forward from Vic Golla

Tom Givon tgivon at
Wed Feb 9 00:25:57 UTC 2011

Vic Golla has asked by to post this communication. My 5 years of working 
on Tolowa pale in comparison with his lifetime with the Hupa.  TG


> A language that is not for amateurs is not for people.
Let that read: "A language that is not for amateurs is not for
ADULT people."

Whatever the neurological reality of the Critical Period, it is an
empirical fact that non-native speakers past puberty experience great
difficulty in acquiring anything resembling fluency in an Athabaskan
language.  (That Ken Hale did so only proves the rule.  The astoundingly
low incidence of true polyglotism deserves its own serious study.)

Sapir called the Athabaskan languages the "son-of-a-bitchingest"
ever devised by humankind.  No doubt, every ordinary Navajo child
who wants to can pick up Navajo as fast as your or my or Sapir's did
English, but God only knows how they do it.  With Muriel Saville-Troike
the one, brave exception, acquisition researchers have largely
avoided Navajo, despite its obvious theoretical potential.  (One suspects
that part of the problem is that such research requires some degree
of competence in the language of study.  See above.)

I must admit that it's been a while since I took a look at acquisition
studies (or the lack thereof) for Navajo or Athabaskan generally.
I would be delighted to hear that some well-designed studies have gotten
under way in the last decade.  If not, they'd better hurry.  Fewer than
10% of Navajo kids *on the reservation* were speaking the language
the last time someone looked.

--Victor Golla

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