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Summary Details

Query:   Production/comprehension, LINGUIST 10.1050.2
Author:  Kirk Hazen
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   General Linguistics

Summary:   Dear LINGUIST list,

In http://linguistlist.org/issues/10/10-1050.html#2 I asked if it was
possible to fully understand a language and not be able to fluently
produce it. The overwhelming answer was "Yes!". A few examples are
given below.

1. Passive bilinguals: Californians who spoke Korean or Chinese only
until about age 5. They become passive bilinguals when they are only
able to speak in English but still fully understand their first
language (but are unable to produce it).

2. Passive languages. The International Association of Conference
Interpreters (AIIC) has a classification of passive languages which an
interpreter has a complete understanding of, but not necessarily a
productive command of. Interestingly on this topic, Robin Setton
writes, "Many interpreters at the European Union in particular, where
dozens of meetings are simultaneously interpreted every day in up to
12 official languages, maintain only one A and several C languages."
Setton also adds, "There are times (perhaps depending also on stress
and fatigue) when one is virtually unable to speak one's C language
properly while being able to understand it perfectly, including
complex and technical material."

3. Reading vs. Listening. If reading comprehension is considered, then
passive bilingualism is widespread in literate societies (e.g., modern
Latin scholars).

4. First Language Learners. All of us, in a sense, understand before
we become fluent in our first languages.

5. Non-Guided Learners. Language learners in nonformal educational
settings (e.g., picking up comprehension from TV) may have limited
productive ability. (As far as TV and dialects go, dialectologists
firmly believe that lexical items are propagated by it, but not
phonological or morphological variations).

6. Receptive Semi-Communication: Knowing other related languages and
being able to pick up enough of a message to piece it together. From
Tadhg S hIfearnain, "what Einar Haugen (back in 1966/1972 The Ecology
of Language) called "the trickle of messages through a rather high
level of 'code noise' "".

7. Social Influences: There are times when the divisions of language
between an earlier and a later generation of the same community
enforce (or are markers of) social divisions.

8. Register Restricted Structures: There are grammatical structures
particular to certain forms of written communication (novels,
newspapers, personal ads) which people fully understand but which they
rarely ever produce in spoken language.

I want to thank the following linguists for their contributions to
this question.

Joan Smith/Kocamahhul,University of Canterbury
Natasha Warner, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Robin Setton
Johnny Thomsen
Randy Eggert
Karen W. Burdette, University of Georgia
James L. Fidelholtz, Benem\233rita Universidad Aut\243noma de Puebla
Rob Pensalfini, The University of Queensland
Andrea Sanso', Linguistics at the University of Pavia - Italy
Tadhg S hIfearnain, University of Limerick, Ireland
Wolfgang Schulze, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen

Kirk Hazen, Ph.D. Phone: (304) 293-3107x414
Assistant Professor of English Fax: (304) 293-5380
Department of English http://www.as.wvu.edu/~khazen/
West Virginia University
PO Box 6296 Morgantown West Virginia 26506-6296

LL Issue: 10.1142
Date Posted: 29-Jul-1999
Original Query: Read original query


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