Is the Vygotskian perspective suitable for describing the development of signs?

  • Lauri Linask


The paper focuses on the concept of sign in Lev Vygotsky’s works. This concept, despite its centrality in the works of Lev Vygotsky, has received less attention than many of his other notions. Vygotsky introduced the sign as a mediator between the individual and social functions in the cultural development of the child in order to describe the process in which culture transforms the cognition and activity of the child to a qualitatively new level, the level of cultural meanings. According to Vygotsky, signs are psychological tools, which a developing child starts using to actively influence his environment and to master his own behaviour. Psychological tools include spoken or written words, numbers, diagrams, maps, and other conventional signs as mediators that function to communicate cultural knowledge and organize the behaviour of every individual. The developmental process leading to the acquisition and use of these tools is what Vygotsky calls the natural history of signs. By outlining the particular way in which Vygotsky uses the term sign, we show how sign can be applied to the problem of the symbolic threshold in general. In this light, through the term sign, first, the genetically different natural and cultural lines of development are described to show how signs, as cultural mediators, transform the lower mental functions into higher ones. Secondly, a set of cognitive changes, that the acquisition of symbol use theoretically implies, are shortly discussed. Further, the article introduces the different specific functions which Vygotsky attributed to signs in development: the emergence of arbitrariness, conventionality and instrumentality
How to Cite
Linask, L. (2012) “Is the Vygotskian perspective suitable for describing the development of signs?”, Rivista Italiana di Filosofia del Linguaggio, 6(2), pp. 202-209. Available at: (Accessed: 28September2023).
Dal convegno «Lev Vygotski entre psychologie, linguistique et sémiotique»