‘Sin your way to heaven and get slaughtered: A byzantine general problem of the self’ (part twelve)

Filed under:Sin your Way to Heaven and get Slaughtered — posted by Schizostroller on August 31, 2018 @ 3:30 pm

Vygotsky argues that “inner speech develops through a slow accumulation of functional and structural changes, that it branches off from the child’s external speech simultaneously with the differentiation of the social and egocentric functions of speech, and finally that the speech structures mastered by the child become the basic structures of his thinking.” (p.94). He continues “thought development is determined by language i.e., by the linguistic tools of thought and by the sociocultural experience of the child. Essentially, the development of inner speech depends on outside factors; the development of logic in the child, as Piaget’s studies have shown, is a direct function of his socialised speech. The child’s intellectual growth is contingent on his mastering the social means of thought, that is, language.” Vygotsky concludes “If we compare the early development of speech and intellect… with the development of inner speech and verbal thought, we must conclude that the late stage is not a simple continuation of the earlier. The nature of the development itself changes, from biological to sociohistorical. Verbal thought is not an innate, natural form of behaviour, but is determined by a historical-cultural process and has specific properties and laws that cannot be found in the natural forms of thought in speech. Once we acknowledge the historical character of verbal thought, we must consider it subject to all the premises of historical materialism, which are valid for any historical phenomenon in human society. It is only to be expected that on this level the development of behaviour will be governed by the general laws of the historical development of human society.” (p.94-95).
On examining the relationship between thought and word Vygotsky argues “the meaning of a word represents such a close amalgam of thought and language that it is hard to tell whether it is a phenomenon of speech or a phenomenon of thought. A word without meaning is an empty sound; meaning, therefore, is a criterion of “word”, its indispensable component. It would seem, then, that it may be regarded as a phenomenon of speech. But from the point of view of psychology, the meaning of every word is a generalization or a concept. And since generalizations and concepts are undeniably acts of thought, we may regard meaning as a phenomenon of thinking. It does not follow, however, that meaning formally belongs in two different spheres of psychic life. Word meaning is a phenomenon of thought only insofar as thought is embodied in speech, and speech only insofar as speech is connected with thought and illuminated by it. It is a phenomenon of verbal thought, or meaningful speech – a union of word or thought.” (Vygotsky, p.212). Vygotsky suggests that the experimental investigations that he was part of confirm the basic thesis that ‘word meanings develop’. He takes into account with a critical eyes the school of association theory that the bond between word and meaning is an associative bond, established through the repeated simultaneous perception of a certain sound and a certain object. However he argues that “the association between word and meaning may grow stronger or weaker, be enriched by linkage with other objects of a similar kind, spread over a wider field, or become limited (i.e. it may undergo quantitative and external changes), but it cannot change its psychological nature. To do that it would have to cease being an association. From that point of view, any development in word meanings is inexplicable and impossible.” (p.213). Vygotsky then moves on to the influence of the Wurzburg school (as does Jaynes). Vygotsky argued that the Wurzburg school argued for the impossibility of reducing thinking to a mere play of associations in order to demonstrate specific laws governing the flow of thought. Vygotsky suggested that the upshot of this divorce of thought from association theory, left theories of speech even more in the sway of association theory. In Vygotsky’s history of speech and thought it was Gestalt theory that next tried to lift both thought and speech from association theory. Vygotsky’s criticism of the Gestalt school however is that they completely separated the functions of thought and speech which then “appears as simple analogy, a reduction of both to a common structural denominator… words enter into the structure of things and acquire certain functional meaning, in much the same way as a stick, to the chimpanzee, becomes part of the structure of obtaining the fruit and acquires the functional meaning of tool. The connection between word and meaning is no longer regarded as a matter of simple association, but as a matter of structure.” (p.215-216). Vygotsky argues that this move forward is an illusion and the same sweeping argument that was entertained by the associationists is here applies to structure, as Vygotsky says “all cats are gray in the dusk of Gestalt theory, as in the earlier fogs of universal associationism” (p.216). The two fundamental errors of the older theory remain: “the assumption of the identical nature of all connections and the assumption that word meanings do not change” (p.216). Vygotsky believes that the discovery that word meanings evolve leads psychology out a blind alley. “word meanings are dynamic rather than static formations. They change as the child develops; they change also with the various ways in which thought functions. If word meanings change in their inner nature, then the relation of thought to word also changes.” (p.217). Vygotsky continues “the relation between thought to word is not a thing but a process of continual movement back and forth from thought to word and word to thought. In that process, the relation of thought to word undergoes changes that themselves may be regarded as development in the functional sense. Thought is not merely expressed in words; it comes into existence through them. Every thought tends to connect something with something else, to establish a relation between things. Every thought moves, grows and develops, fulfils a function, solves a problem. This flow of thought occurs as an inner movement through a series of planes. An analysis of the interaction of thought and word must begin with an investigation of different phases and plans a thought traverses before it is embodied in words.” (p.218). In Vygotsky’s view a child masters external speech by starting from one read, then connecting two or three words; then, upon advancing to simple sentences and then to more complicated ones towards coherent speech made up of a series of sentences, that is the development of coherent speech proceeds from a part to the whole. However, with regards to meaning the first word of a child is a sentence. So semantically the child starts from the whole, from a meaningful complex, and only starts to master the separate semantic units, the meaning of words, later, and it is only then the formerly undifferentiated thought is divided into these units. Thus “the external and the semantic aspects of speech develop in opposite directions – one from the particular to the whole, from word to sentence, and the other from the whole to the particular, from sentence to word.” (p.219). This means the development of the vocal and semantic aspects of speech does not coincide, although this does not mean they are independent of each other. “In a sense, there are more differences than likeness between them. The structure of speech does not simply mirror the structure of thought; that is why words cannot be put on by thought like a ready-made garment. Thought undergoes many changes as it turns into speech. It does not merely find expression in speech; it finds its reality and form.” (p.219).
With regards the development of reasoning Vygotsky notes that Piaget observes that the use of subordinate clauses such as because or although etc. develop syntactically before their meaning is understood, grammar precedes logic. With regards signifying (discussed elsewhere) Vygotsky argues that any part of the sentence may become a psychological predicate, the carrier of topical analysis… entirely different meanings may lie hidden behind one and the same grammatical structure. Accord between syntactical organisation and psychological organisation is not as prevalent as we tend to assume – rather, it is a requirement that is seldom met… a spontaneous utterance, wrong from the point of view of grammar, may have charm and aesthetic value… absolute correctness is achieved only in mathematics” (p.220-221). Vygotsky continues “behind words, there is the independent grammar of thought, the syntax of word meanings. The simplest utterance, far from reflecting a constant, rigid correspondence between sound and meaning, is really a process. Verbal expressions cannot emerge fully formed, but must develop gradually. This complex process of transition from meaning to sound must itself be developed and perfected. The child must learn to distinguish between semantics and phonetics and understand the nature of difference. At first, he uses verbal forms and meanings without being conscious of them as separate. The word, to the child, is an integral part of the object it denotes. Such a conception seems to be characteristic of primitive linguistic consciousness.” (p.222). He concludes “The fusion of the two planes of speech, semantic and vocal, begins to break down as the child grows older, and the distance between them gradually increases. Each stage in the development of word meanings has its own specific interrelation of the two planes. A child’s ability to communicate through language is directly related to the differentiation of word meanings in his speech and consciousness… To understand this, we must remember a basic characteristic of the structure of word meanings. In the semantic structure of a word, we distinguish between referent and meaning; correspondingly, we distinguish a word’s nominative function from its significative function. When we compare these structural and functional relations at the earliest, middle, and advanced stages of development, we find the following genetic regularity: in the beginning, only the normative function exists; and semantically, only the objective reference; signification independent of naming, and meaning independent of reference, appear later and develop along the paths we have attempted to trace and describe… Only when this development is completed does the child become fully able to formulate his own thought and to understand the speech of others. Until then, his usage of words coincides with that of adults in its objective reference, but not its meaning.” (p.223-224).

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace