[b-hebrew] A Reply - WAV question

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Wed Jun 2 14:44:24 EDT 2004

On 30/05/2004 09:49, Maurice A. O'Sullivan wrote:

> At 11:48 30/05/2004, UUC wrote:
>> This is close
>> to what Chomsky says, actually. There is a built-in mechanism in our 
>> minds
>> for understanding the structure of language;
> Three days ago a linguist called Larry Trask, who had never accepted 
> this, died.
> As his obituary in " The Times " [ London ] of March 28 stated:
> >> He rejected any theory that could not be supported through evidence 
> and refuted much that was myth and conjecture. <<
> and it went on to deal specifically with this point of Chomsky's
> >> Trask was an opponent of Chomsky's theories of Universal Grammar, 
> first proposed in the late 1950s and by this time widely accepted. 
> Chomsky had proposed that some fundamentals of grammar are hard-wired 
> into the human brain before birth, but that some options within it are 
> fixed later by experience. Trask believed that there was no evidence 
> to support this idea, and that it should not be taught as fact. His 
> own arguments were always based on sound knowledge of facts and 
> scientific principles, and he would take the greatest pains to make 
> sure they were understood by everyone from first-year undergraduates 
> to colleagues and competitors. <<
I agree with Trask. But, whether or not it is evidence for Chomsky's 
wider views about built-in mechanisms, there certainly *is* evidence 
concerning different rates of language acquisition by children and 
adults using different methods. And certainly one of the slowest 
methods, for adults and children, is to work from a grammar book with 
lists of tenses and paradigms.

 From my own experience and that of others I have worked with, it is 
possible for adults as well as children to acquire a good working 
knowledge of any modern language within just a few months. The key to 
this, which is much easier for children than for adults, is immersion in 
a situation where they are surrounded by the language and are forced to 
use it. This is painful, but effective. The analytic approach is not 
very helpful. I understand that children find it easier than adults to 
acquire the precise phonetics that make them sound like native speakers, 
but that in other respects adults do better than children if other 
things are equal. But so often other things are not equal, because 
adults have many other things which they need to do, or choose to do, 
which distract them from language learning.

As for biblical Hebrew, things are not so easy because there is no user 
community. The usefulness of modern Hebrew is debatable. Randall Buth's 
Biblical Language Center (http://www.biblicalulpan.org/) has tried to 
set up a biblical Hebrew course based on immersion and natural language 
learning methods. These methods are a clear improvement over traditional 
approeaches using grammar books.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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