Re: [xmca] PoTAYto and PoTAHto

From: Martin Packer <packer who-is-at>
Date: Thu Oct 09 2008 - 10:00:01 PDT


If I am understanding your question correctly, the same issue comes up with
the first words, no?

A child's first one-word utterances are produced at an age (around 12m) when
all the evidence suggests that the child is not yet capable of understanding
or producing symbols (24m). To the child the utterance "pancakes!" functions
pragmatically but it does not represent the specific breakfast item. It is,
Liz Bates argued, a secondary circular reaction. To the adult, however, the
word is both indexical and symbolic. Over time (waving my hand magically
here) the child comes to use the word symbolically *because* the adult
responds to it as such. From in-itself to for-others to for-itself.
Developmental psycholinguists debated long and hard about how much knowledge
to attribute to the child when they produce such holophrasic utterances, and
the more sensible argument seemed to me to locate the knowledge in the dyad

Am I on track?


On 10/8/08 8:21 PM, "David Kellogg" <> wrote:

> 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
> the devil this thing is?"). That's what makes it possible for adults and
> 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
> 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
> rather inelegant comment:
> "Ostension is a sign that is rarely studied by psychologists for itself
> which (sic) is geenrally considered as (sic) an indexical sign, which it
> not."
> (Production of Signs and Meaning Making Process in Triadic Interaction at
> Prelinguistic Level, in Abbey and Diriwachter, eds. Innovating Genesis:
> Microgenesis and the constructive mind in action. Charlotte: Information
> Press. p. 210.)
> That's it. No explanation. OK--so according to Peirce, an icon is
> that stands for itself, but an index is something that stands for
> 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 meanings.
> 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?
> isn't this true of ALL language?
> A word like "potato" has a "sonic envelope" (translated, very confusingly,
> "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
> 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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Received on Thu Oct 9 10:02 PDT 2008

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