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Vygotsky in Iran: A Personal Account 1004
Vygotsky has been introduced in Iran since 1985 following the translation and publication of his book Thought and Language (1962). This book has been treated as an important classic in Persian academic circles and has been evaluated as an influential source of research and theoretical formulation in the area of developmental as well as cognitive psychology. The author describes his experience of getting to know the ideas of Vygotsky and the process of translation of his work as a personal story and an account of international collaboration. Broad social, cultural and historical contexts of work of Vygotsky as well as outstanding Western psychologists, such as Donald Hebb, are considered. An overview of development of Vygotsky's ideas about concept formation, zone of proximal development, meaning and sense, and inner speech in Persian dissertations and research projects is presented. The author concludes that vygotskian psychology is rather a process than an end product and outlines the perspectives of its development in Iran.
Vygotsky was introduced in Iran by translation of English version of his book Thought and Language (1962) into Persian. The original Russian text was first published in 1934, shortly after Vygotsky's death at the age of 37. But it was suppressed in 1936 not to reappear again in 1956. Its first publication in English was in 1962. The editors — translators for this book were Professor Eugenia Hanfmann of Brandies University and Gertrude Vakar, who was formerly associated with the Russian Research Center, Harvard University, and the Center for International Studies, MIT.
The translators provided an abridged version of the original, eliminating «excessive repetition and certain polemical discussions that would be of little interest to the contemporary reader… in favor of more straightforward exposition» (Vygotsky, 1962). Although the abridged version has been considered as incomplete, obscuring the full power of the original, the translation was blessed by two circumstances.
First, the lead translator Eugenia Hanfmann, was the daughter of a Russian emigre who had studied in Germany with Kurt Lewin, and for whom Vygotsky was more than a myth of the past. Second, Jerome Bruner, a leader in substantiating the cognitive revolution in the US wrote the preface (Cole, 1990). Bruner in his informative introduction to this volume writes, «The present volume … ties together one major phase of Vygotsky's work, and though its principal theme is the relation of thought and language, it is more deeply a presentation of a highly original and thoughtful theory of intellectual development».
In Thought and Language as one of the best representatives of Vygotsky's works, one can find many ideas and explanations from psychology, history, linguistics, philosophy, anthropology and other disciplines woven together to present a systematic multi-disciplinary approach to mind (Wertsch, 1987, p. 932). He builds his analysis of mind and cognitive processes on the study of the interrelation of thought and language. The unit of analysis for him is word meaning which undergoes many changes in different stages of development. Speech is Vygotsky argues, social in origins. It is learned from others (e. g. parents) at first, to reflect mostly affective and social world of the child. But in the course of growth and in the process of communication with others a «mediated» function of speech emerges which in time it comes to have self-directive properties that eventually result in internalized verbal thought. Vygotsky explains that «The relation between thought to word is a living process; thought is born through words. A word devoid of thought is a dead thing, and a thought unembodied in word is a shadow» (p. 153).
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