ABS349 - Operationalizing Vygotsky’s unit of verbal analysis: How to use speech acts to track the development of ‘word meaning’

3.1 Farther reaches of theoretical and methodological explorations
Paper in a Working Group Roundtable (WGRT)
1 hour
‘Word meaning’ is Vygotsky’s (1934/1987) unit of analysis for studying the development of verbal thinking in childhood, but the absence of a sufficiently articulated theoretical and methodological framework for examining actual samples of children’s speech communications has prevented Vygotskian researchers from conducting rigorous empirical tests of word meaning. This presentation proposes a basic dialogical framework and locates within it several of Vygotsky’s (1934/1987) most important theoretical formulations: the relationship between linguistic and psychological subjects and predicates; the differences between interpersonal (social) and intrapersonal (private) speech; the five psychological planes through which a thought passes as it is embodied in speech; and the four basic stages in the acquisition of linguistic structures during childhood—and the corresponding four stages in conceptual development. The proposed dialogical framework also establishes clear boundaries for defining an ‘utterance’ of speech, which in turn provides a fixed focus for applying an analysis of word meaning throughout development. Furthermore, this author introduces an additional analytical tool: ‘speech acts’. Functionally, speech acts serve to define the communicative context in which words are used—a concept Vygotsky (1934/1987) referred to as ‘sense’. Tracking sense in a conversation is essential for listeners, who require a communicative frame of reference for appropriately interpreting the intended meanings of words. This paper concludes with preliminary results from a study of 4-, 6-, and 8-year-olds in which this dialogical framework and speech act analysis were applied to samples of children’s social and private speech.
Fordham University

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