Re: [xmca] The social origins of pointing??

From: Martin Packer <packer who-is-at>
Date: Sun Nov 04 2007 - 12:35:58 PST


What ages is Tomasello talking about? Can you point us to his text(s)?


On 11/4/07 1:47 PM, "Mike Cole" <> wrote:

> Dear XMCA-ites
> A few weeks ago in our seminar on mediational theories of mind, we
> read recent work by Tomasello and colleagues on the ontogeny of pointing as
> communicative gesture. Tomasello
> does not cite the work of Vygotsky on this topic because in his opinion,
> Vygotsky's oft-cited views about the social origins of pointing have been
> definitively proven erroneous.
> Given how often the example of the social origins of pointing are
> repeated in chat-inspired writings, it seems worthwhile in light of current
> research to question his views and to ask what difference it would make to
> our ways of theorizing if we were to incorporate current work such
> as that of Tomasello and others.
> What follows is a brief descriptions of the issues. If people are
> interested, we could go into this more deeply. If not, not.
> 1. (From out Group's discussion). For Vygotsky, pointing as a communication
> gesture arises out of a failed grasping motion. An adult, seeing an infant
> unsuccessfully grasp for an object, interprets the grasping as pointing at
> the object and treats it as a communicative act. The movement "becomes a
> gesture for others" (56, Vygotsky /Mind in /Society), and the adult gives
> the movement meaning. Through this interaction, the original unsuccessful
> grasping-motion is transformed into pointing, which becomes more refined and
> simplified over time. Vygotsky interpreted the pointing gesture as an
> example of internalization and transformation of the intermental to the
> intramental.
> 2. (From Cole and Cole, The development of Chidlren (2001), p. 295)
> Between 9 months and a year, babies acquire *secondary
> intersubjectivity,*the ability to share mental states with another
> person and to understand
> what they are intending to do (Chapter 5, p. 197). The close link between
> secondary intersubjectivity and communication is evident in the form of
> behavior called *social referencing,* the process through which babies check
> their caregiver's reactions to an uncertain event or an unfamiliar person as
> a guide to their own behavior. Secondary intersubjectivity is a crucial
> precursor to language acquisition because babies and their caregivers are
> sharing knowledge about the objects and events that are the focus of their
> joint attention.
> Secondary intersubjectivity is also apparent when babies begin to point at
> objects (Butterworth, 2003). Pointing is clearly a communicative act
> intended to create a joint focus of attention, but it is a primitive one.
> When 12-month-olds see a remote-controlled car roll past them, first they
> point at it and then they look to see how their caregivers react to it
> (social referencing). At 18 months of age, the function of pointing becomes
> communicative in a more complex way. Now children are more likely first to
> look at their caregivers to see if they are looking at the car and then to
> point to it. If babies this age are alone in the room when the electric car
> appears, they do not point until the caretaker walks back into the room,
> clearly demonstrating that their pointing has a purpose and is meant to
> communicate to another person (Butterworth, 2003).
> 3. (From Class discussion)
> Tomasello, on the other hand, argues that pointing arises as a
> pre-linguistic communicative gesture. Instead of viewing pointing as
> something that acquires a communicative meaning through interaction,
> Tomasello argues that pointing has a communicative meaning from its initial
> formation because the infant has acquired the social-cognitive skills to
> share experiences with others, view others as mental agents,
> and form goals with others. Pointing initiates joint attention of the infant
> and another towards an object because of a shared communicative
> intentionality. The infant points because he wishes to inform, request
> information from, or share an emotional expression with an adult about an
> object. For Tomasello, pointing is more than just a request for an
> object, as Vygotsky seemed to imply.
> Not only does pointing serve various communicative functions, but Tomasello
> also argues that human pointing forms the basic foundation for language.
> Both pointing and language both require the same social-cognitive skills of
> requiring infants to see others as "intentional agents with whom one can
> share experience" (Tomasello et al. "A New Look at Infant Pointing," 718).
> Pointing serves the same purpose as an utterance: it introduces a topic (old
> or new) for communication.
> 4 (Some questions).
> What is significant about the following?
> a)Tomasello does not cite the work of Butterfield and Butterfield's account
> does not appear to lean heavily on the idea of secondary intersubjectivity.
> b). There is still an obviously important role for the adult in
> ontogeny of pointing in Tomasello, but it attributes communicative intent to
> the child from the onset. So clearly the role of the social other is
> different.
> Overall, however, it seems wise to me that people seeking to illustrate
> Vygotsky's ideas about the social origins of higher psychological functions
> not use the example of pointing unless or until they
> can take account of the research briefly noted above.
> mike
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