[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [xmca] Intensions in context and speech complexity ; From 2-?

On Jul 23, 2009, at 2:46 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

I think Vygotsky actually finds the single kernel of truth in Saussure's course when he argues that a science of phonetics needs to be founded on MEANING MAKING and not on the physical description of noises people make with their mouths. However, his ability to find this kernel in a mountain of structuralist chaff should not deceive you; he is no uncritical consumer of Saussureanism.


Coincidentally I was reading yesterday the section in Problems of Child Psychology (vol 5 of the Collected Works) where Vygotsky again makes this point. It is evidently Saussurian linguistics that V is enthusiastic about: he refers to it as phonology and contrasts it with an older phonetics which focused solely on articulatory definitions. Phonology has the advantage of seeing the sounds of language as a system, and so the child never learns a single sound in isolation but always one sound against the background of the others. V points out that this is a basic law of perception: figure/ground, and also that the ground in the case of oral language is provided by the speech of adults (so the 'ideal' endpoint of development is present and available from the start, as emphasized in the passage that Lois quoted a few days ago).

V is critical once again of analyses that divide a phenomenon into elements and in doing so lose the properties of the whole. Phonology, he says, has the advantage that in studying the sounds of a language as a system it doesn't divide it into separate elements, nor does it lose the central property of language, namely that it has meaning. V adds that sounds always have meaning: "the phoneme," he writes "is not just a sound, it is a sound that has meaning, a sound that has not lost meaning, a certain unit that has a primary property to a minimal degree, which belongs to speech as a whole" (271).

V's analysis makes a good deal of sense to me. But my own limited knowledge of Saussure - guided in part by Roy Harris' writing - has indeed included the dogma that the sound level of language carries no meaning. You are saying, I think, that V has a reasonable reading of Saussure, if not the canonical one. Can you say more about this way of reading Saussure? V seems to be suggesting that the child does not learn first sounds, then words, but always acquires the sounds of language in the context of the use of words in communicative settings, and this has the consequece that the sounds would be aquired as aspects of a meaningful unit. Am I on the right track here?

Martin _______________________________________________
xmca mailing list