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Archive with last of tag-string W77


3V0541.01 Scars: scrape on floor analogous to scar on her own body.
Comprehension evidence for “what’s that?” Explaining. (7/17/79)

Raising beams for the living room ceiling led to a lot of furniture
moving. At one point, a pebble caught under the couch, scraped across
the floor and left a wide (1/4″) and long (14″) scar in the oak flooring.
When the work was finished and the area cleaned, Peggy came in to
play. Eventually the scar caught her interest. She pointed to it (for her
own edification only; there were no [THAT] requests for names or
whatever) and made her noises of interest (/au/u/u/?)

While she was pointing, I asked, “What’s that, Peggy?” She pointed. I
asked again, “What’s that?” Peggy pointed again and mumbled some
uninterpretable utterance. Once more I asked and she responded by
grasping her foot and pointing to the scar on her toe where I recently
removed a splinter.


3V0541.02 Comprehension evidence for “what’s that?” — Infant explanation

Importance — I consider this exceptionally clear evidence that Peggy
understands the meaning of the question “What’s that?” I judge it
important because it is a general request for information sufficient to
meet another’s criterion. Her first attempted answer, pointing to the
scar, is a sort of identity assertion. The second answer, when I was not
satisfied, coupled a mumbled utterance (does not this production give
us some sense of her interpretation, i.e. [if]? you can explain a thing by
mumbling ‘anything at all’ we might infer she attributes no specific
meaning to the words which she receives in answer to her “that”
requests) with specification by pointing. The third explanation, by
analogy to her scar, witnesses that she understands I want her to make
sense of what she is concerned with for my benefit.

Perhaps this illuminates her interest in the first place. If she explains
what she sees through what she has experienced personally, the trauma
of my removing her splinter sensitized her to phenomena that are
interpretable by that experience. What are the “features” implicated?
Probably only that the mark is long and thin and a gouge in the surface
(the latter likely more important).


3V0541.03 [right!] Comprehension issue (7/17/79)

Peggy and I had a fight today. I was charging about the house, all
concerned with th beam-raising project or its clean up. Peggy was
toddling about with the yardstick, probably looking to chase Scurry
with it.

We collided. The yardstick and my left shin. Peggy was knocked [over].
I was pained and angry and threw the yardstick out of the way. Peggy
cried because she was frightened as well as for her fall, and Gretchen
picked her up to comfort her.

Peggy was frightened of me! I asked her, “You think your Daddy is mad
at you, don’t you?” Peggy said “Right” and dropped her head onto
Gretchen’s shoulder.

Importance — How much understanding need we ascribe to Peggy to
infer that this was a conversational transaction? How different is this
in her understanding from a more direct question, “Am I mad at you?”


3V0545.01 VERBAL LABELS: 07/21/79;

Peggy frequently points to or touches things saying “that” with an
intonation not signifying interrogation. I would say she uses the
standard declarative intonation except that it might imply an intention
— but that is precisely what we don’t know. Does she mean “Look at
that” ? “I recognize that” ? “What’s that ?” My uncertainty has led me
to rebound a question back at her: “what’s that ?” Her typical response,
for example when reading Scientific American and asked about a car, is
to locate and point to another instance of the thing, thus:

P: [pointing at car picture] That
B: What’s that ?
P: [flipping pages till she finds another picture of a car] That |

Does Peggy know that the word “car” ? Surely. But she prefers to
answer “what’s that?” by finding another instance in what she considers the same class.
Does Peggy use verbal labels to say what a thing is ? Yes, as this example makes clear.
The Hunt family lives adjacent to the beach on White Birch Lane. They
have cats and the cats have kittens — there have been as many as 30 at
one time in the house. Thus cats come down to the beach. They amaze
and delight Peggy. She has been told they are “cats”. Back at our house
we have no cats (Miriam’s allergies) and very few pictures of them.
Peggy sometimes uses a hand-me-down cup of Miriam’s with a three
kitten picture on it. She brought it to me for filling. I poured in juice.
Peggy pointed to one of the cats in the picture and said [cat] clearly and

We can see the process of specifying what a thing is as relating it to
another exemplar of the same class. The verbal label is used as a
substitute specifying-exemplar when no object specifying-exemplar is
An alternative interpretation that fits the observation: the label is used
in referring to a memory of a specifying-exemplar based on personal
experience (since that memory, though present, is essentially private, it
MUST be indicated indirectly). Thus Peggy specifies what the cat-on-
the-cup IS by locating another exemplar, her memory of the specific,
black, skinny cat she had petted earlier that day at the beach. The
function of the name is communicative (and serves others desires such
as confirming that the kitten-on-the-cup is properly identified)
precisely as is the more public procedure of locating another object
specifying exemplar.