Roseta Stone: Redux

A. Katz amnfn at
Wed Feb 9 18:36:44 UTC 2011


That's a really good question. I look forward to hearing if other 
Funknetters know of such studies.


On Wed, 9 Feb 2011, Frederick J Newmeyer wrote:

> A propos, are there any published studies out there that point to measurable 
> difference in rate of completion of first-language acquisition by speakers of 
> one language compared to another? Or even of mastery of one aspect of L1 
> acquisition (phonology, morphology, etc.) by speakers of one language 
> compared to another?
> --fritz
> Frederick J. Newmeyer
> Professor Emeritus, University of Washington
> Adjunct Professor, University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University
> [for my postal address, please contact me by e-mail]
> On Wed, 9 Feb 2011, 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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