Roseta Stone: Redux

Tom Givon tgivon at
Wed Feb 9 18:34:01 UTC 2011

That language in PNG was not dying. It was on a n isolate island, no 
bilingualism, no contact. Some day it might just occured to you that 
linguistics is not only about arguments, but occasionally about simple 
facts.  TG


On 2/9/2011 11:10 AM, A. Katz wrote:
> Tom,
> If the language is dying, then the advice not to listen to somebody 
> under forty because they don't know how to speak may be sound, but not 
> for the reason that you suggest. It could be there are no fluent 
> speakers under forty. It seems very unlikely that one would have to 
> arrive at age forty before acquiring fluency, especially in a hunter 
> gatherer culture where death before forty might be quite common.
> But if you have evidence to the contrary that fully immersed, 
> monolingual young speakers of a language cannot speak it with 
> communicative effect until age forty, then this is a big discovery 
> that ought to be published and shared with the scientific community.
>    --Aya
> On Wed, 9 Feb 2011, Tom Givon wrote:
>> 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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>>>>>>> University
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