language and mind

March 30, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — teresapelka @ 8:52 am


My progress with my grammar project

Originally posted on Grammar web log:

‘Travelers in Grammar’ is a generative grammar course. Generative grammars show how to build language skills on one’s own, rather than practice memorized formulas.

The name ‘generative’ comes from the notion of generating language and speech, that is, producing written and spoken language independently. The course states clearly that human language does not belong with artificial intelligence. A mild poke on page numbers is to show this.

Naturally, the course is not digitally encoded. The initial parts, Travelers in Grammar 1-4, are to guide the student from the basics to the Upper Intermediate level as recognized with language schools.

The Advanced Traveler and the Proficient Journey aspire to introduce the student to the writing and reading skills at the Advanced and Proficiency levels of international certifications, allowing some insight in American literature.

The work is prepared to meet — with the progress — high school, college, and university standards. However…

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August 1, 2011

The game of the ziggurat – spelling needn’t kill

Filed under: Uncategorized — teresapelka @ 1:47 am

Kids happen to have spelling problems. Telling them to rewrite anything a hundred times might take more than a hundred years to win their hurt feelings back. More, some children happen to be a little dyslexic, not lazy or disaffectionate. Taken the many terms used for reading or writing difficulties, many of those problems happen to be functional, that is, not resulting from irremediable brain damage or brain damage at all – and transitory.

You can’t change the world and all the writing in it, but you might think where the stumbling block could be hidden. What are the letters of the alphabet really? They are symbolic representations for language and speech; they are not language and speech themselves. Looking to the various alphabets in the world – which is the true and only? The Latin? The Greek? Or, the Chinese? Right, the ‘True Type Fonts’ is just a label.

You can ask a dyslexic kid to close his or her eyes and try to draw or paint the letters they have problem with on a large sheet of paper – this happens to help with the directionality one needs to tell a ‘d’ from a ‘b’. But well, doing homework with your eyes closed might not work at times!

Letters are symbols. This is why you can try the game of the ziggurat. I am not offering the game here; I’m just trying to convey the idea. The history of writing may show how humans have developed writing skills – now it just does not need to take ages to learn. :)

In the beginning, human writing could even be only pictures. More, the pictures could represent non-vowel speech sounds. In an Egyptian script, something like ‘ntrprs’ could stand for an ‘enterprise’. On the other hand, ‘ntrprnrl’ could become ‘entrepreneurial’. I tried the trick years ago with kids in their early teens. The kids could use dictionaries. Interestingly, the little ‘bug’ in the words beginning with the ‘enter-’ versus ‘entre-’ did not give them trouble. :)

How do you make the trick work? The simplest is to play it like a game of hangman giving the kid all the non-vowels. For example, [b] and [t] could become a ‘bat’, a ‘bet’, etc. Another version could take making simple pictures you would draw on the blackboard or a sheet of paper.

You could also make playing cards. In the full form of the game as I have invented it, the cards could include non-vowel letter symbols as well as speech sounds. The symbol for a shadoof might go in ‘Chicago’ as well as a ‘shop’. Then, the ziggurat card could be a ‘vowel exempt’ – if you start with a word as short as [b] and [t], the kid to have the ziggurat card could take it all over – kids might begin to feel prone to think about longer words. The cards could be two-sided, one side showing the picture, the other the letter of the alphabet or speech sound. That might help avoid gambling lunch boxes (!) ;)

The important thing would be that kids would think about writing as it really is – a symbolic representation to language. The letter ‘z’ represents a non-vowel sound, yet it could be a ‘vowel exempt’. Figure 1 shows how the card could look like – with a [z] its other side.



July 2, 2011

The traneen in the Boolean

Filed under: Uncategorized — teresapelka @ 11:25 pm

The simple woman I am with some simple preference for more or less as simple mags (not only here), I’d put a table in the set when reading about a logical category ‘chairs’ for both a chair and a plush armchair. I mean, just as well, as for human thinking and logic.

Armchairs might have been not as common in George Boole’s times – as simple a woman as I may think. However, having an armchair for a chair as well as a chair for an armchair is totally out of the question as for my inner logic, the phrase ‘not as common’ when compared with the phrase ‘less common’ sufficiently appeasing my fancy for inner complexity. ;) (Boolean cognitive psychology seems to be based mostly on an ‘and’ and an ‘or’; an ‘as’ could be interesting, too). :)

Armchairs are definitely common enough nowadays. Therefore nope, no agreement to such a concept for thinking universal – George Boole and his followers would be about finding universal laws for thought to underlie all reasoning (please feel welcome to see ‘Is it me, or am I a primitive’ about another idea for ‘universal’ thought).

Could machine learning apply in humans? A machine might operate lexical items like labels. Then you could form a category ‘chair’ for an armchair. Human learners are not going to see armchairs as containing or inclusive of chairs, however. Artificial intelligence will not be representative of human language – even if language might seem illogical itself (please feel welcome to see ‘David Bohm and definition – the routine divorce of thought from language’).

Human thinking is not binary. Humans can and may process options, yet the nervous system forms pools of neural information already at the level of simple motor commands. Producing a simple speech sound like [o] would take a pool of neural information. The all-or-none neural processes to generate the necessary action potentials are not sufficient – an isolated action potential belongs with error to the nervous system (sure for a reason).

Further, humans do not have the tendency to operate arbitrary sets, as permitted by artificial intelligence logic. Trying to take a set like ‘a hat, a piano, the sun, and the King of Sweden’ for a natural concept (like in Feldman) would be actually trying to take human learning for idiosyncratic rote – however you’d imagine a king always wearing a hat or having hat tricks for you when the sun is shining, provided you associate a king with a trick for your logical premise. ;)

Boole’s logic has been of much use in computer sciences. Yet, writing a computer program you are probably aware of the fact that you are writing a computer program. Humans cannot (fortunately) be programmed – please feel welcome to see ‘Language and a program’, a brief post about apples and Chinese pears. :)

Simplicity and feature recognition may be innocent themselves. Multiplying problems and questions could prove totally unhelpful. Human learning a language needs to be generative. George Boole spent part his life in Ireland. ‘Traneen’ could be an Irish English word for a leaf of grass. The choice of the word ‘traneen’, ‘leaf of grass’, or ‘grass leaf’ belonging with the speaker, the surface form might make no difference to the logical content. Please see ‘My Travel’.

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June 27, 2011

Objectivism or objectification – could you need to ‘rewire’?

Filed under: Uncategorized — teresapelka @ 7:44 am

The advertising content over the Internet offers hundreds of thousands of ads telling you to ‘rewire’ your brain – for meditation, psychotherapy, even for love – I really doubt the existence of the last mentioned kind of circuitry.

The web content tells how ‘rewiring’ your brain might change you and your life forever. The argument is that ‘objectively’ there are those ‘circuits’ in your head and you could not even try to manage them on your own. Could that work when you really want to learn a language?

The ‘circuits’ or ‘wires’ would be to take the place of the self in the process. Finding a deficiency in your life – like one to make you want to meditate, talk with a therapist, or even fall in love (if things get that bad ;)) – you should no longer think it is yourself to want change. These are some objects in your brain to need changing and here is this wise guy to do this for you just right, provided you drop him or her a little cash.

Ousting the self from decision making is not anything new in human history. The ‘erudite’ Freudian ‘id’ might be a classic example of externalization. ‘It’s not me, it’s the it, the thing’ – the psychoanalyst would be telling throughout his work. Further, Freud would see the thing about others more than about himself, projecting his rather nominalist[1] attitude to language on his patients – classic externalization.

‘Out of my self onto others’: but the thing would not go easy. Part the function of the pronoun – the ancient Latin ‘id’[2] was more or less like the contemporary English ‘it’ – remains anaphoric. As Merriam-Webster says, an anaphoric lexical item would bea word or phrase that takes its reference from another word or phrase and especially from a preceding word or phrase’.

In German, apparently the working language for Freud, the anaphoric functions happen to go into an interplay with articles, like in German demonstratives. German allows omitting the demonstrative before the possessive idiomatically, provided there is a person’s name. Freud tried to employ his patients’ names in his theory.

A possibly interesting interplay when consciously used in a literary workshop and maybe part T.S. Eliot‘s work[3], language structures would not form a separate entity in a human head. By the way, the notion of a drive itself as used by the psychoanalyst is becoming more and more abandoned in contemporary America for the sake of the notion of a preference – comprehensibly, when one looks to the possible implications of the use. Well then, could a language learner, someone aspiring to be not functionally monolingual, ‘rewire’ their brain for better results?

First, there are no literally ‘wires’ or ‘circuits’ in human brains. The ‘objective’ argument is not objective. The learner would need to rely on a kind of fiction to build real language skills. The fiction would take seeing their own language skills as an object, a thing. The learner would not get anything objective. They would get objectification – making a thing of what is not really just a thing or a separate agency.

You might say it is good at least to try to motivate yourself. ‘If I imagine a peacock blue mouse helping me out and I come up with a quality language output, who’s there to tell me to stop imagining the peacock blue mouse?’ OK, I’d say, you keep the peacock blue mouse provided it is not a ghostwriter. Yet, one day it may have no ideas for you.

Therefore, my answer would be and is: definitely, absolutely, and totally – no. Viewing your brain like a thing or circuitry to be managed will not work. However a body part, your brain has got much more to do with your identity and cognition than just some ‘it’, or ‘that’. The student needs to consider language skills workable to himself or herself, not to ‘this something in’ that either makes it or not[4].

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[1] Freud’s language use could be functionally monolingual, that is, of a person having one language for their working capacity. Functionally monolingual persons may be capable of interpreting other languages. However, they translate terms foreign to them into their working capacity and may tend to superimpose this capacity on the other languages they use. Freud’s use of Latin might be an example (‘What time was it for Sigismundus?’ is another project of mine).

[2] Latin would have other interesting language items, like ‘idem’; ‘alter idem’ happened to mean ‘another me’. The Latin ‘ibi’ happened to be used to provide reference in space or time.

[3] T.S. Eliot has been associated with the so-called ‘objective correlative‘ writing technique. ‘Prufrock was not a proper name’, he wrote.

[4] Please allow a little test. Imagine a choice like ‘It having been Lamarck to say’, or ‘It being already Lamarck to have said’. Much is going to depend on your perspective. As a teacher I told the students to try to view language as a dimension in which they would be themselves.

April 22, 2011

Gaming representation – would the human being be a ‘representational animal’?

Filed under: language, language use, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — teresapelka @ 11:38 pm

‘Representation’ might be claimed the most gamed or sported notion in history. Connotations for the human being would be part the sport, unless they would turn out a philosopher’s classic envy.

Aristotle used a very neat Greek term for animate life forms, zoon. The ancient Greek zao is reported to have meant ‘I live’. The first person singular would definitely exclude creatures such as kittens from the scope of the predication. Simply speaking, the translation of the Greek zoon as the contemporary English ‘animal’ might not have all the necessary substance.

I love kittens and they are perfect live forms when they animate themselves on wool. My point is about the difference between connotation and denotation as in contemporary linguistics. I am a philologist, not a philosopher – I hope to avoid the perils of professional envy ;)

Connotation might convey or suggest a meaning apart from the very defined object. Denotation should provide ‘direct and specific meaning as distinct from additional suggestion’[1]. How would matters be with the philosopher’s ‘animal’? The denotation would be vague. The kingdom Animalia, or the animal kingdom, would take its name from Latin, not Greek. As for connotation, contemporary formal and official language uses might find it sensitive.

Well, I’ll stay by the ‘animate life form’ – human mobility was probably part Aristotle’s picture when he construed his notions on humans.

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Links to resources on Latin and the notion of ‘representational animal’.

Perseus gives some further details on the Latin ‘animalis’[2]. The ‘animans’[3] and ‘animal’[4] happened to be used in contrast to plants and humans. An animal was termed ‘bestia’[5] in Latin.

‘Representational animal’

‘For many philosophers, both ancient and modern, man is regarded as the “representational animal” or homo symbolicum, the creature whose distinct character is the creation and the manipulation of signs – things that “stand for” or “take the place of” something else.’ Wikipedia on representation arts,

[1] “denotation.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002.

April 15, 2011

Not a lonely reflex – I have a few ‘brain knee jerks’

Everyone knows what a knee jerk is and many would oppose the idea of developing the kind of behavior in their brains. Still, I will venture into trying to propagate the thought as economical and advantageous to the very proprietor of the stated behavior. The knee jerk is not so bad. Without having to be given much thought, it does for you exactly what it should – helps your balance.

Seriously speaking, there obviously are not any ‘knee jerks’ in the brain. The local, monosynaptic reflex is not managed by the central nervous system. The brain does not even use monosynaptic processes. Does it have reflexes?

The misunderstanding about reflexes is that they seem involuntary to many people. You say something is reflex when you mean it is not intended. The fact is that humans use reflexes for language and that those reflexes can change.

Let us take writing. I had to write phonetic transcriptions when I studied and my ‘ɑ’ for the letter ‘a’ happened to ‘kick in’ – the phonetic [ɑ] happens to stand for another type of a sound. I changed my handwritten ‘ɑ’ to ‘a’, like printed, and it has stayed so ever since. Now my reflex is to write ‘a’ for ‘ɑ’. I changed my reflex volitionally. It did not even take anything like a substantial amount of time.

Speech could be just the same. You do not think how to produce particular speech sounds. You make your [th], for example, without consciously analyzing how to position your tongue. Should you happen to need any dental intervention, your brain is going to bring your [th] into your awareness. However, just with a little practice, you’re likely to make your [th] without much focus again.

What would be reflexes doing? They’d be saving the brain’s working capacity. Paying attention to all details for language could take up your brain completely – you might need to make notes for yourself in order not to forget what you wanted to say before you analyze all the details in how to say it. Instead, the brain has reflexes to embrace contextual clusters – you do not need to remember not to say the final [b] in ‘comb’, for example. You do say the [b] in ‘combat’, however.

Working out reflexes for yourself might help also in grammar – this in another post ‘My Travel’.

Back with the ‘brain knee jerk’ thing: they say you couldn’t be the top of the world – ‘knee jerk them’; one couldn’t need to be the top of the world to have a good day :)

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April 13, 2011

Language as a program – natural language processing versus ‘neurolinguistic programming’

People have the tendency to put things in order and keep them neat tidy. Categories, labels, tags, and markers are to give objects some structured arrangement – sometimes mistaken for meaning.

I do not mean that keeping things regular and straight makes no sense. Already my files on my computer would become unmanageable without folders. Parallels and comparisons may help see things – myself I’d be ‘guilty’ of using the parallel between language and a program. Yet I’m not really a criminal. Actually, I’m about to plead innocent of considering language any programming device.

Why compare language and a program? Imagine you would like to discuss something like feedback phenomena. You don’t like the label ‘feedback phenomena’, let’s name them the Chinese pear. You’d like to write your thesis about your Chinese pear – and your master’s degree is a Buick convertible kind of a feeling to you, that is, really, really good. What do you do? You think about your Chinese pear and apples. There are some similarities and there are some differences. Telling the pear from the apple gives you your fancy.

Please remember that the above is just an illustration, I had to do some hard work for that (my thesis). The work I’ve done has given me ground to go about my another Chinese pear, my grammar book – definitely serious work I am doing at the present.

Back to languages and programs, there is a misunderstanding about the alleged use of IT terms in linguistics. The word ‘program’ comes from Greek. Centuries ago, it meant ‘to set forth’, ‘write before’ – right, it’s a ‘we-were-here-before’ type of a case[1]. IT happens to be used in some, but not all branches of linguistics.

The purpose of those IT models is to try to reflect on how brain cells might be working really when processing language. The reason is the fact that live neurons tend to remain active; they are like a lit structure – the lights being on everywhere, you can’t tell anything by the light. You have to try to make a model to see how things might be working.

Back to humans and their language skills, your language capacity could not be anywhere outside your head. You could not need to ‘connect to a server’ in order to speak. Your language knowledge has to be stored physically in your brain – the brain is a physical structure. This is how language happens to be compared with a program. This is your language knowledge to tell your brain how to work when you want to say something. These are neurons to tell your lungs and tongue how to function in producing speech sounds.

A program may be defined as a formal system to part determine the work of a physical structure. Your language knowledge would be the formal system and your brain the physical structure. Why should your language knowledge be formal? ‘Formal’ relates to form here. People can speak many languages. The brain of a speaker of American English will have language forms different from those in a speaker of French, for example. Obviously, the example does not include American speakers of French and French speakers of American. Your language use can be very colloquial; still, it is going to have a language form.

The parallel might be useful when telling apples (for example, programs) from pears (feedback phenomena)[2]. It would not mandate projections, however. Human brains could not be programmed – ‘the pears would not allow it’. The so-called ‘neurolinguistic programming’ would be a projection on natural language processing, in which there is some role of reflex. However, this deserves a separate consideration, in another post (‘Not a lonely reflex‘).

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[1] The case is the same with the word ‘cybernetics’.

[2] I know I say that my grammar idea is my another Chinese pear. Grammar would be a program therefore an apple, someone might say. Well, there is no need to build referential systems for all comparisons. It’s just my Chinese Pear :) Please see ‘Grammar – why think about space?‘ or ‘My travel‘ for more details about my grammar project.

April 10, 2011

Inner speech – the ‘inner voice’?

The archiphoneme or not the archiphoneme – that is the question.

Please try a very simple exercise. Fix your gaze on anything – your morning cup of tea or coffee, your bookcase trinket, or whatnot. The thing you’d be looking at would not matter much. The stunt would be to look at something and think absolutely nothing.

‘I could do that stunt regular’, you might say. ‘It’s starting in the right chapter I’d be less enthusiastic about’.

Hardly anyone would dispute the possibility of the right chapter’s being a different thing. Yet, thinking about literally nothing is more difficult than it might seem. You can keep a wristwatch to see how long you actually think nothing. Sooner than later, something’s sure to pop up in your head. ‘Sooner than later’ meaning seconds.

What is thinking? ‘The action of using one’s mind to produce thoughts; action marked by use of the intellect, cogitation, cerebration’, the dictionary says[1]. Greek philosophers sculpted in pensive body positions could be the picture. However, the fact is that live human brains have a continual tendency to produce a process. The processes could remain ‘in the background’. If you try to focus on them, you notice they involve trace speech qualities. You notice your inner speech.

‘What are those guys with the inner speech about?’ you might ask. ‘Anyone to tell me I got voices in my head? I only notice them and they grab my attention?’

Whatsoever. Inner speech is not a voice and it is not voices. It involves trace speech qualities. This means there aren’t whole phrases, words, or even speech sounds. Inner speech uses only traces, minute aspects of speech sounds. You don’t hear them – you can’t produce a speech sound without using your mouth. Those traces are how you remember your own language ability.


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