RE: [xmca] B.V. Belyayev

From: Peter Smagorinsky <smago who-is-at>
Date: Fri Apr 27 2007 - 03:20:50 PDT

I'm no expert since I don't speak Russian. But with considerable help from
the XMCA discussion, I did try to tease these translations out in the
following publication:
Smagorinsky, P. (2001). If meaning is constructed, what is it made from?
Toward a cultural theory of reading. Review of Educational Research, 71,

In this section, I discuss what Vygotsky refers to as zones of meaning. The
discussion is potentially confusing because of the ways in which Vygotsky's
Russian terms have been translated. Vygotsky's (1934) Myshlenie i rech':
Psikhologicheskie issledovaniya has been translated three times, twice as
Thought and Language (1962, 1986) and once as Thinking and Speech (1987).
All three versions have translated two of Vygotsky's key terms in ways that
have been called into question (e.g., Matusov, 2000; see XMCA Discussion
Listserve, 2000). The Russian term smysl has been translated as sense (i.e.,
unarticulated inner speech), while the term znachenie has been translated as
meaning (i.e., the articulation of thought through a sign system such as
words). Vygotsky, however, viewed both smysl and znachenie as constituents
of the meaningful whole. I next explain each of these two zones of meaning
in greater detail.
        Smysl is the set of images and associations one makes with a sign
such as a word in the area of consciousness Vygotsky (1987) called inner
speech, that is, the abbreviated syntax and stream-of-consciousness
properties of unarticulated, inchoate thought. Smysl corresponds to what
Rosenblatt (1978) refers to as the initial zone of meaning in a reader's
evocation, or what Gallas (2001) refers to as imagination. Rosenblatt
describes this experience as

a penumbra of "memories" of what has preceded, ready to be activated by what
follows, and providing the context from which further meaning will be
derived. Awareness-more or less explicit-of repetitions, echoes, resonances,
repercussions, linkages, cumulative effects, contrasts, or surprises is the
mnemonic matrix for the structuring of emotion, idea, situation, character,
plot-in short, for the evocation of a work of art. (pp. 57-58)

        Smysl is as yet unarticulated, being instead the storm cloud of
thought that produces the shower of words, to use Vygotsky's (1987)
metaphor. One great limitation of the concept of smysl is that it cannot be
empirically demonstrated, only inferred. Vygotsky's formulation of inner
speech came from his observations of egocentric speech in young children,
which he theorized became internalized as inner speech. Once speech (or
another tool) is articulated and thus observable, it appears in the zone of
meaning that is the shower of words (or other signs) that Vygotsky calls
znachenie. Znachenie, then, is the zone of meaning available in represented
form, corresponding to the notion of a sign, regardless of modality.
        Because these two zones compose a meaningful whole, referring to
znachenie as "meaning" can be misleading. I retain the translation of sense
for smysl: "the aggregate of all the psychological facts that arise in our
consciousness as the result of the word. Sense is a dynamic, fluid, and
complex formation which has several zones that vary in their stability"
(Vygotsky, 1987, p. 275). For znachenie, I use articulation:

It is the most stable, unified, and precise of these zones. In different
contexts, a word's sense changes. In contrast, [articulation] is a
comparatively fixed and stable point, one that remains constant with all the
exchanges of the word's sense that are associated with its use in various
contexts. (p. 275)

        A reader's association of meaning with a text-and here I refer to
the whole of meaning comprising all of its zones-reveals something about the
text itself but also serves as residue of the cultural constructs that are
appropriated to provide the reader's frameworks for thinking (Tulviste,
1991). Any concept-and, consequently, any construction of meaning-is thus
necessarily located first in culture and second in the mind of the
individual. And because the mind extends beyond the skin to include the
tools of mediation through which the individual then acts on the
environment, the mind of the individual, however distributed, in turn
contributes to the evolving culture of the social surround (Smagorinsky,
1995b). Among these mediators are texts themselves, transactions with which
can contribute to the worldviews of members of a culture. When these texts
presume particular relationships, social hierarchies, and competence
levels-such as the masculine orientation of many sacred religious texts-they
can inscribe in a society assumptions about the location of authority and
power (Luke, 1988; Rabinowitz, 1987).
        Concepts and meaning thus have cultural origins. It is quite
possible for individuals to resist these cultural conceptions. I would
argue, however, that resisting one set of cultural constructs relies on
precepts that are appropriated from other cultural constructs. And so, while
any individual has the capacity to resist and defy the worldview of any
culture, it is not possible to think and act independent of culture; it is
not possible to live aculturally (Cole, 1996). From this perspective, texts
are composed of signs that themselves are inscribed and codified as cultural
artifacts and are read by people whose ways of encoding are conditioned by
participation in cultural practice. The transactional zone is available when
readers have been enculturated to recognize the codes by which the texts are
produced. This is not to say that all readings will subsequently be the same
or that texts may signify in only one way, only to say that readers and
texts share a cultural cognizance.

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Mike Cole
Sent: Thursday, April 26, 2007 8:55 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] B.V. Belyayev

I am betting on a-- sense =- smysl, but i will defer to the experts.
meantime, my moscow u grad student group appears to find few refs to
vygotsky in Belyaev and those from the early reflexological period.
for what it is worth

On 4/26/07, David Kellogg <> wrote:
> Dear Anton:
> Thanks for offering your expertise. The main problem I have appears
> most clearly on p. 87 of the English edition, in Chapter Six, which is
> called "Intuition and the Feeling for Language from a Psychological Point
of View".
> Belyayev says (in the Hingley translation):
> "It is usual to consider the word to be the lexical unit of
> language. A word always has some sense or meaning. A word has sense in
> so far as it expresses a concept present in one's consciousness at the
> moment when one uses this word. A word has a definite meaning, which
> is conditioned by the way in which the word can be related to the
> obejct which it denotes. When one pronounces some word in the course
> of speaking, one is never conscious of the appropriate concept, since
> that would require something in the nature of logical definition.
> Usually a person does not know this definition, lacking the time
> necessary to make it. All the same we always make a basically correct
> use of words. What is it then that takes place in one's mind when one
> uses words without recognizing their sense? A speaker also does not
> consciously realize the meaning of words which he uses in his speech.
> How can he correct use of words be possible in such a case? It is
> obvious that the person has semantic feeling."
> The question I have is simply a) or b):
> a) "sense" = "smysl" and "meaning" = "znachenie"
> b) "sense" = "znachenie" and "meaning" = "smysl"
> Thanks again! Long live the Russophones of XMCA, without whom we
> abject anglophones are at the mercy of any translator a publisher
> cares to employ...
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> ---------------------------------
> Ahhh...imagining that irresistible "new car" smell?
> Check outnew cars at Yahoo! Autos.
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