Roseta Stone: Redux

A. Katz amnfn at
Wed Feb 9 20:50:16 UTC 2011

I seem to recall that in "The Evolution of Language Out of Pre-Language" 
Dan Slobin had a sort of dissenting article at the end in which he 
mentioned that Turkish children use grammatical morphology at the one word 
level, so that they are never actually speaking a pidgin Turkish 
at any point in their language development.


On Wed, 9 Feb 2011, Craig Hancock wrote:

> Brian,
>    This strikes as a bit like Lake Woebegone (Where all the children are 
> above average).
> normal Danish children all learn good Danish and become fluent readers
>   Is acquiring a language totally separate from the uses of that language? 
> Are we just acquiring the forms and then differing in our ability to put them 
> to use or are the uses themselves a major part of what we are acquiring? Are 
> lexicon and syntax wholly separate, or do we go on acquiring the 
> lexico-grammar as we enter more deeply into adult worlds of discourse?
>    Anyone in literacy education knows that too many American children fail 
> to reach high levels of fluency as readers and writers. Doesn't that somehow 
> mean they have failed to acquire the language?
> Craig
> On 2/9/2011 2:04 PM, Brian MacWhinney wrote:
>> Fritz,
>> There are studies in places like the Journal of Child Language by Dorthe 
>> Bleses, Hans Basbøl, and colleagues at Southern Denmark University on the 
>> delay of the acquisition of Danish phonology in comparison to other 
>> European languages, mostly attributed to the complexities of the vowel 
>> system and the various assimilatory processes.  There is a corresponding 
>> delay in the acquisition of reading by Danish children that was observed in 
>> the cross-European PISA project.  All of this is well documented in the 
>> literature, but it is rather marginal and transitory.  Eventually, normal 
>> Danish children all learn good Danish and become fluent readers.
>> -- Brian MacWhinney
>> On Feb 9, 2011, at 1:27 PM, 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
>>>>>>>>>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>>>>>>>>> This message was sent using IMP, the Webmail Program of Haifa 
>>>>>>>>>> University
>>>>>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>>>>> This message was sent using IMP, the Webmail Program of Haifa 
>>>>>> University

More information about the Funknet mailing list