Re: "Learning" Language -- going offline

Subject: Re: "Learning" Language -- going offline
From: "Smith, Amy" <Amy -dot- Smith -at- FMR -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 7 Dec 1995 14:16:00 -0500

No, no, no, no, no. ONE language's particular grammar is not hardcoded in
anyone's brain! And there are no genes for language. It's not that simple.

I posted my original comments to respond to a thread about teaching and
learning grammar. My original point (to which I still adhere) is that
children do not "learn" the grammar of their native language. They are born
with the ability to recognize and test the grammatical structures of their
native language(s). No one teaches you the syntax of your native language,
for example. Come on, how many of you English-speaking parents leaned over
the crib and whispered "Subject, verb, object." Right, no one. Yet there are
studies showing that children younger than 12 months recognize syntax.
There is an inherent capacity to recognize the grammatical structures of
one's native language. Of course it requires input. Children have to have
exposure to the language. So children of Papua New Guinea learn to recognize
and use the 400 verb forms of their native language (I'm not making that
number up), while speakers of American Standard English learn to recognize
and use the what - six or seven? - verb forms.

BUT, studies such as the one mentioned above, and more, will be covered in
an essay that answers, refutes and addresses questions and comments about
this topic posted to this list. This essay will be turned in as a last
assignment for my linguistics class. My professor (Janet Randall,
Northeastern University) suggested this when I told her about this thread.

If you are interested in this essay, email me privately and I'll be happy to
share it with you (after it's finished, mid-next week).

Thank you all very much for your interest and comments - they have given me
a lot to think about. And they will be addressed with due care and
consideration in my essay.

And yes, this topic is not really directly related to tech writing (so
future discussion on this should be taken off-line), but I hope it's
provided some food for thought.

Amy Smith
Fidelity Investments
amy -dot- smith -at- fmr -dot- com
From: Karen Mayer
To: SY16333; A200613; Multiple recipients of list TECHWR-L
Subject: Re: "Learning" Language
Date: Thursday, December 07, 1995 12:53PM

<<File Attachment: HEADERS.TXT>>

-------------------- ORIGINAL MESSAGE TEXT --------------------
Arlen writes
"It's well
documented that children who are talked to (either in conversation or by
being read to) speak earlier than those who do not. There's no need for any
sort of special "language rules" to be wired in to our brain."

But the current research suggests those rules indeed ARE hardwired into our
brains as our the speech sounds of every language on earth. As we get
older, we learnwhich sounds belong in our language and lose the rest.

-------------------- END OF ORIGINAL MESSAGE --------------------

The current research by *some individuals* does not necessarily mean the
theory is fact. Have they isolated a gene for this "hardwiring?" If so,
can they distinguish which language the gene is hardcoded for? Do Chinese
people have a gene for a Chinese "dialect", whereas French people have a
gene for learning French? Since the grammar of Chinese is so different
from French, one would suspect, based on the hardwiring theory, that the
genes would be easily distinguishable.

I suggest that in this case, as in many others, the theory that the
grammar for a given language came first, and the research is attempting
to prove the theory. I'd really like to know the scientific basis for the
"fact" that a particular language's grammar is hard-coded into the brain
(since the native language isn't determined until after birth). Take a
Russian woman who gives her baby up for adoption to a Chinese family,
which raises the baby in China and speaks nothing but Chinese to the
baby. Does the baby have trouble learning Chinese because he/she was
prewired for Russian? I would think it confusing if all we learn is
vocabulary -- Russian grammar is extremely complex, whereas Chinese is
very simple. Does the little 2 year old build Russian sentences with
Chinese vocabulary?

-- karen mayer
B.A. in Russian (really!)

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