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Re: [xmca] The Genetic Belly Button and the Functional Belly
Dear David Kellogg:
Back to fundamentals: When you voice the phonemes, any of them, do
you feel or does the sound suggest to you a feeling/emotion? If you
were to experience the effect of vocal sounds on your feeling/
emotional state, it seems you would comprehend, in its most basic
manifestation, how spoken language works. The foundation of spoken
language is as simple and as primal as it can be; and that foundation
must be understood clearly and unequivocally in order to understand
language at all. If one ignores language's deepest structure, one
will be sent on a "wild-goose-chase", fruitlessly and interminably
pursuing all sorts of vague and pointless minutia of who said what
when about what someone else said about this and
that! Just start from the beginning with a fresh
slate with the knowledge that you, as an intelligent human being, can
understand what is already there in front of you, staring you in the
face. Truth does not hide from people, people hide from truth. When
we no longer opt for safe ignorance and choose to look at what is
there, we will then understand.
Spoken language is first and foremost sound, sound make by the body.
Sound made by the body is inherently expressive of what is happening
in that body. The bodily happenings behind those body-made sounds are
experienced as bodily happenings in those who perceive those sounds.
This is how vocal communication works. Verbal communication is a
special case of vocal communication, the only difference being that
in the case of verbal communication, we use inherently emotionally
loaded, body-made sounds, to refer to things external to us.
So far, so good? Do I hear an "amen"?
If you get to this point, the rest is easy sailing.
On Jul 20, 2010, at 1:52 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
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
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
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
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: Bella Kotik-Friedgut <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] The Genetic Belly Button and the Functional Belly
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tuesday, July 20, 2010, 5:29 AM
Just to remind of the role of the RH in speech perception and
(prosody) - so all our verbal communication is a result of
On Tue, Jul 20, 2010 at 12:32 AM, Joseph Gilbert
Do we acknowledge that we are affected by the sounds of
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
our perceptions of the things to which we verbally refer? If so,
what is the
nature of that effect? What say ye?
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
teachers tend to use the polite register in class. That is,
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
it seems otious, almost fatuous, in its complexity (which is, of
form of discourse complexity because it suggests a complex discourse
sequence, where the questioner first ascertains whether the
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
using a wh-question in English. Wh-questions normally come DOWN,
are asking for old informatoin ("What did you say this was?").
Thirdly, the word order seems wrong and if the learner attempts
the sentence into usable bits, it will produce wrong question
this is?"). As we say in Korean, the belly button of genetic
overpowering the belly of functional use.
Carol remarked that chimps seem to be unable to deal with
of course we can easily imagine that chimps might be puzzled in
way without drawing any conclusions about the language learning
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
collapse into grammatical ones:
T: Is this hat red?
S: Yes, it is.
T: Is it yours?
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
dependency could not be learned!)
T: Can you tell me about this?
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,
found it in Vygotsky. Every human function, including complex
appears in the course of human development twice, the first time
tragedy of complex discouse, and the second time as the comedy of
So, to let the cat out of the bag: hypotaxis is indeed more
than parataxis as a speech form, in much the same way that
more scientific than "six". But this is merely because as a
thinking form it
is reconstrues an IDENTICAL intellectual content in a more intra-
internally complex, and system-related form.
Seoul National University of Education
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Sincerely yours Bella Kotik-Friedgut
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