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Re: [xmca] concepts for LSV and us
Martin and all,
I too have been puzzling over various things LSV says about what his translators call word-meaning. I think my view is pretty close to Martin's (below), but maybe not exactly the same, and my Russian is too moribund to help me. I may engage Mike in some conversation about a few key points when he gets back to San Diego and the lab.
I am also very sympathetic to Anna's position on many points. So I don't see quite the polarization of views that some others do.
I think it is a problem that the translators have not figured out nearly as well as we've been trying to do, just what LSV meant in some key passages, and as a result the translations may be more misleading than any translation inevitably is.
Znachenie slov, for instance, sure doesn't strike me as "word-meaning". Shouldn't it be something more like "a word as a meaningful sign"? But beyond that, it's a unit in "inner speech", which I take to be "inner-directed speech" or "self-directed speech" and it is also sometimes called the "inward-facing meaning of the word". Functionally, in the larger picture LSV seems to be painting, SOMETHING is a unity or fusion of what makes for speech (outer-directed, other-directed, communicative word-meanings-in-use) and what makes for thought/thinking (inner-directed, self-directed, word-meanings-not-fully-realized-as-spoken-words).
That SOMETHING I take to be what LSV means (at least some of the time) by "concept". If so, it is not much like what almost anybody else means by "concept" and certainly not like what mainstream psychology and a lot of philosophy has meant by it. It is, however, in my opinion, a far better notion for most purposes than the standard view/usage. And as in this view a "concept" is a unity between two aspects, BOTH of which are realized and can exist ONLY in and through linguistic-word meaning, there is no room for a separate, idealist realm of mental realia, at least not at the level of conceptual thinking.
I would also note that apparently Anna is also using concept in something pretty close to what I take LSV's meaning for it to be, though I'm not totally clear from what she's said so far that she, like LSV, emphasizes the dynamic struggle-and-juggle between the inward-facing and outward-facing aspects of the unity. But I would think she probably does, because her context of action and research is how kids learn math "concepts" in processes of communication. Indeed her coinage "commognition" (which unfortunately I think has little chance of catching on) tries to speak a fusion of communication (outer-directed word/sign-mediated meaning-making) and cognition (inner-directed word/sign-mediated meaning-making).
If all this makes sense, it still leaves open the major question of just what's going on within/between these two aspects of meaning-making. Socially-historically, I'd agree with Martin's formulation, not really very different from Halliday's or many functional linguists who look at language change, that (official pronouncements in dictionaries, etc. aside) usage patterns from events and text accumulate over relatively long timescales to produce changes in the typical meanings in different contexts that people learning to use a word use it to make. It's already clear from how I said that that that process is just the long-timescale, community-level aspect of what's going on developmentally in learning a language (first language in particular), minus the details of what's happening in interaction-communication and its effects on individuals' usage. What is a lot less clear is just those details, which I think LSV was trying to describe, or at least pointing us toward what needs to be better studied and described: what is the relationship between inner-speech and outer-speech, over time, not just in initial child development (where LSV focuses on the key threshhold of fusion of inner/thinking and outer/speech) but for the rest of the lifespan as well?
What needs to be described when we move beyond meanings made word-by-word to meanings made with complex, extended texts/arguments? Again, between the outward-facing aspect and the inward one? What happens when we add to what was known in LSV's time what has been learned since about the structure of informal conversational language, which in many ways looks a lot more like "inner speech" than it does like any analysis of communicative speech/writing known in LSV's time, particularly for adults?
And what of what LSV calls at the end of T&S "the final Why?" about the meanings we actually make: their rootedness in desires, motivations, and emotions?
PS. While there are a LOT more issues in our conversation, I just want to say that IF LSV meant that conceptual thinking happens ONLY through verbal signs, then I would disagree insofar as I believe it happens through more complex multi-modal sign resources, including not only language, but also visual signs, motor actions functioning as signs, emotional feelings functioning as signs, and pretty much anything functioning as a sign insofar as it can be "imagined", i.e. function in inner-directed meaning-making. (For outer-directed meaning-making actual physical objects / artifacts can also play a part in the total mix.)
Senior Research Scientist
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
University of California - San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
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Professor (Adjunct status 2009-11)
School of Education
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
City University of New York
On Apr 26, 2011, at 4:11 PM, Martin Packer wrote:
> My last few messages were knocked sideway by Andy, in his new-found role of intellectual running back. So I'd like to try again to explain the way I'm reading Thinking & Speech these days.
> It's not news that LSV highlights word-meaning, the meaning of the word. But what are we to take this to be? It seems to me that during the book LSV draws a series of distinctions between word-meaning and what we might think that it is, but it is not...
> First, and easily, word-meaning is not the sound of the word. Some people reduce words to their mere sounds, but LSV won't let us do that.
> Second, word-meaning is not to be confused with the objective reference, the object referred to. This too is a common mistake that LSV wants us to avoid. LSV turns to Frege to draw this distinction. But his word-meaning is not the same as Frege's 'sense,' because the latter is supposed to be objective and unchanging (though how Frege considered the sense of the 'The victor at Jena' to be timeless I really don't know! What status did it have before 1806? There's actually a literature on this very issue.)
> For LSV word-meaning is not timeless. It changes over time; he didn't study philology for nothing! But it is, however, objective. (This is what blows Andy's socks off. Take a deep breath, my friend.)
> Yes, word-meaning is objective. Or if you prefer, intersubjective. I tried to explain briefly in a previous message that German romanticism was a rejection of the way the early Enlightenment had disenchanted the world by placing all value, meaning, truth and beauty in the individual mind. No!, exclaimed the angry Germans (Prussians?)! There is truth and meaning and beauty and value in the world! How? Because the world is mind, spirit, Geist. The whole darn cosmos. Each individual mind is just a budding off of the cosmic mind.
> And Marx, while drawing the line at such a wacky view of the cosmos, accepted the proposal that there is objective value in the world. A commodity has value (two types of it, no less) by virtue of its constitution in social practices, quite independently of whether anyone knows this or not. The dollar bill in my pocket has value not because I believe this, but because it moves in a complex network of social-economic practices. (That's why derivatives crashed despite the fact that everyone *thought* they had value; because objectively they did not.)
> (I think one can actually push this line of argument down into biological functioning. A toxic mushroom is just *bad* for me to eat, objectively bad, whether I know it is poisonous or not, by virtue of its relationship to my biological functioning. I thinks that's where pragmatism heads. But that's an additional wrinkle that we needn't get in to today.)
> In the same way as a commodity has objective value, LSV wants to convince us that language has objective meaning that is independent of individual consciousness. Let me give two examples. The infant who cries out "pancakes" simply by virtue of hearing the sounds repeatedly is taken by others to have said something meaningful, though it was certainly not what she intended. Or, sometimes when I'm teaching in Spanish I make an error of pronunciation or grammar, and say something I didn't intend. My students hear and understand it, and laugh into their sleeves, but I have no idea what I said.
> So, the meaning of a word is *not* only what we put into it. Language is a shared, social, objective system. The kind of 'word-meaning' that LSV is keen to introduce to us is *in* the language. It is inner, internal, inside 'the word' (where 'the word' can signify an individual word or extended discourse or...).
> But let's get back to LSV clarifying word-meaning by differentiating it from what we might confuse it with. T&S continues with two chapters devoted to demolishing two appealing theories of development: early Piaget's proposal that development is socialization (enculturation?), and Stern's proposal that development is simply a matter of putting new content into the symbolic (conceptual) form that a child develops as soon as they start to use words to name things, about 24 months. That all seems rather unrelated to word-meaning, except that LSV is developing his own proposals about inner speech, which is all about how 'the word' gets "inside" an individual consciousness. And this will turn to be crucially important in the last chapter. (It's also interesting that LSV doesn't reject Stern's appeal to Brentano's "intentionality" as a characteristic of infant language. He reinterprets it as affective and volitional rather than intellectual. So our relationship to the world, which will with time become intellectual, is fundamentally emotional and grounded in practice. It turns out LSV was siding here with Wundt and against Husserl, but that too is another story.)
> And then (gulp) we get to the chapters in concept formation. I believe I can line up a selection of textual evidence to show that LSV is also drawing a distinction between word-meaning and concept, though evidently I haven't convinced too many people yet. (I may have convinced Andy that I am an idiot, but that's another matter.) For example, why is there a struggle to put our thoughts into words, if the concepts we think with are the same as the words we speak with? Why would thought be "completed," or even "incarnated," in words, if words and concepts are the same? Or, why does LSV propose that concepts are always part of a system of generalization in which each involves two components - an attitude to some portion of the world and a way of grasping that portion - all without mentioning word-meaning once? But there's no space to go into this in more detail here. More later, if anyone wants it.
> We have to make one additional distinction here, one that LSV is not too clear about. He wants word-meaning to be relatively stable, changing over historical periods of time, not from day to day. At the same time, word-meaning develops *for the child,* ontogenetically.
> And finally, in chapter 7, LSV builds on Paulhan to draw a distinction between word-meaning - relatively stable, again - and sense, which varies with context and even from moment to moment. In the movement inwards from word to thought there are two external planes in the word (sound and inner form), then the plane of inner speech (with its abbreviation and functional variation), then the plane of thought itself. On this plane, thinking has largely left words behind (but surely not concepts?), with the "volatization of speech," and it deals not with meaning but with sense. LSV emphasizes that sense can be disconnected from words, where word-meaning cannot.
> David K and I have been mulling over the final sentence of the book: "The meaningful word is a microcosm of human consciousness." Here, surprisingly and importantly, the term LSV uses for "meaningful word" is Осмысленное слово, whereas for the whole of the book word-meaning has been "значений слов." (Осмысленное only occurs five times in the entire book.) It really should be translated as "sensible word." Why? Because here LSV is writing *not* about the objective meaning of words, but about the personal, motivated, action-related sense a word has when someone speaks it. As thinking moves outward to speech, in the "materialization and objectification" of a thought, sense has to be "reconstituted" in words. "The base units of thinking and those of speech do not coincide," so this requires a structural reorganization, a creative process that is not simply a matter of lining up ready-made units of meaning.
> And this explains, in fact, why word-meaning is indeed not fixed and unchanging, because each time someone speaks, the 'inner form' of the word is nudged a little in one direction or another, worked on and worked over, spiced with new connotations. Language is, of course, not completely independent of what people actually say and do. As our thoughts change, so our language will slowly change too.
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