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Title: From technology to technique : the implications of the written sign for language, cognition and learning, with particular reference to reading in a second language
Author: Gill, Martin
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1998
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In cognitive accounts, language knowledge and learning are depicted as autonomous mental processes, governed by universal principles, and investigated by psychological experiment. However, individuals interact in social space, where language use is regulated by public norms, and embodied in activities, discourses and institutions which establish the criteria for meaning and understanding in a given context. The incompatibility of 'internal' and 'external' explanations is especially evident in relation to literate practices, including reading, whose origins are cultural and historical, which are nevertheless held to depend on specific cognitive processes, and to have consequences for individual cognitive development. The cognitive approach to reading detaches it from context, and, in effect, assumes that western forms of print literacy are timeless and universal. In relation to second language learning, this has made possible a notion of reading as 'exposure to language' which disregards its contextual, discursive properties and its significance as a socially constructed activity. This thesis therefore presents a critique of 'technological' approaches to cognition, learning and literacy, with particular reference to reading in a second language. It argues that theories of this type belong to a recurrent attempt in the western tradition to establish a context-independent, 'alphabetic' concept of the sign, grounded in correspondence to a prior, ahistorical reality. Their evolution is traced through approaches to written language as representation of speech, the rise of the concept of literal meaning, the seventeenth century quest for a 'real' character to represent, hence disclose, the true constituents of natural phenomena, and the definition of autonomous text by exclusion of non-representational language. It is related to the rise of the notion of the brain as a machine for turning out exact representations (propositions, sentences), now embodied in cognitive approaches to language and learning, for which the computer has supplied the chief metaphor. The 'alphabetic' concept of the sign thus underlies current models of the reading process, in which comprehension is depicted as a private representation, the outcome of internal computational processes, but the nature of ordinary reading abilities remains mysterious. Against this, it is argued that no representation determines its own meaning; that understanding is established not by reference to an internal process but in public discourse.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available