Thinking Dialogically About Thought and Language
In educational studies, it is not uncommon for researchers to take the relationship of thought and language as “what people said is equal to what they thought” or, more specifically, “thought is speech minus sound.” However, drawing on genetic methods such as ontogenetic and phylogenetic investigations, Vygotsky concludes that thought and language are not in a fixed or parallel relationship but dynamically interact with each other. Roth, in his chapter “Thinking and Speaking,” draws on Vygotsky’s social psychology to closely examine in a sociological manner the relationship between thinking and speaking during a professor’s physics lecture. During the episode, which lasts less than 2 min, the professor reintroduces the concept of adiabatic demagnetization to his class. Although it is not the first time the professor teaches this topic, many of his modalities, such as pauses, mumbles, and stumbles, indicate that he does not just spill out words from his “existing and stable conceptual framework” but that his ideas continuously emerge while he is lecturing. Roth, informed by Vygotsky, also provides us three different timescales of investigation (moment-to-moment, individual development, cultural-historical) concerning the professor’s lecture that allow us to understand the situation in a holistic manner. Beyond Vygotsky’s advice on using a unit analysis that retains a dynamic system of word meaning with its affective and intellectual consideration, Roth extends the analysis unit to recruit resources such as gestures, body movements, intonations, prosody, positions, artifacts, or physical locations to enhance the credibility of analyzing the-person-in-the-setting as a whole. Roth’s chapter asks us to pay extra attention to the relationship between thought, language, and other resources in settings as they continuously interact in an oblique way. Importantly, human language is a fundamental ground for conducting all kinds of social science research. If we make an assumption that goes against the nature of language, then our research is likely to be in vain.
KeywordsWord Meaning Unit Analysis Adiabatic Demagnetization Dialogical Relationship Bakhtin Circle
This study was made possibly by a research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (to W.-M. Roth).
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