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ThinkingandSpeech:IntroductiontoVygotsky'sTheoriesofLanguage

Unpublishedpaper
DorothyRobbins
UniversityofCentralMissouri

IntheWesterntradition,thinkingisoftenunderstoodasanintramentalactivityinsideanindividual
mind,withspeechrepresentingvocalizedthinking.InVygotskianpsychology,thinkingandspeechare
viewedasaunitthatcontributestothedevelopmentalprocessoftheemergingpersonalityofan
individual,alwaystiedtogetherwiththesocial.Itispreciselytheinterfunctionalrelationshipbetween
thetwothatplaysaveryimportantroleinguidingtheindividualtohis/herhighestpotential.Thought
hasapreverbalrootandspeechhasapreintellectualroot,withbothaspectsintertwiningand
developingbetweenengagementsandseparations.Itisthroughtheinterfunctionalsystemicunity
thatthoughtcanbecomeverbal,withspeechbecomingintellectual(Kozulin,1994,p.xxxii).This
understandingisplacedwithinahigherprincipleofconsciousness,withVygotskyclaimingthatthought
andspeecharethekeytothenatureofhumanconsciousness.ParaphrasingMarx,A.A.Leontiev(2006)
statesthatconsciousnessisavirtualcorrelateofreallanguage;itbecomesrealinlanguage,takesonits
beinginlanguage,itsbody(p.44).Insteadofviewinghumansasbeingisolatedmonads(inLeibnizs
understanding),Vygotskyunderstoodeachhumanasasocialbeingfirst,tothenbecomeanindividual
personalitythroughselfmastery,selfregulation.ThisinternalfreedomisconnectedtoideasofSpinoza,
insteadoftheWesternunderstandingofpersonalfreedomofmovement,orfreedomofspeech.There
isaunityinRussianpsycholinguistics,whichincludeshigherlevelsofSpinozianmonism,whileusingthe
dialectic(includingtoolandsignmediation,interalia)asameansofachievinganimageofthefuture,
whichultimatelyhaspersonalinnerfreedomasagoal,connectedwiththegoodofsociety.

InWesternlinguistics,polarizeddebatesoftenoccurinvariousareassuchasbehaviorismorinnatism,
forexample.Clearly,withintheVygotskianmethodthereisnocompleteseparationofthesevarying
principles,withaspectrumthatincludesboththelower[naturalbiologicalinnate]psychological/mental
functions,andthehigher[culturaltransformative]psychological/mentalfunctions.Higherfunctions
havedifferentlawsofdevelopmentthanlowerfunctions,andtheirgrowthisnotparalleledwiththe
developmentofthebrain,nordotheydevelopsidebyside.Withintheselower/higherfunctionalfields
thereisaunity,butnotanidentity.Thehighermentalfunctionsusuallyarenotconstructedtogether
withtheelementaryfunctionsasnewmembersinthesameseriesnorabovethemasanupperstoryof
thebrainabovethelower;theyareconstructedaccordingtothepatternofdevelopmentofnew
complexcombinationsofelementaryfunctionsthroughthedevelopmentofcomplexsynthesis
(Vygotsky,1998,p.84).

Now,theunderstandingofdevelopmentwithinthenaturalsciencesnormallyfollowsthelineofa
naturaldevelopment(metaphoricallycomparedwithathermometer);whereas,developmentwithin
Vygotskianculturalhistoricaltheoryisbasedonmediation,whichoffersindirect,mediatedchanges
(metaphoricallycomparedwithathermostat).And,withinexperiments,thetestsubjectand
experimenterformaunit,wheretheobjectbeingstudiedmustberepresentedinitsnaturalstatenot
onlyduringtheresearchbutalsooutsideoftheresearch(A.Puzyrei,2007,p.69).Thecultural
historicalapproachcanonlybeunderstoodwithinasynthesisofdynamicunity,withafocusonprocess
asopposedtoproduct,allofwhichincorporatesagenetic(=origins)developmentalandteleological
(=goaloriented)focus,viewingthepotentialgrowthofeachindividual,togetherwithsocietal,cultural
growth.Vygotsky(1994,pp.167168)statedthatmentaldevelopmentdoesnotcoincidewiththe
developmentofseparatepsychologicalfunctions,butratherdependsonthechangingrelations
betweenthemconsciousnessevolvingasarealwholechangesitsinnerstructurewitheachstep
forward.Thefateofeachfunctionalingredientofconsciousnessthusdependsuponthedevelopmentof
theentiresystem.Atthisstage,itisarguedthatfunctionalorgans(e.g.,virtualorganssuchasparticular
skills,speech,conceptformation,collectivememory,intentions,etc.)arejustasrealasmorphological
organs(e.g.,hands,feet,etc.).Functionalorgansplayaprimaryroleinthedevelopmentofthehigher
psychological/mentalprocesses,representingtheoppositepoleofinnatism.A.A.Ukhtomsky(1978,p.
95)describedfunctionalorgansasanytemporarycombinationofforcesthatarecapableofachievinga
specificoutcome.Also,Kozulin(1984)claimsthatforVygotsky,theindividualisafunctionalorganof
societyinthesenseofrevealingthegeneralconsciousnessofsocietyinaparticularform(p.117).
SincetheexplanatoryprincipleVygotskyusedwasconsciousness,hethentookwordmeaningasoneof
thebasicobjectsofstudyofconsciousness.Heselectedwordmeaningbecauseitcouldbeusedasa
unit,asopposedtoanelement,givingtheexampleoftheproblemofachemicalanalysisofwater,by
simplystudyingtheelementsofhydrogenandoxygenseparately,bothofwhichdonotcontainthe
propertiesofthewhole,e.g.,water.Inviewingthinkingandspeechasseparateentities,thesame
problemoccurs,andwhentryingtorecreateawholeunityfromanalyzingandrestructuringtheparts
only,onefallsintothetrapofreductionism.IntheVygotskianapproach,thefocusisonaprocess,while
discoveringdifferentmomentswithintheprocess.Bothindividualdevelopmentanddeeper
communicationrequiremeaning,andVygotsky(1997,p.133)statedthatmeaningisthepathfromthe
thoughttoword.Meaningisnotthesumofallthepsychologicaloperationswhichstandbehindthe
word.Meaningissomethingmorespecificitistheinternalstructureofthesignoperation.Itiswhatis
lyingbetweenthoughtandword.Meaningisnotequaltotheword,notequaltothethought.Ifword
meaningisindeedamicrocosmofconsciousness,thenwordmeaningcannotbeunderstoodto
completelyreflecthighermentalfunctionsasrepresentingseparateentitiesofindividualsbecause
consciousnessforVygotskyisprimarilysocial;and,ontheindividuallevel,wordmeaningincorporates
sense(personalunderstandingatapointintime;aparticular)andmeaning(astableunderstanding,
suchasanentryinadictionary;auniversal),allofwhichrepresentadynamicunity(withinaprocess),
constantlybeingmodifiedandtransformed.Meaningandsenseariseinthedevelopmentofthought
givingbirthtotheword.Meaningisinherentinthesign,andsenseentersintomeaning,andisthe
resultofmeaning.Thedevelopmentofmeaningisthedevelopmentofgeneralization.Atthesametime,
senseisviewedatahigherlevelthanmeaning,whichonlyrepresentsonelevelofmeaning.Vygotsky
statedthatthestructuresofmeaning/sensearedeterminedbythesystemicstructureofconsciousness.
Asingleword,forexample,neverstandsalone,anditisageneralizationinitself.Wordmeaning
representsawholeunit,wherethoughtandspeechuniteinverbalthought.

Individualconsciousnessemergesasaresultofaninteractionofsignmediation,language/speech,inner
speech,meaning/sense,conceptformation,activity,useoftools,contactwithpeopleandthe
environment,etc.,allleadingtohigher,asymmetrical,nonlinearmentalprocesses.Language/speech,
then,isnolongerviewedintheSaussurianunderstandingofasystemofsignshardlyaffectingchange
withinsociety,ortheindividual.Speechisnowconnectedwithotherfunctionssuchasperception,
memory,imagination,volition,etc.,anditisultimatelyunderstoodforselfregulation.Vygotsky(1999,p.
64)statedthatmansactionarisingintheprocessofculturalhistoricaldevelopmentofbehaviorisfree
action,thatis,actionnotdependentonadirectlyactingneed[directneed]oradirectlyperceived
situation,anactiondirectedtowardthefuture.Thedevelopmentoffreedomofactionisfunctionally
dependentontheuseofsigns,andasVoloinov(1973,p.15)stated,noculturalsign,oncetakeninand
givenmeaning,remainsinisolationthereisnooutersignwithoutaninnersign.(p.39).Asignisnota
thing,butaprocess,aninterweavingofrelationsinwhichsocialrelationsarealwaysincludedeven
whenwearedealingwithnaturalsigns,asitisonlyinasocialcontextthatsomethingcanexistasasign.
(cf.A.Ponzio,1990).Arealsigncanonlybeunderstoodasapartofaspecificsignoperation/sign
activitywheresignsarealwayspolyfunctional;and,signsareonlyachievedthroughaction(cf.Pribram,
1971).

Vygotskyunderstoodthatpracticalintellectisgeneticallyolderthanverbalthought,whereaction
precedestheword,andevenmentalactionprecedesthementalword.Atthispoint,thedevelopment
ofhigherpsychological/mentalfunctionsrepresentsachangeininterfunctionalrelationsand
connections,formingnewmental,intrafunctionalsystems.Thesesystemshavedifferentorigins/roots
andoperatewithinasynthesisofunity(butnotidentity).Verysmallchildrenfirstmasterobject
regulation,tosoonlearntocomprehendtheinterrelationsbetweenobjectsandgesturingwithadults.
Thisdevelopmentthenprogressestootherregulation,wherechildrenlearntouseemotionsarising
fromtheirneedtodirectadultattentiontothemselves.Theprocesscontinuesuntilthereisself
regulation,withthesocialenvironmentbeingtransferredtotheinternalplane(whichisnevertotally
separatedfromthesocialplane).Akeyaspectofthistheoryisthatofmediationbyotherpeople,tools,
artifacts,signs,speech,etc.Theinternalizationprocessincorporatesboththematerialandideal
representationoftools(primarilyusedtodirectsocialactivity)andthesemioticandmaterial
representationofsigns(primarilydirectedatinnermastery,interalia),wherenewgeneralizationsarise,
allofwhichrequiresometriggermechanismtocausethesparkthatcreatesaninnertransformation.
Theinitialpartoftheprocessoftransformationissometimescalleddisplacement(usedbyL.S.Vygotsky
andA.R.Luria,nottobeconfusedwithFreudssameterm),dereflection(V.Frankl),deautomatization
(V.Sklovskij),disobjectivation(A.N.Leontiev),resultinginaconvertedform(M.Mamardashvilli).There
arethreebasictypesofinternalization:structuraltype,stitchtype,andwholetypeinternalization(E.
Berg,1970,p.103),withthesetermsservingasametatheoreticalbridge(dialecticallymovingfromthe
socialtotheinternaltothesocial,withinaneverendingcircuit),whichcanleadtothemomentof
catharsis(fromVygotskysarttheory),potentiallytriggeringaprocessleadingtoselfregulation.Now,a
childcannotprogresstogeneralized,abstractcommunication(internally/externally)withoutthehelpof
others,whoaremoreadvanced,andwithoutthedevelopmentofconceptformation(understoodasa
process),whichmusttranscendassociationism.Thegrowthandmaturityofconceptformation(whichin
realityisnonending)servesasanimportantanchorforinternalization.HereVygotsky(1978,p.57)
offershisdefinitionofacoreaspectofhismethodologyandunderstandingofinternalization,whichwas
initiallystudiedbyPierreJanet:Eachfunctioninthechildsculturaldevelopmentappearstwice:first,on
thesociallevel,andlater,ontheindividuallevel;first,betweenpeople(interpsychological),andthen
insidethechild(intrapsychological).

Vygotskysoverallmethodologycombinestheadvantagesofanalysisandsynthesis,permittingastudy
ofcomplexwholes.Thehigherpsychological/mentalfunctionsaredevelopedwithintheprocessofa
childssocialdevelopment,transferringformsofcooperation,crisis,adaptation,etc.,whichare
absorbed/internalizedintheprocessofinteractionwiththesurroundingsocialenvironment.A.R.Luria
workedwithtwinboys,LioshaandYura,whohadnotdevelopedlinguisticallyormentally.Bychanging
theoveralllearningenvironmentoftheseboys,theybothbegantoseparatetheiractionsfromtheir
speech,hence,internalization(whichalwaysremainsconnectedtotheexternal),wheremeaningwas
thenrelocatedandtransformedwithinanewunderstandingofselfregulatedaction.Luriaalways
viewedtheentireenvironmentandpersonalityoftheseboysequally.Thekeytotheimprovementof
eachboyresultedfromtheacquisitionofalanguage(speech)system.Inthelastanalysisthismeant
thatthechildrenwerenowinapositiontodetachthemselvesfromtheimmediatesituation,to
subordinatetheiractivitytoaverballyformulatedprojectandsotostandinanewrelationtothis
situation(Luria&Yudovich,1972,p.87).Therefore,theprocessofinternalizationisviewedasbeing
connectedwithexternalization,whereatransformationcantakeplace(via,disobjectivation,interalia),
reachingthepointofashift,catharsis,withanewlevelofrooting/ingrowth.Thebasicunderstandingof
transformationmeansthatfunctionalorgansarecreated,whichcanorientapersontoanimageand
realizationofafuturegoal.

Itisatthispointthatinnerspeechbecomesavitalcomponentwithintheoverallmethodologyof
Vygotskysculturalhistoricalapproachtolanguage/speech,whichisviewedbothasapsychologicaltool
helpingtoformhighermentalfunctions,whileservingasoneofthesefunctions,whichmustundergo
culturaldevelopmentitself.Onepoleofinnerspeechisunderstoodasaspeechactionmovedinside,
producedinacompactform,whilethesecondpoleisaccompaniedbyinnerarticulationincaseswhere
innerspeechisclosesttoconversational,discursivespeech.A.R.Luria,forexample,understoodinner
speechashavingavitalroleinrecodingsubjectiveelementsintoasyntagmaticscheme(cf.Vocate,
1987),whichisviewedasbeingsimultaneous,variant,whereaformofsynthesiscanbecreated.
Vygotskysfocusoninnerspeechincludesbothmeaningandsense,wheremeaningcanbeunderstood
asdenotation(orbeingculturallyengendered),code,andisoftenliteral;and,sensecanbeunderstood
asconnotation,withsign/symbolicfunctions,traditionally(butnotalways)viewedwithinthesubjective
fieldofbecoming,whichnormallyincludesemotions.

Innerspeech,whichispreeminentlytheword,isactuallyaninnersign(cf.Voloinov,1973).
Consequently,itisnotthewordwhichistheexpressionofaninnerself,buttheinnerselfwhich
becomesawordexpressedordriveninward.Voloinov(1973,p.38)tellsusthatunitsofinnerspeech
aretotalimpressionsofutterances,anddonotfunctionaccordingtothelawsofgrammarorlogic,but
tothelawsofevaluative(emotive)correspondence,dialogicaldeployment,etc.

Inclosing,Vygotskyunderstoodthathigherpsychological/mentalprocessesalsooriginatefromthe
subconscious,andhefeltthatartandaestheticscouldbeonesolutiontothetraditional(Freudian)
approachtothemysteryofhumankind.Artasthesubconsciousisaproblem:artasthesocialsolution
forthesubconsciousisitslikelysolution(Vygotsky,1971,p.85).

Apointoforiginoflanguage/speechforVygotskywasalsoderivedfromthestudyofhandicapped
children(defectology).Hewasabletodemonstratehowhandicappedchildrenformconceptsdifferently
fromotherchildren,andheusedthisknowledgeindevelopinggeneral,overalltheoriesof
language/speech.Vygotskystatedthateveryhandicapisasocialconstruct,whichcanbecompensated
withextracerbralconnections,whereotherpeoplecancompensateforthedefectiveorganby
closingthecircuit.InfollowingVygotskysprinciplesyearslater,blindanddeafchildreninZagorsk
(formerSovietUnion)wereconstantlyimmersedinactivitiesandcommunicationforoneselfandothers.
OneofthesechildrengrewuptofinishadegreeinpsychologyatMoscowStateUniversity,toalso
becomeamotherandpoet.AkeyfeatureofVygotskysthinkingonlanguage/speechwastoestablisha
methodological(e.g.,heremetapsychological,metatheoretical)approachinanalyzingvariouscrisis
pointswithinpsychology.Thecrisesdescribedwereunderstoodastheoptimalpointswhere
developmentcouldtakeplacewithinashiftcausedbytheprocessofcatharsis(viadisobjectivation,and
otherconcepts).Vygotskyspsychologyiscalledheightpsychology,focusingonthepotential
developmentofeachindividualviaselfregulation,selfmastery,whichregulatesthehighestpotentialof
anindividualpersonality.

Inhisworks,Vygotskyusedthehighestlogichecouldestablishtofirsthonortheprinciplesofmany
psychologists,tothenpointouttheirweaknessesandcontradictions,offeringhisanswersof
synthesis/unitywithinanew,general(objective/scientific)psychology,whichdealswithprocess,
culturalhistoricalgrowth(knowingthatregressionisalsoapartofgrowth),andwhichtranslatesintoa
newconcrete,humanpsychology.Vygotskysoverallpositionisoneofaunifiedwholeness,compared
withaunifiedcellintheMarxisttradition,oramonad(+attributes)intheSpinoziantradition;and,
hismethodologycanbeappliedandextendedtobothchildren(moreconcretely),andtoadult
development(metatheorically).Heviewedlanguage/speechasabasickeytothegrowthofhuman
consciousness,andevenregardingchilddevelopment,hismethodologyisnotintendedtobea
lockstep,concrete,prescriptiveapproach,butratheramorecomplex,intuitive,metatheoretical
approachtocomprehendingoneofthemysteriesofhumanlife,theroleoflanguage/speechin
understandinghumanconsciousness.

Consciousnessisreflectedinthewordlikethesunisreflectedinadropletofwater.Thewordisa
microcosmofconsciousness,relatedtoconsciousnesslikealivingcellisrelatedtoanorganism,likean
atomisrelatedtothecosmos.Themeaningfulwordisamicrocosmofhumanconsciousness.(Vygotsky,
1987,p.285)

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