Re: Ending a sentence with a preposition (and split infinitives)

Subject: Re: Ending a sentence with a preposition (and split infinitives)
From: Robert Justice <rjustice -at- INFORMIX -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 24 Sep 1996 14:19:17 -0500

Steve wrote,

>Besides, if our brains are "hardwired"
>for one language, does that mean that we can't learn other languages equally

Yes, it means precisely that. The latest brain research (discussed just last
week on NPR, in fact) shows that in the first year of life, a newborn's
brain is EXTREMELY malleable and forms synaptic connections in direct
response to the language(s) used around him/her. If that baby is part of a
bilingual environment, he/she will develop separate synaptic connections for
each of the languages being spoken. Past the age of six or so (I forget the
exact age), the brain is far less malleable, and instead of forming a new
set of synaptic connections for each language, the brain will simply use the
same synaptic connections used for the native language. One unfortunate
result is that, however well you may study the grammar and diction of a
"foreign language," you will never be able to eliminate a spoken accent.
That accent is the result of your inability to hear or effortlessly hear
subtle distinctions of sound peculiar to the "foreign language." That
inability exists because you are using a set of synaptic connections that
were formed in direct response to your native language, instead of a
separate set of connections "hardwired" specifically for the "foreign language."

The sad fact is that once our brain is past this point of extreme
malleability, we are at a disadvantage in the acquiring of new languages.
This does not mean that we cannot be fluent, etc., but it does mean that we
cannot expect to learn said languages "equally well" in all the various
aspects of language acquisition.

>If one is of mixed ancestry, what languages are hardwired? No, I think that
>way lies trouble...

The "hardwiring" discussed above (ie. the influence of early synaptic
connections on language acquisition) has nothing to do with ancestry.
Instead, it is the result of the environment the child is raised in.

A side note: This discussion does not in any try to take sides on the wider
Nature vs. Nurture debate. The two are forever intertwined.

Robert Justice
rjustice -at- informix -dot- com

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