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Re: [xmca] meaning potential and cultural artifacts

As I see it, when Vygotsky says that "a word is a sign for a concept," he is at the same time making it clear to us what he means by word.

Carol Macdonald wrote:
Thank you for the carefully considered reply.  Firstly, let me wish you the
best for your new job.  Eight different TESOL courses is not funny, and
probably not a joy either. (I'll get some more on the side.)

As we know, people whose language is not written down (and probably
illiterate people too) have no notion of a sentence--that is a construct of
written language. And we still mess it up.  Our Bantu languages are
agglutinating and the missionaries who wrote down Zulu got this right, and
so  you get immensely long word-sentences.  The Sotho missionaries  got it
wrong and made the writing disjunctive, and so all the concords and so on
are written separately (making it much easier for me to learn).

What LSV thought a word was is a matter for speculation.  I think he meant
what we think a word is, because of its closeness to a concept. And because
the multilayered analysis (phonology, morphology, syntax,semantics,
pragmatics and discourse analysis) was not available to him then.

Have a good day David and we'll be thinking of you next week.

On 24 August 2011 23:08, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com> wrote:

Oh, I'm not in the business of tearing people apart, Carol. I'm not in the
business of child language any more, either, you know: starting next week I
will be teaching eight different TESOL courses, sixteen hours a week.

Each one has been planned to the minute for me, so that any native speaker
of English can get off an airplane and take up where I left off. I am now
much more of an academic proletarian than a polymath. So this is really
something of a last hurrah for me.

We know that Vygotsky himself uses the word "word" in every different ways:
sometimes he means "utterance" (e.g. "In the beginning was the word" and
"the word was made flesh" from the Gospel of Saint John) and sometimes he
means an orthographic word (e.g. the words "bik", "mur", "lag" and "cev"
which are, at the beginning of the experiment, really ONLY words by virtue
of their orthography).

I think what I said was that I myself wondered if we could call "That on
that" words, and if so how many words we should call it. What is and what
isn't a word varies from language to language, just as what is and what
isn't a sentence does.

So for example in English bound morphemes such as "-s" to denote the plural
and "-ed" to denote the past tense are not considered words and "a" and
"the" are considered words (Microsoft Word is treats contractions as a
single word).

But the Korean equivalents of the indefinite articles "a" and "the" are not
considered words and not written as words. Actually, I think it was Gleitman
who discovered that English speaking children do not consider them words
until they start to go to school.

I agree with you that functionally "That on that" is a word. But it seems
to me that therein lies the whole problem: functionally, it is ONE word and
not three, and so "that" can't be a functional word even though structurally
it must be, because such an utterance has to be synthesized.

Perhaps this is another instance of what Vygotsky calls the contradiction
between the child's understanding (which is functional, and holistic) and
the child's expression (which is structural, and synthetic). Vygotsky tries
to replicate Stern's experiment with the photograph of the men in prison and
finds that the children understand at a very different level than they
express, and can role play a much more complex story than they can tell in

This kind of "sandwich" of two somewhat "hard" pieces of language ("that")
and one "soft" piece of language ("on")  is highly suggestive to me: it
reminds me of the syllabic structure of "that" (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant)
and also the typical structure of a verbalized action (Subject-Verb-Object).

It seems to me that what the child MIGHT be thinking is that a sentence is
a kind of mega-word, and that in the child's mind the language is fractal in
structure, with the same basic hard-soft-hard units that his or her own
actions have, at every level we care to think about.

And of course that is sort of true, and can explain what is perhaps the
core unit of discourse for children: question, answer, response. Later,
children might even apply this kind of reasoning to the relationship between
independent clauses and dependent ones.

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

--- On Wed, 8/24/11, Carol Macdonald <carolmacdon@gmail.com> wrote:

From: Carol Macdonald <carolmacdon@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] meaning potential and cultural artifacts
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Wednesday, August 24, 2011, 11:38 AM

Excuse me to go back to "That on that."  What on earth do you mean those
aren't words?  I bet the little boy was shrieking AND pointing.  Either
way--that is referential. *"That {Those Coco-pops} on{ top of} that
{washing powder}"* and both the parents knew exactly what he* meant.*  Can
you *not* mean in such a situation? That little boy knew what he meant--as
he could have said it in two other languages, very articulately.  I realize
that David is an articulate polymath who will probably tear me to pieces
(and yes David, of course I know those are grammatical words--so what, *in
context*?)  This is me speaking for the child language people.

On 24 August 2011 11:14, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com> wrote:

Vygotsky says that signification-znachenie-semantic value is simply the
most stable (the most "external", socially ratified, self-identical) form
a much larger set of word values he calls sense-smysl-pragmatic value.

Of course, this APPEARS to contradict his use of sense in another sense.
ALSO uses sense to mean inner speech, something that is
highly psychological, something which feels extremely intimate and
immediate, and not at all like a vast nebulous set of potential meanings.

However, when we look at sense not as a single individual sense but at
sum total of all individual senses in a speech community, we can see that
the set of all senses in which a given signification is deployed in a
speech community is going to be very close to the meaning potential that
the signification of that word has for each individual. (This is why Mike
so interested in etymology and historical linguistics!)

But to see this, we really need three completely non-Saussurean

a) Real meaning and potential meaning are NOT like "form" and "content";
they are NOT mutually exclusive: potential meaning is simply an idealized
set of real meanings, just as real meaning is an instantiated potential.

b) A speech community is an historical community; meaning potential must
include the past of a word and also its future.

c) Meaning is, in the final analysis, always reducible to sense and not
signification. The material reality of language is not idealized langue
but concrete, material, mass parole.

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

 --- On Mon, 8/22/11, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] meaning potential and cultural artifacts
To: "David Kellogg" <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com>
Cc: "Culture ActivityeXtended Mind" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Monday, August 22, 2011, 9:24 PM

Yes, very interesting. Not sure I was saying what you said I was, but no
matter, very
It made me think of this, not even picking up and using, or breathing on,
just looking at "perceiving."

"A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man
it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral."
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (The Little Prince)

On Mon, Aug 22, 2011 at 8:59 PM, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com



Leo van Lier, who currently edits the Modern Language Journal, uses
Gibsonian affordance to talk about meaning potential. His favorite
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
find in his sentence can really be considered words.

He has a demonstrative ("that") and a spatial preposition ("on"). These
considered orthographic words in English. But in many languages,
Korean and Chinese, demonstratives and prepositions appear as
of other words, the way that "~s" appears on the end of an English noun
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
of early boarding on airplanes and the parts of the train that I never
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
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
parasitically, on the meaning potential to be found in surrounding

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

 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.
is just as Wallace Stevens says: when you place a jar on a hill, it has
knack of surrounding itself with signification.

But what Mike is pointing to is the opposite. We may TRY to set up, not
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.

David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies

But you can see that as soon as that happens, teh

--- On Mon, 8/22/11, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
Subject: [xmca] meaning potential and cultural artifacts
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Monday, August 22, 2011, 8:30 PM

I am changing the header because the activity/practice thread was
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
not have technical terms for, and have not used in print before, but
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
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,
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
constraints and affordances, but I was seeking a way to understand the
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?
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