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Re: [xmca] concepts: Missing Voices

Marr himself died the same year that Volosinov and Vygotsky did, 1934. But in 1929 a terrible struggle broke out between Marr and Polivanov (Polivanov, later shot as a 'Japanese spy', was interested in East Asian and Turkic languages, and both Volosinov and Vygotsky were very interested in Polivanov).
As part of that struggle, a student of Marr's, Ivan Meschaninov, put together the following "theses" on Japthetidology, as he calls it. The first few are quite uncontroversial, but interesting nevertheless:
"12) The rise of human speech is conditioned by the grouping of human individuals in connection wth the satisfaction of common human needs and demands on the means of communication between them."
Marr argued that this would not require anything more than "kinetic language" (that is, gestures). True speech required the formation of concepts, which have their origin in magic:
"15) The achievement of articulate sounds is not just brough about by the demands of communication, which was (sic) satisfied by kinetic speech. The origin of articulate sound speech needs to be sought in the magical activities that were necessary for the success of productive activity and accompanied this or that collective labor process."
Meschaninov explains that this was both a strength and a weakness of early concepts: the nondifferentiation of material and magical activities meant that they were generalizeable but also that they was essentially no distinction between kinetic and spoken language. 
"16) The necessity for a range of concepts to coincide with a specific sound designation (the beginning period of word creation) already pertains to the period of the strengthening of the collective activity of human community. This initial range of concepts had a cultic character, but in the special context of cultic circumstances, since in the thinkig of humanity the productive act and cultic activity where not completely set apart."
Marr and Meschaninov then describe how spoken language is first differentiated from kinetic language and then replaces it.  
"17) The range of concepts became larger with the emergence of the human collective from the state of diffuse thinking and this demanded a special designation. With the englargement of the word stock these began to be used in everyday speech, leading to a gradual shift from kinetic to lingual speech."
"18) The broadening of the range of concepts demanded an increase in sound designations. for this human soceity utilized the stockof the primary elements of sound speech, introducing phonetic distinction and so enriching the paucity of the word stock."
This is where I get lost. For no particular reason, Marr and Meschaninov set the number of primary elements at four.
"19) The number of primary elements was set at four. They were found everywhere and applied to deisgnate every concept, i.e. they were asemantic (having no determinate or fixed meaning)." 
This is accompanied by nothing so prosaic as evidence, or even examples. 
"20) the entire word stock of all humanity, in all its variety, arose from these four fundamental elements (primary sound complexes)." 
Meschaninov, I. (2010) "Introduction to Japhetidology", in Politics and the Theory of Language in the USSR 11917-1938, Brandist and Chown eds. London, New York, and Delhi: Anthem. p. 177
This seems to me to really underplay the phylogenetic roots of speech. What about the "natural" differentiation between vowels and consonants created by the physical properties--i.e. the beginnings and ends--of vocalizations? Surely that must have had SOMETHING to do with it?
As in sociogenesis, it seems to me that the visible/invisible distinction in word reference must be crucial in ontogenesis. Denying that this visible/invisible distinction has a key developmental meaning, quite independent of its supposed socio-political one, seems to me to be on a par with denying that there is a key difference between the child's syncretic heaps and the child's first objective complexes.
Microgenetically, I think that for my teachers, and even for their kids, the task of "making you see" is actually somewhat more difficult than the task of making them talk. The materials the child has to work with are foreign language sounds, which somehow have to be "translated" into percepts. At least, when we translate them into invisible ideas like "Korean" and "foreign" and even "boy", we are translating them into materials that are psychologically similar. 
Of course, we can short circuit the whole process of translating concepts into percepts with a picture, and that's what teachers usually do. But then the whole thing is beside the point; you can work with pictures without knowing any speech at all. There's a very long ways from being able to look at pictures to being able to read novels that "make you see", and in some ways I think abstracting invisible concepts from pictures is rather closer. (I also don't think there is anything particularly liberating about Naruto, laden with a rather nasty Ninja ideology in its own way just as brutal and barbaric as our own.)
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

--- On Thu, 4/14/11, Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu> wrote:

From: Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu>
Subject: Re: [xmca] concepts: Missing Voices
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Thursday, April 14, 2011, 2:43 PM

On Apr 12, 2011, at 7:41 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

> 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.)

Marr may have been correct:

Phonemic Diversity Supports a Serial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa
Science, vol 332, 15 April 2011
Quentin D. Atkinson

Human genetic and phenotypic diversity declines with distance from Africa, as predicted by a serial founder effect in which successive population bottlenecks during range expansion progressively reduce diversity, underpinning support for an African origin of modern humans. Recent work suggests that a similar founder effect may operate on human culture and language. Here I show that the number of phonemes used in a global sample of 504 languages is also clinal and fits a serial founder–effect model of expansion from an inferred origin in Africa. This result, which is not explained by more recent demographic history, local language diversity, or statistical non-independence within language families, points to parallel mechanisms shaping genetic and linguistic diversity and supports an African origin of
modern human languages.__________________________________________
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