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Re: [xmca] The Genetic Belly Button and the Functional Belly
Dear Joseph Gilbert:
There is a bookstore in Paris which played a much more important role in my education than the university I nominally attended (from which I never graduated). The name of the bookstore is Joseph Gilbert.
This entirely defines the way I mentally pronounce your name: it is pronounced the French way, stress on the last syllable, and the “-bert” rhymes with pear and ends in a Parisian growl; I can’t really think the name in any other way.
Now, this personal reaction is probably wrong, and more importantly, it is probably on this list entirely idiosyncratic; it is part of “theme” rather than “meaning”, of “sense” rather than “signification”, and “smysl” rather than “znachenie”. It is easy to trivialize it, and in fact Paulhan does just that when he remarks, in the paper “Qu’est-ce que la signification des mots?” which so influenced Vygotsky, that he has a friend whose name reminds him of scrambled eggs, but this cannot be said to be the “meaning” of the word.
What I want to argue is that acts of thinking, including the teaching of concepts to children, are precisely idiosyncratic in this nature; the “thinking” part of word meaning, the generalizing part, the abstracting part, is precisely theme, not meaning, sense rather than signification, and smysl rather than znachenie.
My professor (because after I dropped out of university my education was taken in hand by people like Henry Widdowson and not simply bookstores like Joseph Gilbert) would say it is pragmatic and not semantic meaning, the part of meanng that must be endless compared with the world and endlessly renegotiated, and not the part you look up in dictionaries and then forget. And it is from billions of such pragmatic acts that semantic meaning really arises and is codified sometime in the eighteenth century: not the other way around, which is the way we experience it today.
It seems to me that two points emerge from this, and one belongs to you and the other to Professor Kotik-Friedgut. The first is that it’s not simply the case that kids are somehow “more concrete” or “more inductive” than adults. If anything, kids tend to be MORE abstract, because they have small vocabularies (e.g. the verb “like”) and this constantly pushes them towards metonymy, metaphor, and polysemy. However, they are more inclined to notice and remember what I called (in an off-list letter to Carol) the SENSUOUS aspects of communication, including the idiosyncratic elements of pronunciation, facial expression, gesture, and contextual reference. More on this, with respect to the context-embeddedness of chimpanzees, from Vygotsky and Chapter Four of Thinking and Speech.
The second point is that the way in which sense is going to be actually, physically, sensually stored in the brain (as opposed to the mind; I think that one thing we HAVE to accept if we accept Luria’s idea of an inter-cortical mind is that the mind and the brain are NOT the mind/brain) consists of connections which will vary wildly. It will be more like the way in which information is stored on a hard drive in a computer before your run the defragmenter than the models we’ve been working with, which all assume that the brain is something like a suitcase or a large company: either first in last out, or first in first out. I think I might go even farther than Professor Kotik-Friedgut (though of course I lack her cred on this): I’m not even sure that the right hemisphere is always implicated in all individuals.
In the first section of Chapter Four in Thinking and Speech, Vygotsky is responding the work of Yerkes. Yerkes was a very nasty piece of work; he was involved in research which led to the Army learning proficiency tests (which determined the recruits who were most suitable for clearing minefields), racial IQ, and so on, and so it is with some unease we look at his many enthusiastic attempts to show that chimpanzees were capable of “ideation”, just like “negroes”.
Nevertheless, as Steve points out, Yerkes was the man to go to for attempts to teach chimpanzees how to talk in those days (and for some days thereafter—von Glasersfeld and Savage-Rumbaugh, who eventually cracked this particular nut, named their first chimp language—Yerkish—after him). We can sum up this section, using Steve’s method, like so:
a) Vygotsky remarked that Yerkes attributes “ideation” to man by a FUNCTIONAL ANALOGY between the apparently intelligent, imaginative behavior of apes (orangutans and chimpanzees) and similar behavior in man. Both can solve problems using simple tools and detours, ergo (reasons Yerkes) both can imagine solutions as workplans and carry them out. Vygotsky criticized this purely functional viewpoint, both because the analogy is coarse and because it is functionalist, but his method of criticism is to adopt it and then see where it leads.
b) This “ideation” is the NECESSARY AND SUFFICIENT criterion for human-like speech, because the main purpose of speech is to imagine solutions to problems as workplans and carry them out. Again, Vygotsky criticized this idea of a single genetic root for speech (and an idealistic one at that) but his method of criticism is to adopt it and then see where it leads.
c) If, Vygotsky says, an ALTERNATIVE explanation for the apparently intelligent and imaginative behavior of the ape can be found, that is, an explanation which does NOT involve mental representations, then the argument put forward by Yerkes will entirely lose its single foundation, which was that ideation exists in the ape and ideation is necessary and sufficient for speech. If an alternative explanation for the apparently intelligent and imaginative behavior does not include ideation, then even if a) and b) are true (which is very doubtful) there may be no human like speech in apes.
d) Alas, this alternative explanation DOES exist: it is in Kohler’s observation that a good deal of the ape’s practical intelligence is a purely immediate, verbal intelligence, and it only operates when the solution and the problem are both present in the visual field. It's pretty clear (at least to me) how this might apply to teaching children: we are dealing with two very different systems when we talk about perceptual meaning and when we talk about semantic meaning, and the link between the two must be first formed outside the child and only later internalized.
Of course, the experimentum crucis remains to be done. The experimentum crucis is, as Vygotsky says, to teach the chimpanzee a form of speech that does not involve vocal imitation, but which does involve ideation.
Today, this experiment HAS been done, and the result turns out to be rather more interesting than even Vygotsky expected: chimpanzees DO acquire speech, including quite complex grammar (e.g. “Take the orange outside and give it an injection with a syringe and then place it in the potty.”)
But they do NOT do this in the wild, and they don’t even do it in experiments dedicated to the direct teaching of language. They do it when they are raised in an “zone of proximal development” in proximity with human children.
Now, of course, one way to look at this result (Savage-Rumbaugh) is to say that it refutes what Vygotsky has claimed about ideation in the ape. Apes do have ideation, and the experimentum crucis shows this.
But there is another way to consider Savage-Rumbaugh’s result. Vygotsky’s main contention is not that the ape can never acquire speech under any conditions at all, and in fact he at several points suggests that this might indeed happen although it has not happened yet. Vygotsky’s MAIN contention is that there is a distinction between cultural and natural lines of development.
The key result of the experimentum crucis, then, is this: human language is always and everywhere linked to human culture. But human culture is not necessarily confined to man.
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Tue, 7/20/10, Bella Kotik-Friedgut <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Bella Kotik-Friedgut <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [xmca] The Genetic Belly Button and the Functional Belly
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
Date: Tuesday, July 20, 2010, 5:29 AM
Just to remind of the role of the RH in speech perception and production
(prosody) - so all our verbal communication is a result of interhemispheric
On Tue, Jul 20, 2010 at 12:32 AM, Joseph Gilbert <firstname.lastname@example.org>wrote:
> Do we acknowledge that we are affected by the sounds of the human
> voice? Do the sounds of the phonemes cause reactions in our body-mind? If we
> are, and if they do, then do our reactions to the sounds of our voice affect
> our perceptions of the things to which we verbally refer? If so, what is the
> nature of that effect? What say ye?
> Joseph Gilbert
> On Jul 19, 2010, at 2:23 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
> We have a problem here in Korea. In order to teach children polite
>> language, which is what they need to communicate with adult strangers,
>> teachers tend to use the polite register in class. That is, instead of
>> T: What is this?
>> They tend to say things like:
>> T: Can you tell me what this is?
>> Now this is quite puzzling from a learner's point of view. First of all,
>> it seems otious, almost fatuous, in its complexity (which is, of course, a
>> form of discourse complexity because it suggests a complex discourse
>> sequence, where the questioner first ascertains whether the hearer can
>> answer and then attempts to find the answer).
>> Secondly, the intonation, which is often the learner's best clue as to the
>> speaker's intention, is not the normal way in which we ask for information
>> using a wh-question in English. Wh-questions normally come DOWN, unless we
>> are asking for old informatoin ("What did you say this was?").
>> Thirdly, the word order seems wrong and if the learner attempts to dissect
>> the sentence into usable bits, it will produce wrong question forms ("What
>> this is?"). As we say in Korean, the belly button of genetic origins is
>> overpowering the belly of functional use.
>> Carol remarked that chimps seem to be unable to deal with hypotaxis, and
>> of course we can easily imagine that chimps might be puzzled in exactly this
>> way without drawing any conclusions about the language learning ability of
>> the chimp as opposed to that of the (equally puzzled) Korean child.
>> But her remark raises the interesting question of WHY, in English,
>> wh-questions are bi-functional in precisely this way: they serve on the one
>> hand to mark intra-mental relations by showing how discourse sequences
>> collapse into grammatical ones:
>> T: Is this hat red?
>> S: Yes, it is.
>> T: Is it yours?
>> S: Yes.
>> T: So the had that is red is yours?
>> S: Yes, the hat that is red is mine.
>> (This is the very sentence that Chomsky used as evidence that structural
>> dependency could not be learned!)
>> T: Can you tell me about this?
>> S: Yes.
>> T: What is it?
>> S: It's an apple.
>> T: So you can tell me what this is?
>> I think the answer to this question is easily found in Tomasello, who
>> found it in Vygotsky. Every human function, including complex grammar,
>> appears in the course of human development twice, the first time as the
>> tragedy of complex discouse, and the second time as the comedy of complex
>> So, to let the cat out of the bag: hypotaxis is indeed more "scientific"
>> than parataxis as a speech form, in much the same way that "hextillion" is
>> more scientific than "six". But this is merely because as a thinking form it
>> is reconstrues an IDENTICAL intellectual content in a more intra-mental,
>> internally complex, and system-related form.
>> David Kellogg
>> Seoul National University of Education
>> xmca mailing list
> xmca mailing list
Sincerely yours Bella Kotik-Friedgut
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