Roseta Stone: Redux

Craig Hancock hancock at
Thu Feb 10 14:14:13 UTC 2011

     What is the current status of the competence performance 
distinction from the functional side?


On 2/10/2011 2:15 AM, Elena Lieven wrote:
> Dan is right.  Of course it depends what is meant by 'acquiring a 
> language'.  The skills of highly educated people or public speakers 
> and great story tellers in oral cultures will not necessarily be 
> acquired by all members of a community.  Ewa Dabrowska has shown this 
> for some aspects of case morphology in Polish and for passives and 
> quantifer scope in English -  both studies of adult native speakers
> elena lieven
> Dan I. Slobin wrote:
>> A few responses to previous postings:
>> Yes, languages with transparent and consistent agglutinative 
>> morphology, in the verbal or nominal systems, allow for rapid 
>> acquisition, with some productive inflections at the one-word stage.  
>> Turkish morphology, having virtually no irregular patterns, is quite 
>> securely mastered by age 3 at the latest, and often much earlier.  
>> And, in general, complex morphology, of various types, presents no 
>> serious problems with regard to acquisition of the basic grammar of 
>> the relevant constructions.  For details of successful early 
>> acquistion of morphology in a number of such "complex"languages see 
>> volumes of my crosslinguistic series: Vol. 1 (Hebrew, Polish, 
>> Turkish), Vol. 2 (Hungarian), Vol. 3 (Georgian, West Greenlandic, 
>> K'iche' Maya, Warlpiri, Sesotho), Vol. 4 (Estonian, Finnish, 
>> Korean).  Comparable findings are available for the acquisition of 
>> Inuktitut, Tzeltal, Tzotzil,Yucatec Maya, Hindi, Tamil, and others.  
>> What children find difficult--as do inguists--are multiply-determined 
>> and/or unpredictable morphophonological patterns.
>> So it depends on what you want to credit as "total acquisition" or 
>> "completion of acquisition."  An English-speaking 10-year-old can 
>> fluently produce a range of syntactic structures, in various genres 
>> and registers, without having mastered all of the irregular verb 
>> forms and a number of subordinate syntactic constructions.  
>> Furthermore, remember that a bility to produce a pattern in some 
>> contexts is far from commanding its full range of semantic and 
>> pragmatic functions.  And when all of you Funknetters became 
>> undergraduate and graduate students, and later professionals, you 
>> were still acquiring many aspects of English grammar, vocabulary, and 
>> style.  Indeed, it goes on throughout the lifespan of an engaged 
>> individual.
>> There are no established criteria for full mastery, but there are 
>> numerous studies, in all five of the crosslinguistic volumes and 
>> elsewhere, of prolonged acquisition of various parts of a linguistic 
>> system.
>> As noted, I've written about the error of expecting early child 
>> language to mirror pidgins.
>> Best,
>> Dan (with references following, many of mine available for download 
>> at
>> Slobin, D. I. (1985, 1992, 1997).  The crosslinguistic study of 
>> language acquisition. Vol. 1: The Data (1985); Vol. 2: Theoretical 
>> issues (1985); Vol. 3 (1992); Vol. 4 (1997); Vol. 5: Expanding the 
>> contexts (1997).  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
>> Slobin, D. I. (2004). From ontogenesis to phylogenesis:  What can 
>> child language tell us about language evolution?  In J. Langer, S. T. 
>> Parker, & C. Milbrath (Eds.), Biology and Knowledge revisited: From 
>> neurogenesis to psychogenesis (pp. 255-285).  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence 
>> Erlbaum Associates.
>> At 03:00 PM 2/9/2011, Lise Menn wrote:
>>> 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
>>> 1625 Mariposa Ave       Fax: 303-413-0017
>>> Boulder CO 80302
>>> home page:
>>> Professor Emerita of Linguistics
>>> Fellow, Institute of Cognitive Science
>>> University of  Colorado
>>> Secretary, AAAS Section Z [Linguistics]
>>> Fellow, Linguistic Society of America
>>> Campus Mail Address:
>>> UCB 594, Institute for Cognitive Science
>>> Campus Physical Address:
>>> CINC 234
>>> 1777 Exposition Ave, Boulder
>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>> Dan I. Slobin
>> Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Linguistics
>> Department of Psychology           email: slobin at
>> 3210 Tolman #1650                    phone (Dept):  1-510-642-5292
>> University of California                phone (home): 1-510-848-1769
>> Berkeley, CA 94720-1650, USA   fax: 1-510-642-5293
>> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

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