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Re: Of sticks, twigs and logs

Posted: Wed Aug 31, 2011 11:53 am
by dante
If you reason in Serb to understand an English verb tense, you are going down the wrong track, in my opinion, however unavoidable this may seem.
In my explanation of the Present Perfect I was reasoning logically, whatever the language. There's a clear rationale for the existence of every grammatical construction possible in any language or that construction wouldn't be. Only, different languages distribute the same concepts across the grammatical constructions differently. My idea was to show exactly what you claim Phil - the logic of your mother tongue doesn't match the logic of the language you learn. The trouble is that every learner, without exception, will learn and use the foreign language by mentally doing translation from their mother tongue until they are very, very advanced learners.That's inevitable and if there's a living person who have managed to skip that step in learning a language please introduce them to me, it will benefit my understanding of the learning process a lot. I believe that every English learner of Serbian will intuitively look for the grammatical aparatus which would enable him to say the same what, in the particular example with the present perfect, would be the meanings as I explained. They will find themselves in a situation where they will want to direct my attention to the fact that they have that letter done and they will, I believe, intuitively try to differentiate the Serbian verb in a similar manner as they do in English, but that won't work for the reasons I stated in my previous post.
I know that the very term "grammar" along with the loads of latin-derived terminology like adjectives, adverbs, subjunctive, clause etc. sounds daunting to learners but once they manage to see beyond the terminology and understand grammar as "little useful notes on the use of the language" they're going to make use of its concepts.

David Crystal has written extensively and brilliantly on the subject of the language acquisition and I suggest you read his "A little book of language", very interesting reading. Here's a quotation from the book, which is common sense I guess:
Let’s think about what happens when we learn a word. If I say that in Japanese there’s a word bara-bara, and ask you to learn it, what’s
the first question you’ll ask me? ‘What does it mean?’ That’s a very sensible question, because there isn’t much point in trying to learn a word if you don’t know what it means...But what if you’re a baby, and you can’t ask ‘What does it mean?’ because you haven’t learned to talk yet? Now what do you do? You watch and you listen. You pay attention to what’s going on around you. There’s plenty to listen to, after all. People are talking to you all the time, except when you’re having a meal or about to fall asleep. And there’s plenty of time to listen, because actually you haven’t got much else to do. While you’re awake and not eating, all you can do is lie back and take in your new world – how it looks, how it feels, how it smells, how it sounds. And especially, how it sounds when the noises come out of another human being...

Re: Of sticks, twigs and logs

Posted: Wed Aug 31, 2011 3:45 pm
by PhilHunt
Firstly, I can give you an example of people who do not translate to learn a second language Dante: bi-linguals. My son is one. He doesn't ask for a translation of words from one language to another even though he is now aware that there are different languages; for example, he prefers some cartoons in Italian rather than English. There are many nations around the world where kids grow up learning more than one language. It could be argued that mono-lingual households are less common globally.
In adulthood you will also always come across examples where translation from the mother-tongue just does not help. Take Japanese which, to my knowledge, does not have a future verb tense. How do you translate the English future for a Japanese speaker? To successfully learn the English future tenses a student must learn to reason in English. Your assessment of the Present Perfect and comparison in Serb only works because the two languages have tenses to define past and present, but don't forget that many languages don't.
I also gave you various examples of people, such as the Iranian woman, I have taught with whom I do not share a common language. They have to learn English from the ground up and at no time can I say to them "Yes, it means ..x... in your native tongue", which I can easily do in Italian. These people may internally go through translation in an attempt to understand but ultimately they will have to absorb the language in a mono-lingual exchange.
There is of course something to be said for teaching a student with whom you share a common language, such as time-saving explanations and intersting cultural or linguistic observations of the students first language (which they often did not even realise themselves) but, by your reasoning Dante, you assume that all students have a fantastic knowledge of their mother-tongue and will be able to appreciate the comparison of Past and Present inflections. Remember my experience in England. Most English speakers don't even know what a Present Perfect tense is, let alone realise it IS a Present tense. Thus, Translating can work as a shortcut as long as the student is proficient in understanding their own language, such as you, but quite clearly a large percentage of the population in the UK is not and struggles when bombarded with terminology. As with any learning experience, be it learning to play the guitar or learning to drive a car, jargon will slowly creep into any teaching, but I strongly disagree that it is essential to begin the learning process.

Now, in reverse order, on to Erik.
You are quite right, I had not covered all the complexities that you had mentioned, but your initial post hardly even hinted at any of these. What you described in your final paragraph sounded very much like an English school environment; thus, you can hardly blame me for not taking every angle of the argument into consideration. As is, you make some very valid points. We could also throw into this melting pot, religion, gender (dis/ad)vantages, genetics and more. However, I still disagree with your general hypothesis that children of eductaed articulate partents will go on to be educated and articulate. What about successful politians or speakers who have pulled themselves out of the slums? A fine example is Neil Hamilton (titter from UK readers) born to a coal mining family near Blackwood in Wales, he went on to be a (disgraced) Conservative MP, giving speeches at party conferences from his early twenties . There are plenty of examples of word-worthy writers coming from impovrished working class backgrounds who rose above their meagre beginnings even without a college education. Lord Melvyn Bragg had a similar humble beginning and I don't think we can accuse him of a poor vocabulary. I believe there is more at play than what you say. Peer groups play a huge role in linguistic ability through the teens, a middle-class speaker will actually have less prestige in certain evironments than a working-class speaker who you would class as linguistically inferior; and this neatly brings us to class. Many of the assumptions of performance in both intelligence and linguistic ability is class skewed. Weak street vocabulary is not taken into account when testing middle-class kids even though this could be just the type of vocaulary to help a child in a different environment fit in. So, while I understand where you're coming from, I think tests such as this are not a good evaluation of language aquisition. Do any tests take into account kids whose parents regularly sing to them or, heavens forbid, rap to them? I've seen some amazing American kids who can rap fluently at an early age. Where does this register in these types of tests?

Re: Of sticks, twigs and logs

Posted: Wed Aug 31, 2011 4:47 pm
by dante
Firstly, I can give you an example of people who do not translate to learn a second language Dante: bi-linguals.
I didn't take into account bilingual people, as those are people who speak mother tongue and father tongue usually, so no systematic learning is required for them really :)
In the end, the acquisition of a second language (for people other than those coming from bilingual families, emigrant families and similar) is the result of the exposure to the target language. Whether it's better for a learner to opt for learning grammar first, as a tool which is supposed to help them acquire the language more effectively, or to choose not to bother and try other methods is pretty much an individual thing, influenced by many factors, we agree on that one Phil. It all comes down to the overall time spent in the process of learning, which is the measure of the effectiveness of one or the other method. I believe that anyone, from whatever background they come, who is truly determined and committed to learning another language will get there, whatever course they choose in their learning. We're discussing here only which is the best way in terms of time-saving. I'd roughly estimate that, with enough time dedicated to learning the language and regular, steady pace of learning, depending on individual characteristics, and having in view people who are not living in the country where the language is spoken, we are talking about between three and five years one needs to go all the way from a beginner level to being a fluent speaker of a second language.

Re: Of sticks, twigs and logs

Posted: Thu Sep 01, 2011 10:04 am
by dante
People often look for magical shortcuts to becoming fluent in second language in a matter of months. When I was recently asked about the most effective way of learning a language I said: "Think in years" and I couldn't believe I said something so smart :) Whatever the way one choose, grammar or not, I believe that one needs to distribute his or her effort over the span of years that the learning is inevitably going to take. This hopeless search for learning a language in a blink of an eye reminded me of a joke:

A: Have you heard the news? The Japanese have invented a 20 liters water container..

B: Well..they're late I must tell you.. it's already invented I'm afraid..I even have a few of those back home :)

A: Wait until you see this is this tiny!

Speaking of unrealistic expectations, here are a few titles:

Better Spelling/Vocabulary/Grammar.. in 30 Minutes a Day (Better English Series)

Just when you think it doesn't get faster than that, you discover one that beat their time:

"Spanish in 10 Minutes a Day" (10 Minutes a Day)

and now you think it is unbeatable you find this one:

Putnam's minute-a-day English: For busy people

I'm thinking of publishing one on my own: "English in the speed of the light". Now you beat me if you can :)

Re: Of sticks, twigs and logs

Posted: Thu Sep 01, 2011 1:20 pm
by PhilHunt
Daniel Tammet, a high functioning autistic savant, in one week leant Icelandic well enough to be interviewed fluently on Icelandic TV. One could just view this as a freak of nature, but I believe it reveals something about everyone's innate abilities to learn. Daniel Tammet has even devised his own language learning courses based on his theories which he calls the Optimnem course, and he's also invented his own language (like we really need another one) based on Finnic languages. Personally and professionally, I'd be interested to know how these courses work.

The 'Learn a language in 7 days' courses are a product of our age and culture. Anyone thinking they will be able to do anything more than order a coffee and book a hotel room after one of these courses is highly reaching for the stars.

Re: Of sticks, twigs and logs

Posted: Mon Sep 05, 2011 10:33 am
by Edwin F Ashworth
Rather than just reaching for the Starbucks.

Re: Of sticks, twigs and logs

Posted: Mon Sep 05, 2011 10:40 am
by Erik_Kowal
Or just reaching for the low-hanging stars.

Re: Of sticks, twigs and logs

Posted: Mon Sep 05, 2011 7:10 pm
by PhilHunt
Sorry, I know my use of 'highly' sounds odd. I'd started writing 'highly optimistic' them altered it and forgot to delete highly, the end result being a mish-mash of the two; like a typeo version of a spoonerism or something.

Re: Of sticks, twigs and logs

Posted: Mon Sep 05, 2011 7:42 pm
by Erik_Kowal
I thought you had left it in deliberately as a sly way of mocking the linguistic standards of what you called the 'Learn a language in 7 days' courses.

Re: Of sticks, twigs and logs

Posted: Tue Sep 06, 2011 8:25 am
by PhilHunt
Sorry, I'm not that subtle.

Re: Of sticks, twigs and logs

Posted: Tue Sep 06, 2011 11:55 am
by Edwin F Ashworth
This should really be posted with flat adverbs in the has there been a change thread, but it just seems to follow on:

From rishonly, at ... b/post.htm, is the question:

An adverb is used in two different forms: with 'ly' and without 'ly'. May I know the rules behind such usage?

1 (a) The batter drove the ball deep.
1 (b) . The play moved me deeply.

2 (a) Stay close to me.
2 (b) Examine the work closely.

[Close, certainly, in 2a, and arguably deep in 1a, is/are predicate adjectives EA]

Answers include:

Flat adverbs were more abundant and used in greater variety formerly than they are now. They were used then as ordinary adverbs and as intensifiers: ...

...You would be hard pressed to find modern examples of these particular uses.

Originally such adverbs had not been identical with adjectives; they had been marked by case endings, but over the course of Middle English the endings disappeared. The 18th-century grammarians, such as Lowth 1762, explain how these words were adverbs. They saw them as adjectives, and they considered it a grammatical mistake to use an adjective for an adverb. They preferred adverbs ending in -ly.

Two centuries of chipping away by schoolmasters and grammarians has reduced the number of flat adverbs in common use and has lowered the status of quite a few others. Many continue in standard use, but most of them compete with an -ly form. Bernstein 1971, for instance, list such pairs as bad, badly; bright, brightly; close, closely; fair, fairly; hard, hardly; loud, loudly; right, rightly; sharp, sharply; tight, tightly. Many of these pairs have become differentiated, and now the flat adverb fits in some expressions while the -ly adverb goes in others. And a few flat adverbs - fast and soon, for instance - have managed to survive as the only choice. Alienvoord

1. There are pairs of adverbs where the one without an ending (deep) is used in a more concrete sense than the one with an ending (deeply). In these cases the adverb with the ending is used in more abstract contexts. Another example:

The airplane flew very high. (The altitude of the plane can be measured accurately.)
I think very highly of him. (There is no accurate physical means to measure my appreciation.)
2. Close indicates location, distance. Closely indicates the way in which the work should be examined. CB

I just happened across this forum. But, I thought I'd drop a line on this:

Where two forms of an adverb exist, use the "-ly" form to answer "how?" and the root form to answer "where?" (or "to where?").

He drove the ball ... where? Deep.
The play moved him ... how? Deeply.


Re: Of sticks, twigs and logs

Posted: Thu Sep 08, 2011 1:45 pm
by Phil White
What a drag I've been out of the loop (and will be for a while yet). I think I would have enjoyed this one.

Edwin, the Horizon programme you mentioned seems simply to be repeating some very old research by the cognitive psychologist Eleanor Rosch (look her up). She was doing pretty well the same experiments in the '70s and her work led to new theories of categorization and ultimately to the birth of cognitive linguistics.

In fact, even "the West" does not have a uniform perception of colour. It varies slightly from nation to nation and language to language. A couple of examples:
  • Particularly with non-primary colours, a particular hue/shade is usually expressed by reference to a real-life object. Thus, we have the colour "lavender", whereas the Germans do not. A pale shade of red is referred to as "pink" in English and as "rosa" in German. But the German "rosa" is a warmer colour than the English "pink" (indeed, the Germans use the English word "pink" to refer to a colour we would call "shocking pink".) But if we wish to generally refer to a pale shade of red, the German word makes us think of a different colour from the English word.
    And there are countless examples of colours we could name and identify that have no name in German "ultramarine", "the dreaded "magnolia"; and vice versa.
  • Even with primary colours, our perception is "coloured" by the prototypes we use. I strongly suspect that the prototypical yellow for a German is that used by the Bundespost to paint letterboxes and post vans, which is a deeper shade than the daffodil shade that I assume most Brits would see as prototypical. Similarly, the prototypical British red is also associated with the Post Office (pillar boxes, telephone boxes and Postman Pat's van), whereas I assume the prototypical red for a German is closer to the primary colour.
Going all the way back to my original post, my dog is coming on in leaps and bounds and although she does sometimes get the wrong end of the stick, she often most certainly doesn't.

Her recall is generally pretty good. "Sheba - come!" will usually bring her trotting back to me, wherever she is. "Come with me!" will usually have her following a few feet behind me, almost as if she were a well-behaved dog. Although I use it all the time, however, "Sheba, come 'ere" or just "come 'ere" appeared to me never to work. A few weeks ago, I realized that they in fact do work - almost every time. Whenever she hears "Sheba, come 'ere", she stops and waits patiently for me rather than coming to me. It suddenly dawned on me that she had understood the deep meaning of "Sheba, come 'ere", and not the surface meaning. In fact, in the context in which I invariably use it, it actually means "stand still and let me get your lead on." Although she doesn't grasp the fact that I would prefer her to come to me and sit patiently while I fiddle with her sand-jammed lead clip, she fully understands that her lead is going back on.

And, of course, she is right. "Come 'ere" doesn't mean "come here" (that's "Sheba, come!"). It means "let me put your lead on". And I thought it meant "come here". Silly me!

Clever girl!

Re: Of sticks, twigs and logs

Posted: Thu Sep 08, 2011 5:24 pm
by Edwin F Ashworth
We were about to send a St Bernard out for you, Phil.

Fascinating post - but I thought everyone in Liverpool only acknowledged one colour.
But couldn't agree on which one it was.

Re: Of sticks, twigs and logs

Posted: Thu Sep 08, 2011 6:10 pm
by Phil White
That would explain why I can't understand them most of the time. They're speaking ancient Greek which, as far as I remember reading, didn't distinguish between red and blue ( ... becca.html).

But in principle, I think you were right in your post to suggest that "the West" is at least using broadly the same colour palette, unlike those from other language cultures that draw from a primary colour language palette of as few as three colours (primary colours in this context being defined as those that have distinct names that do not refer to real-world objects, hence "red", "green", "blue", "yellow" etc. but not "aquamarine", "burgundy" or "orange"). Again, see Rosch for more precision in the definition.
We were about to send a St Bernard out for you, Phil.
As long as it doesn't steal Sheba's stick. Makes her bad-tempered(er).

Re: Of sticks, twigs and logs

Posted: Thu Sep 08, 2011 10:21 pm
by Erik_Kowal
Now that St Bernard rescue dogs no longer carry brandy to victims, it is questionable what value they have.