Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky has figured prominently in American psychology since the publication in 1962 of his monograph Thought and Language. Five years ago, at the urging of Vygotsky’s student Alexander Luria, we agreed to edit a collection of Vygotsky’s essays which would reflect the general theoretical enterprise of which the study of the relation between thought and language was one important aspect.
Luria made available to us rough translations of two of Vygotsky’s works. The first, “Tool and Symbol in Children’s Development” (1930), had never been published. The second was a translation of a monograph entitled The History of the Development of Higher Psychological Functions, which appeared in the second volume of Vygotsky’s writings published in Moscow in 1960. A cursory study of these essays quickly convinced us that the scope of Vygotsky’s work reached considerably beyond Thought and Language. Furthermore, we came to believe that the image of Vygotsky as a sort of early neobehaviorist of cognitive development—an impression held by many of our colleagues—was strongly belied by these two works.
We have constructed the first four chapters of this volume from “Tool and Symbol.” The fifth chapter summarizes the major theoretical and methodological points made in “Tool and Symbol” and applies them to a classic problem in cognitive psychology, the nature of choice reaction. This chapter was taken from section 3 of The History of the Development of Higher Psychological Functions.
Chapters 6 and 8 (learning and development, and the developmental precursors of writing) are from a posthumously published collection of essays entitled Mental Development of Children and the Process of Learning (1935). Chapter 7, on play, is based on a lecture delivered at the Leningrad Pedagogical Institute in 1933 and published in Voprosi Psikhologii (Problems of Psychology) in 1966. Complete references are given in the list of Vygotsky’s works that follows the text of this volume.
At several places we have inserted material from additional sources in order to more fully explicate the meaning of the text. In most cases these importations are from sections of The History of the Development of Higher Psychological Functions other than the one included here; the rest are taken from other essays which appear in either the 1956 or the 1960 volumes of collected works. In a few cases passages have been taken from the work of Vygotsky’s students or collaborators which provide concrete examples of experimental procedures or results which the original text describes with extreme brevity. References to these sources are given in the notes.
In putting separate essays together we have taken significant liberties. The reader will encounter here not a literal translation of Vygotsky but rather our edited translation of Vygotsky, from which we have omitted material that seemed redundant and to which we have added material that seemed to make his points clearer. As other editors have noted, Vygotsky’s style is extremely difficult.
He wrote copiously and many of his manuscripts have never been properly edited. In addition, during frequent periods of illness he would dictate his papers—a practice which resulted in repetitions and dense or elliptical prose. Gaps in the original manuscripts make them even less accessible now than they might have been at the time they were written. Because proper references were rarely given, we have supplied our best guess as to the exact sources to which Vygotsky referred. The process of tracking down and reading these sources has itself proved a very rewarding enterprise; many of his contemporaries were fascinatingly modern in important respects.
We realize that in tampering with the original we may have distorted history; however, we hope that by stating our procedures and by adhering as closely as possible to the principles and content of the work, we have not distorted Vygotsky’s meaning.
We owe a special debt to the late Alexander R. Luria for providing an initial translation of much of the material included in chapters 1-5, for tirelessly tracking down references and expanding upon details of experiments, and for reading our manuscript. Chapters 6 and 7 were translated by Martin Lopez-Morillas. Chapter 5 and parts of chapters 1-5 were translated by Michael Cole. We wish to thank James Wertsch for his assistance in translating and interpreting especially difficult passages.
The editing of these writings has occupied us for several years. Working in separate locations, educated in differing intellectual traditions, each team of editors found certain material of special interest. Since there is not one but many issues to be illuminated by such a complex body of thought, we have written two essays reflecting various aspects of “reading Vygotsky.”
Basic Theory and Data
1. Tool and Symbol in Child Development
2. The Development of Perception and Attention
3. Mastery of Memory and Thinking
4. Internalization of Higher Psychological Functions
5. Problems of Method
6. Interaction between Learning and Development
7. The Role of Play in Development
8. The Prehistory of Written Language
Vera John-Steiner and Ellen Souberman Notes
Vygotsky’s Works Index
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