Language creation

Discuss various aspects of natural language.

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Re: Language creation

#121  Postby Steviepinhead » Mar 10, 2010 8:19 pm

Wezentrommel wrote:
Steviepinhead wrote:
You can't learn to speak a language by merely being able to read it.

Well, to be technical and picky, one could probably achieve understandable fluency in most languages if one's "reading" included some sort of a key (like the IPA) which compared the sounds -- and the written representation of them -- in the new language to the sounds already familiar to the novice speaker from his or her own language (or other languages with which the speaker had some acquaintance, e.g., if you told me that a given sound x was to be pronounced in the back of the throat "like the German 'ch' in 'Bach'," or even if you told me that a given consonant was to be, whatever, produced with the tip of the tongue against the lingual aspect of the incisors, voiceless, aspirated, ... I'm probably abusing some of those terms! :lol: ).

I of course agree that this would not produce perfect "native" fluency.

And if our example is to be a situation where it's ambiguous or unknown what sounds are represented by what symbols, then clearly we don't have an IPA-like key to read from, in which case the quoted statement stands.


In the context, I think "speaking a language" means "with understanding", and if so none of this would be relevant.

Well, you could be right, for some restricted definitions of "language" (where, as I indicated in the bold, we may know that a language existed, because we have a symbolic/graphic representation of it, but where we have neither a key to "understanding" -- vocabulary and syntax -- or a key to pronunciation). Where we do have those things, however, then just being able to "read" a new language would be no bar to a decent speaking/hearing "understanding," though might again be insufficient for achieving a fluency that would fully mimick a native speaker's.

Or, if you still mean to disagree in the latter (we have keys to meaning and sound), but not the former (we don't), case, then you haven't explained how.
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Re: Language creation

#122  Postby katja z » Mar 10, 2010 8:35 pm

Steviepinhead wrote:In my sampling, however, I did not see much in the way of a realistic discussion of where a given population of language-capable speakers is supposed to have "come from." <snip>


Very nice post, Steviepinhead. Good discussion of the problem of isolates as linked to the history of human migrations. :cheers:
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Re: Language creation

#123  Postby Steviepinhead » Mar 10, 2010 9:13 pm

Ta!

I thunk long and hard about it. Well, at least, erm, long... :dance:

I perhaps should have added, that just because two groups can be linked linguistically does not mean that they will turn out to be closely linked genetically, and vice versa. Sometimes a distinct genetic subpopulation will adopt a trade language or the language of a dominant population or will borrow so extensively (as with the amount of french/latinate borrowings in English, larded atop of a germanic substrate) that it becomes difficult to distinguish the underlying "native" language through the overlayment of borrowings.

And, of course, this makes accurate linguistic reconstruction even more of a hazardous occupation (I think there was some discussion upthread of "horizontal" spread of language and culture...).

This is the case, for example, with Haida, the indigenous language spoken on the Queen Charlotte (aka "Haida Gwaii") islands off of British Columbia (which also spread in immediate pre-contact times to the southern islands of the southeast Alaska archipelago). Some linguists relate it distantly to Na-Dene (which includes Tlingit, Eyak, Athabaskan, and thus Navajo and Apache, and -- who knows -- maybe even Basque and Caucasian), but the problem has been a large overlay of borrowings from Tlingit, which appears to have happened all along in a trickle, but to have peaked at at least two different times in the past. Some linguists relate it distantly to a rapidly-vanishing group of Siberian languages (and I don't mean languages of the very NE tip of Siberia, "just" across the Bering Strait, but languages of mid-north eurasian Siberia), of which only one still retains native speakers (Yeneisian, or something like that, IIRC). But the problem there is that the Siberian speakers are genetically dissimilar to the peoples of the northwest coast of North America. For reasons like those given above, that doesn't mean that the Central Siberian-Haida connection is invalid, but it does undercut the connection to some extent (as compared with the situation where the Siberians and Haidas not only exhibited certain linguistic similarities, but genetic ties...).

Heck, one could even construct a complicated out-of-midnorth-Asia in several waves "just so" story. First the ancestral Haidas island-hopped across the Aleutians after wandering far northeast from their origins, then, maybe five thousand years later, ancestral Na-Denes forayed out from north-central asia in a second wave across the Bering Sea, with one group (Eyaks/Tlingits) branching down the Gulf of Alaska coast while the other (Athabaskan) branch fared through interior Alaska and B.C. to the intermountain west. Meanwhile, the remnants of the original Siberian speaking-group were genetically overwhelmed by incoming populations with other genetic markers, though a few iconoclasts managed to continue speaking the original language of the area...

But it's a lot simpler just to label Haida as a mysterious and intriguing "isolate." And, given the difficulties of reconstruction in this case, which may conceivably require "unwinding" a 20,000+ year history of population and linguistic splits, borrowings, and so forth (the time horizon from proto-Indo-European to the current daughter languages is on the order of seven to nine thousand years, less than half the likely glottochronological time depth of the Haida case, even if we round Indo-European up to ten thousand years and extend charity to the Haida-NaDene or Haida-Yeniesian proponents), calling Haida an "isolate" language probably remains, at least for now, the most accurate approach.

Now if all those, er, overpaid and underworked field linguists would just get to cracking, we could get some of these fascinating questions resolved in short order...! :dopey:
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Re: Language creation

#124  Postby katja z » Mar 10, 2010 9:41 pm

I perhaps should have added, that just because two groups can be linked linguistically does not mean that they will turn out to be closely linked genetically, and vice versa.

Certainly. One of the most fascinating cases I know of is Pygmy groups in the Congo basin who generally use the languages of their Bantu neighbours (sorry, can't supply any names off the top of my head).

Sometimes a distinct genetic subpopulation will adopt a trade language or the language of a dominant population

An interesting point here is that it's not always the dominated group that adopts the language of the dominant one. Take the Normans, who adopted French. Or the Franks who were a conquering Germanic tribe and ended up speaking the Romance language of the conquered.

or will borrow so extensively (as with the amount of french/latinate borrowings in English, larded atop of a germanic substrate) that it becomes difficult to distinguish the underlying "native" language through the overlayment of borrowings.

Well, if you look at the core vocabulary of English and at the grammar, you can still recognize a Germanic language. Although I quite like the hypothesis that modern English is the result of a creolization process following the Norman conquest :grin:
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Re: Language creation

#125  Postby Agrippina » Mar 11, 2010 3:01 am

That's a good post, Steviepinhead, and what I said about 8 pages back, only said a lot better than I did. :cheers:
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Re: Re:

#126  Postby justanillusion » Mar 11, 2010 7:18 am

Agrippina wrote:
Wezentrommel wrote:
katja z wrote:

Well, it certainly wouldn't work with a recording! But if you actually lived in a community where that language is spoken, you would gradually pick it up, asking how things are called, observing situations of communication and so on.


But the question was, could you learn a language without the help of a native speaker.


Surely in order to hear the sounds and inflexions you need to hear it spoken by a native speaker. You can't learn to speak a language by merely being able to read it.

Archeologists needed the Rosetta Stone to be able to decipher Egyptian Hieroglyphics, they weren't able to read them without it.


Latecomer to the thread, but this discussion fascinates me ;)

There are two separate sides to this problem: 1. deciphering an uknown script in an unknown language. I can't see that being possible for an alien script. Although there are only several possibilities how to construct a writing system, they may only be a limitation on human writing systems. Identifying whether you're dealing with an alphabet, a syllabary or a logophonetic system is the first stage in any decipherment attempt (and for human scripts, one can do it without knowing the underlying language, that's where we are with Linear A or the Phaistos disc). Theoretically, you couldn't do that with an alien script (or could you? How universal are human universals?).

The subsequent stage of every decipherment depends on knowing (a little of) the underlying language. A Rosetta stone, triscriptural as it is, is a decipherer's dream, but even Champollion started off the classical way -- with identifying known names. This gives you a basic inventory of signs, plus, even in logophonetic scripts, names - and especially foreign names, Champollion had the Greek kings - are often written phonetically. Champollion also knew the underlying language of the Rosetta stone, or more precisely, its descendant, Coptic. So he could make guesses if he had partially deciphered a word by means of his basic signary.

All these factors come to play. While machines make deciphering and decoding faster and easier, I still cannot imagine what could one feed a machine in order to have it decipher an unknown script in an unknown language with no prior knowledge even of what the text was about.

2. Learning a spoken language "without active help of the native speakers". That depends on the definition of "active help". If you live with them and listen, and make your attempts to speak, natives speakers will probably correct you (or their actions will). You can't really filter their participation out.
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Re: Language creation

#127  Postby Wezentrommel » Mar 11, 2010 1:39 pm

Steviepinhead wrote:

In the context, I think "speaking a language" means "with understanding", and if so none of this would be relevant.

Well, you could be right, for some restricted definitions of "language" (where, as I indicated in the bold, we may know that a language existed, because we have a symbolic/graphic representation of it, but where we have neither a key to "understanding" -- vocabulary and syntax -- or a key to pronunciation). Where we do have those things, however, then just being able to "read" a new language would be no bar to a decent speaking/hearing "understanding," though might again be insufficient for achieving a fluency that would fully mimick a native speaker's.

Or, if you still mean to disagree in the latter (we have keys to meaning and sound), but not the former (we don't), case, then you haven't explained how.[/quote]

I don't find this response easy to understand.

I could read Afrikaans out loud, the pronunciation rules aren't difficult. An Afrikaans speaker listening to me would understand what I was saying, but I wouldn't, because I don't know the vocabulary. Even if I sounded like a native speaker to a native speaker, I wouldn't say I was fluent in Afrikaans, or speaking Afrikaans fluently. Would you?
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Re: Re:

#128  Postby Wezentrommel » Mar 11, 2010 2:09 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote:

I just did some quick research and apparently he's still quite popular in the US, so I don't know whether that's where you are or whether your university is heavily influenced by American thinking but from the linguists I've spoken with they all seemed to think he was fairly irrelevant. But my area is psychology, so I only tend to converse with linguists who have some scientific agenda, such as evolutionary history, neuroscience etc. so maybe those guys are a little different. I know that in science, particularly psychology, he is looked at as a mistaken relic.


Oh dear, this is a bit sad Mr. Samsa. I can't help thinking you have adopted a position that isn't going to help you in the long run.

When I look at discussions of Chomsky vs. Skinner, or for example the article about Behaviourism in the Stanford Encyclopedia, I find that the general opinion is that Chomsky was basically right about language, and Skinner was basically wrong, and that dealt a blow to Behaviourism from which it has never recovered.



"Chomsky has been one of behaviorism's most successful and damaging critics. In a review of Skinner's book on verbal behavior (see above), Chomsky (1959) charged that behaviorist models of language learning cannot explain various facts about language acquisition, such as the rapid acquisition of language by young children, which is sometimes referred to as the phenomenon of “lexical explosion.” A child's linguistic abilities appear to be radically underdetermined by the evidence of verbal behavior offered to the child in the short period in which he or she expresses those abilities. By the age of four or five (normal) children have an almost limitless capacity to understand and produce sentences which they have never heard before. Chomsky also argued that it seems just not to be true that language learning depends on the application of reinforcement. A child does not, as an English speaker in the presence of a house, utter “house” repeatedly in the presence of reinforcing elders. Language as such seems to be learned without, in a sense, being taught, and behaviorism doesn't offer an account of how this could be so. Chomsky's own speculations about the psychological realities underlying language development included the hypothesis that the rules or principles underlying linguistic behavior are abstract (applying to all human languages) and innate (part of our native psychological endowment as human beings). When put to the test of uttering a grammatical sentence, a person, for Chomsky, has a virtually infinite number of possible responses available, and the only way in which to understand this virtually infinite generative capacity is to suppose that a person possesses a powerful and abstract innate grammar (underlying whatever competence he or she may have in one or more particular natural languages).

The problem to which Chomsky refers, which is the problem of behavioral competence and thus performance outstripping individual learning histories, seems to go beyond merely the issue of linguistic behavior in young children. It appears to be a fundamental fact about human beings that our behavior and behavioral capacities often surpass the limitations of individual reinforcement histories. Our history of reinforcement is often too impoverished to determine uniquely what we do or how we do it. Much learning, therefore, seems to require pre-existing or innate representational structures or principled constraints within which learning occurs.


I can see that behaviourism still has something to offer. The Stanford article states that "robust elements of behaviorism survive in both behavior therapy and laboratory-based animal learning theory" But it goes on to say "Elements, however, are elements. Behaviorism is no longer a dominating research program".

I'm not sure you are going to have a happy time here in the Linguistics forum until you come to terms with the above.
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Re: Re:

#129  Postby Mr.Samsa » Mar 11, 2010 9:51 pm

Wezentrommel wrote:
Oh dear, this is a bit sad Mr. Samsa. I can't help thinking you have adopted a position that isn't going to help you in the long run.


:lol: I appreciate your concern but I'll be fine as I get my science information from accurate peer-reviewed sources, and not a) a glorified wikipedia site, and b) philosophers.

Wezentrommel wrote:When I look at discussions of Chomsky vs. Skinner, or for example the article about Behaviourism in the Stanford Encyclopedia, I find that the general opinion is that Chomsky was basically right about language, and Skinner was basically wrong, and that dealt a blow to Behaviourism from which it has never recovered.


Chomsky right about language? Do a quick google scholar search for "Language acquisition device" or "universal grammar" and see how relevant Chomsky is to the study of language. Conversely, keep in mind that every successful speech language therapy technique is based directly on Skinner's work and it is so successful that in most countries this approach is mandated by the government for autistic children. The bottom line is that Skinner has the evidence, Chomsky has nothing - in the world of language, Chomsky is a creationist.

But we'll have a look at what the Stanford Encyclopedia has to say:


"Chomsky has been one of behaviorism's most successful and damaging critics. In a review of Skinner's book on verbal behavior (see above), Chomsky (1959) charged that behaviorist models of language learning cannot explain various facts about language acquisition, such as the rapid acquisition of language by young children, which is sometimes referred to as the phenomenon of “lexical explosion.”


Oh that sounds terribly damaging to the behaviorist position! Too bad the author doesn't explain how it's inconsistent with behavioral theory. And keep in mind that behaviorism is an extension of evolutionary theory, so if something can't be understood by learning alone this isn't a problem as behaviorism doesn't state anything can be understood by learning alone.

A child's linguistic abilities appear to be radically underdetermined by the evidence of verbal behavior offered to the child in the short period in which he or she expresses those abilities. By the age of four or five (normal) children have an almost limitless capacity to understand and produce sentences which they have never heard before.


By the age of four or five they have also received more training in the area of language that they will ever receive in any other area of their lives.

Chomsky also argued that it seems just not to be true that language learning depends on the application of reinforcement. A child does not, as an English speaker in the presence of a house, utter “house” repeatedly in the presence of reinforcing elders.


:lol: And human evolution isn't true because there are still monkeys! What the fuck is this guy on about. Why would they have to repeatedly utter the word house in the presence of "reinforcing elders"? However, the first statement is clearly wrong. No language theorist, and I feel quite confident in being absolute here, claims that language does not depend on reinforcement contingencies at all. Such a position would be just plain stupid. The simple evidence for this is that children learn the language they are raised with - if the environment did not matter (i.e. reinforcement contingencies) then they should automatically acquire some base "genetic" language.

Language as such seems to be learned without, in a sense, being taught, and behaviorism doesn't offer an account of how this could be so.


Why would it need to offer an account of something that clearly isn't true? Anyone who thinks language is learned without being taught has obviously never had children, or are completely oblivious to the events of the world. Children undergo a massive amount of training in language, this is a simple fact that can't be avoided. Chomsky is in the position of needing to demonstrate that all this training is irrelevant.

Chomsky's own speculations about the psychological realities underlying language development included the hypothesis that the rules or principles underlying linguistic behavior are abstract (applying to all human languages) and innate (part of our native psychological endowment as human beings).


And we're still waiting for the evidence of this... :coffee:

When put to the test of uttering a grammatical sentence, a person, for Chomsky, has a virtually infinite number of possible responses available, and the only way in which to understand this virtually infinite generative capacity is to suppose that a person possesses a powerful and abstract innate grammar (underlying whatever competence he or she may have in one or more particular natural languages).


Or we could use the behavioral theories which make the same prediction such as stimulus equivalence which demonstrates that complex emergent phenomena are created by simple reinforcement relations - all of which are theoretically infinite.

The problem to which Chomsky refers, which is the problem of behavioral competence and thus performance outstripping individual learning histories, seems to go beyond merely the issue of linguistic behavior in young children. It appears to be a fundamental fact about human beings that our behavior and behavioral capacities often surpass the limitations of individual reinforcement histories. Our history of reinforcement is often too impoverished to determine uniquely what we do or how we do it. Much learning, therefore, seems to require pre-existing or innate representational structures or principled constraints within which learning occurs.


Oh wow. So what this guy is saying is basically that for behaviorism to exist it needs to accept the fact that genetics play a role in shaping our behavior?.. That does sound like a reasonable position. Fortunately, Skinner and other behaviorists were pretty clear about this point stating that humans are the result of genetic and environmental factors (they also included 'culture' but I think that is more a subset of environment).

Anyway, you might like to read Kenneth MacCorquodale's On Chomsky's review of Skinner's Verbal Behavior where he starts out by apologising for the delayed response but explains that nobody could figure out who he was attacking. You see, Chomsky's review is based on one of the most absurd strawmen in academic history and at best he was attacking a form of behaviorism that Skinner had destroyed decades earlier, and at worst he had made up a completely absurd new field to label "behaviorism" and then attacked that. MacCorquodale basically concludes his piece by saying that we have strong evidence that Chomsky had probably never read Skinner's Verbal Behavior, nor any other of Skinner's books and most likely no work by any behaviorist.

That's simply how poor Chomsky's review was.

Wezentrommel wrote:I can see that behaviourism still has something to offer. The Stanford article states that "robust elements of behaviorism survive in both behavior therapy and laboratory-based animal learning theory" But it goes on to say "Elements, however, are elements. Behaviorism is no longer a dominating research program".

I'm not sure you are going to have a happy time here in the Linguistics forum until you come to terms with the above.


:lol: Oh, if the Stanford Encyclopedia says so then there is still hope for me yet!

The simple fact that many people miss (particularly philosophers I find, who have little to no idea about behaviorism) is that cognitive psychology didn't replace behaviorism, it is behaviorism. They both study the behavior, thoughts, cognitions, emotions, etc of humans and animals. They both use the same techniques, reach the same conclusions through the same methodological processes. The only difference is terminology. As explained by Roddy Roediger (a cognitive psychologist):

What Happened to Behaviorism wrote:Perhaps the most radical answer to the question I posed is that behaviorism is less discussed and debated today because it actually won the intellectual battle. In a very real sense, all psychologists today (at least those doing empirical research) are behaviorists. Even the most cognitively oriented experimentalists study behavior of some sort. They might study effects of variables of pushing buttons on computers, or filling out checklists, or making confidence ratings, or patterns of bloodflow, or recalling words by writing them on sheets of paper, but they almost always study objectively verifiable behavior. (And even subjective experiences, such as confidence ratings, can be replicated across people and across conditions). This step of studying objectively verifiable behavior represents a huge change from the work of many psychologists in 1904. Today the fields of cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience are highly behavioral (if one includes neural measures of behavior). True, there is nothing necessarily inherently interesting about pushing buttons on computers, but on the other hand, the basic laws of behavior in the animal lab were worked out on rats pushing levers and navigating runways, or pigeons pecking keys - not exactly riveting behaviors in their own right. In all these cases, the scientist's hope is to discover fundamentally interesting principles from simple, elegant experimental analyses.


(There are problems with parts of his article, but it is mostly a decently written piece).
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Re: Language creation

#130  Postby Steviepinhead » Mar 11, 2010 10:56 pm

Wezentrommel wrote:
Steviepinhead wrote:

In the context, I think "speaking a language" means "with understanding", and if so none of this would be relevant.

Well, you could be right, for some restricted definitions of "language" (where, as I indicated in the bold, we may know that a language existed, because we have a symbolic/graphic representation of it, but where we have neither a key to "understanding" -- vocabulary and syntax -- or a key to pronunciation). Where we do have those things, however, then just being able to "read" a new language would be no bar to a decent speaking/hearing "understanding," though might again be insufficient for achieving a fluency that would fully mimick a native speaker's.

Or, if you still mean to disagree in the latter (we have keys to meaning and sound), but not the former (we don't), case, then you haven't explained how.


I don't find this response easy to understand.

I could read Afrikaans out loud, the pronunciation rules aren't difficult. An Afrikaans speaker listening to me would understand what I was saying, but I wouldn't, because I don't know the vocabulary. Even if I sounded like a native speaker to a native speaker, I wouldn't say I was fluent in Afrikaans, or speaking Afrikaans fluently. Would you?[/quote]
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Re: Language creation

#131  Postby Steviepinhead » Mar 11, 2010 11:05 pm

Wezentrommel wrote:
In the context, I think "speaking a language" means "with understanding", and if so none of this would be relevant.
Steviepinhead wrote:
Well, you could be right, for some restricted definitions of "language" (where, as I indicated in the bold, we may know that a language existed, because we have a symbolic/graphic representation of it, but where we have neither a key to "understanding" -- vocabulary and syntax -- or a key to pronunciation). Where we do have those things, however, then just being able to "read" a new language would be no bar to a decent speaking/hearing "understanding," though might again be insufficient for achieving a fluency that would fully mimick a native speaker's.

Or, if you still mean to disagree in the latter (we have keys to meaning and sound), but not the former (we don't), case, then you haven't explained how.

I don't find this response easy to understand.

I may not be able to help you with that, but I'll make one last try...
I could read Afrikaans out loud, the pronunciation rules aren't difficult. An Afrikaans speaker listening to me would understand what I was saying, but I wouldn't, because I don't know the vocabulary. Even if I sounded like a native speaker to a native speaker, I wouldn't say I was fluent in Afrikaans, or speaking Afrikaans fluently. Would you?

Well, see, you've gone and introduced a halfway case (you have a key to sound, but not to meaning) that falls between my "former" (we have no key to either sound OR meaning) and "latter" (we have keys to meaning AND sound) cases. No wonder you're confused...

So of course I agree with you as to your Afrikaans example, but the example doesn't fairly respond to my "latter" case, since you don't grok Afrikaans vocabulary (you lack a key to meaning). Thus, your case does not serve as a fair counterexample to my claim that one can achieve reasonable proficiency in a new language by reading alone (even though access to fluent speakers may well be required to achieve a fair accent and the highest degree of fluency).

Because, of course, Afrikaans dictionaries and translations do exist, and could be accessed and read by a reasonably diligent and determined student, even if in your example you have yet to do so...
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Re: Language creation

#132  Postby Steviepinhead » Mar 11, 2010 11:10 pm

Agrippina wrote:That's a good post, Steviepinhead, and what I said about 8 pages back, only said a lot better than I did. :cheers:

I'm always happy to be redundant! :naughty2:

...As I said, I only partially sampled the thread. :oops:
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Re: Language creation

#133  Postby Tero » Mar 11, 2010 11:29 pm

Language was actually quite dangerous when it developed. You could fool people.

See the book Before the Dawn for some studies
http://www.amazon.com/Before-Dawn-Recov ... 170&sr=1-1
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Re: Language creation

#134  Postby Agrippina » Mar 12, 2010 4:37 am

Wezentrommel wrote:
Steviepinhead wrote:

In the context, I think "speaking a language" means "with understanding", and if so none of this would be relevant.

Well, you could be right, for some restricted definitions of "language" (where, as I indicated in the bold, we may know that a language existed, because we have a symbolic/graphic representation of it, but where we have neither a key to "understanding" -- vocabulary and syntax -- or a key to pronunciation). Where we do have those things, however, then just being able to "read" a new language would be no bar to a decent speaking/hearing "understanding," though might again be insufficient for achieving a fluency that would fully mimick a native speaker's.

Or, if you still mean to disagree in the latter (we have keys to meaning and sound), but not the former (we don't), case, then you haven't explained how.


I don't find this response easy to understand.

I could read Afrikaans out loud, the pronunciation rules aren't difficult. An Afrikaans speaker listening to me would understand what I was saying, but I wouldn't, because I don't know the vocabulary. Even if I sounded like a native speaker to a native speaker, I wouldn't say I was fluent in Afrikaans, or speaking Afrikaans fluently. Would you?


It would also depend on your understanding of the pronunciation rules, so if your mother-tongue is Dutch or Flemish, you would understand them but if it's English or even German, you could have some difficulty.

We can understand Flemish and Dutch but we can't speak it but if we speak Afrikaans, then Dutch and Flemish people can understand us. (Not that I'm at all fluent in Afrikaans, I can't read it fluently, but I can understand it when it's spoken as I can understand Dutch and Flemish when they are spoken).
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Re: Language creation

#135  Postby katja z » Mar 12, 2010 10:43 am

Tero wrote:Language was actually quite dangerous when it developed. You could fool people.


You could fool people before that. Animals are perfectly capable of fooling other animals (and people - if you have ever had a dog, you know what I mean). But as the ability to lie evolves, so does, necessarily, the ability to detect lies. (Although, now I think about it, people seem to be perfectly willing to let themselves be fooled if the lies come from the "right" source, but that's another story.) :cheers:
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Re: Language creation

#136  Postby Wezentrommel » Mar 12, 2010 12:22 pm

Steviepinhead wrote:

Because, of course, Afrikaans dictionaries and translations do exist, and could be accessed and read by a reasonably diligent and determined student, even if in your example you have yet to do so...


Right. Well, as I think I said in the first place, the stuff you are talking about doesn't have much if any relevance to the topic of this discussion.
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#137  Postby Wezentrommel » Mar 12, 2010 2:36 pm

Mr.Samsa wrote:
Chomsky right about language? Do a quick google scholar search for "Language acquisition device" or "universal grammar" and see how relevant Chomsky is to the study of language.


Ok, I've done that, but I'm not sure why. What did you think it would show?


Conversely, keep in mind that every successful speech language therapy technique is based directly on Skinner's work and it is so successful that in most countries this approach is mandated by the government for autistic children.


That's an interesting observation. So normal children learn in the way Chomsky suggested, while autistic children may lack elements of the mechanism that allows that, but it can be substituted by behaviouralism. You would then expect to see children who had been taught that way making different kinds of error to normal children.

I have been wondering if perhaps Skinner himself was autistic.

Here's an article I found just now when I tried to find out if anybody else had that idea:

Skinner's Behavioral Learning Theory: Debunked and Discarded, Unless You're Autistic
BF Skinner was the father of behaviorial theory, of the idea that humans learn through the process of operant conditioning. That is, we learn when we are rewarded for our efforts.

That was in the 1950s, his ideas were fashionable for a brief time, particularly after he taught some rats and pigeons how to do some simple tasks through behavior modification, basically depriving them of food and then offering treats as rewards.

But by the late 1960s, pretty much no one of substance bought the idea that humans accumulated their infinitely complex thoughts, emotions, language, and behaviors through operant conditioning. Yes, the concept was useful for understanding how to alter some simple surface behaviors, like stopping at red lights, but not for addressing the complex absorption and synthesis of information that leads to human functioning.

Noam Chomsky's scathing review of Skinner's verbal behavior theory remains a classic: see http://www.chomsky.info/articles/1967----.htm

Experts in human development now recognize that the vast bulk of learning takes place through a hard-wired neurology based on awareness and imitation. So, again, why do we rely on Skinner's outmoded and debunked ideas when fashioning appropriate interventions for autism? Is it because Lovaas, the student of Skinner, viewed people with autism as irreparably brain damaged and incapable of natural learning? But now that neurosciences embrace and accept neuroplasticity as a possibility even in autism (see, e.g., "Early behavioral intervention, brain plasticity, and the prevention of autism spectrum disorder" by Geraldine Dawson, Development and Psychopathology 20 (2008)), it's time to move past behaviorism and toward an intervention model that promotes the development of core pathways that allow natural imitative learning to occur.


The bottom line is that Skinner has the evidence, Chomsky has nothing - in the world of language, Chomsky is a creationist.


Well I must say that one of the things I have enjoyed about Chomskian linguistics is its use of evidence. For example, evidence from learning errors in children. For example, a normal child is likely to use malformed words like *drinked, demonstrating Chomskian type learning through application of a rule, which is being over-applied in this case. Whereas according to Skinner the child shouldn't say "drinked", because they would never have heard it from speakers around them, and it would never have been reinforced.


But we'll have a look at what the Stanford Encyclopedia has to say:


"Chomsky has been one of behaviorism's most successful and damaging critics. In a review of Skinner's book on verbal behavior (see above), Chomsky (1959) charged that behaviorist models of language learning cannot explain various facts about language acquisition, such as the rapid acquisition of language by young children, which is sometimes referred to as the phenomenon of “lexical explosion.”


Oh that sounds terribly damaging to the behaviorist position! Too bad the author doesn't explain how it's inconsistent with behavioral theory.


Yes he does, in the remainder of the paragraph, which you quote from below!

Chomsky also argued that it seems just not to be true that language learning depends on the application of reinforcement. A child does not, as an English speaker in the presence of a house, utter “house” repeatedly in the presence of reinforcing elders.


:lol: And human evolution isn't true because there are still monkeys!


I don't see the parallel.

What the fuck is this guy on about. Why would they have to repeatedly utter the word house in the presence of "reinforcing elders"?


Well, that's the kind of mechanism Skinner talks about. You've said very similar things yourself earlier in this thread.

However, the first statement is clearly wrong. No language theorist, and I feel quite confident in being absolute here, claims that language does not depend on reinforcement contingencies at all.


But to put it simplistically, Skinner did claim that language learning is based entirely on reinforcement, that there is no innate component. That's the problem for him, and you, judging from what you've said in this discussion.


Why would it need to offer an account of something that clearly isn't true? Anyone who thinks language is learned without being taught has obviously never had children, or are completely oblivious to the events of the world.


"In a sense" without being taught is what was said. The simple example with *drinked above illustrates what is meant.
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Re: Language creation

#138  Postby katja z » Mar 12, 2010 5:59 pm

I'm not going into the Chomsky vs. Behaviourism debate as I don't want to spoil the fun for Mr. Samsa. He can do this much better than me too.

But I would like to ask you, Wezentrommel, what is your take on Chomsky's concept of universal grammar. Personally, I think it's an unnecessary hypothesis and a fairly obvious intellectual heir of Plato's "Ideas".
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Language creation

#139  Postby Steviepinhead » Mar 12, 2010 9:37 pm

Wezentrommel wrote:
Steviepinhead wrote:

Because, of course, Afrikaans dictionaries and translations do exist, and could be accessed and read by a reasonably diligent and determined student, even if in your example you have yet to do so...


Right. Well, as I think I said in the first place, the stuff you are talking about doesn't have much if any relevance to the topic of this discussion.

Then neither would your incorrect and overly-broadly phrased claim that you can't learn to "understand" a language via reading it. :naughty:

With that refuted, I'm happy to allow the discussion to return to its center.
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Re:

#140  Postby Mr.Samsa » Mar 13, 2010 1:18 am

Wezentrommel wrote:
Mr.Samsa wrote:
Chomsky right about language? Do a quick google scholar search for "Language acquisition device" or "universal grammar" and see how relevant Chomsky is to the study of language.


Ok, I've done that, but I'm not sure why. What did you think it would show?


The fact that no research has cited those concepts in at least 10 years and it hasn't been a part of mainstream language research for a lot longer than that.

Wezentrommel wrote:

Conversely, keep in mind that every successful speech language therapy technique is based directly on Skinner's work and it is so successful that in most countries this approach is mandated by the government for autistic children.


That's an interesting observation. So normal children learn in the way Chomsky suggested, while autistic children may lack elements of the mechanism that allows that, but it can be substituted by behaviouralism. You would then expect to see children who had been taught that way making different kinds of error to normal children.


Autism was an example, it's used for all kinds of children - developmentally disabled and 'normal' functioning. After successful training I'm not aware of any language mistake differences between the two groups.

Wezentrommel wrote:I have been wondering if perhaps Skinner himself was autistic.


That's an odd thing to say. Partly because the originator of an idea is irrelevant to the validity of what he said, but also because anyone who has read anything about Skinner would know that he was very un-autistic-like. He loved socialising with people, he was extremely outgoing and anyone who met him always commented on his warm and caring approach. Obviously this doesn't mean he definitely wasn't autistic, but it's certainly not the characteristics of a typical autistic.

Wezentrommel wrote:Here's an article I found just now when I tried to find out if anybody else had that idea:


This should be fun. I'm thinking of creating a "Behaviorism" bingo game which is sort of like that "Creationism" bingo game where everytime someone presents a typical logical flaw or strawman they tick off a box.

Article wrote:Skinner's Behavioral Learning Theory: Debunked and Discarded, Unless You're Autistic
BF Skinner was the father of behaviorial theory, of the idea that humans learn through the process of operant conditioning. That is, we learn when we are rewarded for our efforts.


I'll make a box for that - "Oversimplifying theory in introduction to make it appear inadequate". Describing operant conditioning like that is like saying that Darwin came up with the idea that the diversity of life appears through a process of animals dying.

Article wrote:That was in the 1950s, his ideas were fashionable for a brief time, particularly after he taught some rats and pigeons how to do some simple tasks through behavior modification, basically depriving them of food and then offering treats as rewards.


"Behaviorism only worked with rats and pigeons", "Taught them simple behaviors" and "Depriving them of food" will probably make good boxes too. Behaviorism was, and still is, demonstrated across a number of species, rats, pigeons, humans, dogs, cats, octopi, insects, etc etc.

And it depends on what they mean by simple and what they class as a "brief time" - huge behavioral breakthroughs have been made since the 50s - learned helplessness, CBT, the matching law, signal detection theories, memory, attention, self control etc etc. All these have been accurately described by behavioral theory. Sure, some of them may have occurred after this author thinks behaviorism died or whatever, but scientists haven't gotten the memo yet.

The food deprivation thing is a common ploy - animals weights are controlled. That is, they aren't deprived of food as they are much better fed than they are in the wild, and I read a study a few years ago that demonstrated that they are better fed than most pets.

This is fun! We must be close to a bingo soon.

Article wrote:But by the late 1960s, pretty much no one of substance bought the idea that humans accumulated their infinitely complex thoughts, emotions, language, and behaviors through operant conditioning. Yes, the concept was useful for understanding how to alter some simple surface behaviors, like stopping at red lights, but not for addressing the complex absorption and synthesis of information that leads to human functioning.


Not purely through operant conditioning no - nobody thought that, not even Skinner. Strawman! This isn't a typical comment though, because it's so batshit insane, so I can't really make a box for it. Is it cheating if I make a box for a general strawman?..

Article wrote:Noam Chomsky's scathing review of Skinner's verbal behavior theory remains a classic: see http://www.chomsky.info/articles/1967----.htm


BINGO!! Citing Chomsky's "scathing" review as if it had any relevance to behaviorism and not including the rebuttal by MacCorquodale.

Article wrote:Experts in human development now recognize that the vast bulk of learning takes place through a hard-wired neurology based on awareness and imitation.


Behaviorists accept the influence of neurology too. Why wouldn't we?

Article wrote:So, again, why do we rely on Skinner's outmoded and debunked ideas when fashioning appropriate interventions for autism? Is it because Lovaas, the student of Skinner, viewed people with autism as irreparably brain damaged and incapable of natural learning? But now that neurosciences embrace and accept neuroplasticity as a possibility even in autism (see, e.g., "Early behavioral intervention, brain plasticity, and the prevention of autism spectrum disorder" by Geraldine Dawson, Development and Psychopathology 20 (2008)), it's time to move past behaviorism and toward an intervention model that promotes the development of core pathways that allow natural imitative learning to occur.


Why do we rely on Skinner's "outmoded and debunked" ideas when dealing with autism? Because it is the only field that has gathered so much evidence in favour of it working. No other field of therapy has provided the same amount of data to demonstrate its success. That's why it's chosen, because we'd be idiots to ignore scientific evidence.

Well that was fun. Can you provide an article written by someone who has at least read the blurb of a book about behaviorism next time?

Wezentrommel wrote:
Well I must say that one of the things I have enjoyed about Chomskian linguistics is its use of evidence. For example, evidence from learning errors in children. For example, a normal child is likely to use malformed words like *drinked, demonstrating Chomskian type learning through application of a rule, which is being over-applied in this case. Whereas according to Skinner the child shouldn't say "drinked", because they would never have heard it from speakers around them, and it would never have been reinforced.


Why wouldn't behaviorism be able to deal with this? It's stimulus generalisation. Behaviorism requires this to occur - if it didn't, then it would be STRONG evidence against behaviorism.

Wezentrommel wrote:
:lol: And human evolution isn't true because there are still monkeys!


I don't see the parallel.


The point is that it's such a ridiculous misunderstanding of behavioral theory that I didn't think I'd really have to explain why it's wrong. Come on, do you really think hundreds of thousands of scientists have taken a theory which demanded children repeatedly utter "house" in the presence of their parents in order to learn language? Do you not think any of these well educated scientists would have said "You know what, that doesn't sound quite right! In fact, that sounds utterly ridiculous!"?

The fact that you think that's a reasonable description of behavioral theory is absurd. So my point was simply that arguing with someone who sees no problem with that, is like arguing with a creationist who asks why there are still monkeys if humans are supposed to have evolved from them.

Wezentrommel wrote:
What the fuck is this guy on about. Why would they have to repeatedly utter the word house in the presence of "reinforcing elders"?


Well, that's the kind of mechanism Skinner talks about. You've said very similar things yourself earlier in this thread.


The "kind of mechanism"? What part of Skinner's theory demands this kind of mechanism? (And no, I have never said anything like that. Unless you mean that environmental reinforcers can shape language, in which case I did say that - but that's obviously vastly different from what's being proposed here).

Wezentrommel wrote:
However, the first statement is clearly wrong. No language theorist, and I feel quite confident in being absolute here, claims that language does not depend on reinforcement contingencies at all.


But to put it simplistically, Skinner did claim that language learning is based entirely on reinforcement, that there is no innate component. That's the problem for him, and you, judging from what you've said in this discussion.


:lol: Jesus christ. Now be honest with me here - have you ever read a single book about behaviorism? If not, then you need to so now. At the very least, please just read the wikipedia page or something - it's not perfect but it's a good starter for someone who knows nothing about behaviorism. If you have read a book on behaviorism, then please take it now and burn it - I don't know what you've been reading, but the author is an idiot (unless the author is a genius and you just failed to understand his description of behaviorism).

You have vast misunderstandings about behaviorism and the implications it has for language. Please, do some reading on the subject - ignore the philosophers and anyone outside of the cognitive sciences. And in response to your comment, no Skinner certainly did not claim there was no innate aspect to language learning or any other kind of learning.
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