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Title: Re: 16.1765, History of Ling/2nd Lang Acquisition: Thomas
Submitter: Ronald Sheen
Description: [Re: LINGUIST 16.1765, Review: History of Ling/2nd Lang Acquisition:
Thomas (2004).]

This is a query related to Heather Marsden's thorough and informative
review of "Universal Grammar in Second Language Acquisition" by
Margaret Thomas (MT). She (HM) writes:

"A key linguistic difference between Roman and Greek society was that
educated Romans at the height of the Roman empire were bilingual in
Greek and Latin from birth, due to the presence of Greek slaves in
Roman households. Literacy in the two languages was an essential
element of Roman education. However, since children entered school
already fluent in both languages, there was no motivation to consider
the nature of second language learning."

Should this book become popular (as it deserves to be), it is likely
that this claim might become part of contemporary wisdom. We should,
therefore, investigate it a little further in order to verify that it
does, indeed, represent reality.

The scepticism implicit in this remark is based on a certain ambiguity
apparent in these few lines. However, before becoming to this, I'd be
grateful if HM or MT could give a brief summary of the evidence
provided to support the claim.

As to the ambiguity, it is raised by the second sentence, "Literacy in
the two languages was an essential element of Roman education.". It
seems (but not necessarily) to imply that the exposure to Greek thanks
to the presence of Greek slaves resulted in Roman children's ability
to read and write Greek before entering school. Now, given that in
other cultures, exposure to the language of nannies does not result in
literacy in that language, I'm wondering if Thomas addresses this
issue. For example, did the slaves also act as tutors?

Another query relates to the reasoning in the final sentence as I
would have come to the opposite conclusion. Given the extent of the
Roman Empire, it is surely evident that Romans of all classes would
have been aware of the difficulties of learning foreign languages.
Therefore, I would have thought that the putative general bilingualism
of educated Roman children would have been an excellent motivation "to
consider the nature of second language learning." and not to ignore it
as HM implies.

Ron Sheen

Dr. Ron Sheen,
Visiting Professor,
American University of Sharjah,
United Arab Emirates.
Date Posted: 06-Jun-2005
Linguistic Field(s): History of Linguistics
Language Acquisition
LL Issue: 16.1780
Posted: 06-Jun-2005

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