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The Birth of a Word
Posted: 27 December 2013 07:15 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I don’t remember seeing this posted here and I didn’t find it searching, so here it is.

The Birth of a Word

This is a great TED talk from a Deb Roy, a professor at MIT who “conducts research at the MIT Media Lab on language, games, and social dynamics at the intersection of artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology.”

I believe his ideas about data mining language are only the beginning.

Believe me, the boys at Google’s AI labs are all over this. Tomorrow’s robots will understand more about what you’re saying than you do.

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Posted: 28 December 2013 05:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Tomorrow’s robots will understand more about what you’re saying than you do.

I doubt that very much, but the video is interesting and I’m glad people are collecting this kind of data on language development.

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Posted: 28 December 2013 06:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I’d known about the project from the perspective of an infant’s language acquisition. (The TED talk is from 2011.) But I did not know of the work to map social connections and media inputs. That’s just as fascinating.

Something else also struck me as I watched this video. I’d always assumed that oral language acquisition was “natural” and innate, something that wasn’t taught. (As opposed to reading and writing which must be taught; no one learns to read without explicit instruction.) But Deb Roy’s discussion of how a caregiver’s own language changes around an infant and the feedback loops inherent in oral language acquisition makes me think my former view was entirely wrong. It is taught, only the process is subtle and unconscious.

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Posted: 28 December 2013 03:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Something else also struck me as I watched this video. I’d always assumed that oral language acquisition was “natural” and innate, something that wasn’t taught. (As opposed to reading and writing which must be taught; no one learns to read without explicit instruction.) But Deb Roy’s discussion of how a caregiver’s own language changes around an infant and the feedback loops inherent in oral language acquisition makes me think my former view was entirely wrong. It is taught, only the process is subtle and unconscious.

I disagree, language can be taught as a second language, and it usually is, but as a first language isn’t it learned through mimicry? I was never taught Italian I just learned by speaking with my grandmother who did not speak a word of English.

I read a book, Strong Opinions, which contained articles and interviews on Vladimir Nabokov, the Russian writer. (I apologize for the non sequitur, but it does tangentially relate to the subject)

In the forward Nabakov writes: “I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child.”

In an interview he was asked: “ I notice you “haw” and “er” a great deal. Is it a sign of approaching senility?” Nabakov responds: “Not at all. I have always been a wretched speaker. My vocabulary dwells deep in my mind and needs paper to wriggle out into the physical zone.  Spontaneous eloquence seems to me a miracle. I have rewritten—often several times—every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.”

Herman Melville also would constantly change one word in a sentence and dedicate a whole week until he was satisfied with the word he chose. (Again, I apologize for the factlets, but it all revolves around language (words) and it’s all quite fascinating.)

I have noticed with interest that many great writers were not as articulate in speech. What is your view on this?

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Posted: 28 December 2013 11:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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as a first language isn’t it learned through mimicry?

As the video shows, that mimicry is guided and encouraged. Adults don’t simply wait for a child to figure it out on their own, they help. They teach.

FWIW, I believe the singularity is a forgone conclusion.

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Posted: 29 December 2013 01:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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As opposed to reading and writing which must be taught; no one learns to read without explicit instruction.

This is a categorical statement --- has it been systematically substantiated?

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Posted: 29 December 2013 02:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I disagree, language can be taught as a second language,

I don’t know what you mean.

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Posted: 29 December 2013 04:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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OP Tipping - 29 December 2013 02:55 AM

Dave Wilton - 28 December 2013 06:50 AM
I disagree, language can be taught as a second language,

I don’t know what you mean.

I think Dave’s statement might work a little better if it were ”a language can be taught as a second language” Learning the whole concept of language is certainly not explicitly taught.  The fact that certain behaviors by parents, usually mothers, facilitate that learning does not change the idea that it is something innate in the human brain

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Posted: 29 December 2013 05:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I think Dave’s statement might work a little better if it were ”a language can be taught as a second language”

Not my statement. But I agree that there is a huge difference between “learning language” and “learning a language.” (Maybe it would be less confusing to call the latter “learning a dialect.") The conversation here is not about learning a specific language, but learning a first language.

As opposed to reading and writing which must be taught; no one learns to read without explicit instruction.

This is a categorical statement --- has it been systematically substantiated?

I suppose there may be a case somewhere of an illiterate person sitting down on their own and puzzling out writing. But in such a case the person must understand what writing is and is only learning the mechanics. That’s not the same situation as an infant learning spoken language.

Reading and writing are relatively new additions to the human tool kit. People have been speaking for as long as they’ve been human. (You might say that language is what makes us human.) Say 150,000 years. But we’ve only been writing for less than 5,000 years. Language may be hard wired into our brains, but writing and reading are not.

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Posted: 29 December 2013 10:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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OP Tipping - 29 December 2013 02:55 AM

I disagree, language can be taught as a second language,

I don’t know what you mean.

What I was trying to say, rather unsuccessfully, was that usually one goes to school to learn a second language where it is taught. There are exceptions, as I stated, I learned Italian just by trying to communicate with my grandmother, who did not speak English. I learned through mimicry. But I am certain there were times when I was corrected, so I guess there was a little instruction involved.

Although, I cannot imagine language being taught during the paleolithic era; it must have been learned through mimicry and osmosis.

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Posted: 29 December 2013 01:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Those who’ve read Tarzan of the Apes* will recall that Tarzan taught himself to read from his dead parents’ books, and actually wrote letters in English to other people in the story, despite never having heard or uttered human speech. It is a tribute to Burroughs’ talent as a storyteller that this (and a whole lot of other) stuff made him enduringly famous. As a boy, I read everything of Burroughs’ that I could lay my hands on.

*Now available on-line at the Gutenberg Project

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Posted: 29 December 2013 03:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Do deaf children of deaf parents learn sign language “without special instruction”, ie by observing their parents’ sign language?

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Posted: 29 December 2013 03:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Although, I cannot imagine language being taught during the paleolithic era; it must have been learned through mimicry and osmosis.

So paleolithic people taught their children some things, like how to hunt, but teaching them how to communicate wasn’t one of them?

Teaching your children is part of being a parent, whether you’re a modern human or a neolithic human or a cheetah. Yes, the desire and ability to communicate is hard wired, but the details are learned and I would say the desire to nurture and teach your children is just as hard wired as their desire to understand what you’re talking about.

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Posted: 29 December 2013 04:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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we sporadically hear yarns about young twins who jabber with one another in their own private language. What is the linguists position on these stories.

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Posted: 29 December 2013 05:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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OP Tipping - 29 December 2013 03:11 PM

Do deaf children of deaf parents learn sign language “without special instruction”, ie by observing their parents’ sign language?

That’s my understanding.  I’ve done a little reading on the subject, not enough to make me an expert, but enough to make me believe that that is the case.

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Posted: 29 December 2013 11:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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To really test the matter equivalently, you would need to have parents who communicate in writing in a way that is easily visible to the children ... all the time. e.g. parents that use big block letters on a board for all their communications in front of the child.

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