language processing

Apples grow on noses: two languages – two minds?

“Speaking a second language can change everything from problem-solving skills to personality. It is almost as if you are two people”, says Catherine de Lange.

 

“Mon espirit paratage — My two minds”, appeared in the New Scientist of May 5th, 2012. Ms. de Lange compares monolingual and bilingual children. The Washington Post has included the article online.

 

 

Ms. de Lange describes her testing children on syntax. Syntax is about the way we phrase our talk or writing.

 

“Both monolinguals and bilinguals could see the mistake in phrases such as “apples growed on trees”, but differences arose when they considered nonsensical sentences such as “apples grow on noses”. The monolinguals, flummoxed by the silliness of the phrase, incorrectly reported an error, whereas the bilinguals gave the right answer”, says Ms. de Lange.

 

Monolingual or multilingual, children get to hear or read fairy tales. It does not matter, if the kid speaks one or more languages. It is important that the child comprehends the words: there was a fairy land, a long time ago, where apples grew on noses.

 

Figurative thinking does not disturb syntax, and more, children learn early that words can have more than one meaning, also when the talk is for real. Whether in one or many languages ― but dependent on pragmatics ― we could or could not count any noses in picture 1. The Big Apple Corner in picture 2 only might have apples.

 

Language pragmatics deals with talk in context and with work on ambiguity.

 

 

PICTURE 1. IS THERE EVEN ONE NOSE IN THE PICTURE, IF WE DO NOT KNOW WHAT NOSES COUNT?

 

Noses

 

PICTURE 2. DO APPLES GROW SQUARE, IF WE HAVE BIG APPLE CORNERS?

 

apples

 

Thinking psycholinguistics for the science, the task was most probably deictically misconstrued. The children did not know what noses the talk was about, and thus if to focus on syntax or pragmatics.

 

 

Ms. de Lange says she speaks English and French. Humorously, but to follow her observations, with English and French, we would have to imagine monolingual people carrying shields instead of umbrellas, for heavy rain. They would be the people to get “flummoxed” with figures of speech, and it rains halberds in French, when it rains cats and dogs in English (in which latter case we would have to think monolingual people cannot keep appointments, staying home).

 

We would have to dread multilingual medics, fearing they would be the people to take cardiac cases for a game of opinion. They would be the people not to care what a matter literally might denote.

 

Quite seriously, both English and French have spoken and written forms. What we write as “bread” in English is “un pain”, in French.

 

 

Boy eating bread

 

Not only to a child, a test to neglect word sense would be a sort of mal a l’oreille. Without semantics, a multlilingual person would be left with some “phonological interface” only, for linguistic discernment.

 

What is likely to happen then (and I believe happened, in Ms. de Lange study), people go “surfing” the language form. The “surfing” is not a developmental stage. Monolingual or multilingual, very young or more advanced in age, people can learn to “surf” ― for a joke.

 

Natural language progress for syntax is more likely to have virtual or invented words. They have an extra advantage. They let exercise speech sounds without the flummoxing that verbal associations might bring, especially to very young minds:
[th] is the sound in mother;
[th] is the sound in father
[th] is the sound in brother;
[th] is the sound in… pother. 😉

 

We do not have to depend on nature; we can encourage syntax, in children as well as grown-up people. A car rolls, a doll dances, a troll hops, and a ball bounces. Toys are things. They can be “phimos”. Every phimo can bimo. Before long, a learner may tell easy, if we are correct saying,

 

The phimo bimo;
or if we should say,
The phimo bimoes. 🙂

 

Phimos can bimo.

 

Multilingualism is becoming an everyday thing in more and more countries and cultures. I like that.

 

I do not like bias about language and mentality. The simple, common sense fact of life is that bread is bread, whether a person speaks one or more languages.

 

Generally, experimentation on children raises ethical concerns, and honestly, for language acquisition, there is no need to experiment: it is enough to listen and talk. I have never experimented, and I would have mixed feelings. When you experiment, you introduce factors that naturally would not be there. A very serious ethical concern comes with Ms. de Lange reporting infant brain scans for experimental purposes. There is no way to obtain informed consent from an infant. Feel welcome to read why I do not see sense about such scans.

 

 

Naturalness does not require we never try anything novel. The method here would not fit an experiment well. I invented it in childhood, worked on it for some 30 years for own language progress, it is complete, and it does not have the “open ends” that experimentation explores. Feel also welcome.

 

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Burning the Flag ― where is the language?

The legal profession is a depth of recondite detail the Supreme Court has the expertise firmly to deliberate.

 

United States versus Eichman, United States versus Haggerty, Texas versus Johnson: all cases argued freedom of speech under the First Amendment. The Amendment says, Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.

 

 

The Supreme Court holding on Eichman says:
“The government’s interest in preserving the flag as a symbol did not outweigh the individual right to disparage that symbol through expressive conduct.”

 

What is the meaning of a national flag? It symbolizes: the country, the people, and the language. The Flag does not correlate with the authorities only.

 

flag-associations-2

 

Even if you do not like anybody around, would rather live in a tent, make own clothes,  and hunt for food ― all that to liberate yourself of American capitalism ― the nonsense of burning the Flag remains appalling, if to think about cause and effect.

 

There never would be the Constitution ― what follows, the Amendments ― without the people who fought for American freedom, also in Fort McHenry, about which the American anthem tells. The Flag continues to symbolize them.

 

flag-associations-3

 

Further, can we have burning for a speech act? Is there a speech sound produced, if the human sits silently by a campfire, warming his or her hands? Is there any written or printed language to emerge from the flame? Could the wood or coal crackling and hissing make stanzas, quatrains, epodes? Could we hear an anacrusis?

 

A national Flag symbolizes the language as-is and all-in-all, therefore I take the precedent for reasonable associations. The fact remains the Flag symbolizes, but it is not language, also unburned.

 

 

The First Amendment says that people have the right to the freedom of speech. The Amendment does not say, *”Congress shall make no law abridging expressive conduct in association with speech and language…” Fortunately: human expressive behaviors are a very wide spectrum part of which belongs under parental guidance and is not language at all.

 

At the same time, I would not uphold the term of “Flag desecration”. The word desecration suggests abuse on sanctity. I think flags are for people, as books and knowledge on language.

 

I have put images of the American flag on my American English grammar books, which are absolutely my human work.

 

I do not support the Supreme Court verdict. I hope time will bring legislation to discern physically abusive behaviors from speech and language, as well as allow national symbols in the hands of the people: it should be a public vote to decide on the matter.