LINGUIST List 11.2076

Fri Sep 29 2000

Disc: Review of Green

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. jose luis guijarro, RE: 11.2064, Disc: Review of Green
  2. jose luis guijarro, RE: 11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green

Message 1: RE: 11.2064, Disc: Review of Green

Date: Fri, 29 Sep 2000 21:23:41 +0200
From: jose luis guijarro <>
Subject: RE: 11.2064, Disc: Review of Green

Hola a todas y todos!

I will try to answer quickly the following messages, for my answer to
Joybrato Mukherjee is sufficiently extensive as a compendium of my personal
attitude in this topic

 -------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------
> > Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2000 20:00:20 +0200
> > From:
> > 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.

JLG: You certainly don't! Sometimes, in debates, we try to find problems
where "normal" people understand perfectly well what one means. That's the
misery of the ACADEMY! On the other hand, it sometimes help to give an
accurate description of the semantic field one is pointing to when one is
discussing. But ONLY when it helps, not when one is trying to debate over
thin air!

> -------------------------------- Message 2 -------------------------------
> Date: Wed, 27 Sep 2000 10:15:00 -0400
> From: "Mike Maxwell" <>
> 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,
> where their discussion has entered into issues of first and second
> 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.

JLG: Your ideas are very similar to mine, and we don't need to argue, do we?
You have answered a lot better than I, and I thank you for it.

I understand that there are basically two ways to look at the mind
processes, the idealist (PLato, etc.) and the empirist (Aristotle, etc.). So
far so good. What drives me mad is when aristotelian minded people use, on
the one hand, platonic representations and, on the other, attack platonic
theories. Now, it is clear that the LEARNING/ACQUIRING distinction comes
from people who wanted to put chmoskyan theories in "methodological format"
(Ellis, Krashen, etc.). If I am saying that their distinction is not clear,
it is in THAT (chomskyan) frame, not in an aristotelian one. I cannot begin
to understand why people that are overtly against Chomsky's view follow
"communicative" approaches for "acquiring" new languages. It is an
explossive cocktail don't you think?

Thanks for your very clear and apt response to Joybrato Mukherjee.

_____________________Message 3 ___________________

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

> **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.

JLG: As I said above, I think that you have answered a lot better than I,
for which I thank you.

> -------------------------------- Message 4 -------------------------------
> Date: Thu, 28 Sep 2000 09:54:47 -0700 (PDT)
> From: Dan Moonhawk Alford <>
> Subject: Re: 11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green

> 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.

JLG: I am sorry, Dan, here we are again at it!
I can't understand what you mean by "collecting meaning from all over the
place". I wasn't talking about meaning, but about human spoken languages
(i.e., in my terminology, IDIOMAS) and the way they get fixed in babies
memory. Of course we pick up meaning from all over the place, even from the
Stars, the moon and the sun. But this was not the point I at least was
debating this time, you see.


> DM: 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.

JLG: Did I say otherwise? I think that this is ONE possibility, Not THE
possibility, of course, until somebody convinces me of the fact. So we agree
here, Dan. Ningun problema!


> 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?

JLG: Why should we? Chimps, to my knowledge, have enormousl difficulty, not
only in giving lectures, but also in speaking simple words. You can train
them to make their representations public with some types of behaviour,
that's true. But, what does that bear on the issue I am trying to solve?


>DM: 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.

JLG: This might well be. But you see, the form first paradigm, as you call
it, is the ONLY means we have to describe those mental processes that happen
in us for the time being. It does not necessarily mean that the processes
ARE formal, but only that we describe them so. If you use a formal way to
explain that if you have two pears and your brother gives you another two,
you end up with four pears, you say that 2 + 2 = 4. This does not imply that
the pears loose their taste and flavour, that the can be planted and give
you more pears eventually and what have you. But this formula, (2 + 2 = 4)
enables you to understand the idea of adding somethinfg to something. You
can add 2 million dollars to two million dollars and get four million
dollars by the same description, although what you do with four million
dollars is in no way the same than what you do with pears... unless you are
a magician! Your idea of mixing formal descriptions with content strikes me
as odd as putting "tasteful" in a mathematical formula. I does not have any
But, as you know, I am helpless!

In any case, it's always a pleasure to hear from you again and I mean that!

Hasta pronto!

Jose Luis Guijarro Morales
Facultad de Filosofia y Letras
Avda. Gomez Ulla, 1
11003 Cadiz (Espa�a)
Tel. +34 956 015526
Fax. +34 956 015501

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Message 2: RE: 11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green

Date: Fri, 29 Sep 2000 20:05:19 +0200
From: jose luis guijarro <>
Subject: RE: 11.2052, Disc: Re: Review of Green

Hola, buenas!

I have been away for over a week now. On my coming back, I found a few very
messages, some of which disagreed strongly with what I said, some agreed
with my basic contentions. All are welcome and I want to thank you for them!
This is my answer to the following

- --- Original Message -----
> Date: Mon, 25 Sep 2000 20:00:20 +0200
> From:
> Subject: Disc: New/Re: Review of Green

>(...) As he (namely, me, JLG) admits not having read the book under
>discussion, I am
> actually at a loss what to do with his review of the review. My (maybe
> wrong) impression is that Ayoun's contribution serves as a peg on which to
> hang a more or less unrelated comment on language acquisition in general.
> the following,

JLG: Your impression is not wrong. I couldn't have put it better.

>JM: 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.

JLG: I would like to know why one "doesn't need to say" that imprinting is
NOT happening in both cases. If one believes that this is the case, then one
should not only SAY it, but indeed GIVE SOME REASONS for it.

>JM: 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.

JLG: We are not talking about the same thing. You are talking about language
USE. I am talking about language LEARNING. Why does one have to identify
both, I wonder? Are there any REASONS, or is it a matter of FAITH? In which
case, I am sorry, but I am still a miscreant, as I said the other day.

>JM: 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),

JLG: I am not concerned with proving things that exist physically in our
brains, for I am not a neurobiologist. All I am attempting is to UNDERSTAND
some of the outcomes of our (pre-)cognitive functionings. And the LAD
theory, as far as I am concerned, helps me to do just that. So, until
somebody, you (or any other non-chomskyan linguist) gives me reasons (that I
am able to understand) to help me in coping with that problem, and hard as
I try, I may not be able to follow you in your "un-reasoned" assertions.
Nobody's perfect!

>JM: I find the hypothesis of universal patterns across all human languages 
>even less convincing. 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.

JLG: You don't believe in universal patterns across human
languages! Well, there's enough EVIDENCE against your belief (which I am not
going to review here, don't worry). I am not interested in changing any
beliefs that do not rest on massive evidence. I only try to find out how the
mind works in ACQUIRING (or LEARNING) mother languages. And, of course, you
know very well what one or two or three mother languages (in the case of
plurilingual childern) are. No need debating on those matters, for we have
more serious issues to tackle.

>JM: In what sense is "a mother language [...] indeed natural"? In my view,
>this raises one of the most central - and banal - questions: is the native
>tongue special because it is the native language (circular argument, I assume),
> 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 agree with me on the point that the learning of a
> foreign language is natural if the mother tongue is of no communicative
> value in a given context (e.g. immigrants)? What, in fact, is "natural"
> about language learning in general? Pointing to Fodor's suggestions, thus
> establishing a sharp contrast between native and foreign language, and
> finally demanding empirical evidence for counter-arguments leads nowhere,
> because there is no empirical evidence for a whatever peculiar status of
>the native language acquisition either.

JLG: ALL language is "natural", The problem is you keep mixing things up
while I want to understand them separatedly. I am interested in the human
"urge" to learn a (or 2, 3 etc.) mother language(s) in early infancy. I
repeat, TO LEARN. To learn other (NON NATIVE) languages is indeed very
useful, but hardly
(until somebody finds good REASONS to prove that things are otherwise) a
naturally prewired process.

Although USING that new language is as natural as using your mother
language, of course. Perhaps my need to separate COMMUNICATION with
language (which is one sort of mental process), from IMPRINTING a
language on a baby's mind "leads nowhere" as you kindly state. But
where are you trying to lead me when you inisist on not separating
both processes? Is that a better way, do you think, to UNDERSTAND what
happens when we learn languages in two different conditions (i.e, when
no previous language is around in the mind, and when some other
language is already fixed in the mind)? Well, it might be, but you
should it explain better to me. Think of me as a sort of mug, or a
moron, or whatever, but if you should bother at all, TRY to explain
things to me, instead of asserting them.

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

JLG: Maybe you want to say that "there is no reason FOR ME to believe
that...". For, I can assure you, there are still lots of reasons FOR
ME to believe what I think is the proved case. I really think that
they are very different mental processes which somehow are able to
achieve similar effects (like moving from one place to another is a
similar effect of, say, walking, riding a bike, driving a car, or
travelling by train or plane, which are different processes). I gave
the reasons: I conceive one of the processes as a prewired imprinting
process, while I think that the other(s) are not. You don't believe in
prewiring, fair enough, but what good does that achieve for you in
distinguishing the _universal feature_ of humans speaking AT LEAST one
language, and the very _useful feature_ (but hardly universal) some
individuals have in using other languages for communicating? You don't
distinguish it, OK, fine. Does that help your TEACHING a foreign (or
second) langauge? In what way? I would be very interested in that
information, really!

>JM: 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.

JLG: I am sure of that. In the meantime, what do I do? Look away and wait
for the mistery to vanish? Or try to find ideas which may FUNCTION for the
time being? I am already a very lazy chap, and this advice of yours might
turn me into a human plant!

>JM: 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.

JLG: I am sure that some people will learn languages by using it in
communication, real or faked, by learning by rote, and by every other
conceivable method that one can think of. But this is sheer serendipity, is
it not? What I am against is to accept one serendipitous way and not another
for "personal motives" without attempting to find a workable theory that may
account for some of these serendipitous effects.

> JM: There is no such "wall of irrelevant stuff". In the same way as children
> acquiring their native language filter out the relevant parts of language,
> EFL students succeed in doing so. That this takes place at a significantly
> slower rate is not due to the unnaturalness of the foreign language to
>them, but merely due to the smaller amount of exposure to foreign language data.

JLG: As I said above, I must be a moron. Look at me, I have been exposed to
English for more than half century now in all sorts of contexts, and I still
make the "make/do" error while I'm talking in your language, besides many
other features that would never commend my brand of "broken English" as a
suitable model for teaching. Now, English native ten-year-olders NEVER EVER
do the "make/do" mistake, which hear, hear, I have taught and taught in my
teaching career more than thousand times. Same thing with German cases, I am
never sure wether I may use a dative instead of an accusative, or viceversa.
Ten year old Germans never "do" that mistake! But, at least in Spanish, I
never ever fail to distinguish accuratedly between the use of "ser/estar"
(which seemingly is a tough bone for English NATIVE speakers, for they (or
you) lack the distinction and have only the verb BE for both uses). So, why
am I a moron in English and German, and not in Spanish do you think?

I would be very interested in your ideas about my case...

>JM: As far as "solid reasoning" is concerned: the best reason to assume
that the
> communicative approach is more appropriate than the "traditional good old
> exercises" is the fact that it just works better in the EFL classroom.

JLG: For whom?

a) It could be FOR THE STUDENT; (s)he might not be terribly motivated to
learn new "long-distanced" topics, and playing around little "funny" (?)
games may seem a little less BOOOOOOOOOOring than learning mathematics,
History (or Spanish in the traditional way).

b) It could be FOR THE CLASS; it would "participate" in an activity and be,
therefore, a little quieter (?)than listening to a lecture on another
"long-distanced" topic

c) It could be FOR THE TEACHER; (s)he may feel good at the thought that the
students are "intercommunicating" (?) --which is a trendy goal nowadays.

d) It could be to achieve the MEMORY FIXING of, say, the "do/make"
distinction in English (which does not exist in, say, Spanish).

Now, I am interested in (d) only. Are you? Do you REALLY think that a
direct-communicative or wahtever methodology is better than trying to learn
it by rote? It did'n work for me with either methodology. So, am I to be
considered helpless? (My wife would agree, I must say!).

>JM: Be it modularity theory or any other linguistic theory: in the last
>resort they must be put to the test in the real EFL classroom if they are
>supposed to have a bearing on the teaching and learning of foreign languages. 
>From this perspective, what "macromodules" and "micromodules" could offer
>foreign language teachers at work, remains a mystery to me.

JLG: Well, we agree on one issue at last (AND least!) I don't have the
answer here. But instead of a mystery, I think that my bafflement
could be called a PROBLEM. What remains a mystery to me is what good
does your theory (or practice or whatever you may want to call it)
achieve for you.

Hasta otra!

Jose Luis Guijarro Morales
Facultad de Filosofia y Letras
Avda. Gomez Ulla, 1
11003 Cadiz (Espa�a)
Tel. +34 956 015526
Fax. +34 956 015501
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