"Being bilingual may delay Alzheimer's and boost brain power..."

Lise Menn lise.menn at Colorado.EDU
Thu Feb 24 19:22:39 UTC 2011

whoo, wait, Alex - it's NOT my study - though I wish it were!  This  
and the related papers come from the symposium organized by Judith  
Kroll, and the particular study on AD is by Ellen Bialystok and  
On Feb 24, 2011, at 11:03 AM, alex gross wrote:

> Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, Lise, I've been busy  
> welcoming my great half-nephew (who like many in the family is tri- 
> lingual) during his visit from England.
> I believe you and your colleagues deserve to be congratulated for  
> your hard work in demonstrating the link between bilingualism and  
> AD, and I don't think you should take reservations voiced by others  
> here too seriously. Tom, it's quite obvious to anyone familiar with  
> this field that my neighbor who runs the fruit stand down the street  
> & speaks Arabic, Spanish, & English for business purposes isn't  
> quite in the same category as people who are truly challenged to  
> reflect on complex realities in language A and then try to express  
> them in language B. Though even his brain might be just a bit more  
> stimulated than that of mere monoglots...
> The various categories of bilinguals were long ago pretty well  
> delineated by Francois Grosjean in his 1982 "Life with Two  
> Languages: An Introduction to Bilingualism" (Harvard U. Press) and  
> no doubt by other works since then, and I don't quite see the point  
> of bringing these categories up again simply to cast doubt on Lise's  
> study.
> I was nonetheless quite happy to find your reference to "The Memory  
> Palace of Matteo Ricci," a book that meant a great deal to me when I  
> first read it during my Chinese period in the mid Eighties (& when I  
> also heard Spence lecture). It describes some remarkable instances  
> of Ricci's culture blindness, for instance (based on memory...)  
> Ricci's certainty when he showed the Chinese his painted,  
> naturalistic, blood-dripping wooden crucifix that he was clearly  
> demonstrating to them the true glory of Christ, though the Chinese  
> merely interpreted it as evidence that he must be a devil  
> worshipper. Or the conclusion they reached, after Ricci ranted on  
> and on about the sheer & total oneness of god, that he could only be  
> some kind of Muslim. Such instances of culture blindness are almost  
> as blatant as those regularly displayed by some mainstream linguists.
> I also don't think that the people whom I most respect as genuine  
> professional linguists--my old translator friends at the UN--would  
> find much to doubt in the study by Lise and her colleagues.
> I further believe there's a great deal to celebrate in Lise's   
> study, since it links language and linguistics with medical studies  
> and with at least some standards of scientific proof, something  
> linguistics today severely lacks.
> I mentioned a few months ago that instead of harping on the  
> limitations of so-called mainstream linguistics (an easy task), I  
> would try this year to present some positive beginnings for a new  
> study of language.  So let me start now--even if it may take a bit  
> of time to put it all together (though nowhere near so long as the  
> mainstreamers have taken to come up with almost nothing).
> One reason I am highly impressed with Lise's study (and also why I  
> was happy to learn that Anne Marie is a speech therapist) is that I  
> have become ever more certain over the years that the real center of  
> language study lies not in grammar at all but in language physiology  
> and the sheer physicality of language. This is a point I already  
> started making in several of my papers and articles during the  
> Nineties, and I want to stress it even more forcefully now.
> Based on what I believe can be easily demonstrated as the true  
> center of language, I will even go so far as to insist that all of  
> those who have held up grammar as the definitive guide and centering  
> point for language--from Panini and his commentators, to Dionysos  
> Thrax, to Ibn Abi Ishaq, to Varro and Priscian, to the Modistae and  
> the Port Royal School, to the German Junggrammatiker, to the  
> Saussureans, and finally even to the unfortunate Chomskians--that  
> all of them have been demonstrably mistaken.
> There was of course a very good reason why these doubtless worthy  
> scholars all centered in on grammar. It sounded so dry and clean, so  
> abstract and intellectual, it gave the illusion of being a major  
> organizing principle, it held out the promise that something truly  
> important had been discovered. Which of course added to the pride  
> and self-esteem of the scholars who detected it. It little mattered  
> that each discoverer in each culture had usually confronted a very  
> different grammar, since it was then just one quick leap into the  
> even more fascinating--but quite untenable--belief that all grammars  
> in all languages everywhere must be remarkably similar. Or if they  
> failed to be similar, then they were obviously deviant and inferior  
> grammars, and those who employed them were deviant and inferior  
> peoples.
> But language is only incidentally dry and clean or abstract and  
> intellectual.  It springs from the very wellspring of life itself,  
> language belongs in the same class as those three moist, messy, and  
> clammy life concoctions that so many people most fear and least want  
> to talk about.
> We all know what those three are: birth, sex, and death--and  
> language is definitely the fourth among them.  And that is why  
> laymen and scholars alike have so desperately sought out clean, dry,  
> and abstract formulations about them.
> I have discussed these moist, clammy origins of language in several  
> published and/or presented papers and articles, how language most  
> probably evolved from the scent markings and spray markings of more  
> primitive animals & turned into sound markings, how it is related to  
> chemical excrescences of unicellular organisms or the territorial  
> sprayings of mammals and other animals. URLS for two of those  
> publications are found towards the end.
> Language is the fourth of those three wells of moistness, and its  
> physiological locus is not installed in some never-never "language  
> organ" but of course right inside our nervous and muscular systems.   
> It exists primarily as a network for self-preservation and self- 
> defense and a means of distinguishing family from strangers, friends  
> from foes, clan members from outsiders.  And it plays this role even  
> in the highest echelons of our societies, including scientists and  
> scholars.
> It is not sufficiently recognized that learning to speak a language  
> requires not merely learning grammar, vocabulary, idioms, and  
> cultural usages, it also urgently demands that we embed all of these  
> into the network of our nerves and muscles if we are ever truly to  
> speak any language, including our own.  As such, learning a language  
> is more similar to learning how to box or play tennis or throw and  
> catch a ball than it is to memorizing a series of dates or names or  
> sales figures or drawing creative diagrams to show how grammar  
> supposedly works.
> This is where Rosetta Stone falls down when it supposes that if you  
> want to know the time, asking "?Que hora es?" or  "Che ore sono" in  
> Spanish or Italian will necessarily help you to understand the  
> answer, which might be not the expected one at all but "My wife  
> borrowed the good watch, and this one doesn't work." And this is  
> also where our academic linguists fall down just as badly when they  
> suppose that language inevitably follows structured, innate  
> principles.
> We must not only pronounce our questions correctly in a foreign  
> language, we must fully understand the answer and be ready with a  
> follow-up question or comment. This requires not only good hearing  
> and nerve endings but well-timed muscular coordination.  The muscles  
> employed are far smaller than those we use in boxing or tennis, but  
> their use and timing must be exquisitely sensitive.
> Language can perhaps best be seen from a variety of perspectives: as  
> a protective covering that envelops all of us in varying degrees  
> according to our age, our accomplishments, and our place in  
> society.  Or as a series of parries and thrusts in an extended  
> fencing match.  Or as a  set of evasions and strikes in ninjutsu.   
> Or as a set of probes aimed at determining proper bounds, also  
> requiring proper advances or retreats.  And all of these comparisons  
> are by no means limited to advanced or "witty" stages of repartee-- 
> they are just as common among five-year olds moving from one parent  
> to another to gain advantage.
> I can go a great deal further along the lines I have laid out here  
> and with your permission hope to do so later on. I am simply afraid  
> that what I have said so far is perhaps already more than strange  
> enough for some of you, and that you might be tempted to react with  
> brief, contemptuous putdowns or at best the usual sort of semi- 
> learned obscurantism that appears here more often than it should.   
> Or to question or ridicule my supposed academic achievements, as one  
> of you did a few years ago.
> If any of this is your intent, may I ask you, if you possibly can,  
> to please refrain. This would be especially true for grad students,  
> who might be tempted to earn brownie points from their advisors by  
> launching a mega-attack against ideas contrary to what they have  
> been taught. In any case, after fifty years of failed mentalism,  
> it's scarcely surprising that we would find resistance to a combined  
> body-mind approach to language.
> Those of you who have bothered to visit my website ought to have  
> discovered by now that my publications include not only  
> contributions to linguistics, including invited & peer-reviewed  
> papers in our field, but also in translation studies and MT, in  
> Chinese medicine, in endocrinology, in sexual education, and in  
> Elizabethan, Ancient Greek, and modern German theatre. My more  
> informal articles and reviews delve even more deeply in all these  
> fields.
>> From this perspective, I sometimes find myself both shocked and  
>> disturbed by
> the narrowness of education displayed by a few who contribute to  
> this group, along with the doctrinal and dogmatic points of view  
> such narrowness encourages.  I truly hope there can be room here for  
> a broader perspective on language.
> With only the very best to all of you!
> alex
> URLS for my language-spray pieces:
> http://language.home.sprynet.com/lingdex/ariadne.htm#totop
> http://languag2.home.sprynet.com/f/evidence.htm#top
> **************************************************************
> The principal purpose of language is not communication but to  
> persuade ourselves
> that we know what we are talking about, when quite often we do not.
> **************************************************************

Lise Menn                      Home Office: 303-444-4274
1625 Mariposa Ave	Fax: 303-413-0017
Boulder CO 80302
home page:	  http://spot.colorado.edu/~menn/

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

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