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Re: [xmca] Re: Word Meaning and Action

I want to say a developmental word in defense of Joseph Gilbert, and then make a point about Vygotsky's relationship to Saussure, which I think is also valid for his relationship to German structuralists, including Lewin.
Take a look at the attached word file. It's a Korean mother talking to Hayeon, her ten month old. If I translate what she says into English, it would go roughly like this:
"Hayeon, let's try shaking our head and see: shakeyshakeyshakeyshakeyshakey....."
In other words, Mommy starts out speaking TO the child and continues speaking FOR the child, as a kind of accompaniment of the child's action.
The first graph is simply a pitch graph, showing her voice. Now, probably, without ANY knowledge of Korean, you can find the point where Mommy switches from suggesting an action to ventriloquating the action. The pitch stops varying, and it is also higher on the average. Viewed this way, the child's way, we can say that it is a vocal sound, and not a word.
The second graph is an intensity graph, showing the loudness of the voice. Again, it's quite easy to find the point where Mommy switches from talking to the child to talking for the child; we don't need any Korean to find this.
The third graph shows the formants; that is, the resonance of the voice that produces vowel qualities--again, you can see wild variation in the "word" part of the data and regular repetition in the non-speech phenomenon.
Three points:
a) To SOME extent, Joseph Gilbert is right. Not words, but VOICES are vocal sounds. Pitch, intensity, and even formant quality are material artefacts, and these things DO have ideal correlates in intonation, stress, and vowel sounds, which in turn are psychologically construed as grammar, lexis, and phonology. There is SOME meaning in these sounds, but it is not word meaning.
b) It IS however, the source of word meaning; it is word meaning as becoming if not as being. For if pitch, intensity and formant quality could not be reconstrued as ideal phenomena, then words as we know them could not develop. As far as I know, ALL languages have semi-linguistic children's speech (e.g. "Humpty Dumpty", "higgledy-piggledy") which function as set-up wizards for the ideal system (for example, our own children's rhymes help children sort out difficult vowel-like consonants like /h/).
c) This source of word meaning is indeed social, that is, interpersonal (since that is the level at which the social operates in this mother-child interaction). But it's not JUST social; it's a social exaptation of an entirely physical phenomenon (else I would not be able to give it to you as a spectrograph). 
This (ever developing) distinction between the source of word meaning (word meaning BECOMING) and word meaning itself (word meaning BEING) is exactly why I think Saussure is wrong to insist on the duality of sounding and wording, and Joseph Gilbert is equally wrong to insist on their complete identity (and also why I think it's not very helpful to dissolve everything into the category of artefact mediated action).
Saussure did, as Martin says, distinguish between parole, langue and langage. Parole is the individual utterance; it's what I'm sending you as an attachment. Langue is linguistic structure: it is a kind of dictionary of all the meaning potentials enabled by the system that each of us carries in our heads. And language is a completely imaginary freeze-frame snapshot of all of the different langue made possible in a language community at any given instance; it's all of the performance data taken at a single imaginary instant in time (Saussure's image was of a chess board between actual moves). It is a completely ahistorical (and thus utterly anti-Vygotskyan) construct.
In many places in Thinking and Speech, Vygotsky uses terms that sound Saussurean: "sense" and "signification" for example, are kinds of value, and value is a Saussurean term (I assumed it was Saussurean until a friend of mine pointed out the real, Marxian derivation). The distinction between the phasal and the semantic looks a lot like Saussure's syntagmatic vs. paradigmatic, except that of course the former is profoundly historical in Vygotsky, and the latter is just as deeply psychological. Vygotsky's use of "phoneme" is identical with Saussure's; it is any contrast that produces meaning (and therefore has almost nothing in common with the modern use of the term, which refers to meaningless particles that Vygotsky would call "elements" of phonemes). 
But I think the editors of the Collected Works who attributed Vygotsky's enthusiasm for phonemes to Saussure are thinking a little like the early readers of Vygotsky in the West who saw his critique of Piaget as behaviorist. Vygotsky was as completely historicist as Saussure was structuralist.
A lot of the shift I was talking about, the shift in 1931-1932, is a shift AWAY from German structuralism (that is, Gestaltism) in the direction of explaining structure through function and explaining function through history. The WHOLE of Saussurean linguistics can be summed up as a revolt against history in all of its forms, including the form we see it in the attached graphs of pitch, intensity, and formant quality.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education 
This is a ROUGH translation, because "Let's try" in Korean means something like "try it and see" and "duriduriduri" is 
  I think that when we discuss meaning DEVELOPMENTALLY, we are g

--- On Fri, 6/17/11, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Re: Word Meaning and Action: What' Plausible branch?
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Friday, June 17, 2011, 6:37 PM

Martin, I say that *meaning *is an *action*, therefore it is *BOTH subjective AND objective,    BOTH individual AND universal*.
Vera, yes, I have been waiting to get to the developmental part of this discussion, too, because ultimately we can't make sense of any of it without development.
I have been struggling to just put one foot on firm, mutually agreed ground, before taking the next step. But perhaps that can't be done.
The relation between word and meaning is only comprehensible as parts of a joint development.
Martin Packer wrote:
> 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.   

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