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RE: [xmca] concepts: Missing Voices
I think that in order to make sense of the names that Vygotsky mentions, we need to supply some MISSING names. I think that one of these is indeed Frege, as Martin has indicated (although the precise reference to "the victor at Jena" and "the defeated at Waterloo" is originally from John Stuart Mill).
We know that Vygotsky often "kills a chicken to frighten a monkey". For example, dismayed by tendencies he sees as BEHAVIORISTIC (including a narrow focus on material activity to the exclusion of semiosis among certain of his own followers), he attacks, not Pavlov or Kornilov or even Bekhterev but instead the obscure American behaviorist WATSON.
I think the he does the opposite as well. There are certain sources he would love to celebrate but for various reasons he finds this difficult. One of these is, as Colin Baker has indicated, Voloshinov, who Vygotsky must have met and probably loved.
The two worked together at the Herzen Pedagogical Institute, or at least worked there at the same time. Voloshinov cites Vygotsky in his book on Freud. And Vygotsky pillages Voloshinov's quotes mercilessly, from Dostoevsky to Fet. According to Zvarashneva (2010), the original manuscripts of Vygotsky's papers currently in the Vygotsky archive do indeed cite Voloshinov as a source. This citation was then removed, presumably by the editors (the Bakhtin school, although spoken favorably of by Lunacharsky in 19829, was WELL out of favor by 1930).
Martin's invaluable guide clearly shows us that the distinction between inner and outer meaning, between meaning and reference, and between sense and signification appear throughout Thinking and Speech, and they are obviously related--genetically.
Each appears (to my brain anyway) a refinement, a reformulation, a reworking of the last. So it's rather astonishing that this amazing genetic squence results in...Paulhan, for whom the distinction between sense and signification is nothing more than the vulgar distinction between connotation and denotation. Verily, the Vygotskyan mountain was in labor: but it has brought forth a pathetic Paulhanian mouse.
Anyone who disputes this reading of Paulhan has only to go and read the original paper that Vygotsky cites, "Qu'est-ce que le sens des mots?". It is infuriatingly banal and relentlessly incoherent: among other things, he worries that when people say "It is beyond words" they are in fact expressing a meaning, except that it must be only a sense.
And then there is his friend, whose name reminds him, for no particular reason, of a plate of scrambled eggs. Is this a sense or a meaning? Poor Paulhan cannot decide. No wonder Pauhan himself completely abandons the whole idea in his next equally dull book "The double function de langage".
Now, Vygotsky loved his bathos as much as he loves pathos. But I just don't think he took this crap seriously. So he must have had something else in mind when he crowns his great genetic sequence with the distinction between "smysl" and "znachenie".
Mr. Bae in our seminar has said that the distinction must be related to Marx's distinction between use value and exchange value. Use value is what you actually DO with the word; it's personal, or interpersonal, context-specific, constantly varying and changing and hard to pin down. Exchange value is exactly the opposite: it depends on a kind of unwritten social agreement, it is context-independent, and it is, ideally at any rate, self-similar: a pound is a pound is a pound all the world round.
One final missing name, and it happens to be a gentleman who attended some of the same seminars that Stanislavsky and Vygotsky took part in: the linguist N. Ia. Marr, who later led a highly dubious academic existence as founder of an anti-imperialist linguistics called "Japhetology".
Japhetology was built on an "out of Africa" theory of language genesis which seems to foresee the "out of Africa theories of the biological origin of humans (about which Marr could have known nothing). The idea was that since language variation was far greater in Africa than anywhere on earth, this must be the origin of human language, and all linguistics founded on Standard European languages is simply an imperialist teleology directly related to theories of racial superiority then sweeping Europe. (In this I think Marr is influenced by Whorf and Sapir, and Vygotsky's refs to Sapir may be a way of paying his debt to Marr.)
Stalin liked this for a time, and then decided that there was a lot to be said for racial superiority after all, and wrote his "Marxism and Linguistics" largely to try to stamp out Japhetology, in which he was, needless to say, successful, which is why you have probably never heard of it all.
Now, in the course of his (as I said, highly dubious) speculations into the origins of human language, Marr asks a kind of interesting question, which both Voloshinov and Vygotsky take very seriously. Suppose, sociogenetically, language began with a single word, rather the way it does ontogenetically. Except that instead of "mama" or "dada" or whatever, it's something like "this" or "that" or "look".
This word has a universal meaning; it can literally be applied to every single thing, so long as it is an object. However, the sense that the word has is entirely bound to context. It changes with that context, which means it is constantly changing. It is highly personal and interpersonal; that is, its value varies from person to person just as it varies from moment to moment. Can we say it is a word? Can we say it is a small language.
Marr isn't sure, but Voloshinov sure is. Voloshinov's answer is an everlasting YES! For Voloshinov, you see, the essence is not the self-similar, ever-stable, unchanging dictionary definition. That wasn't even written until sometime in the eighteenth century (for English, although of course more advanced countries like China had dictionaries long before then).
That is how we benighted moderns think of words, but that is really NOT what words have been these several hundred thousand years of our existence, and it is NOT what they are essentially even today. The most frequently used words--by far--are not "concepts" like "apple" but deictics, functors, pronouns, demonstratives, articles...in other words, senses.
You can see that this DOES have something to do with poor Marr's "Japhetology"--the reason for the wild variation of languages in Africa is that they are mostly sense...but that is ALSO a demonstration of their antiquity and the probable African origins of human language.
I think it also has something to do with Mr. Bae's remark about use value and exchange value. Exchange value, viewed historically, is only a late emerging form of use value. All signification depends upon sense and not the other way around.
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Tue, 4/12/11, Monica Hansen <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Monica Hansen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: RE: [xmca] concepts
To: "'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'" <email@example.com>
Date: Tuesday, April 12, 2011, 3:43 PM
Interesting, Steve. I Hoped someone would pursue this. So, words are
generalizations are concepts? The history of models explaining the mental
lexicon illuminates the shifts in thinking towards this idea: that words are
not the representation of the object itself, but cultural conventions, also
not a code that is transferred directly into the brain (knowing the word
does not mean understand a meaning or THE meaning. Once it was thought that
words could be located in the brain like items in a dictionary. In studies
of the location of meaning in the brain? Many areas are activated, not just
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On
Behalf Of Steve Gabosch
Sent: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 10:27 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] concepts
Mike asks the following question:
"LSV and Luria insisted that words were generalizations. How is that
idea of generalization related to the idea of a concept?"
Here are some selections from T&S that provide some starting places
toward grappling with how Vygotsky approached this question.
Vol 1 p 47-49 (in Ch 1) Vygotsky describes what he means by
"generalization". Some selections:
"The word does not relate to a single object, but to an **entire group
or class of objects.** Therefore, every word is a concealed
" ... just as social interaction is impossible without signs, it is
also impossible without meaning. To communicate an experience or some
other content of consciousness to another person, it must be related
to a class or group of phenomena. As we have pointed out, this
requires **generalization**. "
" ... true understanding and communication occur only when I am able
to generalize and name what I am experiencing, only when I am able to
relate my experience to a specific class of experiences that are known
to my partner."
Vol 1 p 224-229 (in Ch 6.6) Vygotsky analyzes the relationships
between concepts and how different kinds of concepts employ different
kinds of generalization. Some selections:
"There is no question that any concept is a generalization."
"With subsequent stages of concept development, relationships of
generality begin to be formed. With each level of development, we
find a unique system of relationships."
"We have long searched for a reliable way to identify the structures
of generalization that characterize the meanings of the child's actual
words, for a bridge that would allow us to move from the study of
experimental concepts to the analysis of actual concepts. By
establishing this connection **between the structure of generalization
and relationships of generality** we have found the key to this
critical problem. By studying a concept's relationships of
generality, by studying its measure of generality, we obtain the most
reliable index of the structure of generalization of actual concepts."
Vygotsky classified structures of generalization into four types:
syncretic concepts, complexes, preconcepts, and true concepts. He
examines essential ways that they differ. In each kind of structure
there are different:
" ... characteristics that are a function of the nature of the
concept: (1) there is a different relationship to the object and to
the meaning of the word; (2) there are different relationships of
generality; and (3) there is a different set of possible operations."
Vol 1 p 244-245 (in Ch 7.1) Vygotsky is analyzing thinking and offers
one of the main conclusions of the book, which applies to both the
idea of generalization and the idea of the concept. Two selections:
"In psychological terms ... word meaning is nothing other than a
generalization, that is, a concept. In essence, generalization and
word meaning are synonyms. Any generalization -- any formation of a
concept -- is unquestionably a specific and true act of thought."
"The discovery that word meaning changes and develops is our new and
fundamental contribution to the theory of thinking and speech. It is
our major discovery, a discovery that has allowed us to overcome the
postulate of constancy and unchangeableness of word meaning which has
provided the foundation for previous theories of thinking and speech."
Some places to start.
On Apr 11, 2011, at 3:07 PM, mike cole wrote:
> Martin and other conceptual knowers. LSV and Luria insisted that
> words were
> generalizations. How is that idea of generalization related to the
> idea of a
> A con-cept. With-cept? I have no conception!
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