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

I am replying to Mike's much earlier message about context and speech complexity, though I've read the subsequent discussion, mainly because I remain interested in the original issue he brought up. I know the discussion has shifted, as it so often does, more to critiques of ideas of internalization, but that seems to have happened in part because one reading of Mike's question led to the suggestion that internalization was an important part of the answer.

My version of his question is this:

How do we understand the phenomenon of young speakers producing much more complex forms of speech in activities in which they appear to have more intrinsic motivation and authentic interest, compared to activities in which they are just following someone else's lead?

I am not an expert on early childhood language development, but I am a developmentalist in the sense that I analyze meaning-making across all timescales as a building up of later meanings on top of earlier ones to reach greater complexity and efficacy. Just as in biological development the complexity and efficacy (for something) of later stages depends on the foundations laid in earlier ones (hence the link with evolution).

I believe it is a well-known phenomenon in language development -- and I mean that term as shorthand for increasing complexity and efficacy in (self- or other- directed) speech as an integral component of some larger activity -- that new speakers occasionally produce much more "advanced" speech than the average of what they produce in some time frame (i.e. speech more like the average in a much later timeframe). I think this is also true of other sorts of longer-term learning processes. There are just time when it all comes together for us and we perform with an apparent capability well ahead of our usual performances. We appear to leap forward, and then fall back.

Is this just luck? sometimes perhaps, and sometimes it is the over- interpretation of the observer, reading more meaning into the speech than may have been "intended" (another shorthand). But we also know that in the case of speech, receptive understanding encompasses such more complex forms, even if active production rarely or never-before has shown them. And that of course has something to do with the more complex forms being present in the environment, the community, the co- activity with others. So the fact that it may not be reproducible, or that it may not recur across different settings, may not necessarily mean that it was not "intentional" (i.e. functionally and deliberately meaningful on the part of the new producer).

It may have arisen in play, in exploration of wording-possibilities. It may have arisen in a less-self-monitoring context where inhibitions against more complex production for fear of errors, ridicule, communication failure, etc. were much reduced (like speaking a foreign language when just a little drunk). It may have been driven past all inhibitions or obstacles by intense desire or need.

Or it may have been abetted by particularly supportive circumstances. My own hypothesis about what Mike seems to be describing is that precocious speech is more likely to occur when more complex meanings are easier to build up on top of already familiar meaning-speakings. Halliday gives some examples of this for spoken dialogue, where very complex verb tenses will appear that are far more complex than those normally (or ever) seen in written text, because speakers build up time-relational meanings on top of prior speakers sayings. This is micro-developmental, on the logogenetic or text-production timescale (seconds to minutes).

What circumstances support such short-term climbing to new heights? it may be a particular speech-partner, it may be a particular familiar topic, it may be a rush of need or desire to make the more complex meaning, which is a meaning that has become appropriate to the moment in the ongoing activity because we have been able to get that far in terms of building connections on connections, meanings (including those made by nonverbal gestures, actions, etc.) on meanings.

It seems reasonable to me that there ought to be a strong social- situational correlation between activities in which we are heavily personally invested, or just really enjoy or want or need, and those in which the other factors I've suggested are available to support climbing unusually high up the ladder of meaning complexity -- i.e. of meanings built on other meanings.

What do you think?


Jay Lemke
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

On Jul 20, 2009, at 6:06 AM, Mike Cole wrote:

Hi Lois--

I appear eerily unable to communicate the issue that is the focus of my attention which is not whether kids imitate the language around them, but for the difference in performance of the same kids, within hours or so of
when they first say something complicated, to "revert" to a simplified
version of that utterance at about the level of what they do when asked to
an utterance dreamed up by an experimenter to test some theory of the
process of grammatical development.

The kids are performing in both cases. But in one case they are performing
to achieve THEIR goals. In the other they
are performing to achieve goals they have little understanding of.
Something or other ideas think furiously.

Neither you nor David, so far as I can tell, addresses the question I am
asking. Since you both know a ton more about
language acquisition than I figure I am being totally dense. What am I
missing here?

About Vygotsky writing *Something which is only supposed to take shape at the very end of development, somehow influences the very first steps in this

*I believe that Vygotsky is stating a very widely held view of the process of development, one which can be found in many scientific sources but which
also has deep roots in the Judeo-Christian (and probably lots of other
traditions). Here is a version of it from
T.S. Elliot, "East Coker" but I believe it is also intimately related to the
idea of a spiral of development which is often found in
Hegelian and Marxist thought. Anyway, here is one catholic-convert's
expression of the idea:

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.

   In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls
Across the open field, leaving the deep lane
Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon,
Where you lean against a bank while a van passes,
And the deep lane insists on the direction
Into the village, in the electric heat
Hypnotised. In a warm haze the sultry light
Is absorbed, not refracted, by grey stone.
The dahlias sleep in the empty silence.
Wait for the early owl.

                                   In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie—
A dignified and commodiois sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn. Keeping time,
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking. Dung and death.

   Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.

On Sun, Jul 19, 2009 at 8:47 PM, Lois Holzman <
lholzman@eastsideinstitute.org> wrote:

Hi All,Mike's post sent me back to my most recent thinking on imitation (two weeks ago!) as well as to my language development research in the
mid-70s with Lois Bloom. I do recall that my first published article
(Imitation in Language Development: If, When and Why) was one of a handful at the time that focused on spontaneous imitation as opposed to elicited
imitation, such as Slobin's study Mike refers to.OUr findings from
longitudinal data from 6 children from single words to syntax were quite interesting: by our operational definitions, some of them didn't imitate and their language development was similar to those that imitated. Those that did imitate, imitated what they were in the process of learning, and not
what they knew well nor what was beyond them. Today I would say they
imitated what was in their ZPD and that their imitations were part of
creating that ZPD.
So it seems to me that the change referred to —to the more simplified
form— could be understood as the child making meaning with what has been said, playing with it, creating with it, using it. For the social situation doesn't end just because the child is alone--s/he takes it with her/ him; it
becomes part of her/his life world and repertoire.

What I can add about the relevance to school is the importance of
opportunities for language play, and especially the kind of creative
imitation Vygotsky believes is critical for very young children. For the most part schools do not create opportunities for children to play with language in the way that is described here. We've created this thing called "vocabulary" which they are obliged to learn. Children are asked to get the correct or finished version tas quickly as possible—and they are typically given simplified language to help them do this. There is little of the playfulness that happens when the language around you is not simplified, and
you are free to play with and use it in a variety of ways.

Perhaps helpful in adding to what I am saying is part of this quote from
Vygotsky, which I wrote about in an article several years ago and
resurrected for a just completed chapter for Cathrene-Ana-Vera's upcoming

But is fully developed speech, which the child is only able to master at
the end of this period of development, already present in the child’s
environment? It is, indeed. The child speaks in one word phrases, but his mother talks to him in language which is already grammatically and syntactically formed and which has a large vocabulary*… *Let us agree to call this developed form, which is supposed to make its appearance at the end of the child’s development, the final or ideal form. And let us call the
child’s form of speech the primary or rudimentary form.  The greatest
characteristic feature of child development is that this development is achieved under particular conditions of interaction with the environment, where this …form which is going to appear only at the end of the process of development is not only already there in the environment … but actually interacts and exerts a real influence on the primary form, on the first steps of the child’s development. *Something which is only supposed to take shape at the very end of development, somehow influences the very first steps in this development. *(Vygotsky, 1994, p. 348—the article is The Problem of the Environment, appearing in The Vygotsky Reader) Apologies for
the slightly abridged version of the passage.

Not surprisingly, I "relate" creative imitation to performance....


Lois Holzman, Director
East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy
920 Broadway, 14th floor
New York NY 10010
tel. 212.941.8906 ext. 324
fax 212.941.0511
www.performingtheworld.org <http://loisholzman.net/>
loisholzman.org <http://loisholzman.net/>

On Jul 16, 2009, at 5:00 PM, Mike Cole wrote:

David's note of a few days ago on 3-7 year old changes in egocentric speech
me of an old article by Slobin and Welch (reprinted in Ferguson and Slobin,
*Studies of Child Development, 1963)
*that it took a while to track down. The study is often cited in studies of
elicited imitation where an adult says some
sentence and asks a little kid to repeat it. Kids simplify the sentence in
normal circumstances ("Where is the kitty"
becomes "where kitty") and other such stuff. There is a pretty large
literature on this.

But when I went to find the phenomenon in the article that had most struck
me, I could not find it in the recent lit
on elicited imitation. The phenomenon seems relevant to the monologic,
dialogic etc speech discussion.

The phenomenon is this: When a 2yr/5month old child is recorded saying
you finish your eggs all up, Daddy, you
can have your coffee." they can repeat this sentence pretty much as it is
right afterward. But 10 minutes later it has
become simplified a la the usual observation.

Citing William James (the child has an "intention to say so and so") Slobin
and Welch remark:

If that linguistic form is presented for imitation while the intention is still operative, it can be faily successfully imitated. Once the intention is gone, however, the utterance must be processed in linguistic terms alone
-- without its original intentional and
contextual support." In the absence of such support, the task can strain
the child's abilities and reveal a more limited competence than may
be present in spontaneous speech (p. 489-90).

This kind of observation seems relevant in various ways both to language
acquisition in school settings and to my reccurrent
questions about the social situation of development. Is it relevant to the
discussion of egocentric and social speech, David?
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