Roseta Stone: Redux

Tom Givon tgivon at
Wed Feb 9 17:39:34 UTC 2011

Right on, John. And one could make a prediction--hopefully someday to be 
tested by acquisition studies--that Navajo kids will not master the 
fully complexcity of the Athabaskan verb by age 10, or 15, or 20. I once 
reviewed a grammar in Papua New Guniea of a language that had comparable 
complexity on the verb (three positions, 6-8 categoriers each, massive 
zeroing & morphonemic). I had to ask Carle Whitehead--is this guy for 
real? He said, yes, he's been in the island for 20 years, really knows 
his stuff. So I asked the guy--at what age are kids considered 
fuill-fledged speakers? He said-- the old people say, don't listen to 
anybody under forty, they don't know how to speak.  In my work with the 
Utes, one exchange has stuck out, an elder (ka-para'ni-wa-t, he's not 
walking about any more) who was pointed to me as the best orator in the 
tribe. I told him that, and he said: "Oh, I am nothing. You should have 
heard the Old Ones; when they spoke, you could see it all in front of 
your eyes". Part of it is due to the complex Ute deictic system, which 
invades NPs, ADVs & the verb. The combinations, and the subtle choices 
of when to combine the deictic particle with other categories, are a 
whole wond(e)rous world. Cheers,  TG


On 2/9/2011 10:13 AM, john at wrote:
> Aya,
> I think I was the one who said first that Navajo is not a language for
> amateurs. I'll second what Tom said--you should learn something
> about Navajo (or some other Athabaskan language) before making
> statements like this. Some languages are just plain objectively harder than
> others, regardless of typological similarly to one's native language. If you
> don't believe this, do an experiment in which you take speakers of English,
> Turkish, Georgian, Chinese, whatever you want, try to teach them Navajo, Hopi,
> and Cree (for example), and see which one gives them the most trouble.
> I guarantee it will be Navajo. And there is an objective reason for it--
> the morphophonemics are just unbelievably complex.
> John
> Quoting "A. Katz"<amnfn at>:
>> Tom,
>> I don't think that is a valid viewpoint with regard to Athabaskan or any
>> other language family.
>> Victor Golla earlier had a much better phrasing when he wrote:
>> "Let that read: "A language that is not for amateurs is not for
>> ADULT people.""
>> But in fact no language is easy for adults to learn who have not already
>> learned a language with a similar typology. If your native language works
>> similarly to the one you are learning, then you have an enormous advantage
>> as an adult second language learner.
>> The remark about how Navajo is not for amateurs was made in the context of
>> people who have no experience with languages of a similar typology.
>> To make this a universal statement about the difficulty of Navajo without
>> qualification is to suggest that some languages are "easy" and others are
>> "impossible". Not only is this not true from an objective standpoint, it
>> also perpetuates the prejudice that English (or IE) is a "normal" language
>> and that every language should be measured against this norm.
>> Best,
>>        --Aya
>> On Tue, 8 Feb 2011, Tom Givon wrote:
>>> Before you actually tried to learn an Athabaskan language, or at the very
>>> least worked on one, maybe you had better refrain from asserting that "a
>>> language that is not for amateurs is not for people".  TG
>>> =========
>>> On 2/8/2011 6:33 AM, A. Katz wrote:
>>>> A language that is not for amateurs is not for people.
>>>> This has nothing to do with RS or computer language teaching. As others
>>>> have stated, the technologically based systems are not a panacea.
>>>> But a language that ordinary people can't pick by talking to their parents
>>>> in childhood is either dead already or not a human language.
>>>>     --Aya
>>>> On Tue, 8 Feb 2011, john at wrote:
>>>>> I would be amazed if a single person actually learns to speak Navajo
>>>>> using Rosetta Stone. This is not a language for amateurs.
>>>>> John
>>>>> Quoting "s.t. bischoff"< at>:
>>>>>> Hi all,
>>>>>> Over the last week I was involved with an event at the American Indian
>>>>>> Language Development Institute and the folks that created the Navajo
>>>>>> Rosetta
>>>>>> Stone gave a short talk about the software. What follows is my
>>>>>> understanding
>>>>>> of how it came to be.
>>>>>> The Navajo Rosetta Stones was created in collaboration with Rosetta
>> Stone
>>>>>> and the non-profit Navajo Language Renaissance (NLR). NLR is a
>> non-profit
>>>>>> organization that is NOT affiliated with the tribal council or
>> government
>>>>>> in
>>>>>> any way, for obvious reasons I think (e.g. getting council approval for
>>>>>> the
>>>>>> project). However, it has been endorsed by the school leadership and NLR
>>>>>> is
>>>>>> actively trying to get the school district to adopt the software. You
>> can
>>>>>> view the NLR website here A
>>>>>> non-community member started NLR after using Rosetta Stone to learn
>>>>>> Russian.
>>>>>> She thought it would be good if Rosetta Stone created a Navajo version.
>>>>>> She
>>>>>> contacted Rosetta Stone (RS), and they told her they would provide here
>>>>>> with
>>>>>> the software to develop the lessons,  a photographer, and technical
>>>>>> assistants (limited on the ground, mostly by phone) to develop the
>>>>>> program
>>>>>> for $300,000. Another option would be for her to apply for a grant from
>>>>>> RS
>>>>>> to cover most of the costs. So the NLR was created, a partnership
>> between
>>>>>> community members and one non-community member,  as a non-profit
>>>>>> organization and applied. RS gave two grants the year they applied, one
>>>>>> went
>>>>>> to NLR. The grant covered all but $27,000 of the $300,000. So NLR had to
>>>>>> pay
>>>>>> RS $27,000 to have access to the software to create the Navajo Rosetta
>>>>>> Stone. This means they had to create the lessons and pay speakers and
>>>>>> informants themselves. RS provided the software, a photographer, and
>>>>>> technical support for the $27,000. NLR now is the only group that can
>>>>>> sell
>>>>>> Navajo Rosetta Stone, which they do for $150 per license and $200 for a
>>>>>> personal box set. It is not clear if they have to pay RS a percentage of
>>>>>> those revenues or not. When I asked a clear answer wasn't given. NLR
>> also
>>>>>> has a "training" session for administrators and teachers which costs
>>>>>> $1500 a
>>>>>> day and $400 per 3 hours. Needless to say, it is not un-controversial in
>>>>>> the
>>>>>> community for many of the usual reasons. Ironically, the speaker after
>>>>>> the
>>>>>> Rosetta Stone folks gave a talk that demonstrated how to create nearly
>>>>>> identical language lessons as Rosetta Stone's simply using power point.
>> I
>>>>>> was encouraged to let folks know that they should contact the NLR if
>> they
>>>>>> have any questions at mbittinger at You can try a free
>>>>>> introductory lesson here The
>>>>>> folks
>>>>>> at NLR praised RS for their efforts and felt they had really done them a
>>>>>> service. In short, they were very happy with the arrangement and how it
>>>>>> was
>>>>>> working out. They were also upset by the controversies surrounding the
>>>>>> Navajo Rosetta Stone and felt they were really the result of a
>>>>>> misunderstanding and misguided assumptions. One finally thing, they did
>>>>>> seem
>>>>>> to think that it was not a pancea, but rather another useful tool in
>>>>>> language revitalization efforts.
>>>>>> Cheers,
>>>>>> Shannon
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