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

Filed under:Sin your Way to Heaven and get Slaughtered — posted by Schizostroller on September 21, 2018 @ 10:17 am

Carrying on with Vygotsky, he argues that “the relation of thought and word cannot be understood in all its complexity without a clear understanding of the psychological nature of inner speech” (p.224). There are several varied understandings on the term inner speech: inner speech understood as verbal memory, such as reciting a poem known by heart, this sort differs from vocal speech only as an idea or image on an object differs from the real object. Vygotsky argues that this type is a constituent element of inner speech but not all of it. Others such as the behaviourist Watson see it as truncated speech – speech minus sound or subvocal speech, according to Ivan Schenov a ‘reflex arrested after it travels two-thirds of its way’; according to Vladmir Bekhterev ‘a speech reflex inhibited in its motor part’. Again Vygotsky suggests these are subordinate interpretations but grossly inadequate alone. A third version Vygotsky finds too broad, the definition that covers everything that precedes the motor act of speaking, he protests that “it is hard to accept the equation of inner speech with an inarticulate inner experience in which the separate identifiable structural planes are dissolved without a trace” (p.225).
According to Vygotsky “inner speech is speech for oneself; external speech is for others. It would be surprising if such a basic difference in function did not affect the structure of the two kinds of speech… absence of vocalisation per se is only a consequence of the specific character of inner speech, which is neither an antecedent of external speech nor its reproduction in memory, but is, in a sense, the opposite of external speech. The latter is the turning of thoughts into words, their materialisation and objectification. With inner speech, the process is reversed, going from outside to inside. Overt speech sublimates into thoughts. Consequently, the structures of these two kinds of speech must differ.” (p.225-226).
As has been discussed Vygotsky, from his observations, thinks that inner speech develops from egocentric speech, so egocentric speech must provide the key to inner speech. Vygotsky sees egocentric speech as a phenomenon of the transition from interpsychic to intrapsychic functioning., speech for oneself originates through differentiation from speech for others, as the course of child development is one of gradual individualisation this tendency is reflected in the function and structure of speech. Egocentric speech “does not merely accompany the child’s activity; it serves mental orientation, conscious understanding; it helps in overcoming difficulties; it is speech for oneself, intimately and usefully connected with the child’s thinking… Egocentric speech develops along a rising, not a declining, curve; it goes through an evolution, not an involution. In the end it becomes inner speech.” (p.228).
Vygotsky notes that if as the quantity of egocentric speech decreases with age, then comprehensibility should decrease too, but he observes in his investigations that whilst the quantity of egocentric speech decreases as the quantity of social speech increases, between ages 3 to 7 unintelligibility of egocentric speech increases (as the quantity decreases). He asks “What does this decrease mean? The structural peculiarities of speech for oneself and its differentiation from external speech increase with age. What is it, then, that diminishes? Only one of its aspects: vocalisation. Does this mean that egocentric speech as a whole is dying out? We believe it does not, for how then could we explain the growth of the functional and structural traits of egocentric speech? On the one hand their growth is perfectly compatible with the decrease of vocalisation – indeed, clarifies its meaning. Its rapid dwindling and the equally rapid growth of other characteristics are contradictory in appearance only.” (p.229).
Vygotsky’s explanation of the development of inner speech proceeds as follows “The structural and functional qualities of egocentric speech become more marked as the child develops. At three, the difference between egocentric speech and social speech equals zero; at seven, we have speech that in structure and function is totally unlike social speech. A differentiation of the two speech functions has taken place… If the developing structural and functional peculiarities of egocentric speech progressively isolate it from external speech, then its vocal aspect must fade away; and this is exactly what happens between three and seven years. With the progressive isolation of speech for oneself, its vocalisation becomes unnecessary and meaningless and, because of its growing structural peculiarities, also impossible. Speech for oneself cannot find expression in external speech. The more independent and autonomous egocentric speech becomes, the poorer it grows in its external manifestations. In the end, it separates itself entirely from speech for others, ceases to be vocalised and thus appears to die out… but this is only an illusion… in reality, behind the symptoms of dissolution lies a progressive development, the birth of a new speech form… The decreasing vocalisation of egocentric speech denotes a developing abstraction from sound, the child’s new faculty to “think words” instead of pronouncing them. This is the positive meaning of the sinking coefficient of egocentric speech. The downward curve indicates development toward inner speech… We can see that all the known facts about the functional, structural, and genetic characteristics of egocentric speech point to one thing: it develops in the direction of inner speech. Its development history can be understood only as a gradual unfolding of the traits of inner speech.” (p.230-231).
Vygotsky’s experiments convinced him that inner speech must be regarded as an entirely separate speech function from external speech, “its main characteristic trait is its peculiar syntax. Compared with external speech, inner speech appears disconnected and incomplete.” (p.235). He continues “observing the evolution of the child’s egocentric speech step by step, we may discover that it becomes more and more peculiar and ultimately becomes inner speech. We applied the genetic method and found that as egocentric speech develops, it shows a tendency toward an altogether specific form of abbreviation, namely: omitting the subject of a sentence and all words connected with it, while preserving the predicate. This tendency towards predication appears in all our experiments with such regularity that we must assume it to be the basic form of syntax of inner speech.” (p.236). Vygotsky goes on to use examples from Tolstoy, specifically Kitty and Levin from Anna Karenina, and Pushkin’s poem of the deaf judge and two deaf men. The Kitty and Levin example exemplifies “the mutual understanding that can be achieved through utterly abbreviated speech when the subject is the same in two minds” (p.239) whilst the Pushkin example exemplifies “total misunderstanding, even with full speech, when people’s thoughts wander in different directions. It is not only the deaf who cannot understand one another but any two people who give a different meaning to the same word or who hold divergent views” (p.239). Vygotsky points out that whilst such is the occurrence of abbreviation in external speech, in inner speech the phenomenon is not an exception but the rule. In writing, communication “relies on the formal meanings of words and requires a much greater number of words than oral speech to convey the same idea. It is addressed to an absent person who rarely has in mind the same subject as the writer. Therefore it must be fully deployed; syntactic differentiation is at a maximum; and expressions are used that would seem unnatural in conversation” (p.239-240) “Written speech and inner speech represent the monologue; oral speech in most cases dialogue… dialogue always presupposes in the partners sufficient knowledge of the subject to permit abbreviated speech and, under certain conditions, purely predicative sentences. It also presupposes that each person can see his partners, their facial expressions and gestures, and hear the tone of their voices.” (p.240). This includes modulation of voices as shown by Tolstoy’s story of the drunkards changing the tone of expression of a curse word and understanding a larger meaning. “The speed of oral speech is unfavourable to a complicated process of formulation – it does not leave time for deliberation and choice. Dialogue implies immediate unpremeditated utterance. It consists of replies, repartee; it is a chain of reactions. Monologue, by comparison, is a complex formation; the linguistic elaboration can be attended to leisurely and consciously… In written speech, lacking situational and expressive supports, communication must be achieved only through words and their combinations; this requires the speech activity to take complicated forms – hence the use of first drafts. The evolution from the draft to the final copy reflects our mental processes. Planning has an important part in written speech, even when we do not actually write out a draft. Usually we say to ourselves what we are going to write; this is also a draft, though in thought only… this mental draft is inner speech… inner speech functions as a draft not only in written speech but also in oral speech… [except with] a tendency toward abbreviation and predication… This tendency, never found in written speech and only sometimes in oral speech, arises in inner speech always. Predication is the natural form of inner speech; psychologically it consists of predicates only. It is as much a law of inner speech to omit subjects as it is a law of written speech to contain both subjects and predicates… Those factors responsible for abbreviation in oral speech are inevitably present in inner speech. We know what we are thinking about; i.e., we always know the subject and situation. And since the subject of our inner dialogue is already known, we may just imply it… Piaget once mentioned that we trust ourselves without proof; the necessity to defend and articulate one’s position appears only in a conversation with others. Psychological contact between partners in a conversation may establish a mutual perception leading to the understanding of abbreviated speech. In inner speech the ‘mutual’ perception is always there, in absolute form; therefore a practically wordless ‘communication’ of even the most complicated thoughts is the rule… the predominance of predication is a product of development. In the beginning, egocentric speech is identical in structure with social speech, but in the process of its transformation into inner speech, it gradually becomes less complete and coherent as it becomes governed by an almost entirely predicative syntax. Experiments show clearly how and why the new syntax takes hold. The child talks about the things he sees or hears or does at a given moment. As a result, he tends to leave out the subject and all words connected with it, condensing his speech more and more until only predicates are left. The more differentiated the speech function of egocentric speech becomes, the more pronounced are its syntactic peculiarities – simplification and predication. Hand in hand with this change goes decreasing vocalisation. When we converse with ourselves, we need fewer words than Kitty and Levin did. Inner speech is speech almost without words. ” (p.242-244).
Vygotsky continues “with syntax and sound reduced to a minimum, meaning is more than ever in the forefront. Inner speech works with semantics, not phonetics. The specific semantic structure of inner speech is no less original than its grammatical syntax… The first and basic one is the preponderance of the sense [smysl] of a word over its meaning [znachenie]… the sense of a word [according to Frederic Paulhan]… is the sum of all the psychological events aroused in our consciousness by the word. It is a dynamic, fluid, complex whole, which has several zones of unequal stability. Meaning is only one of the zones of sense, the most stable and precise zone. A word acquires its sense from the context in which it appears; in different contexts, it changes its sense. Meaning remains stable throughout the changes of sense. The dictionary meaning of a word is no more than a stone in the edifice of sense, no more than a potentiality that finds diversified realisation in speech.” (p.244-245).
Vygotsky uses the translation of Krylov’s ‘The dragonfly and the ant’ to illustrate the difference between sense and meaning, he shows that the statement ‘Go and dance!’ can both mean ‘Enjoy yourself!’ and ‘Perish!’ “This enrichment of words by the sense they gain from context is the fundamental law of the dynamics of word meanings. A word in a context means both more and less than the same word in isolation: more because it acquires new context; less, because its meaning is limited and narrowed by the context. The sense of a word… is a complex, mobile, protean phenomenon; it changes in different minds and situations and is almost unlimited. A word derives its sense from the sentence, which in turn gets its sense from the paragraph, the paragraph from the book, the book from all the works of the author… the relation between word and sense…are much more independent of each other than word and meaning. It has long been known that words can change their sense. Recently it has been pointed out that sense can change words or, better, that ideas often change their names. Just as the sense of a word is connected with the whole word, and not with its single sounds, the sense of a sentence is connected with the whole sentence, and not with its individual words. Therefore, a word may sometimes be replaced without any change in sense. Words and sense are relatively independent of each other… in oral speech, we move from the central and permanent meaning of the word to its soft fringes and ultimately to its sense. In inner speech, this prevalence of sense over meaning, of sentence over word, and of context over sentence is the rule.” (p245-246). There are, however, other semantic peculiarities of inner speech, both of which concern word combination. One is agglutination, “when several words are merged into one word, the new word not only expresses a rather complex idea, but designates all the separate elements contained in that idea… the egocentric speech of the child displays some analogous phenomena. As egocentric speech approaches inner speech, the child uses agglutination more and more as a way of forming compound words to express complex ideas.” (p.246). the other basic semantic peculiarity of inner speech “is the way in which sense of words combine and unite – a process governed by different laws from those governing combinations of meanings.” (p.246). this is called ‘influx of sense’. “The sense of different words flow into one another – literally ‘influence’ one another – so that the earlier ones are contained in, and modify, the later ones.” (p.246-247). For example when a word that keeps recurring in a book or poem “sometimes absorbs all the variety of sense contained in it and becomes, in a way, equivalent to the work itself.” (p.247). “In inner speech, the phenomenon reaches its peak. A single word is so saturated with sense that… it becomes a concentrate of sense. To unfold it into overt speech, one would need a multitude of words… no wonder that egocentric speech and inner speech are incomprehensible to others. To understand a child’s egocentric utterance, one should know beforehand the subject of the child’s speech and the circumstances of the child’s communication.” (p.247). Vygotsky then mentions that there is one further factor contributing to the peculiarity of inner speech as reduced sound, idiosyncratic syntax and semantics that further adds to the opaqueness inner speech. This is argot or initiated dialects, “in inner speech, the same kind of idiom develops – the kind that is difficult to translate into the language of ordinary communicative speech.” (p.248).
“Actually, any attempt to impose multifaceted sense on word results in the creation of an original idiom. In inner speech, one word stands for a number of thoughts and feelings, and sometimes substitutes for a long and profound discourse. And naturally this unique inner sense of the chosen word cannot be translated into ordinary external speech. Inner sense turns out to be incommensurable with the external meaning of the same word.” (p.248). Vygotsky concludes “all our observations indicate that inner speech is an autonomous speech function. We can confidently regard it as a distinct plane of verbal thought. It is evident that the transition from inner speech to external speech is not a simple translation from one language into another. It cannot be achieved by merely vocalising silent speech. It is a complex, dynamic process involving the transformation of the predicative, idiomatic structure of inner speech into syntactically articulated speech intelligible to others.” (p.249).


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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace