Re: [xmca] PoTAYto and PoTAHto

From: <ERIC.RAMBERG who-is-at>
Date: Thu Oct 09 2008 - 06:46:21 PDT


You are mistaken if you believe Vygotsky, Paula or myself are comparing a
complex to a concept. I don't like the word concept anyway to describe
what is going on, i prefer the phrase conceptual thinking. In my way of
viewing Vygotsky's complex framework is his way of discerning the different
methods undertaken for completing a goal-based activity. I view conceptual
thinking as the most succinct and efficient method of obtaining the goal.
Humans, however, are not always efficient and muddle about in different
methods. The goal may be obtained but that doesn't mean conceptual
thinking has been obtained. David, when you discuss the nuts and bolts of
linguistics what is the goal you have in mind? What is the activity that
is being focused upon? Sometimes I get the impression you see speaking as
the activity or grammar as the function of the act of speaking. As I have
stated in the past I enjoy your posts but this one has me utterly confused.


                      David Kellogg
                      <vaughndogblack@ To: xmca <>
            > cc:
                      Sent by: Subject: [xmca] PoTAYto and PoTAHto
                      10/08/2008 07:21
                      Please respond
                      Please respond
                      to "eXtended
                      Mind, Culture,

I'm reading a wonderful but rather puzzling paper about the development of
ostension (that is, the "showing" part of "show and tell") in infancy
and early childhood (that is, seven to thirteen months).

Moro and Rodriguez point out that ostension is polysemic: it can be
declarative, but it can also be interrogative. It can be a sign to others
("Look at this!") but it can also be a sign to yourself ("Now I wonder what
the devil this thing is?"). That's what makes it possible for adults and
kids to use the same set of signs and mean utterly different things.

But Paula points out this is true of ALL language, else adults and children
could not communicate, and communication could not develop: Today, you say
poTAYto and I say poTAHto; you say a concept and I say a complex. Tomorrow,
I will say po-TAH-to and I will mean a concept.

So what's unique about ostension? Well, Moro and Rodriguez make the
following rather inelegant comment:

"Ostension is a sign that is rarely studied by psychologists for itself and
which (sic) is geenrally considered as (sic) an indexical sign, which it is

(Production of Signs and Meaning Making Process in Triadic Interaction at
the Prelinguistic Level, in Abbey and Diriwachter, eds. Innovating Genesis:
Microgenesis and the constructive mind in action. Charlotte: Information
Age Press. p. 210.)

That's it. No explanation. OK--so according to Peirce, an icon is something
that stands for itself, but an index is something that stands for something
else, and a symbol is something that stands for something else by virtue of
a rule.

So if I'm seven months old an I hold up a block, the block's an icon.
It just stands for the block as far as I'm concerned. But for my Mommy, the
holding of the block stands for "What the devil is this?" and requires a
(symbolic) explanation that I won't understand, but she'll point to the
block and then to a hole in the back of my toy truck and I might understand
what that means or I might not, depending on my ability to handle indexical

But doesn't that mean that, microgenetically, the whole ostensive episode
contains an icon AND an index AND a symbolic mode of meaning making too?
And isn't this true of ALL language?

A word like "potato" has a "sonic envelope" (translated, very confusingly,
as "phasal" in Minick's version of "Thinking and Speech", p. 223). Like
Grape Nuts, sound is what it is. It also has intonation, which suggests
what it does. And of course, it has a symbolic meaning which we can, if we
like, define in a dictionary.

What we CAN'T do is pretend that any one of these elements excludes the
others: that would be like suggesting that language is pronunciation
without vocabulary or grammar, or vocabulary without pronunciation and
grammar, or grammar without vocabulary or pronunciation. Some of my dear
colleagues behave that way sometimes, but we all know better or we couldn't
actually talk to our students.

A potato chip does not stop being a potato. Why should ostension stop being
an index?

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

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