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 The development of a language…

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normanhurst
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PostSubject: The development of a language…   Tue 17 Jan 2012, 20:25


Owing to the assimilation of words from many other languages throughout history, modern English contains a very large vocabulary. Modern English has not only assimilated words from other European languages but also from all over the world, including words of Hindi and African origin. The English Oxford Dictionary lists over 250,000 distinct words, not including many technical, scientific, or slang terms.

If it were possible to roll back time by first 1,000 years, and then say 2,000 years etc, how many words would the dictionary contain… and how far back would one have to travel until we reach the bare basics of a language… the kind of… “Me Tarzan, you Jane” conversation. Did language develop at an equal rate amongst the various tribes, as they spread to roam pastures anew? Could it have been a larger vocabulary that accelerated technical advances in early human cultures?

The guy that jumped on his soapbox to encourage a group of fur clad grunters to follow him to some remote spot in Wales to hack out whacking great lumps of stone and drag them back to Stonehenge must have had one heck of a personality and a huge vocabulary.

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Tue 17 Jan 2012, 22:36

It is a mistake to think that English, like Topsy, just "growed". In my view it is fairer to say that the inhabitants of England underwent glottophagy on several occasions, most notably in their cultural assimilation by Saxons and other Germanic tribes in the post-Roman period, and then under the imposition of a foreign French tongue on several crucial areas of their lives with the Norman takeover of social administration. Later, under its empire, Britain exposed its colonists to further glottophagic experience, and it is these events - coupled with population increases and an increase of social complexity - which dictated the mutations in speech we now know as "Old", "Middle" and "Modern" English. The vocabulary is indeed large, but it is also true that, unlike German for example, it has become large through several seismic shifts in which much has in fact been lost.

Think of the modern listener/reader attempting, though fluent in modern English, to grapple with the language of Shakespeare - a writer from a mere 400 years before. It takes some considerable effort to absorb his sentences intelligibly, not for want of intelligibility on his part, but because his understanding and treatment of what, to him, was readily understood terminology now no longer applies. Many of his and his contemporaries' "normal" constructs and vocabulary are simply now so archaic that they no longer hold ready meaning. And many of his words are so archaic that were it not for the continued popularity of his plays they would have long ago been forgotten.

Who is to say that our vocabulary, or more especially our functional every-day vocabulary, is greater than that available to Shakespeare and his audience? And if that is true, then why not apply the same question to all earlier manifestations of the tongue?

It is understood that the larger the size of a community with a requirement to intercommunicate, and the greater the complexity of expression required to survive within it, then the larger the vocabulary employed to service these requirements. I have no doubt therefore that in terms of a language's overall vocabulary this means that the total number of words which are deemed "belonging" to that language grows. But it does not grow through simple accretion. A huge number of terms also have to be dropped to "make way" for the new.

On that basis I choose to think that the inhabitants of Britain who were communally sophisticated and organised enough to construct Stonehenge - whether induced to do so by a persuasive "fur-clad" foreman or not - must have spoken a language with a vocabulary as fitted to their requirements as English is to ours, and that it was not by any means necessarily a limited one.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Wed 18 Jan 2012, 00:53

For all that, there must have a time where the number of words available to the people was not numerous. Language can't have sprung ready-made. At some point the vocabulary must have been limited and perhaps not totally fitted for all requirements. In fact if language fitted all requirements it wouldn't change at all - it wouldn't need to. (vide the french ideas on this)

I gather Shakespeare's vocabulary is considered one of the most extensive working ones ever, but English had been in existence for a long time before he arrived. Some of the difficulties of reading/hearing Shakespeare are not entirely because of its obsolete nature, but because much of it is poetic in form and structure. I don't find TS Eliot all that easy to understand.

I see the Collins dictionaries have taken some words out of its smaller dictionaries on the grounds they are obsolete or obsolescent. On another board people took issue with some of their choices - charabanc and aerodrome, especially. (I see when looking for this more that one of the words is 'younker' which seems to mean a young man, but I know it as the word for baby birds in their nest. No one else seems to know the word in this sense, so it must have fairly localised to where I lived - and presumably from some Scottish dialect.)

I think I've got sidetracked again.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Wed 18 Jan 2012, 06:55

@normanhurst wrote:
The guy that jumped on his soapbox to encourage a group of fur clad grunters to follow him to some remote spot in Wales to hack out whacking great lumps of stone and drag them back to Stonehenge must have had one heck of a personality and a huge vocabulary.

More than likey he held a position of power within the group, a chief priest possibly who, in turn, persuaded the leader or leading council. If that was the case, not too many words would be needed, "just do it or else" would have been sufficient :) . Priests have ever used superstition as a weapon in their efforts to persuade.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Wed 18 Jan 2012, 07:21

The difficulty with the simplistic model of language development - in that it must have started with fewer words - is that it breaks down the further back one goes. One is faced with drawing a logical but fantastic conclusion that everything had to be expressed with one word (or "grunt", as the OP phrases it with tongue in cheek) or, as a compromise to the theory, that a minimal but functional vocabulary sprang up ready-made.

The reason for this rather improbable choice is, to me, quite obviously that the simplistic model just cannot represent the truth of the matter, and one only has to look at the dynamics in play at any point in time, even right now, when it comes to communication and comprehension to see where the actual truth more probably lies. We are familiar with the origin of the word "barbarian" when Greeks reduced all non-Greek language to incomprehensible sound and dismissed it with the term "ba-ba". And we are familiar also with our own experience when confronted with language we do not understand. Failure to distinguish where one word ends and another begins not only leads to incomprehension but also to us subjectively "dismissing" or "relegating" the mode of communication on the understandable basis that it is failing to communicate with us.

One can extend this not only to other languages but also to other species. The more alien the mode of communication is to our particular ability to comprehend it the more likely it is to be dismissed and disregarded on the basis that it is just noise, at least to us.

This natural but inevitable failure to comprehend all modes of communication leads to different assumptions made at different levels, all of which are subjective and nearly all of which are patently false when investigated. Partial failure, such as when one is conversant with another language but not fluent in it, leads to a lack of appreciation of nuance (one hears often from native speakers that only "their" language contains the "most" nuance). Slightly less ability to comprehend leads to an assumption that the others' vocabulary is "more limited" than one's own. The more complete the failure to understand the more dismissive the disregard for it, at least as effective communication. This appears to be a purely instinctive reaction to all communication which we fail to comprehend however. We know also that should we make an effort to understand it then we quite quickly begin to appreciate both the extent of the vocabulary and the employment of nuance.

My own belief, based on this observation, is that we therefore should be rather less dismissive of communication skills, not only with respect to other contemporary cultures but also to past cultures. The evidence exists that many of these cultures previously dismissed as "primitive" were, on the basis of previously misiniterpreted clues, actually quite complex. And we know that social complexity requires an ability to communicate of commensurate complexity. The effectiveness and indeed the "richness" of a language does not therefore rest on the number of words in its equivalent of the OED, but in its successful application, even if that success is achieved through nuance rather than overt expression. According to that definition then "rich" language extends as a concept back to when we as a species communicated with less articulate sound formation due to the design of our mouths, but with comparably articulate thinking ability due to the design of our brains - and that has been over a very long time indeed.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Wed 18 Jan 2012, 08:25

But communication skills aren't quite the same as spoken language; apes communicate but they don't speak. There must have some time when this changed. The OP wondered about specific words more than communication as such. I had a look at my David Crystal book to see what he had to say about this, but he doesn't obviously. What he does say is that older hominids almost certainly didn't have speech and Neanderthal man had vocal tracts similar to a newborn. "It would have been possible to construct a linguistic code out of these limited sounds but it would have required a level of intellectual ability apparently lacking at that evolutionary stage." Cro-Magnum man on the other hand was much more similar to modern people. (Am starting to object to all these 'man's as if there were no women.)

I don't exactly understand how you think without language. Animals seem to be able to work out things (the sheep I looked after for my son once could understand that one noise meant delicious sheep nuts and another meant boring old hay, and cats can work out awkward cat doors and dogs follow instructions) so they must have some method of doing so. My little grandson can't have been born understanding words but he could do some form of thinking from an early stage judging from puzzled or entertained looks on his face. And babies laugh at things long before they can talk or appear to understand much talking - they know things are topsy-turvy or making unusual noises. I don't think I ever think without words, but babies and animals do. How? (I now see a chapter on the language in the first year in my Crystal, so will check that.)

Cheers, Caro.


Last edited by Caro on Wed 18 Jan 2012, 09:40; edited 1 time in total
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Wed 18 Jan 2012, 09:05

You are basically in agreement with my own point then, Caro, even if you present yours as a variation. Eloquence, comprehension, subtlety of expression etc etc are all perfectly feasible in a communication medium where articulation of sound might not be as varied as in modern human speech but which serves the purpose just as well. It is not articulation which is the deciding factor but a brain configured to process the input on as many levels as are required within the given parameters, and essentially two brains on the same "wavelength", so to speak. In fact if one puts it that way, the greater the vocabulary the less cognitive application on the part of the receiver - so in one sense a lot of words could be an indication of diminished rather than enhanced communicative ability.

A bit like my posts, probably ...
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Wed 18 Jan 2012, 10:09

@Caro wrote:
I don't exactly understand how you think without language.

Neither do I, Caro, but we do. I've been reading about this in my Ian McGilchrist book (my brain, I'm afraid, shorts out at some of his scientific explanations, but I'm plodding my way through it). You may find this interesting:

"Surely, though, it may be said, even if language isn't strictly necessary for communication, its advent was necessary for humans to become the thinking beings they are, capable of forming concepts, making decisions, solving problems, all that is characteristic of our highest functions? Well, not really - in fact, not at all. The belief that one cannot think without language is yet another fallacy of the introspective process, whereby thinking in words *about* language only serves to confirm the importance of the verbal process. When we consciously introspect, or retrospect, on our own thought processes, and try to construct what happens, how the mind works, we can do so only as we would *under those circumstances* try to achieve the task, consciously, putting it in words. But the mind is not like this. We carry out most mental processes that would normally constitute what we mean by thinking without doing anything consciously, or in language at all. We make sense of the world, form categories and concepts, weigh and evaluate evidence, make decisions and solve problems, all without language, and without even being consciously aware of the process. Indeed, many of these things can be achieved satisfactorily only if we do not become too explicitly aware of the process, which would otherwise have a limiting or inhibiting effect. Many examples exist of famous scientific problems which were solved without language..."

My brain hurts as I try to grasp this ("grasp" is an interesting choice of word), but then I remember something that Einstein wrote: "...the words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in the mechanism of my thought."

What about music and gesture? Music came before language appparently. And, what is amazing, is that even now over *90%* of commuciation between humans is by non-verbal means, through body language and through intonation (a kind of "music"?).

Probably not relevant, but language too, unlike more intuitive, "musical" forms of communication, is such a slippery medium: it can of course conceal, rather than reveal, meaning.

We can speak with a forked tongue, but our bodies never lie (or can they?).

In haste and with apologies for long quotation - just hope it's of interest.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Wed 18 Jan 2012, 14:12

Some random thoughts. I've just come in and I'm off out again very soon.

7% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in the words that are spoken.
38% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
55% of message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is in facial expression, but this does not apply to all communication modes, direct transmission of information or instructions for example (and we can train our bodies to lie) . However, chaine operatoire styles of instruction need not be verbal, a bit like Ikea diagrams!

Writing and maths started off as accountancy, has language a similar genesis? If it does, then we deserve to be doomed.

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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Thu 19 Jan 2012, 06:06

@Temperance wrote:
"Surely, though, it may be said, even if language isn't strictly necessary for communication, its advent was necessary for humans to become the thinking beings they are, capable of forming concepts, making decisions, solving problems, all that is characteristic of our highest functions? Well, not really - in fact, not at all. The belief that one cannot think without language is yet another fallacy of the introspective process, whereby thinking in words *about* language only serves to confirm the importance of the verbal process. When we consciously introspect, or retrospect, on our own thought processes, and try to construct what happens, how the mind works, we can do so only as we would *under those circumstances* try to achieve the task, consciously, putting it in words. But the mind is not like this. We carry out most mental processes that would normally constitute what we mean by thinking without doing anything consciously, or in language at all. We make sense of the world, form categories and concepts, weigh and evaluate evidence, make decisions and solve problems, all without language, and without even being consciously aware of the process. Indeed, many of these things can be achieved satisfactorily only if we do not become too explicitly aware of the process, which would otherwise have a limiting or inhibiting effect. Many examples exist of famous scientific problems which were solved without language...".

Quite a while ago, there was a long debate on this topic on the old BBC Word of Mouth boards and (if memory serves) I attempted to agrue this very point, but not with nearly so much eloquence. Many of the tasks we perform everyday do not involve thinking in language, it is only when conscious thought is applied that language is used.

It is interesting when second or third languages become involved which particular language a person will think in, with some people it is a mixture of all.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Thu 19 Jan 2012, 06:29

Some time ago I took on an ex marine when he came out the service as a metalworker… I was looking for a welder, he had no idea of civilian life, and was not an ideal choice, but I liked him and gave him a try… a native Welshman from the Isle of Anglesey, with welsh being his first language… after a few years and in conversation I was surprised when he told me he’d only just started thinking in English… which explained a lot…
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Thu 19 Jan 2012, 08:54

Back a bit: I was reading The Moonstone today (wonderful book, I can't understand how I don't remember anything about it from studying it earlier - much earlier) and there's a passage from a young doctor saying, "It has often occurred to me in their course of my medical practive, to doubt whether we can justifiably infer - in cases of delirium - that the loss of the faculty of speaking connectly, implies of necessity the loss of the faculty of thinking connectedly as well..."[He carries out an experiment writing down the disjointed words of the patient and connecting them up.] "The result was I arrived at something which was (as it seemed to me) a confirmation of the theory that I held. In plainer words, after putting the broken sentences together I found the superior faculty of thinking going on, more or less connectedly, in my patient's mind, while the inferior faculty of expression was in a state of almost complete incapacity and confusion."

And in relation to Nordmann's In fact if one puts it that way, the greater the vocabulary the less cognitive application on the part of the receiver - so in one sense a lot of words could be an indication of diminished rather than enhanced communicative ability it is said that people without a written language have a much greater capacity for retaining information and remembering things than people who write. I don't know what studies show that, but it seems to make intuitive sense.

Caro.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Thu 19 Jan 2012, 09:37

It makes an enormous amount of sense Caro. With the ability to read and write, information does not need to be stored in the brain. We rely heavily on books and now computers to store much information and knowledge for us. But an illiterate person needs to retain everything and their capacity to remember far exceeds that of an educated person.

This is only my personal observation though, from talking to people with no or very limited education. It would be interesting to see if there are any studies into it but imo, many do wrongly confuse education with intelligence. They are not the same thing.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Thu 19 Jan 2012, 13:19

It's perhaps worth considering what happens after a stroke. It very much matters whether damage is sustained in the left or the right hand hemisphere of the brain.

Apparently syntax and vocabulary, the practical "nitty-gritty" aspects of language, are housed in the left hemisphere, but it is the right hemisphere which "subserves higher linguistic functions", functions such as understanding the meaning of a whole phrase or sentence in context, its tone, its emotional significance, along with the use of humour, irony, metaphor, and so on. I suppose you could say that it is the right hemisphere that paints the picture, but it is the left hemisphere that holds the paint box. Following a left-hemisphere stroke, the right-hemisphere painter has lost his material - there is no coherent speech. But ideas remain. McGilchrist confirms that "emotional language may be possible even when speech is lost through a left-hemisphere stroke."

What is *really* chilling is the thought of what must happen after the right side of the brain is affected - whether after a stroke, or because of damage caused by lesion, a tumour or trauma. A kind of autistic state where *functional* language remains, but little else? Dreadful thought.

PS

I'm fascinated by all this right and left hemisphere stuff, but it is a mistake - albeit a tempting one - to see the world as full of two distinctive "types" of people. We all need both sides of our brains! Just too easy to see the left-dominant folk as infuriatingly clever, logical, rational, but rather lacking in *feeling*, and the right-dominant sort as a bit daft and airy-fairy - arty-farty, impressionistic, but so creative and interesting! Reminds me of Sellar and Yeatman's immortal distinction between the Roundheads (left-brainers): Right and Repulsive and the Cavaliers (right-brainers): Wrong but Wromantic.

PPS
@ferval wrote:
and we can train our bodies to lie

To some extent maybe, ferval - if you do yoga for years, train with the SAS, or have Vulcan blood. But for most of us...? Would like to return to this, but must go out now.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Thu 19 Jan 2012, 13:48

Your post, Temp, reminds me of my mother in law as she descended into dementia following a number of 'mini strokes'. We began to realise that what at first seemed like her dreams and ravings had a contorted rationale and were the attempts of her brain to make sense of imperfectly apprehended sensory experiences - things she saw or heard. One vivid example was when she had bruised hands and told us the 'the little girl who lived in her wardrobe had done it and that although she had asked her to go, she wouldn't'.It finally dawned on us - she had mirrored doors on the wardrobe, then it all fell into place including the bruises. We had the doors reversed and the little girl disappeared.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Thu 19 Jan 2012, 16:25

I'd also suggest that "left" and "right" exclusivity of function may not be entirely accurate - the brain has a capacity for re-wiring itself to replace functions lost at the cognitive level, if less so in terms of motor neuron control.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Thu 19 Jan 2012, 18:40

Going back to the original question about how language developed, there may be a clue in the fact that the other conventionally defining human characteristic, apart from language, is tool making and use.

I was amazed to learn that the location of grasp is in the left hemisphere, close to speech - the same area of the left hemisphere as semantics and syntax. Apparently this is not accidental and, according to McGilchrist (sorry to keep plugging him, but he is an expert, more to be trusted than anything on Wiki), "tells us something". He continues:

"Manipulospatial abilities may have provided the basis of primitive language, and such abilities and referential language require similar neural mechanisms. The syntactic elements of language may well derive from gesture. And not just from gesture, but from the more functional, more manipulative, hand movements: tool making and speech are both 'serial, syntactic and manipulatory behaviours based on complex articulations of biomechanical patterns'. In fact so strong is the connection that one theory is that referential language may have evolved, not from sounds at all, but directly from hand movements - not only that, but specifically from motions to do with grasping." *

And just think about some of the words we use to describe linguistic expression and comprehension:

to grasp an idea

to get a handle on something

to take a point

to put your finger on something

to comprehend (from the Latin com + prehendere - to take hold of; to seize; to catch)

And what about intend/contend/pretend (from the Latine tendere - to reach with the hand)?





* McGilchrist cites M.C. Corballis "From Hand to Mouth:The Origins of Language" Princeton University Press 2002.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Thu 19 Jan 2012, 19:05

Could that be, I wonder, the reason behind the urge to make facial movements, particularly with the mouth, when carrying out some manual tasks? I can't put on mascara without opening my mouth, others are tongue out between the lips when concentrating, screwing up the face as well. Does the book mention whether fine motor control of the facial muscles is also a left hemisphere function?
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Thu 19 Jan 2012, 20:03

@ferval wrote:
Could that be, I wonder, the reason behind the urge to make facial movements, particularly with the mouth, when carrying out some manual tasks? I can't put on mascara without opening my mouth, others are tongue out between the lips when concentrating, screwing up the face as well. Does the book mention whether fine motor control of the facial muscles is also a left hemisphere function?

Hi ferval,

I can't find anything specifically to do with that, but it's an interesting point, especially the tendency to stick the *tongue* out when performing a task that demands real dexterity - like threading a needle, or painting a careful line.

You may be interested to know, however, that, as well as emotional *recognition*, the right hemisphere plays a vital role in emotional *expression* via the face or the prosody of the voice - apparently the right frontal lobe is of critical importance for emotional expression of virtually every kind through the face and through body posture. Intriguingly though the one exception to the right hemisphere superiority for the expression of emotion is anger. Anger is "robustly connected with left frontal activities. Aggression is motivating and dopamine plays a crucial role in the rewards it offers." I don't understand this. Must look up dopamine.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Thu 19 Jan 2012, 23:21

Hi Temp,
I was looking for information on your man and I came across this, a critique by Grayling. http://www.literaryreview.co.uk/grayling_12_09.html
Is this the book you're referring to?
Oh, to have world enough and time to read everything.........
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Fri 20 Jan 2012, 07:15

Ok… silly stupid question… in the hypothetical event of a host of deaf mute parents living in an isolated community, all having offspring and there being no speech therapist… apart from ‘signing’ would a vocal language develop… I ask because a few years ago a young lad in my scout troop wanting to go to a camp with us, told me I’d have to ask his parents. The boy failed to inform me his parents were both deaf mutes as were his other siblings, until I met them on the doorstep. You can imagine how I felt. It was something I’d not considered before, and nor had the boy, it was to him the most natural thing in the world… his world at least.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Fri 20 Jan 2012, 07:46

@ferval wrote:
Hi Temp,
I was looking for information on your man and I came across this, a critique by Grayling. http://www.literaryreview.co.uk/grayling_12_09.html
Is this the book you're referring to?
Oh, to have world enough and time to read everything.........

Hi ferval,

That's my man. But you do need time and peace to read him - I work through a little bit each morning while my brain is still reasonably alert. I'm finding my own response to the various chapters amusing - and revealing. "Asymmetry and the Brain" for example was quite beyond me, had me very nearly in tears of frustration at my own inability to understand, whereas I romped with joyful abandon through "Language, Truth and Music".

I'm about to start "The Triumph of the Left Hemisphere" - sounds scary.

Hi Norman,

Interesting point - does anyone remember the film about Helen Keller - "The Miracle Worker" - starring Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan? I thought it was superb - how *do* you teach a deaf, blind girl who has never developed speech, the concept of colour or what an abstract noun is? Actually, what I've just typed isn't quite true - Keller *had* begun to acquire language before she contracted the illness that robbed her of her sight and her hearing. There was a residual memory of the word "waa-waa" for water.

In great haste.

T.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Fri 20 Jan 2012, 08:10

From memory Anne Sullivan ran Helen's hand under the tap saying water till she realised the point, and once you understand something you can take it from there. Years ago I went to Maori lessons where the tutor wouldn't let us speak English and where he didn't speak English. Looking back I am amazed at how little Maori I must have known - not even the words for 'the'. He used cuisonnaire (sp?) rods that teachers used for maths, and held up one and said, "te rakau kikorangi" and another and said, 'te rakau pango" and another and said, "te rakau ma" and only when he said, "te rakau kowhai" did I latch on. Kowhai is the name of a very well known tree with yellow flowers. It was "the yellow stick". Once I understood the last word was a colour I could work from there. (He did let us speak more English as the weeks went on. I found it a really good way to teach us, though.)

I feel sure I read recently that the popular ideas about left and right hemispheres of the brain affecting certain areas of behaviour is not really valid. Can't remember where I read it - possibly in the neurological magazine I get, but I don't know.

Cheers, Caro.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Fri 20 Jan 2012, 10:09

Is it not generally accepted, or at least by Chumsky etc, that we are pre wired for language? Now that implies evolutionary advantage but whether that is in a functional way, assisting with hunting organisation for example, or in the way of facilitating the pair bonding and mutual group support that seems to be critical in ensuring the survival of the human infant throughout its long period of dependency I can only guess. I wonder if the fact that gestures and body language in general tend to have to be seen face to face normally but language can be perceived by more people at once and be understood at a distance, as it were, is significant?
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Gilgamesh of Uruk
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Fri 20 Jan 2012, 16:31

I've been assured, by those in a position to know, that the best way to learn a new language is in bed.
Not asleep.
Accompanied.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Sat 21 Jan 2012, 10:49

Quote :
...the tutor wouldn't let us speak English...

That is the basis of most TEFL - Teaching English (or any language) as a Foreign Language - particularly where classes often comprise students with many first languages but probably no common second language except the one being taught. As you say you start with objects, pictures, drawing and acting... and progress from there. It is of course how we all learn our mother tongue, being immersed in a language and experiencing how it is used, long before we can read and write.

I believe it has been repeatedly shown that the aquisition of language is best done when we are young, the optimum time being up to early teens. Young children seem able to soak up language and correctly formulate virtually all the rules of grammar, syntax etc of the languages they are exposed to with far greater ease than they will ever be able to do again later in life.

My late partner whose mother-tongue was French, was educated above 8 years old entirely in Flemish, and then took English and German as foreign languages at about 12 or 13 years of age. He was basically tri-lingual in English, French and Flemish (and able to appropriately adjust his Flemish when speaking Dutch), and could speak reasonable German when pushed - despite only using French and English on a regular basis. But it is not just the languages themselves that seemed to be hard-wired into his brain but the ability to learn language. He learned to speak reasonable Spanish in his mid twenties (incidentally by the Berlitz method - ie no language other than the language being taught allowed), and I have seen him picking up a language just by observing native speakers eg. at a party in Italy where simply by listening and watching he started to converse in Italian after just a few hours.

Clearly he had, or had the ability to aquire, language skills. But he had no sense of direction, could not read maps, often demonstrated faulty logic, was not good at higher mathematics, and could not think in multiple dimensions. I think he clearly benefitted from being in a environment which encouraged him to learn language skills at an optimum age, but perhaps at the expense of other skills. He himself once observed that his two nephews who were being pushed to learn languages at an early age and were already accomplished little linguists, seemed to be having troubles in science and maths. I think it's been demonstarted that the optimum age for learning mathematics, geometry, and basic scientific ideas such as levers, forces, mutiple dimensions etc is a bit later than for languages, starting on average at about ten years I seem to recall.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Sat 21 Jan 2012, 12:40

A teacher friend of mine had a simple explanation for this, Meles. Language, he maintained, is one of the primary tools with which we first assimilate or make sense of our surroundings. It works in conjunction with the senses, of course, and they are the primary input sources (both in terms of time and importance), but the application of language - something accepted and understood at an incredibly early age - is none the less paramount for it having been an "acquired" tool, learnt from others. Mathematics, on the other hand, is a rather less obvious tool. At its most basic level its application can be readily comprehended but once you go beyond that then its application must almost be taken on faith. If one sticks with it long enough then that faith can be rewarded, but to a younger mind this might require an aptitude and patience which just hasn't yet been developed. They are comfortable with what we might call their "intuitive" intellectual skills but struggle to develop those which require an aptitude for appreciating the intrinsic mechanical logic of certain subjects.

Once this aptitude develops however (and it appears to develop for the majority around the time that their exploration of their surroundings takes on a more independent nature) then the intrinsic logic of the discipline is reward enough for the inquiring mind and it can assimilate even the most complex concepts where only shortly beforehand it struggled with the most basic ones.

I extended this definition somewhat by introducing the idea of self-worth into the equation (pardon the metaphor). A person whose self-assessment of his or her own intellectual capacity is predicated to some extent on some spectacular comparative success with linguistic development, is also less likely in certain educational systems to readily accept the extra requirements involved in "opening" their mind to mathematical instruction. This leads to unconscious resistance to being taught that subject which in turn can lead to a pattern of behaviour with regard to learning which, because it has been established at a crucial time with regard to establishing one's adult personality, perseveres throughout that person's lifetime.

Now and again some individuals can spectacularly break that cycle, through revelation or necessity, but without such external motivation the pattern is more likely to establish itself for the majority.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Sat 21 Jan 2012, 15:28

Not strictly germane, but there seems to be some evidence that the language a student speaks is also a factor in successful acquisition of mathematical skills. This is supposed to be at its most acute when children have to learn the numbers for the teens and twenties / thirties, and languages which have logical formation rules for such numbers are supposed to give children who speak them an advantage of several months in acquiring the knowledge.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Sun 22 Jan 2012, 22:03

@Meles meles wrote:
Quote :
...the tutor wouldn't let us speak English...

That is the basis of most TEFL - Teaching English (or any language) as a Foreign Language - particularly where classes often comprise students with many first languages but probably no common second language except the one being taught. As you say you start with objects, pictures, drawing and acting... and progress from there. It is of course how we all learn our mother tongue, being immersed in a language and experiencing how it is used, long before we can read and write.

I believe it has been repeatedly shown that the aquisition of language is best done when we are young, the optimum time being up to early teens. Young children seem able to soak up language and correctly formulate virtually all the rules of grammar, syntax etc of the languages they are exposed to with far greater ease than they will ever be able to do again later in life.

My late partner whose mother-tongue was French, was educated above 8 years old entirely in Flemish, and then took English and German as foreign languages at about 12 or 13 years of age. He was basically tri-lingual in English, French and Flemish (and able to appropriately adjust his Flemish when speaking Dutch), and could speak reasonable German when pushed - despite only using French and English on a regular basis. But it is not just the languages themselves that seemed to be hard-wired into his brain but the ability to learn language. He learned to speak reasonable Spanish in his mid twenties (incidentally by the Berlitz method - ie no language other than the language being taught allowed), and I have seen him picking up a language just by observing native speakers eg. at a party in Italy where simply by listening and watching he started to converse in Italian after just a few hours.

Clearly he had, or had the ability to aquire, language skills. But he had no sense of direction, could not read maps, often demonstrated faulty logic, was not good at higher mathematics, and could not think in multiple dimensions. I think he clearly benefitted from being in a environment which encouraged him to learn language skills at an optimum age, but perhaps at the expense of other skills. He himself once observed that his two nephews who were being pushed to learn languages at an early age and were already accomplished little linguists, seemed to be having troubles in science and maths. I think it's been demonstarted that the optimum age for learning mathematics, geometry, and basic scientific ideas such as levers, forces, mutiple dimensions etc is a bit later than for languages, starting on average at about ten years I seem to recall.

Meles meles,

and now I recall you but under what name...your late friend and his mother singing the Branbançonne (Belgian national anthem)...I remembered yet Kurt Bronson from Louisiana, who changed his nom de plume in something with letters in a lose order...you even thanked me for my fair behaviour against you and your friend...

As always easely diverted I come back to the subject of the thread.

Found this from the old BBC forum:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbhistory/NF2233812?thread=2638997

Had in the past some trouble to seek back the BBC threads via Google advanced search, while it gives the thread only to the date of the last post of the first page of a thread and it is so difficult to read it. Try it once yourself. And so I sought on the BBC forum via the dates to find it back in the original form, but that is also very difficult. Yesterday, however I suddenly found out, when you in the URL omit in the middle the "http/" and you click on the new URL you immediately have the original thread from the BBC...if you don't understand it:roll: try it once with a search of your own into the old BBC files via Google advanced search and you will see what I mean...

That said, rereading my own texts of 2006...it is certainly not the same Paul, who is actually writing here in 2012...don' t say it is an improved Paul...although he spells now "notting" as "nothing"...I remember I saw the right writing first from lol beeble...

Did yesterday some further research on the net and the first interesting article you encounter is many times wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_language#Cognitive_development_and_language

I had already read in the past the article nearly sure in discussions with lol beeble and I have to say since those years the article is quite improved.

As for the aptitude to learn languages, as from your former friend...don't know...if you can speak French and Dutch you can nearly speak English...if you can speak Dutch in a matter of some months, as in my case, you can nearly fluently speak German if exposed to German colleagues...if you speak French one can understand already after some hours of course written Spanish as in my case...or written Italian that I can read even without course, even as it is so clearly spoken even understand some spoken...I suppose because all these languages are that similar...but if you start with Russian...or Greek, Nordmann?...that's quite another kettle of fish...

And in my humble opinion practice and close contact with other language speakers is the best way to learn a foreign language...and not be ashamed...on the Ostend-Dover line between Belgium and the UK I heard some nearly illiterate speak some seven languages all picked up during service...of course not the academic versions...

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.

PS: a very curious Paul fishing for your former nom de plume...
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Sun 22 Jan 2012, 22:32

Hello Paul,

I'm surprised you remember me, but yes we did have several discussions about things Belgian... including the Brabaçonne: "Le Roi, la Loi, la Liberté !", or should that be: "Voor Vorst, voor Vrijheid en voor Recht!"?

I quite honestly cannot remember my original BBC name, but I've been Meles meles since at least 2005 (although I wasn't always very active). Sadly my Belgian partner died, quite suddenly, last September... but it was that which indirectly got me posting again, and it's proved to be quite good therapy.

Kind regards, Meles
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Sun 22 Jan 2012, 22:44

It doesn't feel quite right to interrupt you and Paul, Meles, and I'm sorry to hear of your partner's death.

But you said earlier:
Quote :
That [using just the language being learnt] is the basis of most TEFL - Teaching English (or any language) as a Foreign Language
.

I don't know enough about this to argue properly, but my husband did an ESOL course a few years ago, and they didn't do that at all. It concentrated hugely on grammatical structures, many of which I had never heard of and seemed very complex. Everything had to be taught very rigidly - the course would have driven me nuts. He never taught it apart from with some practice students, so I don't know how it worked in practice. There was, of course, some academic reasoning behind it all, but I didn't think it would work all that well. It was aimed in particular at teaching in what I call Asia (ie Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, UAE perhaps) and maybe the structure of their languages leant itself to this sort of method. I don't know.

Caro.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Sun 22 Jan 2012, 23:12

There are different methods of teaching a foreign language and total immersion is one of them but there are others, someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the Cambridge ESOL is one which is much more structured and grammatically based. Was it the course leading to a qualification to teach that your husband did, Caro? I have a friend whose daughter is teaching English in Turkey just now and has done so before in Vietnam and the far east.so I'll ask him.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Sun 22 Jan 2012, 23:28

@Meles meles wrote:
Hello Paul,

I'm surprised you remember me, but yes we did have several discussions about things Belgian... including the Brabaçonne: "Le Roi, la Loi, la Liberté !", or should that be: "Voor Vorst, voor Vrijheid en voor Recht!"?

I quite honestly cannot remember my original BBC name, but I've been Meles meles since at least 2005 (although I wasn't always very active). Sadly my Belgian partner died, quite suddenly, last September... but it was that which indirectly got me posting again, and it's proved to be quite good therapy.

Kind regards, Meles

Meles,

my English is not that good (although I had a feeling) to grasp the fully concept of "late". And I apologize, especially as I remember you two from earlier messages. Sincere sympathy with your loss. (Excuses, if even that isn't the right expression as I found it in my Dutch-English dictionary. Had the same difficulty to express such feelings in German to a German colleague in a similar case).

I found in the meantime (and it is also interesting for Caro) some more:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_linguistics

And an in depth work in my opinion (I will try to buy it or let it buy by our local library), which explains the whole field of history of language development. Have a look in the inside as you can read the introduction and the conclusion.

http://www.amazon.com/Power-Babel-Natural-History-Language/dp/006052085X

And it emphasizes among others as I see (recall from discussions with lol beeble about the subject) the complexity from for instance an Indian Amazone language which has more complexity than some modern languages, which are for the ease are simplified from grammar, declensions and all that...also the amazing evolution of different languages by all kind of extern parameters as conquest and all that...

Kind regards and with esteem to both of you,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Mon 23 Jan 2012, 00:33

Paul:
From that point of view, it would be instructive, perhaps, to consider Afrikaans as compared to Dutch or Flemish. I'm told it has simplified itself to a marked degree.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Mon 23 Jan 2012, 21:17

@Gilgamesh of Uruk wrote:
Paul:
From that point of view, it would be instructive, perhaps, to consider Afrikaans as compared to Dutch or Flemish. I'm told it has simplified itself to a marked degree.

Gilgamesh,

thanks for asking it. It spurred me to do new research? There was already on the old Beeb forum a question about Afrikaans?

Have to say that Wikipedia seems in lengths (by far?) preceeds for honest information:

http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afrikaans

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afrikaans

Have to say that as nearly always the Wikis in different languages have another emphasis and many times other information.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Differences_between_Afrikaans_and_Dutch

And as I understand it you are right about a simplification from Dutch to Afrikaans. And while we are at the subject of symplification, as I mentioned in a former message a dialect many times seen as "inferior" to the standard language has as in the case of Dutch, more complex forms as declensions and all that. I speak two Dutch dialects and for instance I was surprised by the greater ability to express all kind of circumstances better than in the standard language. An example: we only say "yes" in standard Dutch to our "speech partner", but in dialect we have the "jaok" (yes I) to mean that it is my personal yes, the "jaom" (yes we) to mean that we agree in group, the affirmative rather imperative "jaoge" (yes you) to your counterpart or to the group in front of you, the "joaj" (yes he) and "joans" (yes they) that we speak about a third person or group present or not.

About Afrikaans in Belgium and the Netherlands:

In the Fifties, when I was young, we studied a bit Afrikaans in our lessons Dutch, only something about literature and not more. Also some popular songs in our music lessons. I suppose, but I can be wrong, that the Greater Dutch movement and the unity of language over Belgium, the Netherlands and South-Africa was a bit taboo at a Belgian Catholic "college" of that time. Immediately after WWII in Belgium (it was the time of the Leopold III King's question) all things about collaboration and all that were still touchy. And the Flemings had at least in the general opinion of that time more collaborated than the rest of the Belgians. And that Greater Dutch movement as from its history between the two WW had also a bad connotation if even not seen as collaborators during WWII.

But all that is long gone now I suppose, only to find it still back on right wing fora as Stormfront. I suppose if you ask to a youngster in the street now about Afrikaans he will look at you as "if he hears it thunder in Cologne" (don't find nothing of translation in my more North Dutch dictionary: looking very surprized and not understanding).

What I learned from the English Wikipedia was the sheer amount of millions of Afrikaans speaking people around the world. And in South Africa it self that Afrikaans "has forlorn" (OOPS that's seems to be Dutch: "heeft verloren" of course I meant "lost") its past oppresive connotation among white, coloured and black youngsters and has an increasing comeback in the commonuty.

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: The development of a language…   Sun 04 Aug 2013, 18:24

Nelson Mandela is a big fan of the Afrikaans language. There is a story that he spoke Afrikaans to either the Netherlands and/or the Belgian prime minister at an international meeting. Not sure of the details of this but I suspect that it could have been with Belgium's Jean-Luc Dehaene at the European Council meeting in Cardiff in 1998. The Welsh capital is, of course, a bilingual city so it would have been in keeping with the spirit of the place. Does anyone know?
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