“From strong to weak versions”
Berthoff argues that Whorf’s thinking has enjoyed a legacy “precisely because of” the “vagueness” of his terms, and that his admirers have dealt with the “unsupportability” of Whorf’s claims by making them more vague (12).
“The weak versions of the Whorf hypothesis—language somehow and in some clear cases influences, without determining, thought and/or behavior—have been formulated in terms provided by research in color codeability; by speculation about the phenomenon of multiple names for single entities or events; and by argument about the doctrine of synonymity” (12).
“Psychologists have nevertheless tried to make color a surrogate for language, because meaning and questions of reference and intention can be controlled in experimental settings. But once color is considered as in any way involving human response in social or expressive contexts, the questions raised are scarcely less complex than those which arise when words are considered as something other than lexical items or syntactic elements” (13). *** Example of dyadic theory of signification
Berthoff summarizes Lenneberg’s “test” of the Whorf hypothesis (1953). Lenneberg finds much logical fault in it (13-14).
“After explaining that the differentiation of ‘codification’ (the HOW) and ‘messages’ (the WHAT) is essential to his method and emphasizing that in many instances ‘elements of meaning’ are nevertheless ‘relevant to codification’, Lenneberg is ready to explain ‘the intra-cultural approach’.
“In other words, the environment—what Whorf called the ‘physical situation qua physics’ —has been conceived as part of the meaning relationship; the ‘metalanguage’ assures that mediation is constitutive, not additive. And what is mediated is not ‘language(s)’ and ‘thought’, but speech event and behavioral event.” ****TRIADICITY
“Lenneberg does not make the mistake of extrapolating in order to make claims about ‘language(s)’ or ‘thought’. His elegant conclusion is as follows:
Codeable colors are recognized significantly m ore often than less cdeable ones and thus there is good evidence that the particular linguistic fact, codeability, affects the cognitive process, recognition. (1953: 470).
Lenneberg is aware of the trade-off: if you want to make clear verifiable claims, the experimental evidence must be produced by carefully controlling the situation. Here, Language has been reduced not to one or another language, but to its simplest function, that is, reactive labeling” (14). ***This is a clear example of a critique of positivism and the dyadic theory of signification underlying it, and the decontextualizing nature of positivist claims and pursuits. Clearest I’ve seen. What are the implications for writing research (a la Dobrin, or Brandt?) What are the implications for disability studies and what it has to say about writing research/language research? And OMG… the implications for digital media studies and writing studies, dms and literacy… Berthoff’s theoretical orientation adds a whole new—foundational—dimension to thinking about learning, writing, multimodal meaning-making, and design in contemporary conversations in the field.
“There is no symbolic, expressive, conceptual, or dialectical mediation: the sign, while three-valued, is still not triadic, since the interpretant is not itself an idea in the mind of a sign construer but only the ‘physical situation qua physics'” (14)…***In the physical “environment”; the complaint here is that ‘mind’ is not considered as part of the ‘physical situation qua physics’; it is edited out. ***HUGE nuance here; triadicity must account for ‘the mediating idea in the mind of the construer’
“Lenneberg, I think it is fair to say, has exchanged one problem for another: he has substituted perception for language. He has come no nearer to an apprehension of the pragmatics of perception than he has to an apprehension of those of language” (14). ***”The pragmatics of perception. The point, for Berthoff, isn’t what is perceived in “controlled experiments” like the Lenneberg “color codeability experiments” but the role of perception in those experiments, how it affects and informs.
Berthoff offers an interesting excerpt from Arnheim:
Perception does not start from particulars, secondarily processed into abstractions by the intellect, but from generalities. ‘Triangularity’ is a primary concept, not a secondary concept. The distinction between individual triangles comes later, not earlier. Doggishness is perceived earlier than the particular character of any one dog. (Anrheim 1954: 167)
This “conception of concept formation” Berthoff attributes to positivism (14-15).
“…Wittgenstein’s meditations on color have far more to teach us than do codeability experiments about how to think about perception as an act of mind. And in the past forty years or so, Hochberg, Gombrich, and Arnehim, in their quite different styles of investigation, have advanced learning in the field of perception so that students of language and learning are now able to consider perception and language not just as surrogates for each other, but as acts of mind, analogous by reason of their relationship to imagination” (15). **This is one of my points. To what extent are we speaking as “students of language and learning”? Imagination… “the prime organ of the mind’s self ordering growth”… Berthoff gives language to the wholeness of the situation that being a writing teacher puts us in. It’s a language we resist because… why? We’re not used to it? It feels foreign? It requires faith? Faith in humanity?