Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Possibility of Monologue

Merleau-Ponty considers the ratio of monologue to dialogue in early childhood language:

Perhaps, as Piaget has suggested, one could introduce a new level of development after the age of five. Up to that point the child does not seek to communicate with others (dialogue) as much as to talk by himself (monologue). Speech, as a mode of social communication, does not gain importance until the child is seven or eight years old.

(Consciousness and the Acquisition of Language, p. 20)

After reviewing a couple of sources, including David and Rosa Katz's Conversations with Children, Merleau-Ponty weighs in against this view of distinct monological and dialogical stages of development. All of the possibilities of language, for dialogue as well as monologue, are, from the very beginning, "inscribed in the expressive manifestations of the child. There is never anything absolutely new, but there are anticpations, regressions, and retentions of older elements in new form" (p. 21). He concludes that "the child appropriates linguistic Gestalten, general structures, neither by an intellectual effort nor by an immediate imitiation" (p. 21).

A new wrinkle has been added to a question that arose from my reading of Cavarero: how is monologue possible? Does monologue have its own Gestalt, or is it more freely a variation of the possibility of speech? Assume for a moment that there is a Gestalt for monologue. If the self is foregrounded in monologue, what is the shape of its horizon? Is the other foregrounded in dialogue, or does the foreground shift in dialogue between self and other? How exactly can we begin to describe the difference between the two Gestalten?

Finally, what does it mean to say that no intellectual effort is required for the acquisition of these Gestalten? Merleau-Ponty seems to be suggesting that human consciousness comes pre-equipped for language, and yet again he claims that these structures are appropriated. From where? And how, if not by intellectual effort? Not by assuefaction? Is monologue (or dialogue) something that we learn at all? Is there no interface between the noetic faculty and the acquisition of language, or is the exercise of the noetic faculty limited to certain functions like the grasping of the sign relation?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:27 AM.


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