[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
Re: [xmca] meaning potential and cultural artifacts
Leo van Lier, who currently edits the Modern Language Journal, uses Gibsonian affordance to talk about meaning potential. His favorite example is his own son, who grew up speaking Quechua and Spanish.
When they moved to California, the little boy was around five or so, and refused to speak English, the way children often will when exposed to a completely new language. One day, van Lier was going through the local Safeway with the boy in a shopping cart, and a box of Coco-Puffs. They passed a similar shopping cart also containing Coco-puffs, and the little boy stood up and shrieked "That on that!"
His first English sentence. Of course, it's really only a potential sentence. There is no grammatical subject, and no finite verb, and no predicator. In fact, there is some question in my mind as to whether what we find in his sentence can really be considered words.
He has a demonstrative ("that") and a spatial preposition ("on"). These are considered orthographic words in English. But in many languages, including Korean and Chinese, demonstratives and prepositions appear as dependencies of other words, the way that "~s" appears on the end of an English noun to suggest plurality and "~ed" appears to indicate tense. That is, they are particles that have no real "signification" but which do contain "sense". They are potential, but not actual, meanings.
The usual way we refer to this is rather structural, and always reminds me of early boarding on airplanes and the parts of the train that I never get to sit in. These are "closed class" words (that is, they are few, they cannot really be invented or retired from the language, and they consist of more sense than signification).
Unlike the "open class" words (e.g. "shopping cart", "Coco Puffs", and so on), they have almost no inherent meaning potential of their own but depend, parasitically, on the meaning potential to be found in surrounding affordances.
Where these affordances are not available (e.g. when we find ourselves in the middle of connected text) we look, as van Lier's son did, to what Malinowski calls the context of the culture rather than the context of the situation.
So we find that we CAN understand Heideggerian expressions like "that-ness". We even have a vague sense of an association between "on" and a two-dimensional plane as opposed to "in" and a three-dimensional space. It is just as Wallace Stevens says: when you place a jar on a hill, it has the knack of surrounding itself with signification.
But what Mike is pointing to is the opposite. We may TRY to set up, not on a hill, but in a desert somewhere, or in a bell jar, a signification that cannot ever, in any situation, really be realized (e.g. "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously..." which I often think of enviously when I cannot sleep).
But there is not, and never can be, any such thing as meaning potential without realizability. As soon as you moisten the meaning potential of signification with the humidity of human breath, you will find colorful green shoots of sense.
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
But you can see that as soon as that happens, teh
--- On Mon, 8/22/11, mike cole <email@example.com> wrote:
From: mike cole <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [xmca] meaning potential and cultural artifacts
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity" <email@example.com>
Date: Monday, August 22, 2011, 8:30 PM
I am changing the header because the activity/practice thread was clogging
my computer. I will respond to that separately.
Here I want to comment on David K's discussion of meaning potential and
cultural artifacts. David is putting into technical language an idea I did
not have technical terms for, and have not used in print before, but often
use when teaching. My way of discussing meaning potential was to like an
artifact to one of our local desert flowers. It contained the dormant seeds
of a beautiful flower that cast off many seeds, but most of the year, or
years if need be, it was a tiny, shriveled, obscure
bit of the local ecology. But when picked up and put to use by a human
being, it came to life, and swelled, and, perhaps, cast of seeds, depending
upon what awaited it.
I previously thought of this in connection with Jame's Gibson's ideas of
affordance. With rare exceptions, Gibson was concerned with natural/physical
constraints and affordances, but I was seeking a way to understand the role
cultural constraints, not biological ones. I think that meaning potential
and cultural affordances might be connected concepts.
Does that resonate, DavidKe, or am I on the wrong path?
xmca mailing list
xmca mailing list