Dialogue, language, learning LO25296

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Date: 09/05/00

Replying to LO25290 --

Dear Organlearners,

Leo Minnigh <l.d.minnigh@library.tudelft.nl> writes:

>Written language is only one part. Reading e.g. Italian is
>one thing, hearing it is another thing.

Greetings Leo,

Thank you for your delightful contribution.

I had vivid experiences of the difference between reading and hearing.
Early in the seventies I began corresponding with South Americans on
succulent plants. Thus I had to learn reading and writing in Spanish. I
had to teach myself with the aid of grammer books and a dictionary because
here in South Africa Spanish speakers are as rare as chicken teeth. I
tried to pronounce the words while reading and writing as the dictionary
indicated by phonetic symbols.

Then in the middle eighties a friend of mine and I went to South America
on a two months trip to explore its succulent flora. People there in the
remote country sides who can speak English are also as rare as chicken
teeth. So I had to speak Spanish. To my greatest surprise all which I have
learned in Spanish vaporised within the first few minutes of hearing
Spanish spoken by others. I could not remember most of the words which I
knew. The few words which I could remember, I could not even use in a
sensible order. This state of confusion lasted for some four weeks before
I began to follow what the people were saying and were able to express
myself somewhat also.

Perhaps the most remarkable to me is that as I regained my hold on Spanish
after four weeks, is how the incredible beauty of the "music in the
language" struck me. Sometimes I felt like hugging and kissing the people
for the beautiful music they made in Spanish speech. I did not notice that
music in the first four weeks, although I suspect that it was the main
reason for my confusion. I never "heard" that music in the previous ten
years, although I tried to reproduce the speach as phonetic as possible.
Like you have noticed with respect to Italian, the consistency between
spoken and written Spanish is exceptional. I did make the correct sounds
self in my mind, but I needed the other Spanish speakers to make the
"music in the language".

I think I know by this experience exactly what you mean by

>The melody of a language is very special and could
>give an extry view on the way people communicate
>and think.

My friend Ben Goslin, a guru on African languages, once asked me what was
the first thing which struck me when I came back to South Africa from a
visit to Europe. Without trying to impress him or seek his favour, I
replied immediately "the music of the Banthu languages" spoken on the
airport. I could recognise many languages (from other continents) spoken
on the international airport, but as soon as I heard the first Banthu (in
this case the deep powerful sounds of Zulu), I gave a deep sigh of relief.
I was finally at home, despite our unmentionable problems here.

>At has mentioned in his contribution that sometimes
>politics have confiscated the language to reach certain
>goals: one language, one nation.

Yes, and each case of confiscation, it is eventually the learners who
suffer most.

Here in South Africa we have some 15 languages of which each is spoken by
a million or more speakers. Since the fall of apartheid, English has
become the lingua franca for business, education and leisure. Learners
want to be taught in English (rather than their mother tongue) so that
they can learn how to use English too. It seems to be so efficient. But as
I have indicated in the topic "Efficiency and Emergences", in this case it
is emergent learning which bites the dust. Students, when learning in
English, sooner or later revert to rote learning. Thus they begin
complaining that they understand little of what they learn. They accuse
their teachers and lecturers for their lack of understanding and sometimes
even accuse the apartheid of the past for their present predicament.

However, when they sometimes form spontaneous Learning Teams among
themselves to try and understand rather than merely adhere to rote
learning, they invariably speak in their mother tongue. It is incredible
to walk on our campus and observe this happen time and again.

>And because there are still with some people in the
>Netherlands anti-German feelings, this K-promotion
>is boycotted. Believe it or not. A good example of small

I can "believe" it. I can cite many, many examples of such "linguistic
small mindedness" here in South Africa too.

But what I think we have to observe here, is a deeper and very powerful
pattern operating. People do not want to be "dominated" by other people,
not even "domination" by language. Thus they will rather adhere to a
self-made "domination" than allowing a forced "domination" over them. I
think this is, after all, ridiculous.

I have used the "domination" in quotation marks to indicate that it is not
the actually issue here. I could also have articulated the issue
positively by using "freedom" rather than "domination". But I want to
point out that whereas the words "domination" and "freedom" belongs to the
formal-explict level of knowledge, the actual issue here is on the
tacit-implict level of knowledge OR EVEN ON A LEVEL LOWER THAN KNOWLEDGE
(with its sublevels like tacit and formal knowledge).

It is for this very reason where the actual issue lies that "languages"
often play such an "small-minded" role in what people will do. Languages
become the vehicle to articulate the issue lower down and thus even the
vehicle may become confiscated. I wrote "languages" in quotation marks
because it is not restricted to natural langauges. It also happens in
technical (artificial) languages. Try to force a change or suggest an
almost incomprehensible change in a technical language like that of a
subject such as mathematics, physics or chemistry and see how much
resistance develops.

After some thirty years of contemplations, trying to comprehend the issue
as holistic as possible, I am now self convinced beyond any doubt that the
issue is our very creativity self. By now proposing that langauges are an
outcome of creativity rather than an input to creativity, we get to into
the web of bifurcations, how to obtain them and how to direct their
outcomes into emergences or immergences.

Its like studying perhaps the most extensive studied species of all
organisms in biology, namely the fruit fly ("Drosophyla" species ). Its
is the easiest thing in the world to kill a small fruit fly by squashing
it between the two fingers -- even a child can do it. But all the
biologists in the world together with the thousands of pages of
information they know on all the chemical reactions taking place in this
little fly, cannot put all these reactions together to form one little
fruit fly.

It is easy to kill a language [fruit fly]. Up to now we also know little
of the creativity [chemical reactions] making up the language. But even
should we know far more of creativity, will we be able to design and then
produce one langauge with what we know of creativity?

I often think of people using another language than their mother tongue
trying to learn anything about reality as assuming that they will create
for themselves a meaning to this other language as happened by autopoiesis
in their mother tongue too. They have used their creativity to understand
spontaneously the meaning of their mother tongue [the fruit fly which
evolved naturally] and now they want to use their creativity to force
non-spontaneously meaning also in the other language [the fruit fly to be
produced artificially].

>However, even subtle changes in spelling could have
>great implications for some people.

Again I had vivid experiences of this. In my last years of primary school
a "strange dyslexy" developed within me. When I wanted to write, my hand
would at a certain stage of forming the letters of the word, just veer off
in another direction than the one required by the next letter. So I had to
cross out the half-completed word and form it again. My writing looked
very untidy and took much longer to complete. So I began to sweat
anxiously whenever I had to write.

Finally I managed to develop a control mechanism (my first tacit
acquaintance with cybernetics ;-) for my problem. I would put my left
hand above and in contact with my writing right hand. As soon as my right
hand began to veer off in the wrong direction, my left hand would stop it
and force it into the right direction. After some two years at high school
this "cybernetic solution" helped me to overcome this "strange dyslexy".

I never thought of it again until my own kids were born and the first had
to go to school. One by one they were confronted by the some of the
"logical" spelling rules in Afrikaans. One by one I had to help them by
explaining why the rules were "necessary" and thus apparently "logical".
One by one I was reminded of my self who some twenty years earlier
experiencing this "veering off" of my writing right hand. In most cases
my hand "veered off" whenever I subconsciously tried to follow the
"illogical" rather than the "logical" next letter.

I am quite certain that would I have not forced myself with "much sweat
and controlling left hand" to write with the right hand in the standard
ortography of Afrikaans, I would have created spontaneously a
"non-standard" (but perhaps a more consistent and coherent) ortography for
Afrikaans. The "Afrikaans music" which I have been hearing in my mind from
even before my birth, cried for my right hand to form different letters
than what the "standard ortography" required. With "much sweat and a
controling left hand" I have suppressed what I today recognise would have
been a natural evolution in ortography.

>And now some words on word-separations. In the
>English language word-separation is possibly the
>most far developed in respect to all other European
>languages. I mentioned in my first contribution on this
>subject, that the Germans are possibly the greatest
>combinators. We remember possibly the exposees
>of At on free energy. He mentioned several times
>Free Energy - two words, one meaning. This illustrates
>the problem of word separation.

Well, I had to smile at the German proposition ;-) Perhaps we ought to
determine which were the best "combinators", the Germans or the
Afrikaners. After WWII there was an intense effort in Afrikaans to combine
all the parts of the noun into one. Perhaps it was to glorify the Germans,
but perhaps it was also an attempt to resist Anglisation ;-) We often had
to deal with composite nouns longer than a line. Luckily, we have stopped
with this sillyness. The rule is now "seperate as far as possible, but
combine where you have to". But this rule is actually also silly because
nobody can tell with sureness when the "combine where you have to"

Wring the different parts of a composite noun apart, is also not a
solution in my opinion. (It may be viewed as "apartheid" surfacing in the
language ;-). The many and increasing uses of acronyms (like WWII for
"world war two") are an indication for me that the problem is not solved.
I personally suspect that the problem is connected with our inability to
think "evolution-wise", especially with respect to the "emergent phase" of
evolution at "the edge of chaos". I frequently catch myself out that even
with what I know, I make the most foolish blunders. Let me illustrate.

I speak of "constructive emergence" and "destructive immergence" as the
two possible outcomes of an ordinate bifurcation. The official translation
of "emergence" in Afrikaans is "uitgroeiing" (outgrowing), "uitwas"
(outwash) and "uittreding" (outstepping). I rather use the word
"ontluiking" (outlatching), but I am not satsified with it or any of the
other three possibilities. There is not even an official translation of
"immergence" because this word is used perhaps even less in Afrikaans than
in English (which is very seldom, were it not for me.). So I translate it
into the Afrikaans "terugvalling" (backfalling).

In my contribution on "Knowledge and Information" I have discussed the
"evolution" (etymology) of the word knowledge. It is based via Old Enlish
(the Anglo-Saxon "cnawlec") on the Indo-Germanic root "cno" which meant
"emerge". This is still reflected in Modern English in a word like "knob"
(Afrikaans "knop") -- that which has emerged.

Now in Afrikaans we have the word "afknou" which is translated
semantically into English as "bully", "hurt" or "hector" and into German
as "abknuffen", "puffen" or "einschuchtern". They sort of give the modern
meaning of "afknou" in Afrikaans. But should we have sticked to its
evolution in meaning since the ancient times of proto-German, it is the
very word which we will have to use in Afrikaans for "destructive
immergence"! The equivalent of it in English would have been "off-know",
but this word does not exist. Anyway, compare the immense length of
"destructive immergence" with the moderate length of "terugvalling"
(backfalling) and the very short length of "afknou" !!!

If small is beautifull, then "afknou" (offknow) is the word, not because
it is an Afrikaans word, but because it is solidly linked to the ancient
past. It resisted the "opposite of constructive emergences" into words
like the accepted "immergence" in English and my own "terugvalling" in

Dear Leo, do these thoughts on "afknou" not give you and fellow learners
additional insight in your own profound thinking below?

>But does word separation impairs holism? As soon as one
>separates things that belong together, one tends to forget
>the unity. Could it be that Germans are more sensitive for
>holism (whole-ism), than people with English as their mother

Jan Smuts ("father" of holism) was castigated for speaking and writing on
important things in English rather than Afrikaans which was his mother
tongue. It may be that "noun-lumping" rather than "noun-splitting" in
Afrikaans influenced his thinking decisively. But then why did it not
influence other Afrikaans speaking people likewise. Most of the flack
which I self got for concepts like "entropy production", its manifestation
as "chaos" when produced fast and massive, emergences, wholeness as
essential to emergences, etc., were from Afrikaans speaking people

But there is something much more important about him. Up to the age of
twelve years he never attended formal schools. He was the product of home
schooling. His mother taught him in Afrikaans. Like Einstein once said
"Thank God that all the schools do not destroy the creativity of all the
pupils", Jan Smuts could have said the same.

Most importantly, his parents encouraged him to read books on whatever
interested him. There was no books in his mother tongue (Afrikaans) in
those years so that he learned to read books in English and German. They
encourage him to question freely whatever the book had to "verkondig"
(preached, proclaimed, praised, advocated, expounded). They did not force
him to any prescribed course, but allowed him to "dance the learning" to
his own enjoyment and curiosity.

Obviously, his questioning and dialogue with his parents was primarily not
in English, but in his mother tongue. So his mother tongue did play a
role, but so did the reading, the questioning and the dialogue too as well
as many other things. He was not a man for any one discipline. Somewhere
before WWII he wrote in a letter to Edgar Wallace that the "emerging" (is
it not perhaps "immerging") specialisation of science so as to deliver
experts on small dots called disciplines was doing the spiritual evolution
of humankind a great disfavour by causing increasing intellectual chaos.
Was he not right?

Should any fellow learner ever come to Pretoria, please visit the Smuts
museum (his former house) and ask permission from the curator to look at
his library. The width and depth of the books there are astounding,
reflecting his ever questioning mind.

Jan Smuts had an immense admiration for artists and especially poets. The
poet tries to uncover the creative powers of a language, even hidden to
the linguists, to say in the most economical manner what the poet had
tacitly all along in mind. Poets seemed to be the only ones brave enough
not to conform what has been expounded as the standard norm. To indicate
how serious they were in not conforming without falling into the trap of
non-conformism, they restrained themselves to ancient forms in poem so as
to explore their freedom otherwise.

Life is a poem and living is creating that poem -- putting wholes together
into a greater whole than the sum of all the wholes. That is why one poet
(like Eugene Marais) can make more people mentally whole again than all
the generals of all the armies of the world together. They may form a sum,
but never a greater whole since their job is to "afknou" (make war) when
politicans decide "afknou" is needed.

The dialogue in authentic learning such as our delightful LO-dialogue here
is also a poem in the making. Let us restrain ourselves form "afknou" in
the LO-dialogue because we are poets rather than generals.

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@gold.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <Richard@Karash.com> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <http://www.learning-org.com>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.