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

On Jun 17, 2011, at 11:48 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:

> Martin Packer wrote:
>> On Jun 17, 2011, at 10:45 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>> Listening to the word in context evokes certain feelings and ideas in you.     
>> This is the account of word meaning that Joseph Gilbert was proposing, no?
> No! I believe that the meaning you create by listening to the word is related to the physical form only insofar as the given physical form has been encountered previously or immediately in contexts in which activity mediated by the word vested meaning in the word. The account of how listening to a given word evokes thoughts and feelings in you the listener, though, is not given by Activity Theory. That would be a huge misunderstanding. It is found by psychological research.

Andy, let me take just the first part of your message. Yes, I understand that your position is that a word is just sound, physical form, and that meaning is something attributed to it by the listener, created by the listener, based on their previous experience. This is a very common view of verbal communication. Meaning is subjective, in the consciousness or the mind of the individual. My point, in contrast, is that this view is incorrect and, furthermore, it is nothing like the view LSV presents in T&S. 

First, it's contradictory. You refer to meaning as both "in the word" and as "created by listening to the word." Which is it? What kind of thing is a word such that meaning can be "vested" in it? If it's just a sound, a physical pattern of sound waves, where does the meaning go? To be consistent, you'll need to keep meaning in the attributions of the individual. 

Second, it's true that one cannot generate a convincing account of language based on individual consciousness, what you call the "prisoner in a cell" metaphor. I agree. But it's equally impossible to base an account of language on *two* people interacting on a desert island. Language predates us; each of us is born into a world in which language already exists - as the "ideal form," as LSV puts it. Two people don't create the meaning of a word in their activity any more than they create the value of a 1000 peso bill by exchanging it in a transaction. They do contribute to the *reproduction* of such meaning/value, but they don't create it. Language, just like cash, is a social institution that provides a basis for human activity. In my opinion, it is that institutional character of language - the semiotic, not just the psychological, as Tony puts it - that LSV found crucial to include in his account of the ontogenesis of thinking.


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