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[xmca] Re: Word Meaning and Action: What' Plausible branch?

Yes, I've heard that story before and I usually have it in mind when I speak (sic) on this topic. That is exactly what I mean (sic).

mike cole wrote:
Andy/Martin et al--

Not sure where this fits in the discussion.Perhaps it falls somewhere in terms of "its in the text" versus "we interpret" distinction. I do not think that i agree with all of what Andy writes below, but I get the first part and want to test my understanding with different example to see if it fits.

When lecturing to classes on topic of words and meaning, material and ideal, I find that students simply do not understand what i mean when I say that language is simultaneously material and idea. When this confusion arises, I start some easy to understand topic and switch into Russian, the only non-English language in which I can pass in a casual conversation for 2 minutes.


Question 1. What disappeared when i began to speak Russian? Typical Answer: The meaning of what I was saying.

Question 2: What was left? The material, phylogenetically linked, capacity to produce/hear sound waves in the human spectrum and to parse them in various ways without tuition.
(sign languages will substitute here, i am shorthanding).

So the meaning of what I was saying disappeared. But this rasises an interesting

Question 3: Where did "the meaning" come from in the first place? From a past history of those artifacts/words, phrases, pragmatic gestures, discourse acts, etc mediating our joint activity with our world.

Next I try to demystify this way of talking. At this point, if its a sizeable audience, someone has understood the Russian that I spoke. So i ask whoever understood what I said how it came to me that she could make sense of the words I had chosen. The them of doing something with others with Russian as the medium of joint activity is the invariable reply. Does this capture what you are saying about words as they enter into human activity?


On Thu, Jun 16, 2011 at 7:02 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:

    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:
            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.
        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?

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*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~db=all~content=g932564744
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857
MIA: http://www.marxists.org

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