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Re: [xmca] Vygotsky and Saussure
Both Andy and I are very interested in Volume Five, the unfinished manuscript on Child Development in the Collected Works.
On pp. 272-273 LSV talks about "phones" instead of "phonemes". I think this is a correct translation, and "phonemes" is an incorrect one. I don't have the Russian original, though, so I can't be sure.
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Tue, 7/28/09, Martin Packer <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Martin Packer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky and Saussure
To: email@example.com, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tuesday, July 28, 2009, 12:03 PM
In Problems of Child Development LSV writes that language shatters the unity of infant and world. Your examples of the painter and gymnast help us recognize that this rupture cannot be complete or final. Both are kinds of work in which successful practice depends on an embodied embeddedness in concrete reality.
But at the same time I think LSV is right to write of rupture, and of the importance of language. First, he's right to insist that the child is born embedded, and so he rejects the built-in mind/world dualism that is presupposed by cognitive science. But, second, he's right to say that in development this immediacy is disrupted so that a mind is formed. The preschool age child is a dynamic part of their situation and responds without pause to its demands. The school age child, he writes, has lost this spontaneity. Language changes the child's relationship to the world in large part by picking out aspects of the situation as a distinct (kind of) 'thing.' It comes 'between' person and world, is an important part of the child's differentiation from other people, and soon will be the basis for a division between 'inner' and 'outer' aspects of the child's personality, dividing her from herself.
A good gymnast or painter finds ways to suspend or overcome or forget these divisions. But equally an adult without language would not be able to be a painter or gymnast, even if they could put paint on canvas or spin on a beam, because 'painter' and 'gymnast' are positions in a social reality which someone without language would be unable to adopt.
On Jul 27, 2009, at 11:23 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
> We've been round this mulberry bush before, so I suspect David might agree with you, but I differ.
> As I recall, LSV claims that word-meaning is the unit of analaysis for intelligent speech and therefore the "microcosm" of consciousness.
> So LSV agreed with Marx, as do I, that practice, or artefact mediated action is the unit of analysis of consciousness.
> all linguists of course disagree. But I wonder if a painter would agree, or a gymnast?
> Martin Packer wrote:
>> David, ...
>> 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 consciousness.
>> No? Yes?
>> 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 development.
>>> 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.
>>> David Kellogg
>>> 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 ; From 2-?
>>> 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 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?
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Martin Packer, Ph.D.
Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, USA 15282
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