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Archive for the ‘Linguistics’ Category

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Stephen Krashen’s Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

Stephen Krashen is a linguist, educational researcher, and activist who is Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California. In the 1990s, as the state of California became increasingly hostile to bilingual education, Krashen was instrumental in advocating the merits of learning a second language. His Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis is the centerpiece of his academic work.

Krashen’s Acquisition-Learning hypothesis revolves around the concept of “comprehensible input,” a term which essentially means “messages that can be understood.” Comprehensible input is best received when the learner is hearing something that he or she wants or needs to know. Krashen differentiates language learning from language acquisition, emphasizing that while learning is a formalized process, such as that which occurs in a classroom, acquisition happens informally, when a person is relaxed. He identifies a “silent period” during language acquisition, a time during which the student listens but is not comfortable speaking.

The Acquisition-Learning hypothesis acknowledges that students learn faster as they are given more comprehensible input. Inversely, a lack of comprehensible input delays language acquisition. Total Immersion Language Teaching, for example, succeeds so well is because it provides lots of comprehensible input. When people are immersed in a culture in which they do not know the language, they have an intense need and desire to speak that language. Such students are not interested in grammar lessons from a book but, instead, want to hear “comprehensible input” about that culture that teaches them what they need to know to survive.

Krashen’s acquisition-learning theory has much in common with both the communicative approach to language study and Noam Chomsky’s theory of generative grammar. The idea of “comprehensible input” is simply another way of saying that students learn languages best when they are learning about things that interest them. This idea is the essence of the communicative approach. Krashen’s Natural Order Hypothesis says that we acquire the rules of grammar in a logical order. This is similar to generative grammar’s hypothesis that the basic foundations of human grammar are deeply embedded in the human brain.

Stephen Krashen has been criticized for not having sufficient empirical evidence to back up his theories. Gregg accused Krashen of using “ill-defined terms.” McLaughlin critiques Krashen’s theories as being weak and imprecise. However, Krashen has conducted extensive research to determine the validity of his theories, and his dedication to promoting bilingual education has had undeniable worth. His frequent media appearances have pushed bilingualism to the forefront of public awareness.

Krashen is regarded true linguistic theorist, with over 30 years of research and hundreds of published articles and multiple books. Stephen Krashen’s passionate work has left an indelible mark on the future of bilingual education in America.

Some of Dr. Stephen Krashen’s research is available for free at,,,

Language Learning - Noam Chomsky

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Noam Chomsky was born in Philadelphia on December 7, 1928 and has been a professor of language for many years. He was able to secure a doctorate degree in 1955 from the University of Pennsylvania. It was at that University that he majored in linguistics.

Chomsky was first introduced to the field of language by his Hebrew father who, too, was a scholar of linguistics.

He is also considered to be a political activists, cognitive scientist, philosopher and reputable author of many books. It was around the 1960’s that people began to describe him as a liberal socialist in the political arena.

He has been credited, however, for having a great impact on the linguistic world and the role that he played in putting emphasis on how people learn a new language.

His theory, which is well known as Chomsky’s Hierarchy, divides prescribed grammar into different classes with more power as they increase. His idea of generative grammar and universal grammar was also part of the divisiveness between Chomsky and other linguist.

His work has also influenced other areas of expertise such as immunology, evolutionary psychology, and research of artificial intelligence as well as language translation that is computerized.

Chomsky approached the study of language in a different light than his other counterparts. His universal grammar theory emphasized the primary principle that there is an inner set of linguistic rules that all humans share. This he called the beginning stages of learning a language.

It was Naom Chomsky that identified the fact that generative grammar of any language, when given certain specific rules, will appropriately calculate the words that will combine to form a sentence grammatically. Those same rules when approached correctly will emphasize the morphology of the sentence.

The earlier version of this theory of Chomsky’s generative grammar was transformational grammar. Of course, the generative grammar receives some criticisms from proponents of cognitive grammar and functional theories.


Chomsky felt that the mind had more to do with linguistics than others give it credit. He prefaces this by giving the example of a child when placed in a linguistic environment is able to have an instinctive capability to adapt to the words that are spoken.

Grammar Translation Method

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

The Grammar Translation Method was a traditional method used to teach Greek and Latin. It is also known as the classical method because it was developed centuries ago specifically to teach classical language.

This technique called for students to provide translation of an entire text on a word for word basis. They had to memorize a lot of grammatical rules and grammatical exceptions as well as a long list of vocabulary.

The main focus of using this method is:

• Interpretation of words and phrases
• Learning the structure of the second language by comparing it with the native language
• Taking into account grammatical rules
• Be able to read, write and translate a foreign language

The native language is used to conduct the class where a large vocabulary list was used that covered both languages; the second language as well as the first. Grammar points would be derived from the text and contextually presented in the textbook as it is explained by the teacher.

The Learning Process

Those grammar points were instrumental in giving the student a provisional rule of how to assemble words into appropriate sentences. The grammar drills and translations were incorporated into the learning process through practice and exercises. This helped to increase the knowledge of the student without them having to put too much emphasis on the content.

The student would break up different sentences as they were needed and translate them. By the time the student got through that process, they would have translated the entire text from the second language to the native language. In some cases, they would be asked to do the reverse (translate native language into second language) to make sure that they grasped the process.

There was hardly any emphasis placed on how words were pronounced or any type of verbal or nonverbal communication aspects of the language. Reading written text was essential to the learning process, but only to get the translation correct.


Conversational fluency is not important when it comes to grammar translation. You have to depend on your memory to be able to recall all the rules associated with the grammar of the second language you are trying to learn.
The student who is learning using this technique will be able to read and write in the target language, but the spoken language is not a priority as well as emphasis on listening skills.


Linguistics - Phonology

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

Phonology has to do with organized sounds used in natural languages. It is a variety of sounds and the features of those sounds. Phonology constitutes specific rules of the interaction of sounds with each other.

Phonology relates to other aspects of language such as morphology and phonetics. It determines the kind of phonetic sound and their significance as well as the explanation and interpretation of sounds by the native linguist. It is similar to the way in which language constitutes syntax and vocabulary.

Phonology is a descriptive preface to the way that sounds function in any language. Sounds are combined in their specific unit of a language. An example of this in the English language is the sound that “p,” makes in the word, “pet,” includes the aspirated feature.

However, in the word, “group,” the “p,” becomes the final ending of the word and does not have an aspirated feature. In other words, even though, it is the same letter, “p,” the sounds when incorporated in each word is different.

It is easy to observe that different languages have different combination of sounds for any given word. Certain sounds are found in specific languages while absent in the next. In a specific language, sounds are different because of vowel interchanging that form those words.

The goal of phonology attempts to be accountable for the similar ways in which sound affects different languages. It also seeks to describe the rules of sound and its structure within a specific language.

Although, different languages have different combined sounds and a variety of ways to arrange and pattern these sounds, it goes without saying that there a few similar ways in which they span the human language on a whole.
Some of these similar ways that are universal to all languages are:
1.    Every consonant has a voiceless stop
2.    Every language has syllables
3.    Every inventory can be divided into vowels and consonants.


Correction pronunciation is important in any language and phonology makes sure that this becomes a rule. There are some linguists who incorporate phonetics within the scope of phonology to make it easier for the person learning a second language.

Linguistics - Universal Grammar

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

All humans are born with the ability and drive to learn language. Before we can even walk we start talking. From birth we are listening with intent, ready to learn our native tongue. Evolution has seen to it that we have an aptitude for language learning, but just how much of our abilities are we born with and how much to we acquire as we go along?

When we learn languages, we use the knowledge and skills acquired from the language we already know to understand this new language. That is, we take the rules of language, such as the use of verbs and adjective, sentence structure and syntax, and apply them to the new language. While these rules will always change and vary between languages there are some structures between languages that remain the same. This is known as universal grammar. Items than can be considered a part of universal grammar include tense, aspect and mood.

There are some rules that when applied to one language can be applied to practically any language. For instance, if a language has a name for the color red, it will have a word for the color purple. These rules do not always apply to every single language, which makes the theory of universal grammar difficult for linguists to prove. Universal Grammar forms part of the nature vs. nurture that has had scientists guessing for generations. Are we born destined to grow into a certain person with certain abilities, or do we acquire these characteristics along the way?

Within the field of linguistics there are two theories as to how we learn language as children. The theory of universal grammar was proposed by linguist Noam Chomsky. He believed that a set part of our brain was dedicated to language, and that this part of the brain had a set group of rules which we applied to language. It cannot be changed or altered, we do not learn it we are born with it. These structures appear in every language around the world. The alternative theory is that we are born with no pre-existing knowledge of language, rather it is something that we acquire.

Linguistics - Syntax

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

All languages do have rules which are called grammar. These rules are necessary to enable those who are learning the language to be able to continue to grow their vocabulary and speak in long sentences throughout their lifetime.

If rules did not exist in language acquisition, the student would find it a huge effort to learn a new language because then they would have to learn each sentence separately. The rules define how sentences should be constructed and what is right from what is the wrong way to put a sentence together. Using those rules helps the student to know how and when to use certain words, verbs, nouns and phrases in a sentence.

With those rules in place, the student will feel more confident in combining words into sentences and can create myriads of sentences on their own while administering these rules of language. The person who has knowledge of the syntax will see the sentence as more meaningful to them. Syntax is very important in constructing sentences and once the rules are learned, it comes quite naturally to the speaker.

In terms of language acquisition, Syntax is the study pertaining to the sentence construction rules and principles in a native language. It goes to the reference of the rules governing the structure of sentences in any language. There are some generic rules that apply to all languages as it relates to its syntax.

The rules include things such as how words are put together, how the word ending changes as it relates to the context of the sentence and how the parts of speech are connected.

In language acquisition, syntax in sentences is exemplified by a few methods below:

“The girl caught the ball”

Here is how you would describe the syntax rule of any sentence (noun or subject is followed by verb and then verb is followed by object or noun): In the above sentence, the subject is the girl and that is followed by the verb caught and then another noun which is the ball.


It does not matter how complex the sentence is because words can be embedded into the existing sentence to make the rules of syntax still work and still meaningful.

Linguistics - Semantics

Sunday, September 13th, 2009

The study of meaning is what semantics indicates and it targets the problem of understanding. It is the meaning of words, phrases or sentences.

It is used to interpret gestures, signs, symbols, facial expressions and body language. When it has to do with written language, though, semantics has to do with the structure of paragraphs, punctuation and content.

Studying semantics formally introduces the student to other subfields such as proxemics, pragmatics, and lexicology. However, semantics is better defined in its own field. Other related fields of semantic are reference, communication and semiotics. So it is more formally complex than any other model.

Due to this complexity, students that study semantics or meaning do differ from their determination of what that meaning is.

For example, if you were to say, “Cindy loves a milkshake,” the word milkshake could possibly be referencing the object itself because this is its actual exact meaning. However, it may also be referring to other metaphoric connection such as the hunger that Cindy has, which may be the implication of the speaker.
Conventionally, the view of formal semantics limits semantics to its exact meaning, and downgrades all metaphoric connections to pragmatics.
With semantics and finding the meaning of phrases, antonyms and synonyms are extremely important.
Semantics is viewed as truth conditions, which is what the world would think of what you say or do according to the knowledge that the world has about what you are saying or doing. This is determined by different cultures and languages.
It comes down to what inferences the person listening will draw from the semantics. It may also be how you deliver the sentence or word.

It is important how you apply semantics. For example, if someone should ask you, “Does every train from Washington DC to Florida make five stops along the way,” then there should be simple semantics specifics related to the question.

If the person being asked the question has knowledge of the answer, then the semantics would contain truth conditions if the answer was “yes, it has five stops along the way.” There could also be partial meaning where the train only stops twice and not five times.

Most semantics theory draw upon the assumption that a sentence is either proposed to be true or it is not true or possibly some truth is in it. Situations are what defines and identifies the truth.

Language Learning - Learner Internal Factors

Monday, August 17th, 2009

There are many reasons that people choose to learn a second language. We may be planning to travel or looking for a job overseas. We may learn a second language from our family or while we are at school. Some people tend to learn language quickly while others struggle. Have you ever wondered why this is?

Within the field of linguistics, our level of competence in learning a second language is referred to as learner internal factors. Input is the exposure to the second language, and instruction is the method by which we are taught. Two people with exactly the same exposure to a second language will learn at completely different rates. While one learner may walk away from a lesson taking in all that they have learnt, another may leaving having recalled nothing.

Age is a major factor in language learning. Children seem to learn a second language much more easily than adults, and usually reach a high level of fluency as well. For this reason, many elementary schools have second language learning built into their curriculum. While it has not been proven conclusively, it is evident that a crucial period for language learning occurs before puberty, when we have a much greater aptitude for language learning.

Research has shown that those who have learnt a second language already will make better progress with subsequent language that they learn. The brain works like a muscle, so to speak, the more we exercise certain parts of it the stronger and more efficient they become. By learning languages, we utilize the parts of the brain involved and improve our own aptitude.

Even personality can have an effect on how someone learns a language. Of course, motivation has an effect. The more motivation you have will change the amount of effort that is placed into language learning. It has also been shown that people with generally low levels of anxiety and stress make for better language learners. Those who are extroverts tend to do better at language learning than introverts. This is thought to  be because extroverts have a lesser fear of failure and are more willing to ask for help.

Language Family

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Languages change and evolve all of the time; words become disused, new words are created and given new meanings. Many forces can change the shape of a language. In Italy, geography changes the language, across the country several dialects are spoken, which have evolved differently in different regions. Time also changes a language, the English we speak today is worlds apart form the Olde English spoken a thousand years ago, or even the English of Shakespeare spoken four hundred years ago.

Some parts of a language will change, but many features will remain the same. Because of this we can trace a language back thousands of years to its original roots. Languages belong to families. Many languages may have common roots, that is an original language from which they were derived.

To return to the example of the dialects of Italy, it’s possible to trace back through time to find its roots. Today in Sicily, people speak Sicilian and Italian. It is important to note that the advent of television in the 1960s meant that many people who would only have learnt Sicilian have since learnt Italian. The Sicilian Dialect most likely was derived from Italian settlers, who came from mainland Italy and settled there at some point in history. Because of the geographical separation from the mainland, over time this Italian evolved into the Sicilian they speak today. The Italian language was derived from Latin in a similar fashion. Many other languages share their roots in Latin, such as French, Spanish and Portuguese. This is what’s known as a language family.

If you decide to learn a second language that is in the same family as your first language, you may find it easier than learning a language from a different family. For instance if you speak English, which is part of the Germanic language family, you may find learning Dutch, Danish or Norwegian easier than a language form another family.

The language from which other languages stem from is known as the Proto-language. German and Latin are both proto-languages. It is not always possible to trace a proto-language. In some cases the speakers of this language did not write and leave any records of what they spoke. In such cases, linguists do their best to reconstitute such languages from what evidence they find.