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

Re: [xmca] Are Fleer and Hedegaard Bernsteinians?

I wasn't going to step into the line of fire with this one, but just BTW:

"we may say with equal correctness that the whole human species has but one language, and that every man has one of his own."

Wilhelm von Humboldt, published posthumously 1836, but probably written about 1810.


David Kellogg wrote:
My dear Wolff-Michael:
When we were all about half a decade younger, I used to be highly annoyed at being told (by many on the list) what exactly I had and hadn't read, and which language I had and hadn't used to read it. But one day I sat down carefully and looked hard at what Andy was saying to Martin (about the Grundrisse, as it happened) and realized that although it didn't really apply to Martin, it DID apply to me, and I figured that if the shoe fits, I might as well wear it. My bill from Amazon began to skyrocket. But I did amass a shelf of Derrida, partly thanks to your recommendations. Now, of course it is true, as always, that I didn't understand everything I read. I acquired French at the age of four and some parts of my French haven't really developed much since I was a teenager. (Verily, I have only one language, and that language is never only one.) But first of all, I am hardly alone in my bafflement. Foucault said much the same about Derrida's writing when he called him an intellectual terrorist: he writes in a quite deliberately obscure manner and then he terrorizes the reader by calling him an idiot. And secondly a good deal of Derrida's lamentable sense of humor, it has to be said, is schoolboy stuff, including his endless puns on "cul" and his nasty remarks about poor Rousseau's masturbatory habits (which only shows us that Derrida understood one of the most important steps forward in the psychological novel in a completely anachronistic, puerile, and now thankfully quaint and dated manner). I think that Saussureanism is synchronic, I think it is not developmental, but I agreee it is not correct to say that it is static. A game of chess is not static, and viewed as a whole game it is not even synchronic. Nevertheless each move can be understood as a term in a Markov sequence, as a syncrhonic whole rather than as part of a time dependent sequence. Derrida is only practicing what Saussure preaches. His opposition of meaning to meaning practices Saussure's method of meanings through oppositions. The passage you cite is just one example; the argument on absence of presence, which tries to "prove" that writing and not speaking is the substratum of all language, is another, and so is his love of smutty puns on 'cul-ture'. So there is no such thing as "a" language, only the opposition of one language to another through their mutual untranslatability. And since there is no such thing as "a" language, the untranslatability principle applies as much intralingually as it does interlingually. Here, to be sure, Derrida preaches what he practices. Now what interests me is the sheep, or as the Little Prince says, revenons a nos moutons. The idea of deconstructing and "reconfiguring" languages was recently made into a little volume by that name edited by Alastair Pennycook and Sinfree Makoni, mostly dedicated to African languages. In it, Pennycook and Makoni take the untranslatability argument to its logical conclusion and deny the existence of linguicide in Africa. I have to admit this is a completely logical outcome of the idealist argument that languages are made not by living breathing people but by the opposition of absences to presences. But to me it is tantamount to denying the holocaust. I got very interested in translating Vygotsky only when I realized how completely inadequate extant English translations of Thinking and Speech are for a Korean readership and how very congenial to Korean understanding the other translations and the original Russian is. But a lot of the worst of Vygotsky scholarship (for example, the endless, interminable, conflation of learning and development and of teaching and learning and even of growth and development) comes from an oversimplified reading of Vygotsky's oppositions: an emphasis on linkedness that obscures their distinctness. When Bakhtin speaks of the double voiced utterance, when he talks of the word having two faces, he is NOT using the idea of "intertextuality" as it has been given to us by Kristeva and vulgarized by undergraduates who want some imposing source to cite when they show that one writer actually read another. The double-voiced word actually requires three people, not two--I have one voice for my hearer and another for a third party who is examining our colloquy from afar. It's not just a matter of the other, but also the other's other, who is my other as well. That other's other is where the objectiveness of the opposition of meanings resides and why it does not completely disappear. Revenons, revenons a nos moutons. When Andrew is at home, he is part of interactions as well as an observer. Now in school this direct participation becomes greatly reduced, simply because of class size, and the child's observer status must be greatly expanded accordingly. It seems to me that this is a quite materialist explanation for the difficulty of the transition, and even for the resulting scanning behavior. Best of all, it has a very simple and materialist solution, instantly applicable: hire MORE teachers, and reduce class sizes NOW. On Tuesday we go to the polls to elect a school superintendant in Seoul. This position is as important and as hotly contested as the mayor's. The government, which is witchhunting the Democratic Labor Party and is firing teachers who can be shown to have made donations to it, is not so secretly fielding its own, very well bankrolled, candidate. His main plank is...to introduce "competition" among teachers by evaluating their performance (i.e. testing every child every year) and then firing the bottom ten percent. Incredibly, given the silly things we sometimes say, people do listen to professors. That is why it seems to me that we have to be rather careful when we talk about public education. Just as its very easy to take Derrida's argument about untranslatability and turn it into an apology for linguicide, it's easy to take a Bernsteinian argument about home-school mismatches and turn it into a deadening and even deadly argument against public education as a whole, or for younger, more inexperienced, and supposedly more enthusiastic (and cheaper) teachers, for bigger classes and (for example) less grammar learning and more dumbing down of our curriculum. Any one of these measures will shut the window on Andrew's fingers. All of them together will slam the door in his face. David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Fri, 5/28/10, Wolff-Michael Roth <mroth@uvic.ca> wrote:

From: Wolff-Michael Roth <mroth@uvic.ca>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Are Fleer and Hedegaard Bernsteinians?
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Friday, May 28, 2010, 4:30 PM

your reading is inconsistent with anything Derrida wrote, including this book. It is NOT absolutely NOT synchronic. You have not read, apparently, any of his work concerning différance, concerning khora, concerning écriture, the unfolding of Being and its covering by beings (see near identical articulation by Mikhailov in his 2001 piece), concerning his critique of Plato, Hegel and the sign as a tomb.

You tend to be a thorough reader of Vygotsky, but it does not look as if you were doing the same with Derrida. Perhaps one has to be able to read French to appreciate it. But SYNCHRONIC SAUSSURE, definitely not!


On 2010-05-28, at 2:14 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

Derrida himself flags his method (rather strenuously) it by beginning the whole essay with "I have one language and it is not mine". This tells us that his essay is going to be an exercise in good old Saussurean synchronic linguistics. It is not ontogenetic, or sociogenetic, or even in any real (psychologically real) sense microgenetic except as a description of its own thinking process..

Derrida's particular form of Saussurean syncrhonism operates by oppositions, by comparisons of utterances (decontextualized utterances) which are both linked and distinct but in the final analysis not genetically linked. Wolff-Michael is right to say that Bakhtin does this too, but it is the early Bakhtin, the Neo-Kantian one who wrote "Art and Answerability" and not the Bakhtin of the Circle who wrote Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics.

Derrida delights in preaching what he practices. I guess what I was trying to do was to turn the tables a little and compare what he practices with what Butzkamm wrote. Now, Butzkamm doesn't write very much; as far as I can tell he's a jobbing teacher and doesn't have much time for that. But when he does write it is all about learning in real time.

On the face of it, his formulation "we only learn language once" is quite similar to Derrida's "I have only one language and it is not my own". But one of these formulations will lead us to think about Bloom and the "vocabulary explosion" and the very interesting fact that every language since Latin and Greek seems to incorporate academic concepts from FOREIGN languages. The other, as Wolff-Michael points out, turns in on itself and leads us to the Invisible Man in his underground cavern, well lit and well appointed, but still only a version of Plato's cave.

One of the things I love about Vygotsky and admire in Butzkamm which I miss in Derrida and even in Bakhtin is his clear embrace of materialism, of history as it is lived by children of flesh and blood and men of meat and bones. In Derrida, history is endlessly deferred; his love for humanity is with a very few exceptions a love of people who have not actually been born (as someone one said, rather unfairly, of Trotsky).. Even Bakhtin sees the novel and the carival and the other as always existing and not really developing; Bakhtin is, in the final analysis, an idealist historian to the extent that he is historical at all..
We have a strong tendency to understand our childhoods in much the same way; the family is a constant unit, but school is something that comes and goes. Ergo, the family has a permanent stamp upon our psyche, whether it is through sexuality (as in Freud) or class (as in Bernstein). Family is "ser" and schooling is only a passing form of "estar".

But suppose "ser" really derives from "estar" and not from "ser"? Actually, it seems to me that ONLY if we accept that sexuality and class and above all LANGUAGE continue in school, but that they develop as school sexuality and school class and above all the language of SCHOOL, only then are we in a position to understand why children outgrow their families but do not outgrow their learning disabilities.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

--- On Fri, 5/28/10, Wolff-Michael Roth <mroth@uvic.ca> wrote:

From: Wolff-Michael Roth <mroth@uvic.ca>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Are Fleer and Hedegaard Bernsteinians?
To: lchcmike@gmail.com, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Friday, May 28, 2010, 5:46 AM

Okay, Mike,

David cites,
We only ever speak one language.
We never speak only one language.

and then says, after a long text concluding:

It's not that we only speak one language: it is that we only learn language

But Derrida doesn't say that we only speak one language. If David had read for us the whole page (p.21 in original, p.7 in English translation), Derrida says,
I will first risk rwo propositions.
'fhey will also appear incompossible. Not only contradicrory in
themselves, this time, but also contradictory between themselves.

He says he risks two propositions. They appear contradictory, IN themselves, and BETWEEN themselves. David literally takes word for word, out of context. Moreover, the interesting thing Derrida says is this:
They each take the form of a law. (p.7)

and he goes on,

this double postulation . . . is not only the very law of what is called translation. I would also be the law itself as translation. (p.10)

What David didn't tell us that this is written in the form of a dialogue, an internal dialogue, much like Dostoevsky writes, the one that Bakhtin analyzes in the author's poetics. It is dialogical, full of inner contradictions, really inner not logical, and there is development---pace Bakhtin----in the ideas. This is like the underground man, speaking the double tongue, which is one. What we find here is the best of development in the writing, development of ideas à la Bakhtin, not the literal readings and machine translations that we sometimes are offered. (Not by David, he is polyglot with his one tongue, the man of one and many tongues simultaneously)

Take this: In French it is like this:

1. On ne parle jamais qu 'une seule langue.
2. On ne parle jamais une seule langue.

Langue is also the tongue. And the difference between the two sentence is the "qu'" in front of "one," and in French, when you say "q" (pronounced, in IPA conventions, "ky"), then you are talking about the ass, an ass, not the animal, your behind.
The other point is that you cannot in a strong sense translate, and this is precisely (one of) the point(s) of the piece. Take this:

Ce que je voudrais me rappeler moi-même, ce à quoi je voudrais me rappeler, (p.24)

These two parts of the same sentence are the same, to some extent, and they are different. In English they go like this:

What I would like to remind myself of; that to which I would like to recall myself (p.9)

these are different, not the same, different and different not the same/different
And take the next clause:

ce sont les traits intraitables d'une impossibilité (p.24)
are the intractable traits of an impossibility (p.9)

He says, "trait intraitables", a contradiction in the concept itself.
In contrast to Il'enkov, who philosophizes by obliquely pointing to the things he writes about, the contradictions, and in contrast to Bakhtin, who literally writes about the development of language, Derrida writes what they write about. Derrida writes development, and this is what écriture is about. And this is where I see David as misreading Derrida, or perhaps non-reading. And this is why I suggest that he ought to read Derrida like he reads LSV, whom he appears to love so much, so much so that he translates him.


On 2010-05-27, at 9:30 PM, mike cole wrote:

Michael and David-- You guys are talking over my head!
What does Derrida say that David Ke is misunderstanding?
Where is it said that LSV is beloved?
What Bakhtin should we be reading to decode this?
Which Mikhailov is in question here.
lost in may grey on so cal.

On Thu, May 27, 2010 at 8:44 PM, Wolff-Michael Roth <mroth@uvic.ca> wrote:

Hi polyglott, man of many words, scholar of many examples . . . impressive,
if it weren't for your misunderstanding of Derrida. Believe me, this
philosopher is worth being read well, as well or better than your beloved
Vygotsky. I am truly amazed in how similar his thinking is with that of
Bakhtin, whom Mikhailov appreciates a lot.  :-) Michael

On 2010-05-27, at 7:02 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

Wolff-Michael likes this quote from Derrida:

We only ever speak one language.
We never speak only one language.

Butzkamm has a rather more realistic formulation, "We only learn language
once". He means, of course, that languages consist of other languages, much
as minds are made up of other minds (either in the form of discourse or in
the form of text).

For example, our elementary English syllabus consists of mostly GERMANIC
nouns (e.g. "table" and "apple") but as the children grow older they will
acquire more LATINATE ones (e.g. "refrigerator" and "helicopter"). Korean
works the same way; yesterday at lunch we had a choice between a stately,
scholarly sounding restaurant with a Chinese name and more rustic, village
fare sold in a restaurant with a pure Korean title.

You know, it turns out that the so-called "vocabulary explosion" is a kind
of myth, like the "explosive" economic growth of very poor countries. Any
normal human mind left in a social situation of development that is
sufficiently open to provide new word meanings at the proper rate (say, a
multilingual one, or just a reasonably challenging cognitive one) will
naturally continue to acquire vocabulary at roughly the same rate as a baby
all life your life long. The problem is that everyday life in a monolingual
capitalist society really doesn't supply this, so those of us who want to go
on learning new words in our fifties are really forced to emigrate.

My Portuguese is only good for some things, but I do know the difference
between 'ser" and "estar". I originally thought it was the difference
between "etre" and "avoir" in French, because of course French uses "to
have" in many situations where English would use hte copula. Then I learned
some Spanish, so I figured it it was like the difference between "ser" and
"estar" in Spanish. This too is wrong.

As far as I can figure out, "ser" is really about BEING or ESSENCE, and
"estar" describes ESTATE or temporality passing STATE. So the weather tends
to be "estar" and people, particularly in their class/national/gender
origins tend to be "ser".

Now the reason I mention all this is that I've been worrying a little bit
about the references in Fleer/Hedegaard to "machine gun fire" conversation
in Andrew's household. We are not actually given any examples of "machine
gun fire" conversation, so the mind (well, my mind) inevitably associates it
with the constant moving around that seems to go on in the Peninsula family
which is semi-internalized by Andrew when he goes to school as "scanning".
That is, words are sprayed out in short bursts without any precise aim,
splattering whole rooms in a single salvo. It's not a very pretty metaphor,
but that seems to be what the authors are getting at.

So what we get is a kind of "mismatch" hypothesis. The language of home
does not match the language of schooling, and this augurs poorly for
Andrew's cognitive development. Engestrom's article in the Daniels'
"Introduction to Vygotsky" also puts forward a similarly Bernsteinian
theory, and suggests three basic ways of overcoming the mismatch.

a) Davydov and Schmittau: Providing sufficiently powerful CONCEPTS that
will allow the child to take their school understanding into the mismatched
extracurricular world.

b) Lave and Wenger: Provide experiential communities of practice that allow
the child to take the extracurricular world into the mismatched school.

c) Learning by expanding: that is, EXPANDING the school until it merges
with the community and expanding the child's extracurricular world until it
is one with the school.

Engeström, Yrjö (2005) Non scolae sed vitae discimus: Toward overcoming the
encapsulation of school learning. 157-176. in Daniels, H. (ed.) (2005) An
Introduction to Vygotsky. Hove and New York: Routledge.

It seems to me that each view is Utopian in its own way (in a good way!)
but that all may actually be unnecessary. There are a couple of things
wrong, EMPIRICALLY wrong, with the Bernsteinian mismatch view, at least as I
understand it.

a) By the time kids get into high school--even middle school--they are not
talking like their parents. They talk like each other. So how can a learning
deficit be blamed on a home language?

b) If anything, middle class home language is LESS strongly framed than
working class language, and yet middle class kids DO do better in school.

c) None of this appears to apply at all to bilinguals, at least not above a
certain threshold. Bilinguals have a cognitive edge in every subject, even
nonllinguistic ones, and it's lifelong (so that, for example, bilinguals
actually do better when they get Alzheimer's!)

In the 1950s, Stalin wrote an essay on "Marxism and Linguistics" in which
he criticized Vygotsky's friend and teacher J. Ia. Marr for arguing that
language was "superstructural", and did not by itself create class
differences but rather reflected them. Stalin, who was obsessed with the
idea of stability in nation states, argued that language was base; if you
control language, you control the nation state and everybody in it as well.
Interestingly, Marr had argued against explicit instruction in grammar, and
some of Chapter Six of Thinking and Speech, in which Vygotsky defends
grammar instruction, is a polemic against his friend.

I remember that part of the excitement of reading Vygotsky for the first
time was the realization that here was somebody who did NOT make Piaget's
mistake of thinking that language was pure epiphenomenon and on the other
hand recognized that at any one moment language is a small part of some
larger picture we can call culture (much of which is also made up of
language, but language in the form of text rather than in the form of
ongoing dicourse). So in that sense language is not destiny; it's a matter
of "estar" rather than "ser".

It's not that we only speak one language: it is that we only learn language

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Thu, 5/27/10, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Cognitivist theory & language learning
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Thursday, May 27, 2010, 4:06 PM

The Davids have provided professional answers to your question, Tony.
Just a couple of thoughts of a different sort.

The message got me to wondering, again, about AA Leontiev's work on second
language learning which was discussed here a long time ago (at something i
code as "here" but not sure where it was except on line and somehow
connected with LCHC).

My own limited experience is that learning a language outside of the
of its use in locally organized activities in that language is
extra-ordinarily problematic. Perhaps, as David Ke suggests, because one
to solve Plato's learning paradox. But my solution to that paradox is to
place it inside of culturally organized activity which presupposes it has
been solved, which is exactly what Tony cannot do.

I learned a lot more Russian in Moscow the first time we went than my wife
did, although once we were there with a newborn, she did a lot more
than I did. Why?

First time she was not allowed to work and only got out of the student role
when she got into a practicum journalism experience, but unfortunately from
the perspective of language learning it was at the English language
Newspaper, Moscow News. Made perfect sense in its way. Meantime, i was in
the middle of a group of Luria co-workers whose English was minimal, who
serious work to do, who had to get me to understand and coordinate or risk
harm to someone. Never mind saying it just right,
just get what has to be said out there in a way that others can work with,
and over time, you improve from myriad and confusing sources of feedback.

Second time I spent most of my time reading over horrible translations of
thesis for a conference from Russian to English and fixing them within
constraints while my wife had to be darn sure our two month old survived,
which required her to deal with a tough old nanny, curious Russian
pediatricians with ideas she did not love and had to argue with,
and the ability to elbow her way to hot water in a dorm full of folks with
sharp elbows and tongues.

Pushkin is said to have said that the best way to learn a foreign language
is in bed. That presupposes various linguistic and non-linguistic forms of
interaction with a fair amount of emotional infusion, but the idea seems

Wonder what Plato would have advised?

On Mon, May 24, 2010 at 5:35 PM, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com
Tony, David:

Last night in my grad seminar, we discussed "the belly button is bigger
than the belly". This is a Korean expression we use as shorthand to refer
a whole range of problems, from quite theoretical to very practical,
have in common the underlying difficulty that context is always richer,
complex, and more difficult to understand than any text which attempts to
realize it even though when we present it in the form of a picture or a
video or a Korean text it looks extremely straightforward.

For example, when the teacher wants to teach something like "Hi, I'm
Zeeto", the teacher needs to use a picture of Zeeto introducing himself
some non-Zeeto, Typically this involves getting the children's attention,
giving them information (e.g. "This is Zeeto") and then checking
understanding ("Who?"). Even if we break it up into very small
the learning "belly button" is rather bigger than the teaching belly.

The same problem happens when we want the children to repeat. (Now, YOU
Zeeto. Listen, Zeeto! "Hi, I'm Zeeto". Repeat, Zeeto!) and when we want
check understanding. (we end up saying things like "What did Zeeto say
he wanted to introduce himself to Julie?"). We are always left a little
the little Saint Augustine asking Saint Monica, 'Mommy, what does "mean"

I suppose it all goes back to Plato's problem. The belly button problem
really all about the attempt to understand a more powerful system
with a less powerful one (text). And so too is the cognitivist approach
any quintessentially social phenomenon. The answer to "Who am I?" is
not "Well, who is asking the question?" but rather "Who wants to know and

I think for that reason David Ki's response, which is basically to stand
outside Tony's question in such a way that it unasks itself, is really
right one. But Tony probably wants something more heuristic, something
stands inside the question and explodes it.

The two most common verbs a learner of Portuguese probably needs (and
to distinguish) are "ser" and "estar". But they are neither things we do
frequently nor things we rarely do and they are neither mental verbs nor
action verbs. More, the all important distinction between them cannot be
understood as any of the above.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

--- On Mon, 5/24/10, Tony Whitson <twhitson@UDel.Edu> wrote:

From: Tony Whitson <twhitson@UDel.Edu>
Subject: [xmca] Cognitivist theory & language learning
To: xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
Date: Monday, May 24, 2010, 9:12 AM

I'm using a variety of tools for learning Portuguese, including dubbed
subtitled movies as well as books written for instruction. In one of
following a list of sixteen first-conjugation verbs, I find this helpful

In order to learn these verbs, try to first memorize them by putting the
verbs into lists or categories. Can you divide the above list into
that I do often" and "things that I rarely do"? How about dividing the
into "action verbs" and "mental verbs"? Whatever categories you chose to
organize the verbs, the important thing is that you find a way to process
and arrange these new pieces of information in your brain. Once you have
done this, it will be easier to retrieve the information later.

(Source: Ferreira, Fernanda L. The Everything Learning Brazilian
Book: Speak, Write and Understand Portuguese in No Time. Avon, Mass.:
Media, 2007., p. 111)

I see this as an extraordinarily clear and straightforward expression of
view of learning that I find quite common in education circles. I expect
that I'll be using it as a clear example of wrong-headed thinking about

Maybe others will find similar value in this example; but I'm also
to ask if anyone has equally clear and succinct examples to share that
be used to show what's wrong with this, and how to understand learning
appropriately, instead ... things that would be clear and easily
for people in education for whom the cognitivist approach seems to be
Muito obrigado,

Tony Whitson
UD School of Education
NEWARK  DE  19716


"those who fail to reread
are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
                    -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list

Andy Blunden http://home.mira.net/~andy/ +61 3 9380 9435 Skype andy.blunden An Interdisciplinary Theory of Activity: http://www.brill.nl/scss

xmca mailing list