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Re: [xmca] Vygotsky on Word Meaning and Action
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- Subject: Re: [xmca] Vygotsky on Word Meaning and Action
- From: Andy Blunden <email@example.com>
- Date: Fri, 17 Jun 2011 12:02:10 +1000
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Thanks Martin, I find those questions very clear, so if answers to these
can assist in our communication, I am very hopeful.
"When you suggest that the word is the artifact, what precisely do you
mean by that?"
I mean that a word is a material object produced by a human being as
part of their social life and/or used by human beings in social
intercourse. I have in mind the burst of pressure waves in the air
as the primary material form of the word, and the use of the larynx,
lips, lungs, etc., the primary [paradigmatic] means of producing
words. Words are also chiselled in stone, inscribed on paper,
recorded on magnetic tape, encoded in electronic packages, and so
on. These are all equally words, but I seem to recall Vygotsky uses
terms like "written speech" to indicate that additional
psychological functions are entailed in the production of written
speech over and above the production of spoken words, and the spoken
word is the paradigmatic form of the word. [Note that I am always
talking about one instantiation or token of the given sign. To
resolve the riddle of the universal significant potential of any
word, itself a single individual, I call on Hegel. But CS Peirce
resolved this in own way which actually includes Hegel's solution as
a part. But what Hegel and Peirce do not do is call on a dichotomy
of some kind.]
And how would I recognize the action of word-meaning?
A person who utters a word in their sleep, or reads out the text of
a document in a foreign language, for example, is not meaning
anything by what they utter. There is a word, but no meaning. A
meaningful word is always essentially an active constituent of a
social relation (including to a social relation to oneself). When I
say "stop please!" to [sic] you, then as an English-speaker you know
that I mean I want and command you to stop. Perhaps if I stare
wide-eyed at you, with my elbows out, you will anticipate the
meaning that is about to burst from me? :) But when I utter the word
I do something. You may be offended and tell me to get lost, or
apologise and say "Why didn't you say so before?" Perhaps just
uttering "stooooo.." will be enough to do the job in the context and
even the half-word will carry my meaning? I might say "Basta!"
confident that you would see my meaning equally well with humour. As
Tony put it, words have potentiality, or affordances, and these one
can learn to some limited extent by reference to a dictionary - a
typology of words, though it is actual use in social intercourse
which invests this potentiality in words, not dictionaries. But it
is always /potential/, and potential is only manifested in action,
by actually uttering the word in an appropriate context.
When I hear someone speaking, how do I distinguish analytically between
the word, the meaning, and the word-meaning?
The word is a word only if it is meaningful. Otherwise it is just a
sound. A word is physically identical to a sound shape which may in
a context be quite meaningless. That's why Vygotsky takes word
meaning, or the meaningful word on one occasion, as the *unit*.
Because if you take the meaning away from the sound it is no longer
a word, just a sound. So the answer is really: "*Analytically*, you
can't" That is after all the whole problem with analytical
philosophy. Cut the meaning and sound off from each other, consign
the sound to phonics and the meaning to semantics and all human
life, all purposeful activity is gone forever. I guess this is a
practical answer to Denise's very sharp question.
Martin Packer wrote:
Andy, what I was asking about was this:
Word-meaning is an action, meaning is an action, and word is an artifact? When you suggest that the word is the artifact, what precisely do you mean by that? The sound alone? And wow would I recognize the action of word-meaning? When I hear someone speaking, how do I distinguish analytically between the word, the meaning, and the word-meaning?
Vygotsky says in several places that the word is the sign for or carrier of the concept. As I said earlier, in my reading word meaning is an artefact mediated action, the word being the artefact and the meaning being the action (both subjective and objective), invested with potential for meaning-with by activity-with. A concept is in my humble opinion a cultural unit or form of activity. So word meaning, once developed to the point of concepts, is related to concept as an action is to an activity.
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