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

From: deborah downing-wilson <ddowningw who-is-at gmail.com>
Date: Sun Nov 04 2007 - 17:46:17 PST

In seminar we discussed the extent to which Tomasello's paper was
(in)compatible with the Vygotsky papers we read. We didn't pick up on all
that Mike did. For example,

"Tomasello also argues that human pointing forms the basic foundation for
language. "

I think we would have protested if we had understood this was what Tomasello

Many who don't point, the blind for example, develop language just fine. We
understood that, like Vygotsky, Tomasello believes humans come equipped with
a potential for intersubjectivity, which is the basic foundation for
language. Pointing, we assumed, Tomasello sees as evidence of the
development of this subjectivity. The only difference between he and
Vygotsky being that in MTs model the baby could very well be mimicking
observed behavior with the aid of an inner intersubjective bent (like
verbalization - the baby 'knows' gesturing is potentially meaningful) where
LV suggested pointing grew from purposeful reaching.

If I'm misquoting the group, please jump in here.


On 11/4/07, Mike Cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> 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

Deborah Downing Wilson
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
University of California San Diego
xmca mailing list
Received on Sun Nov 4 17:49 PST 2007

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