[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
Re: [xmca] Vygotsky and Saussure
So /p/ as an isolated element carries no meaning, and even the
distinction between /p/ and /d/ carries no meaning, but the
distinction between /pog/ and /dog/ is meaningful and so the phonemic
distinction shows up first as a difference in meaning (reference).
Phonemes are always encountered (if they exist; I have a book
somewhere announcing that phonemes are dead) in a temporal stream. So
unlike the linguist, the child isn't fixing language at an instant in
time and making a synchronic system from a diachronic phenomenon.
In T&S LSV, on the pages you mention, is at pains to emphasize that
the word as a living cell is a unity of sound and meaning, an integral
phenomenon. Once it has been smashed into two parts it is pointless to
continue to study it. Traditional linguistics treats sound as
meaningless phoneme, meaning as concepts, semantics, independent of
any physical carrier. Instead he will study the word as vital, by
which I take it he means as used by real people in material
circumstances - so meaningful-sound is a concrete phenomenon, located
in place and time. And he promises that we will thereby find the unity
of thinking and speech, of generalization and social interaction, of
thinking and communication, of intellect and affect. In short, of
On Jul 25, 2009, at 3:25 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
Yes, definitely! If you read pp. 49-50 in the Minick translation of
Thinking and Speech, we get Vygotsky's remarks on Saussure's
phonology in pure form. Of course, he rejects (again and again) the
Saussurean view of semantics; it's nothing but associationism. But
since he rejects associationism on the basis of its arbitrariness,
its lack of an intelligent link, and its lack of system, he has to
reject Saussurean phonemes too, no?
No! As you say, there are two points here for Vygotsky to
appropriate. The first is that the phoneme is part of a gestalt,
specifically, a contrast with some other word (e.g. "back" and
"bag"). But the second is that that gestalt is defined by MEANING
and not by sound.
Here is where Vygosky really parts company, not only with Saussure
and structuralism but also with Gestaltism. For Saussure, the
relationship between phoneme and meaning is entirely arbitrary; but
for Vygotsky it is fully determined by the social situation of
For Gestaltism, the structural relationship is not unique to
language; it's shared with perception. But for Vygotsky the
consciousness that is created by thought is never reducible to the
consciousness that is created by perception.
The question I have is what Saussure would have made of all this.
Saussure was actually quite skeptical about his own system; he had
good reason to instruct his wife and students not to publish any of
his work. And as the article Mike sent around (on the Mandelshtam
poem) makes clear, he had big big problems with precisely the
concepts at issue: the arbitrariness and linearity of language.
Notice that Vygotsky doesn't really use the word "phonetic" very
much. The word which is usually translated as "phonetic" is actually
"phasal". But in the example Vygotsky gives about the psychological
vs. grammatical predicate/subject, where he talks about
psychological/grammatical gender, and number, and even tense, it is
very clear that for Vygotsky ALL the linear aspects of language, the
aspects which (unlike thought) include TIME in their
compositionality, are to be considered "phasal", not just phonetics.
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Fri, 7/24/09, Martin Packer <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Martin Packer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Intensions in context and speech complexity ;
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
Date: Friday, July 24, 2009, 8:03 AM
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
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
xmca mailing list
xmca mailing list
Martin Packer, Ph.D.
Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA 15282
xmca mailing list