4.0501 Language Learning (4/107)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 18 Sep 90 22:45:09 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0501. Tuesday, 18 Sep 1990.

(1) Date: Tue, 18 Sep 90 09:40:35 MDT (31 lines)
From: Skip Knox <DUSKNOX@IDBSU>
Subject: Re: 4.0495 Language Learning

(2) Date: Mon, 17 Sep 90 21:18 CDT (7 lines)
From: Michael Ossar <MLO@KSUVM>
Subject: language learning

(3) Date: Tue, 18 Sep 90 08:45:15 +0200 (53 lines)
From: Roland Hjerppe <rhj@IDA.LiU.SE>
Subject: Re: 4.0495 Language Learning

(4) Date: Tue, 18 Sep 90 20:57 EDT (16 lines)
Subject: language learning

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 18 Sep 90 09:40:35 MDT
From: Skip Knox <DUSKNOX@IDBSU>
Subject: Re: 4.0495 Language Learning (4/213)

D.M. Church talks about the experience we've all had of meeting a person
who says they took a language in school but can now neither speak nor
read a word of it. I'm not sure that's entirely the fault of the

Europeans are taught English in their schools (how many years, I wonder),
but they have a further advantage. English is a culturally dominant
language. The Europeans are exposed to music in English, movies in
English, magazines in English, English-speaking tourists. I live in a
city of 100,000 people and I have to work to find even a foreign-
language magazine. Foreign-language movies and music are even harder to

I may have taken two years of French, but unless I'm a very unusual sort
of person, I'll likely not hear a full sentence spoken in French for the
rest of my life. Without a constant exposure to the language, how can I
be expected to retain the skill? If I can't be expected to remember the
tongue, why learn it in the first place?

This may sound like a volte face to those who recall my earlier posting,
but I've never been intimidated by my own arguments. :-)

Ellis 'Skip' Knox, Ph.D.
Historian, Data Center Associate
Boise State University DUSKNOX@IDBSU.IDBSU.EDU
Boise, Idaho 83725
(208) 385-1315
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------15----
Date: Mon, 17 Sep 90 21:18 CDT
From: Michael Ossar <MLO@KSUVM>
Subject: language learning

Not only did Elias Canetti learn German well enough in six weeks of
"totalitarian teaching" in a Swiss boarding house to handle school in
Austria; he also went on to win a Nobel Prize for his writing (in German).
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------69----
Date: Tue, 18 Sep 90 08:45:15 +0200
From: Roland Hjerppe <rhj@IDA.LiU.SE>
Subject: Re: 4.0495 Language Learning (4/213)

James O'Donnell asks:

"And is there any good work on multilingual
skills in contexts where linguistic frontiers are many and fluid? In a
mostly non-literate society, dialectal variation from one village to
another is fairly pronounced and the traveler quickly finds himself
astray in a Babel-like world; and yet (this is *very* interesting)
ancient and medieval works very rarely speak of people requiring
translators: they made do somehow. I suspect partly by accepting a less
precise level of competence than we, under the influence of written
texts and grammar-book-wielding teachers, will tolerate. Think how
bashful we are of expressing ourselves in another language until we have
vocabulary, syntax, and grammar correct: banish those very literate
anxieties, and the task ought to be much easier -- more like the way it
appears to small children."

Ivan Illich and Barry Sanders make many interesting points in their book
"ABC The Aphabetization of the Popular Mind", e.g.

'One obstacle most moder readers face when they want to study the history
of "language" is their belief in monoloingual man.'
'Another landmark in the history of language occurred on August18, 1492
- just fifteen days after Columbus had set sail - when a Spaniard named
Elio Antonio de Nebrija published the first grammar in any modern European
language, the Grammatica Castellana, which attempted to reduce vernacular
tongue to rules of grammar. Nebrija goes beyond the Carolingian Scribe, who
listened to Frankish depositions and wrote them down in Latin. He demands
that Spanish be madeinto a language that is not spoken, but that serves
to record speech.
The six page introduction to the Grammatica presents a concise and powerful
argument why the new age , dawning when Columbus departed, called for the
replacement of the vernacular speech of the people by a language - an
"artifact" - that all people must henceforth be taught."

Everyone who is interested in texts, books and language should read this book,
"only" 128 pages but full of interesting stuff.

Roland Hjerppe
Dept. of Computer and Information Science
Linkoping University
S-581 83 Linkoping

Internet: rhj@ida.liu.se T. +46 13 281965
BITNET: rhj@SELIUIDA F. +46 13 142231

(4) --------------------------------------------------------------18----
Date: Tue, 18 Sep 90 20:57 EDT
Subject: language learning

D.M. Church's anecdote about how Vanderbilt some years ago gave students
the option of learning a language or continuing to study mathematics
brings to mind a lovely anecdote about the physical chemist Josiah
Willard Gibbs.

Some time, I think, in the 1880's, the Yale faculty was debating whether
mathematics or classical languages were better for "training the mind."
After the debate had raged for hours, Gibbs stood up and said,
"Gentlemen, mathematics _is_ a classical language."
John Burt
Brandeis University