Roseta Stone: Redux

Lise Menn lise.menn at Colorado.EDU
Wed Feb 9 23:00:53 UTC 2011

that's right.  And child language and pidgin aren't the same, in any  
case, for any language I know about, any more than any of them are  
telegrams.  But there are arcane reaches of languages that most people  
don't learn, confounding the definition of what 'acquire' means:   
Japanese honorifics and noun classifiers have elegant refinements,  
crafts and professions have jargons...

On Feb 9, 2011, at 1:50 PM, A. Katz wrote:

> 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.
>  --Aya
> 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

Lise Menn                      Home Office: 303-444-4274
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Professor Emerita of Linguistics
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University of  Colorado

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