Tuesday, May 13, 2008

i've got a few i could lend you...

Two new things I've written, both unpublished, which I'd like to comment on.

Leverett, T. (2008, Apr.). Tale of two hypotheses. Unpublished manuscript. http://www.siu.edu/~cesl/teachers/pd/k2me3.html.

Leverett, T. (2008, May). Principle wanted. Unpublished
manuscript. http://www.siu.edu/~cesl/z/sos/pw.html.

First, it may be brazen of me, or rather naive, to just put this stuff on the CESL server, but CESL and SIUC in general seem to be stable in terms of what sits in their space; it at least stays there, though it may be ignored or unceremoniously dumped occasionally. I say brazen, because if it is really traitorous to the field, some probably wouldn't want it there; I say naive, because if it is of any value, I might want to keep it for myself. But, since a roof accident of Dec. 2007, I've become more urgently transparent, knowing that I could be gone at any moment, and thus so would all this hard work and deep thinking about the nature of language. I come up with this stuff, by the way, as I'm absently watching boys tumble around a front yard, climbing trees, landing on each other, etc.

The first I put with my work on Krashen (Krashen-2-me.html) because I've always thought Krashen had important stuff to say about language learning, and I agree with most of it. But I don't agree with these two, at least not completely. I wrote this literally on my way out the door to TESOL, in early April.

But as I stewed on it a little, it occurred to me that, rather than attack poor Krashen, who I actually admire, it would be more to the point to explain what principles are involved in language learning, rather than continuously harping on what these guys had wrong. After all, collectively, the field has been full of very interesting and insightful people. Somehow it seems that collectively the entire group of us could pull something together that would be useful to the world.

The second is more related to language and language change itself, and thus I put it on the "sos" files- the language as a self-organizing system pages. This is closer to what I'm really getting at- that we can explain language behavior in terms of natural human processes that govern other human behaviors also. To this end I've begun to study Cooley and the looking glass self. The title, by the way, comes from a "Help wanted" ad back in my job-hunting days- it was a school district in Minnesota, I believe...at the time, I thought, I've got a few I could lend you.

To recap, briefly:

There is no "Language acquisition device" or special mechanism that allows humans and only humans to do the complex decoding necessary for language understanding. There are no natural restrictions that govern all languages; humans are free to do as they wish in creating and changing language. And in fact, they do a wide variety of things- restricted only by the shape of the mouth, the ability to hear certain sounds, and the intrinsic nature of words referring to either things or actions.

Language behavior is best analogized by looking at human behavior in, for example, walking across a campus, or driving across town: One starts by doing as one has observed others doing; One's behavior is governed, somewhat, by perceptions and actions of others; One carefully measures the price vs. benefit of trying new actions, and acts accordingly; The brain, in its ruthless efficiency, is always open to options of reorganization, but is innately cautious because of the high price of failure; in addition, people have different values with respect to this fear of failure, and thus develop a more or less cautious approach to their production.

This only begins to sum up what I've been thinking about- but, if interested, jump in. I welcome comments.

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