOT compatible with "real-life
examples" ( e.g. "fun", on p. 95). Real life examples are more like a car
horn than a traffic signal; we hear them, and we must needs look around at
the context and conjecture intentionality before we can assign a correct
AS WELL AS FEELINGS OF DANGER IN DARKNESS, FEELING OF JEALOUSY, ETC.
Did Vygotsky believe in fixed word meanings? I think the quote that Valsiner
gives us on p. 89 needs to be put into context. Vygotsky is contrasting
"meaning" with "sense", which he considers concrete, material, and thus far
more fundamental; meaning is simply an abstract, self-identical idealization
of the concrete reality of sense.
BOTH ARE FIELDS, NOT ENTITIES, MEANING IS LESS DYNAMIC THAN SENSE.
VYGOTSKY TOOK THE IDEA FROM PAULHAN
Today we would call this contrast one between "semantic meaning" and
"pragmatic meaning". Most linguists, being philosophically idealist, would
try to claim that the former and not the latter is fundamental, hence our
astonishment when the information given in dictionaries is flatly denied by
computerized corpora of actual language use.
THAT DISPUTE FOR ME IS INCONSEQUENTIAL THEORETICALLY, SO I IGNORE IT
But in Vygotsky's day, linguists were younger and wiser. Volosinov called
this distinction not two types of meaning, but a contrast between meaning
and theme, and I think this is what Vygotsky is getting at (and "theme" may
simply be Titunik's translation of "smysl", perhaps the Russianists on the
list might help here).
For Valsiner, it is theme which comes and goes, but meaning is the
unchanging reality of language (p. 89). It is impossible to imagine Vygotsky
or Volosinov subscribing to such a non-materialist, Platonic idea.
I DO NOT KNOW WHAT "MATERIALIST" MEANS HERE, VYGOTSKY'S IDEAS COME FROM
SPINOZA, PLUS OF COURSE MANY OTHERS. BAKHTIN'S (MAYBE HE WAS VOLOSHINOV
TOO?) COME FROM THE MARBURG SCHOOL
On the contrary. In a gedankenexperiment, it is "meaning" and not theme
which Volosinov does away with. He imagines a world (inhabited by
pre-hisoric men) where only a single word exists, a grunt which must be
applied in a multitude of contexts (Marxism and the Philosophy of Language,
p. 101). This all meaning word (and it IS a word) has no meaning at
all--only myriad themes (that is, senses).
THIS SOLUTION IS POSSIBLE AS A SPECIAL CASE--WHERE MEANING BECOMES
DE-DIFFERENTIATED INTO SENSE FIELD
I think that, unlike the opposite gedankenexperiment which linguists are
constantly playing with (that is, words which have no pragmatic value and
exist only as semantic "meanings"), Volosinov's fantasy has real, empirical
counterparts: it is the way Darwin's grandson applied the same vocalization
to a swan, a coin, a lake, and a glass of water. It is the way children use
"aaa" or the way teenagers say "do sumthin' and "you know what I mean".
(It is the way in which George W. Bush is "understood" as an unimpeachable
miltarist despite his incoherence and ungrammaticality, while John Kerry is
"understood" as insulting the enlisted men he has always so vociferously
identified with for a much smaller lapse in grammar. We "understand" Bush
because we understand his warmongering themes, not his garbled meanings. The
Republican-dominated media insist on pure self-identical semantic meaning
only in the case of Kerry.)
Helen Keller writes (in "The Story of My Life") that her great realization
at the water pump was that "everything has a name" (interestingly, Ann
Sullivan disputes her account at almost every point!). Helen is very good at
putting things in a language that the ordinary hearing and seeing person can
understand, but this way of putting it, which I think conforms better to
Valsiner's view of meaning rather than Vygotsky's sense of "sense",
expresses not the reality of language but merely a thundering banality.
Every thing does indeed have a name, and that name is "thing".
IF THIS WERE TRUE-- OBJECT has NAME which is THING -- THEN THE WORLD WOULD
CONSIST OF MODULES OF OBJECTS ("modular mind"?) AND WOULD NOT BE OPEN TO ANY
Seoul National University of Education
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