Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Keres part I

I have moved to New Mexico and become a substitute teacher in the high schools and middle schools in the Alamogordo/Cloudcroft area; I love New Mexico history best although I am far from an expert on it. I have not entirely given up on all of my ESL goals, my life, my research, my passions, but for the moment, I've had to do this for personal reasons, and my path is leading me to being a high school history/social studies teacher. New Mexico needs teachers, so it is making it easier for me to do it. I also needed a break, but needed to keep working, since my wife's experience as Chair led to what can be best described as a healing recovery period in the mountains.

So, I was subbing in a New Mexico History class on Monday, and opened up an old textbook (2005?) by Joe Sando called "Nuevo Mexico." It was slightly more comprehensive than your average textbook, and when it came to the part about the nineteen Pueblos up by Albuquerque, the author claimed that those nineteen fell into three camps based on origin of their language: the Zuni were in a camp of their own (possibly having come from Mexico), the Tiwa/Tewa/Towa were in the biggest camp, accounting for most of the Pueblos, and then there were the Keres, or Keresan, or Queres - these accounted for seven of the Pueblos, including the Zia Pueblo (who gave us that cool Zia symbol on our license plate). Then, he claimed that he believed the Keresan people started in the Caribbean, based on similarities in the languages, and that they had come to New Mexico via Florida, where they had learned about putting shells on the leader's house and calling it the "white house." He also said that they had stopped at Chaco Canyon for a while, before settling in the Pueblos that we recognize today as the Keresan Pueblos around Albuquerque.

I was stunned, but I hastily jotted down some of the information that he claimed. When I asked the students, I found out that it was generally known that there were 19 Pueblos; it was generally known that the Pueblos at one point had rebelled against Spanish rule; nobody knew anything about the Caribbean. I came home and researched links between Keres language/culture and the Caribbean. No mention of Sando's claim. No nothing tying these people to the Caribbean whatsoever.

Joe Sando was actually from the Tiwa/Tewa/Towa side of the Pueblos, a place called Jemez Pueblo, but he was a respected scholar of all the Pueblos, and wrote many books. He was best known for not sharing details of the Pueblo religions with the outside world, though he was a prolific teacher of other things related to the people of the Pueblos. He died recently. I have found no other reference to this book or to his claims. Did people ignore them? Hate him for making them? Dislike the inference that ancient people (1300?) could travel from the Caribbean to New Mexico?

The heck of it is, in graduate school, I studied ancient Caribbean languages, or at least Arawak, which was spoken in the Caribbean when Columbus arrived. I still have those notes somewhere. I had found this worn out book that translated what was left of Arawak into French, and made my Historical Linguistics paper on it. It was the crowning achievement of my graduate school career, though that had some low points too. Those Arawak people were generally thought to have related people deep in the Amazon, and the Garifuna of Honduras had a related language too. I considered it my job to find out whether the languages were indeed related, based on the principles of language change that we had used. I got an A on that paper, I believe.

I have a new theory, which is that the ancient peoples traveled more than we give them credit for. They knew the stars and planets far better than we do. The mound people of the Cahokia area traveled the rivers, from present-day East St. Louis to Canada, Idaho, the Appalachians, the Gulf. There is proof that they did thousands of miles on the rivers, but no proof that they ever saw the Aztecs or Incas. But this was all before 1200, when they disappeared from the East Saint Louis area. If they could do that, then the Keres people could go from the Caribbean to New Mexico. They would have had to have taken the Rio Grande (most likely) - through Big Bend, El Paso, Las Cruces, etc. They would have had to have had a reason. I'm still stewing on that.

Joe Sando said in his book that they'd stopped in Florida; also, that they stopped in Chaco Canyon for years before they settled in their Pueblos. Hmm. He also said that they have an expression in their language, "When we were in the east..." that indicates that they are about to tell a story from the old times. He was convinced that this referred to the days of the Caribbean. He gave linguistic evidence, which I have copied poorly but will retrieve at the first opportunity. It's all on p. 28 of "Nuevo Mexico."

In the Wikipedia entry for the Keres language, it says that there is some disagreement about what the Keres languages could have been related to; there were no known languages that were close to it. Sapir studied them but couldn't get the hang of the tones; one of his assistants stayed behind and got a better idea. Greenburg thought they might be related to Caddoan, which is interesting because the Caddoan people claim the Cahokian sun god as their own, and all three (Caddoan, Mound people of Cahokia, and Keres) had elements of sun worship in their culture. Remember, Cahokia was empty after 1200, though it had been the biggest city in the Americas for over a thousand years. Archaeologists have placed the arrival of the Keres in the 1300's though I haven't seen the Caribbean mentioned anywhere. My guess is that if they knew the stars as well as they did, they also knew the land. They didn't have Wikipedia, but they knew how to make boats and use them. They weren't necessarily afraid of the Gulf of Mexico.

They didn't even discover Cahokia, really, until they were building the interstates, in about the 1950's. They had to build a bunch of cloverleafs in E. St. Louis and they kept running into the bases of what came to be known as "Woodhenge." Eventually they realized that this was the capital of the Americas for a thousand years and that much of it, across the river in particular, had already been destroyed. But what they saved was still quite intense. And some of it is still there.

These days I drive past a place with ancient caves. It has the feeling of ancient, canyon, river, mountains and elk, all that stuff, on the border of the vast Tularosa basin and the Sacramento Mountains, where the ancient people would have had access to everything they needed - meat, plants, water, shelter, security. I know one could find stuff by digging. But instead I shoot down that road at 45, going from 9000 ft. to 3500 feet every day, paying close attention to staying on the road and not craning my neck to look for rock drawings on the walls of the cliffs. These too were ancient people, before the Apache and Comanche came around with their horses, before everyone. We're in the habit of calling them "primitive." That's because they didn't have laptops. But hey, I have an idea. That is, every time a huge rock falls from the cliff and lands in the road, that's because the ancient people are watching us, and saying, basically, wake up. You think you're so great. You'll be lucky if you have descendants in this world, because you have no respect. And if you scorn travel, you're an idiot.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, December 30, 2016

Boxcars on Walnut

Now available on Amazon $5.38 + shipping
Coming on Kindle $.99 (soon) as well

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Dozen Crime Stories

Now available on audiobook!

Friday, December 02, 2016

Short Stories

for the ages!

Monday, August 22, 2016

CALL theory

CALL theory applied to language learning, as I understand it, emphasizes integration of technologies into curricula, rather than using the computer as an add-on, using the computer to extend learning beyond the classroom, and keeping the focus on the learner in getting more opportunity to use the language (Rilling et al., 2005). In the teaching world’s hurry to integrate computers and their software into every aspect of language learning, this is the best they can do to offer reasons why we should be in such a hurry. The computer offers us unlimited opportunity for using the language, non-stop, every day, with people in any corner of the globe. The world is rapidly moving over onto the computer anyway, yes, and the skills students need to communicate on it are absolutely important to their future success in that world.

CALL theory could be criticized for being somewhat vague, or for not explaining why we should move our entire language classroom over onto computers, or for not exploring what sinister consequences might result, or for not tackling the question of whether languages can be taught more easily or more efficiently this way. But these questions are neglected temporarily in the rush, like a gold rush, to publish articles in which we show how we are using certain technologies successfully, both with students and with teachers, to advance the cause of language learning in new environments, i.e. blogs, wikis, online fora, Skype, etc. It has become commonplace to call upon CALL theory as a justification for learning and managing these technologies, without noticing that CALL theory never tried to justify them. CALL theory pointed out the obvious – that the world was moving onto the computer anyway – and never tried to prove to us why this would be an improvement.

This is only the beginning. I need to learn more about this theory. 

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Motivation part II

I'm out here in Lubbock; it's a good place to ride off into the sunset, because when you do, you end up 9000 ft. up in the Sacramento Mountains, and that's what I plan to do as soon as I can.

But in the meantime I was asked to review a paper done on "motivation" and did it, my final parting shot to a semester that came to a relatively smooth end recently. Motivation has always been the key to language learning, but like everything else, people have had trouble figuring out what it is, what to do with it, how to construct it, etc. The world is full of EFL teachers in remote places who have told me, basically, all the "how-to-teach" lessons you give me are no good if you can't motivate the students. OK, fair enough. Let's figure out what it is, so we can figure out how to use it to help people learn.

So this writer starts out and brings in CST, as if that's the foundation of the new approach. Twenty years of research done by the Robert Gardner school, gone, not a trace, it's all this new approach based on CST. Well CST (Complex Systems Theory) is a set of ways to explain things in nature where every little actor acts based on the environment. So, if you boil the water at the bottom of a bucket eventually the molecules bump into each other, and the hot ones make the other ones warmer, and mathematical equations along with network theory can help explain how fast and in what order, etc. It actually can be applied to language: You move to Texas, you say "thank you" twenty times a day, but when everyone says "think you" back, eventually your vowels change based on what you hear. It's the environment you're in; it's not a rule or a decree that makes you do it.

Now apply this to motivation. Anyone who wanted to apply CST to motivation was probably looking at a football team, where everyone has to get their collective anger up and relies on feeding off his teammates; if one gets really riled up, it'll help get the rest to play their best. But that doesn't really apply to a language classroom. You can put people in groups repeatedly, but they start from the general maxims "Do what is required" and "Do as little as possible" along with "Don't let them see you break a sweat," which is perhaps the most important. One can see CST operating here, namely motivations changing based on perception of the environment, but there is a crucial difference. The teacher can change the requirements. The teacher can change what "possible" refers to. The teacher can change what is "required." People are not flailing around in a leaderless vacuum. The students we are talking about always have one eye on the teacher, and the other on their classmates.

The problem I see with the above scenario, and with group work in general, is that the collective influence works in both ways. It's not like a football team where everyone is invested in a single outcome. You can have a group huddle at the beginning and say to them, in effect, hey, it's in your best interest to put your whole souls into this group work, but basically, it isn't going to happen.

It isn't even going to happen in the U.S., where people have paid literally thousands to come over here, get an apartment, and maintain a life so they can learn English in order to get integrated into the society. A lot of our (ESL) students are more than willing to do the best they can in group work, but motivational forces are still pushing and pulling them simultaneously. In Japan, or Peru, it's much worse. The collective spirit is definitely a pulling force.

I was impatient, not so much with the assertion that motivation required a CST-kind of explanation, but with the failure to explain how, or why. It's not such a revelation that motivation is at the bottom of everything. You can look at any class, ESL or EFL, worldwide, and say, motivation is the problem here. But sometimes I think people pull out concepts like "CST" in order to say, "it's all so complicated, there's no way we normal people can figure it out." Actually, I think we can figure it out. I don't think I can say I've done it yet, though.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

motivation links

Leverett, T. (2012). Review of Motivation and Second Language Acquisition: The Socio-Educational Model, by R. C. Gardner, TESL-EJ (TESL Electronic Journal), 16, 2, Sept.

Razavi, Lauren. (2014, Mar. 19). Language learning: What motivates us? theguardian. Accessed 5-16 from

Labels: , ,

motivation part 1

TESL-EJ signed me up as a reviewer on a lengthy paper which I agreed to review recently. It deals with motivation amongst language learners. The reason they looked me up was because I had reviewed a book by Gardner a few years back. I guess that makes me a rational observer of the motivation research field.

Gardner, unrelated to the Gardner of multiple intelligences (as far as I know) had been the leader of motivation research for many years. He was living in French Canada, where there was a large number of people studying languages in both directions, and lots of despair over the process in general.

It's been standard in the language teaching business for many years that "motivation is everything" and "if you are motivated, you'll learn the language" regardless of any obstacles in your way. I didn't quite agree with any of this, or at least the sweeping generalization part of it, but there was no question, motivation is important. Gardner presided over a period of time when they tried to define kinds of motivation (such as instrumental, for example - needing a language to use it for some other personal need, like studying engineering, as opposed to integrative, actually wanting to be part of the culture you are seeking to communicate with). Finally, by the time he wrote the book I reviewed, he was quite frustrated with various kinds of motivation, and he said, it doesn't matter where it comes from, and it's impossible to divide or discern the kinds, as they get all confused anyway. What matters is the juice you get from them. If your motivation makes you go to class every day, then it's good motivation, and real. If it gets you to do your homework, it's real. But it doesn't matter if you want to learn a language, but still can't get out of bed to go to class in the morning. If you aren't getting anything out of it, it's not real.

So Gardner goes on to say that if you're motivated you'll go to class, you'll like class, you'll do your homework, and you'll get out of bed in the morning. I may be misquoting him a little here, but he was saying something like that, and I was wondering, wait a minute, it's possible to want to learn a language, and still be disillusioned enough about a given class, to not want to go to that class.

So what we're really arguing about is the process between, or the connection between, your deeper personal motivation, and your immediate problem, which is getting out of bed. And I realize that I've basically been studying that connection all of my life. It turns out that if you can get either of those kinds of motivations entwined in any way, you get extra benefit from doing it. It's kind of like being in the wake of a truck on an icy highway, and getting the benefit of not only having the truck break the wind, but also having him/her grind up the ice/snow on the road. It's hard to define how you get people to do the work that they should want to do anyway, but if the two motivations are connected in any way, you're going to be pulled along in the right direction. That's the essence of it.

Now the curious thing about the paper is that although someone named Dornyei is all over it (he/she has apparently written extensively on motivation), Gardner is nowhere to be seen. Is his work forgotten? Did he undo his own legacy by telling us what he did about motivation? I'm curious to find out.

Labels: , ,