LINGUIST List 11.2064

Thu Sep 28 2000

Disc: Review of Green

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <karenlinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. Tim Frazer, Re: 11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green
  2. Mike Maxwell, Re:11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green
  3. Ronald Sheen, Re: 11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green
  4. Dan Moonhawk Alford, Re: 11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green

Message 1: Re: 11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green

Date: Tue, 26 Sep 2000 22:49:54 -0500
From: Tim Frazer <tcfmacomb.com>
Subject: Re: 11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green



>
> Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2000 20:00:20 +0200
> From: j.mukherjeeuni-bonn.de
> Subject: Disc: New/Re: Review of Green
> >There is no universal pattern in
> >anything while one learns a foreign language.
>
. Guijarro, on the other hand, seems to believe that there is a
> fundamental difference between one's native language (whatever this may
be,
> e.g. in case of bilinguals who have full command of neither language) and
a
> foreign language:

It seemed to me that Guijarro meant that one's native language is something
we learn as a child, from our parents and peers, and that the foreign
language is something that we learn as adults, formally, in academic
settings (e.g., classes which only meet 3 hours a week, where one teacher
has to work with 25 students or more). If that is what he meant, they are
certainly different. But perhaps I interpret too much.
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Message 2: Re:11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green

Date: Wed, 27 Sep 2000 10:15:00 -0400
From: Mike Maxwell <mike_maxwellsil.org>
Subject: Re:11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green

I'm going to enter (with some trepidation!) into part of the discussion by
Joybrato Mukherjee and Jose Luis Guijarro on language learning, particularly
where their discussion has entered into issues of first and second language
learning, and the relationship of this to generative linguistics. I come
from the perspective of theoretical linguistics, not language learning,
although I confess to having picked up some biases in the course of having
more or less learned several "second" languages.

Re the issue of ducks learning "mother" and children learning languages,
Mukherjee wrote:

>Needless to say, the recognition of a fixed concept [= the ducklings'
concept of "mother", MM] cannot be compared with the linguistic competence
>a child usually acquires in a comparatively short period of time.

Why not? It could well be a matter of degree, not kind. Ducklings have a
built-in concept of something bigger than themselves moving near them as a
protector and feeder and something to be followed; they attach that concept
to the first thing they see that fits the description. Children, according
to Chomskian theories, have a number of built-in concepts--things like
grammatical categories, phrase structure, argument structure, traces etc.;
they attach those concepts to the first things they hear (or, ICO deaf
children, see) that meet the descriptions.

>...corpus linguistic studies reveal that authentic language use
>(unlike the slot-and-filler model Chomsky's ideal speaker/hearer
>has at his/her disposal) is to a large extent based on routine.

One could easily dispute what corpus studies reveal. For instance, I
understand that most corpus studies have shown a vanishingly small
probability for lots of words, idioms, and certain constructions, to appear
(i.e. many hapax legomena). Nevertheless, people learn those words etc.

But I think there's another response, too: we have intuitions about things
that virtually never appear in corpora, and by and large our intuitions
agree. (When they don't agree, it's usually places where we don't feel
strongly about whether a construction is acceptable, or at least that's my
experience.) So for example, I recall hearing parasitic gap constructions
for the first time in 1984, when a linguist reported on a trip she had made
to MIT. My intuitions on the sentences in question accorded perfectly with
those of the other linguists around the table, but I can't imagine ever
running into parasitic gap constructions in corpora. (Or if I did run into
them, I don't think they were more common--or maybe even as common--as
certain other things I had heard, but which I would reject as "not English."
Perhaps someone has some hard data on how often parasitic gaps occur in
corpora?) In sum, the fact that corpora are repetitive is all the more
reason for thinking that my knowledge of English is *not* based only on
routine, because my knowledge goes far beyond that routine.

>The bottom line of my assumption is that a universal
>grammar does not exist. It might again be a plausible
>model from the generative point of view, but if the physical
>existence of the language acquisition device cannot be
>proved in the first place (which, to my knowledge,
>neurobiologists have not (yet?) discovered), I find the
>hypothesis of universal patterns across all human
>languages even less convincing.

The "mother acquisition device" in ducklings can't be physically proved,
either. Do you believe in it? The entire history of science is a
succession of ideas that couldn't be "proven", in the sense that one
couldn't point to instances of the concepts until much later: gravity,
evolution, continental drift, atoms, ions, black holes, quarks... But
scientists in the relevant disciplines came to believe in those concepts
(with resistance in many cases!) on the basis of other kinds of evidence.

>...is the native tongue special because it is the native
>language (circular argument, I assume), or is it special
>because we learn it as our first language? Provided that the
>latter makes more sense, I can't see why the acquisition/
>learning of L1 should be natural and the acquisition/learning
>of foreign languages should not. Would Guijarro...

I obviously can't speak for Guijarro, but I would say (and suspect he would
say) that it's not a difference between first and second acquisition, but
rather between languages learned before/after puberty (or thereabouts).
Those rare children who have not learned any language before that age are at
least as bad at their first language as most adults are in a second language
they learned as adults (see e.g. LINGUIST List 4.394, message 1 for a brief
note). And from what I understand, children who learned two or more
languages as children can be virtually native speakers of both languages.
As with ducklings, there's a critical acquisition period. Similar critical
periods for acquisition have been demonstrated for the acquisition of vision
in kittens, for example.

>Reversing Guijarro's chain of arguments, there is no
>reason to believe that learning the mother tongue and
>learning a foreign language are fundamentally and by
>definition different.

I'm not sure whether "by definition" is relevant, but "fundamentally"? If
you substitute "a language during pre-adolescence" for "mother tongue", and
"a language learned as an adult" for "foreign language", then it seems to me
that there is a world of reason for seeing a difference.

>Neither generative grammarians nor proponents of
>relevance theory have shown what actually happens
>in the brain when a child learns a new word or
>grammatical construction. THIS would be a prerequisite
>for truly empirical evidence, and this kind of data will surely
>not come from linguistic theories, but from further progress
>in the field of molecular biology/neurophysiology of the brain.

Why is that a prerequisite? Evidence from molecular biology and
nuerophysiology will be confirming evidence, for sure, but why does
linguistic evidence not count? The existence of atoms was accepted by all
scientists long before the invention of microscopes (in the 1970s, if I
recall) that were capable of "seeing" them. Why should our standards for
evidence in linguistics be different?

 Mike Maxwell
 SIL
 Mike_Maxwellsil.org
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Message 3: Re: 11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green

Date: Wed, 27 Sep 2000 10:17:34 -0400
From: Ronald Sheen <Ronald_SheenUQTR.UQuebec.CA>
Subject: Re: 11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green

Joybrato Mukherjee writes:

>This brings me back to the beginning. Reversing Guijarro's chain of
>arguments, there is no reason to believe that learning the mother tongue and
>learning a foreign language are fundamentally and by definition different.

**There are, in fact, a number of reasons to believe that there is a
fundamental difference if we are comparing first language acquisition and
post-puberty classroom SLA - which is the issue in question . (See, for
example, Bley-Vroman, 1988) In fact, there is so much empirical evidence
to support that fundamental difference that it should be the default
position which those who adopt Joybrato Mukherjee's stance need to show to
be invalid. This they will find difficult to do given, say, the research
findings on the Canadian Immersion experience. In fact, as Krashen has
finally admitted, exposing students in the classroom to comprehensible
input ONLY will result in little more than pidginlike competence.

Joybrato Mukherjee (JM) goes on

>As long as there is no such evidence, I can see no compelling reason to
>consider mother tongue and foreign language as a priori different. And
>therefore, teaching a foreign language cannot do without a communicative
>approach trying to imitate one of the major aspects of native language
>acquisition, namely the need to communicate, i.e. to convey and negotiate
>authentic (descriptive/social/emotional) meanings.

**As there is such evidence and much of it which JM fails to address, the
argument carries little weight. However, more importantly, is the faulty
argument which JM exploits to justify communicative activity in the
classroom. He appears to believe it is motivated by the assumption that it
is that very activity which triggers acquisition as in first language
acquisition. What is puzzling in JM's assertion is his failure to refer to
the substantial literature demonstrating his position to be unfounded. His
failure to do is particularly apparent in his following statement:

"the attempt to use the foreign language for authentic communicative
purposes to the largest possible extent, is basically promising and
provides good results"

**Reading this in 2000 gives a time-warp effect. It is the sort of thing
that was written in the 70's and 80's in the first blush of enthusiasm
surrounding the FLA-SLA equivalence illusion. Much has been published
since then illustrating yet once again the degree to which applied
linguists are susceptible to the attractions of such illusions.

This said, communicative activity is clearly an essential feature of
foreign language classrooms - but NOT as a means of triggering acquisition
but as a means of practising learned grammar and using it in real
communication.


Ron Sheen U of Q in Trois Rivieres, Canada.

Ref:


Bley-Vroman, Robert (1989). What is the logical problem of foreign language
learning? In (Eds: S.M. Gass & J. Schachter) Linguistic
Perspectiives on Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge MA:
Cambridge University Press.

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Message 4: Re: 11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green

Date: Thu, 28 Sep 2000 09:54:47 -0700 (PDT)
From: Dan Moonhawk Alford <dalfordhaywire.csuhayward.edu>
Subject: Re: 11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green

On Wed, 27 Sep 2000, j.mukherjeeuni-bonn.de wrote:

> >[Guijarro] 
> >1) As we all know, and Konrad Lorenz (among others) showed, little ducks
> >are
> >born with a device that IMPRINTS in their minds the "concept" `[MY MOTHER]
> >if certain physical conditions in the environment obtain, giving them the
> >benefit of a protector in their early life.
> >
> >2) As we all know, and Noam Chosmy (among others) showed, little babies are
> >born with a device that IMPRINTS in their minds the "linguistic
> >representations" of their milieu if certain physical conditions obtain,
> >giving them the benefit of a tool that helps them communicate with people
> >during all their life.
> 
> Needless to say, the recognition of a fixed concept (as in 1) cannot be
> compared with the linguistic competence a child usually acquires in a
> comparatively short period of time. So let's stick to point 2 for the time
> being. I don't know whether Chomsky or any other linguist has ever succeeded
> in showing that a child is in fact born with a specific (language
> acquisition) device. It's a model which sounds plausible from several points
> of view and, thus, accounts for certain facts, e.g. for the rapid
> development of linguistic competence. However, corpus linguistic studies
> reveal that authentic language use (unlike the slot-and-filler model
> Chomsky's ideal speaker/hearer has at his/her disposal) is to a large extent
> based on routine.

May I point out, briefly ;-), the role of meaning here. To our lasting
professional discomfort, parents universally fail to teach their children
to pay attention to only verbal meaning, so they just naturally collect
meaning from all over the place -- the tone in mom's voice when she calls
you and whether she uses one, two, or all three of your names, body
posture, facial expressions, etc. 

Some research a few decades ago by Mehrabian and Ferris, two AT&T
researchers, computed that, of the impact of face-to-face communication,
fully 55% was body language and 38% was tone of voice -- i.e., 93% from
non-verbal language -- and only 7% from the actual words.

While we might well want to quibble with the numbers and how they were
obtained, I'm not asserting this as an absolute fact (so many factors,
such as current context and past history, among others, are not included),
I bring it up merely to suggest the richness of meaning -- systematic
meaning from subcortical brains -- by which our ideal babbbler/hearer is
actually surrounded: body postures, facial expressions and emotional tones
and tunes, along with all those words.

I claim it is this meaning-rich context (competence always outstrips
verbal performance, as we well know), with different developing
brain/minds paying attention to different onion-layers of meaning -- NOT
some mythical Language Acquisition blackbox Device -- which guides our
children to higher and higher levels of verbal performance.

A meaning-first approach, complementary to our highly successful form-
first approach, can help us excise the LAD from our professional lens
once and for all.
 
> The bottom line of my assumption is that a universal grammar does not
> exist. It might again be a plausible model from the generative point
> of view, but if the physical existence of the language acquisition
> device cannot be proved in the first place (which, to my knowledge,
> neurobiologists have not (yet?) discovered), I find the hypothesis of
> universal patterns across all human languages even less convincing.

I'm going to surprise some people and disagree! ;-) We need it!

As I see it, the entire history of linguistic thought oscillates between
universals and diversity, causing progress. We must dump all the pretty
rhetoric and, applying complementary thinking (just like in complementary
distribution), *take both as true in principle* and then get to the job of
determining the balance in any specific case.

A proposal: given that chimps use body language, facial expressions, and
emotional tones to convey meaning, much as we do, and since in doing them 
they embody specific physical behavior with meaning, what if we took THOSE
as universal for humans, or even primates, and go from there? 

Then we could study, looking for both universals and diversity, that rich
soup of meaning systems our children swim in, and catalog more accurately
their steps from competence to performance on many different levels of
meaning simultaneously.

The generative attitude, promising as it was originally, promoted a
form-first paradigm which is currently unbalanced and in need of a
complementary meaning-first paradigm. With that stance, regaining a
theoretical balancing of form and meaning, we can hear in stereo and
see with depth perception as we study the magnificence of language on
planet Earth.

warm regards, moonhawk

dalfordhaywire.csuhayward.edu
<http://www.sunflower.com/~dewatson/alford.htm>;
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