Saturday, July 07, 2007
Monday, July 02, 2007
Sunday, July 01, 2007
On the Situatedness of Language Learning: A Linguistic Brief Introductio
Language learning is more than the mere four language skills which some people used to provide on the order of "Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing". I am wondering whether this order should be there. I guess it should not. This order might be the case with us when we learnt our native tongues, but for additional languages I do not think it should be valid.
Another point is that I believe that nobody can even learn a language without learning about its culture. These just go together, and even if you are trying to avoid assimilating culture--which I see no rational for--you would not succeed in so doing. Language learning should be situated and contextual, after all, if it ever to be fruitful.
I also think that you cannot master a language in the full sense of the word unless you live in a community speaking that language. Some people would oppose that, but I can say , at least from my personal experience, that successful communication with the language is more than language lexicon, structures, etc. per se. Pragmatics has been defined by Jenny Thomas (1997) as "meaning in interaction" so you should have interaction to master a language along with its pragmatics.
Well, linguists would talk about different levels of meaning. To begin at the level of lexicon, you would have dictionary meanings of words, and the dictionary--at least a decent dictionary--gives the different senses of a word, along with its collocationality (i.e. words that tend to hang with it), idiomaticity (i.e. words that form fixed or semi-fixed phrase-like constructions with it), as well as whether a word occurs in a prover, saying, phrasal verb, etc. The dictionary also gives information on the syntactic behavior of a word, gives words in sentences. Some advanced dictionaries, like Oxford English Dictionary (OED), would give authentic examples, from various registers (e.,g., literary, journalistic, etc.). Potentially you can have also knowledge related to lexical relations (e.g., synonymy, homonymy, antinomy, homophony, etc.). Sociolinguistic information on lexical items can also be provided, so that we know where and in which situations a word can be heared/said. Interestingly, dictionaries are also giving cultural notes on some lexical items now. And I belive that advances in the realm of corpus linguistic and concordancing will more and more develop the ways dictionaries are made and hence help language learners grasp more situated and varied language uses. This sort of work is done in different areas like (Lexical) Semantics and Lexicography.
Another level of meaning will be the level of discourse (Well, discourse is differently defined by different people, but I am using it to mean “meaning beyond the clause”). Here you would have longer chunks that should be interpreted taking into account both the linguistics and the non-linguistic (or social context). To complicate things more, you would need to take into account the intention of speakers/writers and this takes you into the realm of pragmatics—situated meaning, meaning in interaction, speaker/writer-hearer/reader trade of the linguistic and sociocultural commodity. So, from this very brief, rough, and quite non-academic note on the various levels of meaning you would see that language learning MUST be situated.