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

I think your example is very clear and helpful. It does not refere to the social dissemination and negotiation of newly coined or reinterpreted meanings like "cool" which in originally youth parlance did not refer to temperature. That meaning can shift or have different "meanings" according to context is obvious but the consistency with which Vygotsky emphasized it is "in the text." I find Martin's and Andy's reformulations of Vygotsky's usage "in the interpretation" according to different theoretical framework from that of Vygotsky. Or I may not have lived with them as long as with those of Thinking and Speech.
----- Original Message ----- From: "mike cole" <lchcmike@gmail.com> To: <ablunden@mira.net>; "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Sent: Thursday, June 16, 2011 10:34 PM
Subject: [xmca] Word Meaning and Action: What' Plausible branch?

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


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

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


On Thu, Jun 16, 2011 at 7:02 PM, Andy Blunden <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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