LINGUIST List 8.174

Wed Feb 5 1997

Disc: Myths in linguistics

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. Lou Burnard, RE: 8.125, Disc: Myths in linguistics
  2. Sharon Vaipae, Re: 8.39, Sum: Myths in linguistics

Message 1: RE: 8.125, Disc: Myths in linguistics

Date: Wed, 29 Jan 1997 10:32:20 +0000
From: Lou Burnard <>
Subject: RE: 8.125, Disc: Myths in linguistics

V Fromkin asserts:

| To say something is a myth does
|not make it so. 

I however, assert:

If enough people agree that something is a myth, then by Jings it *is* a 
myth. "myth" is a concept defined by consensus, not scientific realism.
A myth can be true. but unverifiable, or false, but verified.

Just pot-stirring,

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Message 2: Re: 8.39, Sum: Myths in linguistics

Date: Fri, 31 Jan 1997 20:06:26 +0900
From: Sharon Vaipae <>
Subject: Re: 8.39, Sum: Myths in linguistics

Vicoria A. Fromkin wrote:
>.....One should, I think, distinguish between real myths which are WIDELY
>HELD views unsupported by any empirical evidence, and some idiotic
>statement one heard someone say at some time, and differences of
>opinion, and alternative hypotheses.

Would anyone care to help me separate opinions, myths, alternative
hypotheses and idiotic statements in the following news report. My
interest is particularly in what is likely to be taken as advice by
parents whose children are being schooled in a second language in any
country, and yet wish to maintain home language skills.

>from 1/20/97 The Daily Yomiuri, Tokyo, Japan pg.15 Education Headline:
>Govt researcher cites dangers of returnees becoming 'similingual' by
>Naoki Niyekawa, Staff Writer

>The trend toward greater oral communication in English education in
Japanese schools is misguided, according to a specialist in bilingual
education who has studied the linguistic development of returnee
children. Hiroshi Ono, a senior researcher at the Education
Ministry's National Center for University Entrance Examinations, said
in a recent lecture in Tokyo that to help a child become bilingual,
the priority should be on reading and writing rather than
conversational skills until at least 10 years old.

>Being bilingual, Ono stressed, is not just a case of being able to
speak two languages but also being able to read and write them. In
the lecture, sponsored by the Japan Association of College English
Teaching, Ono admitted he was unable to draw any overall conclusions
as there are too many factors affecting bilingual education of
Japanese children. At present, he said, it was impossible to reach a
hypothesis that would be acceptable to everyone working in the field
of bilingual eduation. Nonetheless, Ono said he was able to identify
several key factors from his research.

>Chief among them, he maintained, was that reading and writing skills
were crucial if a child was to develop sufficient linguistic ability
to understand abstract concepts and construct logical thoughts.
According to Ono, a child's intellectual level refects their ability
to read and write in their first language - the mother tongue.

>The crucial age in mastering a foreign language is about 10 years old,
Ono said. "A child who does not have a good grasp of the basic grammar
and vocabulary of their mother tongue by then is unlikely to master
any language. These basic skills are usually developed through reading
and writing," Ono said.

>Many linguists have pointed out that a child's ability to pick up the
grammar and vocabulary of a foreign language is largely determined by
the standard they have achieved in these two areas in their native
language, Ono said.

>Another important factor, he said is that in any language there are
two subdivisions that require different skills. A distinction should
be made, he said, between the language of every day life and the
language of study. The language of everyday life is a primarily
spoken language, which, as the name suggests, is used in everyday
situations. The language of study, on the other hand, requires the
development of reading and writing abilties. "These two subdivisions
should be kept separate because confusing them could lead to the wrong
conclusions," Ono said.

>"Suppose a Japanese family moves to the United States because of the
father's job and the son makes friends with local children," Ono said.
"The child will soon speak English like a native as he is young enough
to pick up conversational skills without great difficulty. The parents
might well believe that their child feels more at home in English or
is some kind of linguistic genius." "However, in this case, the child
has obtained only everyday language skills. If the parents placed
emphasis on learning English ahead of the mother tongue, the child's
ability in both languages will probably >be limited considerably."

>"In that case, the child will become what we call 'semilingual' -
linguistic jargon for not being able to speak any language, including
the mother tongue, properly."

>Bearing in mind these factors, Ono stressed, it was vital for parents,
schools and other institutions to offer extensive support to Japanese
children living abroad so that they develop their native language,
while learning the language of the country they are living in.

>Reinforcing his hypothesis, Ono said he had found that adult Japanese
who had studied or worked in English-speaking countries tended to pick
up the language far more quickly and in much greater depth than
Japanese children who lived abroad.

>The reasons for this, he suggested, were that "Japanese businessmen
and adult students are strongly motivated to learn English, have a
higher standard of Japanese, greater common sense, more sophisticated
knowledge in their areas of speciality and have reached a more
advanced stage of intellectual development."

>"Therefore," Ono conculded, "I have come to think that Japanese
children should first master their mother tongue, especially in terms
of reading and writing, if they are to be bilingual."

Thank you,

Sharon Vaipae
Ohtani Women's University
Shigakudai Nishikiori
Osaka, Japan
Fax: 721-24-1045 (home)

"It's my job, and I like it fine. No one has a better job than mine!"
 - Sesame Street
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