Processing Image and
Thought in Speech
Lev Vygotsky’s Theory
And How it May be Implemented
Dr. Gary Carkin, Ph.D.
The Institute for Language Education
Southern New Hampshire University
At the Northern New England TESOL Conference
November 11, 2006
Processing Image and Thought in Speech Production
The summary of this presentation in your leaflets is a bit of a
misrepresentation, as I also submitted this proposal to the TESOL Conference in
Seattle under the aegis of the SPLIS – or the Speech, Pronunciation, and
Listening Interest Section and thus, wanted to emphasize the speech
Actually, this presentation will be much more inclusive, because it will
address all areas of language acquisition – drawing, as it does, from the
theoretical works of Lev Semenovich Vygotsky, the Belo-Russian
psycholinguist whose whose pioneering work in the 1920s and 1930s has only
recently won recognition in the West. The reason for that was th long time
suppression of his work during the Soviet era.
Today, we are gaining full access to his work through good translations
of his papers and books. And what a treasure trove they are! Most interesting to
me are his ideas about how language and, more specifically, a second language
acquisition, is acquired and how his theoretical position supports the use of
drama in language teaching.
Two concepts of Vygotsky’s have received the most attention – and both
pf these concern the way second language acquisition occurs. His most well-
known concept is the “Zone of Proximal Development”.
The zone of proximal development – as stated by Vygotsky in his
Mind and Society (1978) is “the distance between the actual development level
as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential
development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in
collaboration with more capable peers.
This concept has come to be labled as “the interactive approach” to
language learning as it emphasizes, not the individual learning process only, but
how the learning process occurs with others – in collaboration. In practical
terms, in the language classroom, the learner not only learns through the teacher
and the materials provided, but also – and more importantly – through peers as
they interact, communicate, and feed vocabulary and grammar to one another.
This means that the stronger learners, or higher level students, play a
part in helping the less linguistically sophisticated students as they work
together on projects – of whatever nature. Of course, one can see how drama
can support such interactive process as the very nature of drama demands
negotiation, planning, communication for building the project – not only in
terms of subject matter – but in terms of function.
Many of you are very familiar with this process – the process of
building a play and/or nurturing role plays in your classrooms.
However, it is Vygotsky’s next major contribution to language
acquisition theory that remains glossed over – and into which I want to delve
For a long time, I have been working with scripted drama in my
language classes – well aware that the ESL/EFL world to a great extent negated
the value of scripted works. It was all well and good to use role plays and
scenarios in which negotiation for effective communication occurred, but not so
scripted drama – because –“people were only memorizing.” Thus, it was
inferred, this was a mechanical process through which no language acquisition
actually occurred! A waste of time. I knew, intuitively, and by experience, that
his was not true. But how to debunk this outdated concept? And, how did
people arrive at this concept anyway!?
A study of Vygotsky provides the answer.
The elaboration and sophistication of Vygotsky’s thought you will
have to delve into on your own through his seminal work, Thought and
Language (1986) and his earlier mentioned work, Mind in Society. Today,
because of time restrictions and the nature of this presentation, I will cut to the
chase: briefly, Vygotsky’s model of how language acquisition occurs.
I am excerpting liberally from Vygotsky’s work in a cryptic and
synoptic fashion. I urge you to to read his works yourself to get a vital linkage. I
can only give you a grossly simplified – but I hope, accurate – rendition.
Vygotsky saw that “ego-centered speech” – that speech that we all
use and know so well, commonly directed to the duties we must perform (“gotta
go to bed now, wash the dishes next, sign this letter) “stems from the
insufficient individualization of primary social speech…It’s culmination lies in
the future…It develops into inner speech…Ego-centric speech represents a
transition from speech for others to speech for oneself. It already has the
function of inner speech (Thought and Language, p 235).
The rule of inner speech is abbreviation of syntax, as we have seen
above. “In another way, it is like writing a first draft. We have a mental draft
before the written one. This is inner speech. Predication is the natural form of
inner speech; psychologically it consists of predicates only…Inner speech is
speech almost without words…Inner speech works with semantics, not
phonetics” (Ibid. pp. 236--244). These are the peculiarities of inner speech.
“The first and and basic (peculiarity) is the preponderance of sense
of a word over its meaning -- the sum of all the psychological events aroused in
our consciousness by the word. A word acquires a sense from the context in
which it appears; in different contexts, it changes its sense. This enrichment of
words by the sense they gain from the context is the fundamental law of the
dynamics of word meanings. A word in a context means both more and less
than the same word in isolation.”…In inner speech, this prevalence of sense
over meaning, of sentence over word, and of context over sentence is the rule”
(Ibid. p. 245).
“In inner speech, a single word is so saturated with sense that the
title, Dead Souls, becomes a concentrate of sense. To enfold it into overt speech,
one would need a multitude of words” (Ibid. p. 247).
Vygotsky goes on to say, “We can confidently regard (inner
speech) as a distinct plane of verbal thought…It is evident that the transition
from inner speech to external speech is not a simple translation from one
language into another. It cannot be achieved by merely vocalizing silent speech.
It is a complex, dynamic process involving the transformation of the
predicative, idiomatic, structure of inner speech into syntactically articulated
speech intelligible to others” (Ibid. pp. 248-249). In other words, form the sense
experienced in language one to articulate(d) communication in language two.
“In inner speech, words die as they bring forth thought. Inner
speech is to a large extent thinking in pure meanings…Every thought creates a