Dialogue, language, learning LO25332

From: Leo Minnigh (l.d.minnigh@library.tudelft.nl)
Date: 09/15/00

Replying to LO25296 --

Dear LO'ers

I hope that the complexity of this isssue is not too high and that this
will not lead to an early silence.

But maybe we cannot speak of a dialogue. Until now most contributions
could be read on their own, they all divergate in such interesting

I like to say some words on still another direction, but first I will go
back to At's struggle with the proper(?) words for emergence and
immergence. His struggle was partly focussed on the translation of his
thoughts and words in Afrikaans: 'ontluiking' and 'terugvalling'. But his
struggle went deeper, because even his (modern) Afrikaans was also not too
satisfying. He went into the Old English and Anglo-Saxon, and concluded
that he was the happiest with 'knou' and 'afknou' Roots of words come from
below, the foundation of all the variations, meanings and branches that
resulted during the evolution of various languages. That is why the old
words are so rich.

At, I sympathise with your thoughts and feelings, particularly on the
search for the best solutions for the pictures you have in mind with
'emergence' and 'immergence'. Therefore I hesitate very much with a
suggestion, nevertheless I will give them:

instead of emergence, maybe the word 'sprout' (Afrikaans/Dutch:
spruit/ontspruiten) will serve.
instead of immergence, maybe the word 'break (off)' will serve.

The advantage of these words is that they both enable us to create also
words that nam the process of, and the becoming: sprouting and breaking.

But now the other new direction of language and learning. There is a locus
in our brains where most language activities take place. During our growth
from childhood, something changed in this locus. At the age of around 11
years, something remarkable happens: one could not learn another language
than the mothertongue as if this new language is the mothertongue. One
could not learn to pronounce and speak this new language without an
accent. Before that age of 11 this is still possible. Why is this? Is it
because of a kind of specialisation of that part of the brains, or is it
because some critical neurons and synapses died an early death? When my
small family moved thirty years ago to Brazil, our eldest son was nearly 3
years old. At home we spoke Dutch, but at the kindergarten and with the
kids on the street, he was confronted only with Portuguese. After 2 years
he spoke accentless and fluent Portuguese (although his vocubalary was
ofcourse yet limited). Then we moved back to the Netherlands. And to our
big surprise, he forgot within 3 months EVERY Portuguese word. Even when
we as parents said the most common greeting of the street to him ("Tudo
bem?") he could not understand it - he only knew that it was another
language, and he interpreted it as Portuguese. Possibly his youth and
confrontation with Portuguese - despite the loss of every direct memory of
it - has helped him later in his school career with the learning of
French. At least he is far better in this language than his father (which
was not too difficult to accomplish :-)).

Is learning and forgetting at young age different from an elder age? Does
learning during the childhood is based on permanent repetition and
constant confrontation, so the brains and memory will be filled every day
again with the same and with close variations? And only if this filling of
the brains has reached a critical amount, the permanent memory-level is
reached. Otherwise, verything is soon afterwards nearly completely lost.
Is this kind of 'brain washing -in-context' the crux of how little
children learn in general, or is this only valid for the learning of a
And how about the problem of accentless speach after the age of 11? Is
this due to a less flexible brain, or is it because of a less flexible
voice? Does the brain 'knows' how to pronounce and what the 'music' and
'melody' of a language is, but the voice is not anymore able to follow the
'instructions' of the brain?

Last weekend there was an interesting article in our newspaper about a 23
year old parot, called Alex. Alex learned with limited vocabulary context
and meaning of words, is able to use abstract meanings in the right
context, could count, recognises differences and similarities between
objects. But the 'language-creativity' of Alex is limited: Alex has
'invented' only one new word. Possibly this inventing new words is an
aspect and sign of the 'level' of creativity of a person. Is any research
done in this direction?

Best wishes,

dr. Leo D. Minnigh
Library Technical University Delft
PO BOX 98, 2600 MG Delft, The Netherlands
Tel.: 31 15 2782226
        Let your thoughts meander towards a sea of ideas.


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

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.