Tuesday, December 27, 2016

By the Riverside

His name was Kim. Eternally going around with a fishing stick, a roll of string, hooks and bate, Kim was destined to be himself. He was determined too. For him, to live was to fish. Kim woke up to fish. He slept to wake up the next morning to fish by the riverside.

One day, while fishing in the woods, he saw a girl. He knew it had to be her. The girl for her. His girl. She was fishing too. Alone in the woods. Jumping into the river to swim, throwing her fishing line far, catching big ones with ease. He knew she was his.

But he had no courage to talk to her. He hid himself in the woods by the riverside, just to watch her. He moved from one tree to another to see her better. Then she left with her catch. He sat around for some more time and left with a swollen heart. He couldn't forget her. He was fallen. Fallen flat for her. So flat, he forgot his fishing stick in the woods.

Then he made inquiries to find out about her. Not many knew. But the fishing gears store guy knew this much- She used to come around to fish. Was from far. Came there just to fish by the riverside.

What he heard made him happy. She loved fishing. He smiled to himself. But he didn't get to meet her again. She remained a dream within his heart. A patch of hope and love. An oasis.

He wrote an advertisement in the local newspaper for his missing fishing-stick. Hoping to get it back. May be someone found it in the woods.

Then, one afternoon, he found the fishing girl at the door of his cabin by the riverside. She held the newspaper advertisement in her left hand, and the fishing stick in her right. The same old beaten fishing stick. His fishing stick. And a smile- a knowing smile.

*****

This is the story of my parents. A mother who knew she was being watched while in the woods, and a father who knew that the girl in the woods was his. The story of my parents. A story by the riverside.


Tuesday, July 05, 2016

ജീവിതം നമ്മെ പഠിപ്പിക്കുന്നത്

ഒമ്പത് വര്‍ഷങ്ങള്‍ക്കുമുമ്പ് ഒരു മെയ് മാസം.

അമ്മ ഉമ്മറത്ത് കസേരയില്‍ രണ്ടുകാലും കയറ്റിവച്ച് കൈകള്‍ മടിയില്‍ വച്ച് കൂപ്പി എന്തോ ചിന്തിച്ചിരിക്കുകയായിരുന്നു. യാത്ര പറയാന്‍ പോയതാണ് ഞാന്‍. പഠനം കഴിഞ്ഞ്, അടുത്ത കോഴ്സിനായി ഞാന്‍ ചെന്നൈക്ക് പോകുന്നു. പതിവുപോലെ അമ്മ ചായയും പലഹാരവും തന്നു. ചിരിച്ചു. എന്‍റെ സുഖവിവരങ്ങള്‍ അന്വേഷിച്ചു. സുഖമാണോ എന്ന് ചോദിച്ചപ്പോള്‍ മങ്ങിയ ഒരു പുഞ്ചിരി മാത്രമേ എനിക്കുതന്നുള്ളു. ഒരുപക്ഷേ ഉള്ളില്‍ നീറിയ കനലിന്റെ ഒരു തരിയായിരിക്കാം ആ കണ്ണുകളില്‍ വിഷാദത്തിന്റെ നേര്‍ത്ത നിഴല്‍ വീഴ്ത്തിയത്.

നിശബ്ദത നീണ്ടുപോയപ്പോള്‍ യാത്ര പറഞ്ഞ് ഞാന്‍ ഇറങ്ങി. വാതില്‍ക്കല്‍ നിന്ന് അമ്മ എനിക്ക് എല്ലാ നന്മകളും ആശംസിച്ചു. എന്തോ ഒരു നൊമ്പരത്തോടെ ഞാന്‍ നടന്നകന്നു. എന്‍റെ സുഹൃത്തിന്റെ അമ്മ എന്‍റെ അമ്മയെപ്പോലെയായിരുന്നു. അടുത്തൊരമ്മ.

ഒരാഴ്ച കഴിഞ്ഞ് ചെന്നൈയില്‍ വച്ച് ഒരു സുഹൃത്ത് ആ അമ്മയുടെ മരണവിവരം വിളിച്ചുപറഞ്ഞപ്പോള്‍ ഹൃദയമിടിപ്പിനൊപ്പം ശ്വാസമെടുക്കാന്‍ ബുദ്ധിമുട്ടിയപ്പോള്‍, ഓരോരോ ഓര്‍മകളില്‍ അമ്മ തന്ന പലഹാരങ്ങളുടെ രുചിപോലെ അവരുടെ പുഞ്ചിരികളും വാക്കുകളും നിറഞ്ഞപ്പോള്‍ ആയിരം മൈല്‍ ദൂരം ഒരു നിമിഷം കൊണ്ടില്ലാതായിരുന്നെങ്കില്‍ എന്ന് ഞാനാശിച്ചു. അപ്പോഴും എന്‍റെ കൂട്ടുകാരന്‍റെ നൊമ്പരത്തിന്റെ ആഴം എനിക്ക് അളക്കാന്‍ കഴിഞ്ഞില്ല. അവന് കരയാന്‍ ഒരു തോള്‍ കൊടുക്കാന്‍ എനിക്ക് കഴിഞ്ഞില്ല. അവനെ കെട്ടിപ്പിടിച്ച് അവന്‍റെ കരച്ചിലടക്കാന്‍ എനിക്ക് കഴിഞ്ഞില്ല.

ജീവിതം അങ്ങനെയാണ് അല്ലേ? ആഗ്രഹങ്ങള്‍ ആഗ്രഹങ്ങളായി അവശേഷിക്കുന്ന ഒരു പ്രതിഭാസം?

പക്ഷേ, അങ്ങനെയല്ല ജീവിതം എന്ന് തെളിയിക്കുന്നതാണ് അനുഭവങ്ങള്‍. രണ്ട് വര്‍ഷങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് മുമ്പ്, വേദന നിറഞ്ഞ ഒരു ഡിസംബര്‍ മാസത്തില്‍ എന്‍റെ ചാച്ചന്റെ വേദന നിറഞ്ഞ നിശബ്ദതകൊണ്ട് ഞങ്ങളുടെ വീട്‌ നിറഞ്ഞു.  മരുന്നുകളുടെ ഗന്ധം നിറഞ്ഞ ആശുപത്രിപ്പുലര്‍ച്ചകളും സന്ധ്യകളും കടന്ന്, കണ്ണുനീരൊലിക്കുന്ന പ്രിയപ്പെട്ട മുഖങ്ങളുടെ മങ്ങിയ കാഴ്ചകല്‍ക്കപ്പുറത്തു വച്ച്, എന്‍റെ ചാച്ചനും വിട പറഞ്ഞു. ഇനി വരില്ല എന്ന് പറഞ്ഞ്, ഇനിയും ഒത്തിരി സ്നേഹം തരാന്‍ ബാക്കിവച്ച് ചാച്ചന്‍ പോയി. ജീവിതം നിറഞ്ഞ ശൂന്യതയില്‍ എനിക്ക് കരയാന്‍ ഒരു തോള്‍ അവനാണ് അന്ന് കൊണ്ടുവന്നത്.

ഓര്‍മ്മകളുടെ ചില്ലുകൂടയില്‍ ഒരിക്കലും മായാത്ത ഒന്നായി ഞാനത് സൂക്ഷിക്കും. കുന്തിരിക്കത്തിന്റെയും ദുഖത്തിന്റെയും ഗന്ധം നിറഞ്ഞ സെമിത്തേരിയില്‍, ചാച്ചന് അവസാനമായി ഒരു മുത്തം കൊടുത്ത് യാത്രപറഞ്ഞപ്പോള്‍ എനിക്ക് തലചായ്ച്ച് കരയാന്‍ അവന്‍റെ തോള്‍ അവിടെയുണ്ടായിരുന്നു. ബലമുള്ള ഒരു താങ്ങായി. ഒരു ജന്മത്തിന്റെ കടം ഒരു നിമിഷം കൊണ്ടെനിക്കുണ്ടായി. പിന്നീട് ഒരുവാക്കുപോലും പറയാതെ പഴയൊരു അമ്മപ്പുഞ്ചിരിയെ ഓര്‍മ്മിപ്പിച്ച് അവന്‍ മടങ്ങിപ്പോയി. പക്ഷേ ആ അഞ്ചുനിമിഷത്തെ കടം ഒരുജന്മം കൊണ്ടും വീട്ടാന്‍ എനിക്കാവില്ല.

ജീവിതം ഇങ്ങനെയാണ്. ഇങ്ങനെയൊക്കെയാണ് ജീവിതം നമ്മെ പഠിപ്പിക്കുന്നത്. ജീവിക്കാനും, മനുഷ്യനാവാനും.




















ചിത്രം ഇവിടെ നിന്ന്

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Craving

The darkness of morbid evenings! He twisted and turned in his creaking old iron chair cursing the evening, and all the sadness it brought with it. To make the curse perfect, he spat on the dirty wall next to him, and looked for a beedi. He liked a beedi between his index and middle fingers whenever he felt emasculated. And he smoked a lot!

Life was such for him. He started on a high note, but had a few hurdles from the beginning. He graduated from a good University with a first class, and found a job that paid well. But within a year, he fell sick. His backbone was giving him trouble. His company gave him a month's salary in advance and sent him away with an "all-the-best" card. Nobody wanted a liability on them.

He spent his savings in the hospital. When discharged he looked for a job, but ended up getting the smoking habit instead. He did odd jobs, ran errands, taught a few kids and earned a living.

When he looked back into his life, he saw only smoky discreet images. He was never clear about his life. The only proper job he had was sort of a joy for him, but it did not last long. He was worn out and tired of life.

There were no beedis! He felt helpless. He didn't have money. He had nothing to eat. He began wondering about his life as if it were a movie script. Where would the script writer take his life from there? There weren't many characters, there was no heroine and no villain except life itself, no twist and absolutely no beauty! This script would be a disaster. No script writer would hesitate to tear it up and throw it away. " I have reached a dead end", he said to himself with a sad smile.

He decided to go to the shop and beg for a beedi. He was hungry and felt dejected, but all he wanted was a beedi. A simple beedi could set his life alright. Walking half naked to the shop, he thought about the beedi he was going to smoke. A beedi that gave out golden smokey clouds into the despair of his lonely sadness. He could see the impending joy of his life. A beedi was all he needed.

Shop was across the road. He could see it. There were rows of Dinesh beedi packets arranged in lines behind the shopkeeper. A packet cost three Rupees. But he just wanted one beedi. "The shopkeeper would be generous", he thought to himself. "Afterall, I have given him a lot of business", he thought with a spark in his eyes.

He set his hopes high on the goodness of the shopkeeper and crossed the road with the image of a golden beedi in front of him.

*****************

THE shopkeeper had seen the half naked man coming towards his shop. He knew what he was coming for, and kept a beedi ready, along with a few words of advice and scolding. The shopkeeper always scolded him for not making the most of his education and talent. He was capable of achieving much more. He had a smile on his face imagining how he would come and beg for a beedi, and how he would refuse and pretend to be angry.

THUD!

The shopkeeper saw the half naked man landing on the road, right under the tires of a lorry. He turned his eyes away in shock as the lorry ran over him mercilessly and sped away without stopping!

The beedi fell from his hand as blood spread over the road. And a few words of advice and scolding escaped his lips slowly. Those words were emasculated, as if they were craving for a beedi.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

As if There was No Tomorrow

That little dot in his heart began swelling as she disappeared from his sight. The colourless dot became big and black and globular. He felt suffocated. As he strained to follow the dust trail of her car, he realised that she was alone. "I am alone."

Why does this happen all over again breaking my heart the hundredth time into uncountable pieces! He swore as tears rushed to his still eyes and gushed down his stubborn bearded face. "She comes, she goes. I remain here like an island waiting to be inhabited."

The swell in his heart became unbearable. Rubbing his migraine infested temples he staggered back to his bed leaving the front door open. He didn't feel like eating, drinking or having a bath. He just felt dead enough to fall on to the bed. The bed still retained her scent, which saddened him even more.

Should I drink? He asked himself. Or should I have some medicine? He couldn't bother to answer his own questions. In the agony of being alone with a migraine and a blotch in the heart, he disappeared into deep deep sleep.

*****

A few miles away, on a moving car, another migraine was pounding its way into the core of her sanity. She felt like opening the door of the car and jumping out into the heavy traffic. She held a handwritten letter in her hand. One page in black ink. She was clutching it so hard that it crumpled so badly and was wet from the sweat of her palm. He had given it to her before she boarded the car. With thumping heart she read it. She cried so loud that the driver pulled the car over. "My heart would wrench and I will die."

Every time she left him, she would decide to stay the next time. But she was never able to decide. She was sad to leave him alone, but life had to go on. And she had to leave.

She looked at the letter one last time, shredded it in her hands and threw it out the window. Then looking out at the rocky hills by the roadside, she did what she always forced herself to do- turned her heart into stone by holding her breath for a really long time. It helped.

While the tear drops on her cheek dried in the wind, she drifted into deep deep sleep.

*****

At home, in the kitchen, a few black ants were trying to get what was left in a small glass bottle of poison. They too slowed down gradually and slept- as if there was no tomorrow.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

ജനിക്കും മുന്‍പേ കേള്‍ക്കുന്ന ശിശുക്കള്‍

ശിശുക്കള്‍ക്ക് അവര്‍ ജനിക്കുന്നതിനു മുന്‍പേ, അമ്മയുടെ ഗര്‍ഭപാത്രത്തില്‍ വച്ച് കേള്‍ക്കാന്‍ സാധിക്കും. സാധാരണഗതിയില്‍ ഒമ്പതുമാസം കൊണ്ടാണ് കോശങ്ങളുടെ കൂട്ടം എന്നതില്‍ നിന്നും ലോകത്തേയ്ക്കുവരാന്‍ തയ്യാറായ മനുഷനായി ശിശുക്കള്‍ പരിണമിക്കുന്നത്. ഏകദേശം ആറുമാസം അമ്മയുടെ ഉദരത്തില്‍ വളരുമ്പോഴേയ്ക്കും ശിശുക്കള്‍ക്ക് കേള്‍ക്കാനുള്ള അവയവങ്ങളും അവയെ സഹായിക്കുന്ന തലച്ചോറിലെ വഴികളും തയ്യാറായിരിക്കും. അതുകൊണ്ട്, തങ്ങള്‍ക്കുചുറ്റും ഉണ്ടാകുന്ന ശബ്ദങ്ങള്‍ കേള്‍ക്കാന്‍ ശിശുക്കള്‍ക്ക് ആറുമാസം മുതല്‍ കഴിയും.

ശിശുക്കള്‍ക്ക് കേള്‍ക്കാന്‍ കഴിയും എന്ന് നമുക്കെങ്ങനെ അറിയാം? ചിലപ്പോള്‍ ഡോക്ടര്‍മാര്‍ അമ്മയുടെ ഗര്‍ഭപാത്രത്തില്‍ ശിശുവിന്റെ വികസനം അറിയാന്‍ സൂക്ഷ്മപരിശോധനയ്ക്കുള്ള ഒരു ഉപകരണം കടത്തി പരിശോധിക്കാറുണ്ട്. അതിനോടൊപ്പം ഒരു ചെറിയ മൈക്രോഫോണ്‍ കൂടി കടത്തുക വിഷമമുള്ള കാര്യമല്ല. അങ്ങനെ ശിശു എന്താണ് കേള്‍ക്കുന്നത് എന്ന് നമുക്ക് കേള്‍ക്കാന്‍ കഴിയും.

എന്താണ് ശിശു കേള്‍ക്കുന്നത്? അമ്മയുടെ ഹൃദയസ്പന്ദനം. ധമനികളിലൂടെ രക്തം കുതിച്ചൊഴുകുന്ന ശബ്ദം. വയറ്റിലെ മുരടലുകള്‍. പിന്നെ അമ്മയുടെ ശബ്ദവും. അമ്മ സംസാരിക്കുമ്പോള്‍ അവളുടെ ശബ്ദം ദൂരത്തെന്നപോലെ ശിശുവിന് കേള്‍ക്കാം. നമ്മള്‍ വിരല്‍ ചെവിയില്‍ ഇട്ടശേഷം മറ്റുള്ളവരുടെ സംസാരം കേള്‍ക്കുന്നതുപോലെ. പതിഞ്ഞ, വിദൂരത്തുള്ള ശബ്ദം പോലെ. എല്ലാ വാക്കുകളും നമുക്ക് കേള്‍ക്കാന്‍ പറ്റിയെന്നുവരില്ല. പക്ഷെ, സംസാരത്തിന്റെ ഈണവും താളവും തീര്‍ച്ചയായും കേള്‍ക്കാം. ജനിക്കും മുന്‍പ് ഈ ഈണവും താളവും കേള്‍ക്കാന്‍ ശിശുക്കള്‍ക്ക് പരിശീലനം ലഭിക്കുന്നു. ഇവയായിരിക്കണം ശിശുക്കള്‍ ആദ്യമായി പഠിക്കുന്ന ഭാഷാലക്ഷണങ്ങള്‍.

ശിശു ജനിക്കുമ്പോള്‍ വേറെ ഒരു ജിജ്ഞാസാജനകമായ പരീക്ഷണം നടത്താം. കുഞ്ഞിന്റെ ഇത്തിരിപ്പോന്ന ചെവികളില്‍ ഹെഡ്ഫോണുകള്‍ വച്ച് പട്ടികുരക്കുന്നതും പുരുഷന്റെയും സ്ത്രീയുടെയും അമ്മയുടെയും ശബ്ദങ്ങള്‍ കേള്‍പ്പിക്കും. കുഞ്ഞിന്റെ വായില്‍ ഒരു റബ്ബര്‍ നിപ്പിള്‍ വച്ച് അത് ഒരു കമ്പ്യൂട്ടറില്‍ ഘടിപ്പിക്കും. ശിശു എത്രപ്രാവശ്യം റബ്ബര്‍ നിപ്പിള്‍ വലിച്ചുകുടിച്ചു എന്ന്‍ ഈ കമ്പ്യൂട്ടര്‍ എണ്ണും. ശിശു സ്ഥായിയായ ഗതിയില്‍ റബ്ബര്‍ നിപ്പിള്‍ വലിച്ചുകുടിക്കും. പട്ടിയുടെയും പുരുഷന്റെയും സ്ത്രീയുടെയും ശബ്ദം കേള്‍ക്കുമ്പോള്‍ വലിച്ചുകുടിക്കുന്നതിന്റെ വേഗം അല്പം കൂടുകയും പിന്നെ കുറയുകയും ചെയ്യും. പക്ഷേ അമ്മയുടെ ശബ്ദം കേള്‍ക്കുമ്പോള്‍ കുഞ്ഞ് അതിവേഗത്തില്‍ തുടരെത്തുടരെ വലിച്ചുകുടിക്കും. കുഞ്ഞ് അമ്മയെ തിരിച്ചറിയുന്നതിന്റെ ലക്ഷണം ആണിത്.

ശിശു ജനിച്ച് കേവലം മണിക്കൂറുകള്‍ക്ക് ശേഷം ഈ പരീക്ഷണം ചെയ്യാവുന്നതാണ്. അമ്മയുടെ ശബ്ദം പഠിക്കാന്‍ ശിശുക്കള്‍ക്ക് മാസങ്ങള്‍ കാത്തിരിക്കേണ്ടതില്ല. അവര്‍ക്ക് ജനിക്കുംമുന്‍പേ അതറിയാം.

മനുഷ്യന്റെയും പ്രകൃതിയുടെയും ഓരോ അത്ഭുതങ്ങള്‍!


Sunday, April 17, 2016

ചുംബനം

പുതുമണം മാറാത്ത നിന്നധരങ്ങളിൽ
ചുംബിക്കട്ടെ ഞാനൊടുക്കം വരേയ്ക്കും.
മരണമാം കമ്പിളിക്കുള്ളിലും പുണരട്ടെ
നിൻ കവിതയിറ്റും സ്വപ്നങ്ങളെ!

നിമിഷാശ്വങ്ങളേ തേരിറക്കുക,
കൊണ്ടുവരികെൻ പ്രണയിനിയെ,
പ്രേമലോലമീ കവിത മായും മുമ്പേ
ഈ മനോഹരസന്ധ്യ മായുംമുമ്പേ.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Dripping with Love

My love, I'm dripping with love.

Through the mornings that miss you
And evenings that crave for you
My fingers and my veins thirst
And I begin dripping with love for you.

Those moments of affection filled silence
You and me over the misty lone coffee.
Wish I was there, sweating our passions off
Knowing heavens chose us to be.

And, thinking of you far far away
Missing your aroma moment by moment
Disintegrating in memories bit by bit,
My love, I'm still dripping with love for you.
From here

Friday, February 12, 2016

A bilingualism research question

We know children learn languages very easily, and do it 'perfectly'. An adult tries to learn a language for years and most of the time, fail miserably or only partially succeed. Why do children learn so well?

Brain plasticity is cited as a reason, in relation to Critical Period Hypothesis of Lenneberg. Research has proved that delayed development of pre-frontal cortex in infants result in a delay in cognitive control. Delay in cognitive control results in facilitation of convention learning. After all, language is a set of conventions!

So, it is like saying that children learn languages easily because they lack cognitive control. Now, that is very interesting. If lack of cognitive control facilitates acquiring conventions, why do we make a lot of rules about languages and try to learn these rules instead of the language as such? Aren't we doing it the unnatural way? Instead of doing away with cognitive control, we use cognitive control excessively in order to learn languages.

To learn a language, what we need to do is very simple- lose our cognitive control. That is all we need to do.

How do we lose our cognitive control and become childlike so that we learn faster and save a few years of our lives? This is the research question in Bilingualism or Multilingualism.


Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Acquisition in Bilingualism

How is language acquired in case of bilingualism. Sometimes a learner is exposed to two languages simultaneously, sometimes one language comes earlier than the other. It is observed that language development happens at different rates in different learners in case of bilingualism. We look at the issue from the perspective of Phonology in this essay.

Issues in Phonology
It is observed that bilingual learners have a problem in picking up accent of the second language. Learning a second language is problematic for a bilingual just as for everyone else. This is because one language already has a dominance in the learner's system. Even if bilingualism is simultaneous, that is, both the languages are given at the same time in early infancy, one of the languages become the dominant language. If this doesn't happen, the child will be confused about the codes of language. This can result in latent language development in children. The gist is, that one language has to be the dominant language.

How does the proficiency of the second language get affected by various factors like time of exposure, age of exposure, etc.?  It is observed that children exposed to a second at the earliest age acquire the language better. The earlier the better. Second factor is exposure. The more the exposure, the better the rate of acquiring the second language. Here, exposure includes both reception and production of language. This is related to brain plasticity. Brain plasticity is explained in two ways. The first is about evolution: as human race advances through centuries in time, the brain becomes more adaptive and more capable of handling more complex data. Thus today's human brain might be a raw material for what might come a century or two later. The second way brain plasticity can be looked at is at a micro level: an individual's brain changes over time, and becomes more adaptive and complex with exposure. In the case of bilingual, this plasticity of brain is lost as age advances. So, if the child is exposed to a second language at a very early age, the child would pick up that language in a better fashion.

Becoming a Bilingual
In order to be called a bilingual, one should be able to handle two languages. This involves various levels of language. The very first is the sound system of a language, because phonemes are the basic building blocks of a language. A bilingual child should be able to distinguish between the sound systems of the two languages.

Experiments have proved that new born babies can differentiate between some pairs of languages that share a common sound system, but have sufficient differences in their rhythmic pattern/structure and prosody. (Prosody is the way you say things / the emotional signature on utterances.) So, of languages have same prosody, children cannot distinguish between languages. This implies that in the very early stages of language development, children develop prosody and rhythmic features. That is, children differentiate between speech sounds and non-speech sounds. At such early age, prosodic bootstrapping happens in children. This is why the age of exposure is said to be very important. Prosody gives children the basic data that is used for the rest of their lives.

After bootstrapping happens, the child starts picking up recursive parameters with which it can generate new structures using the available bits of language. That is, children distinguish between speech sounds and non-speech sounds and then, start differentiating between sounds of different languages. So, already a system is built up as the default system. If infants are exposed to two languages, prosody helps separating and building up two separate systems. This is because, once a child is first exposed to its first language, it acts as a reference point for later language acquisition. Infants exposed to Spanish and Catalan were able to distinguish between these languages at an early age of 4.5 months! 5 month olds can distinguish between two languages which are within the same native rhythmic class. For example, American and Australian English can be distinguished between by babies. But they cannot differentiate between Dutch and German (Dutch is a stress based language, while German is not). All this can be related to the idea that a child learns languages with reference to its first language.

Segmental Information
After picking up the phonemes in the language, children go on to acquire other features of language. Vowels are next in line. How are vowels distinguished by children? There are experiment based evidences that say that 4.5-6 month old babies can distinguish between mother tongue and a second language. Usually bilingual kids get confused regarding two language inputs that they receive. But if there are cues like prosody available for the child, this is overcome by the child. Even here, for different pairs of languages, the mental processes will be different.

In syllable detection tasks, french speakers were found to distinguish /ba/ in the given words because they were familiar to them in their first language. But when they were asked to identify /bal/ it took time/found it difficult because their first language doesn't process syllables that way. This is evidence to different parsing techniques used by different individuals.
Another test using time-compressed language: Anyone can adapt to time-compressed language. But if you remove the features of language that determine boundary features, like the space between words, etc., it becomes difficult. When such language bits were given to learners, it was found that they were able to transfer adaptation to the second languages that were in the same rhythmic group, and they found it difficult to transfer adaptation to languages that were not within their rhythmic group. Between Spanish and Catalan, learners could transfer their adaptation, but between English and French, they couldn't.

Phonemes
6 month old infants can identify native language phonemes. This is a developmental change. First the child learns to distinguish between speech and non-speech sounds, then it moves to identifying phonemes of its native language, and differentiates them from those of other languages.
There is a decline in sensitivity to non-native phonemes as the child grows up. That is, language specific system builds up in early childhood. After a few months of age, children can't distinguish between different phonemes (10-12 months). This is a complex task that the brain does by fixing one system as the dominant system.
Perceptual re-organization: sensitivity to consonants also decline by the end of the first year of a child's life. English speaking children distinguished between English and Zulu clicks (consonants). This did not depend on exposure since these subject did not have exposure to Zulu. So, by the end of first year of its life, a child already knows that its primary language is different from other languages.

EEG done on learners gives mismatch negativity. Mismatch negativity is obtained when a difference is identified by the subject. for example, /b/, /b/, /b/, /b/, /d/ should generate a mismatch negativity since the last phoneme is different from the previous ones. In Learners' EEG, mismatch graph amplitude increased showing discrimination of sounds between two languages when exposed.

Monolingual children have to handle only one language data. In bilingualism, children have double task. All the processes discussed above happen doubly for a bilingual child. It has to identify and distinguish between two sets of phonemes simultaneously. As children grow, they can't distinguish between all the sounds from other languages if they are similar. Bilinguals distinguish between similar sounds a much later stage than monolinguals (probably because they have to handle much more data).

Notes from : Handbook of Bilingualism: Psycholinguistic Approaches Edited by Judith F Kroll and Annette MB De Groot 

Sunday, February 07, 2016

ആഴമുള്ളവ

ഹൃദയത്തിലാഴത്തില്‍ വരഞ്ഞുവീണ പാടുകളല്ലേ കാലത്തിനും ദൂരത്തിനും മുമ്പിലോടുന്നത്? 
അങ്ങനല്ലേ ജീവിതം പുതിയത് മാത്രമായിത്തീരുന്നത്? 
കടന്നുപോക്കല്ലേ ജീവിതം? 
ഈ നിമിഷമല്ലേ ജീവിതം?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

ദൂരങ്ങളില്‍

ദൂരങ്ങളില്‍,
കവിത വിരിയുമൊരു ഹൃദയം
സമയം തുഴഞ്ഞിങ്ങുയാത്രചെയ്യുന്നു.

ചക്രവാളച്ചുവപ്പിനുമപ്പുറം
തണുത്ത മേഘക്കപ്പുകളിലവള്‍
വിരഹം മൊത്തുന്നുണ്ടാവുമിപ്പോള്‍.

പുസ്തകമണങ്ങളില്‍പ്പെട്ടു
ദൂരമറിയാതെ ഞാനോ,
ഇത്തിരിവട്ടത്തില്‍
കാത്തിരിപ്പിന്‍റെ കൈയിലാകാശം നോക്കുന്നു.

പ്രണയം വാർന്നു വീഴുന്ന ദേഹവും നോക്കി
രണ്ടുപേരിങ്ങനെ...
ദൂരങ്ങളില്‍...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Interaction Analysis

Interaction approach looks at input, production of language or output and feedback of interaction as a means of explaining learning. According to Gass and Selinker (2008, 317) interaction research’s starting point is the assumption that language learning is stimulated by communicative pressure and it examines the relationship between communication and acquisition and the mechanisms that mediate between them. In short interaction studies look at communication and acquisition using interactions between speakers of a language.

Components of interaction include negotiation, recasts and feedback. Negotiation of meaning is dealt with in this essay.

When the flow of conversation is disturbed, participants question particular utterances and request help with the conversation. This is a kind of negotiation of meaning in order to get equal participation in the conversation, to be part of the conversation from which the speaker slipped due to lack of understanding (or proficiency factors). Negotiation of meaning happens when parties in a conversation interrupt its flow to understand what the conversation is about. This happens frequently with non-native speakers according to Gass and Selinker (318). In my experience, this happens also with native speakers when internal or external factors affect the speaker or the listener. For example, in a mentally preoccupied situation, the listener may not interpret the speaker in the right manner. This necessitates clarification from the speaker for the smooth conduct of the conversation. Sometimes, especially with NNS, this happens too often that most of the conversation time is occupied by interruption as in 10.10.

Such lack of understanding is a block to exchange of ideas and opinions. So from the passage, we understand that not only NSs, but also NNSs change their conversation structure to negotiate meaning. Long notices NNS conversations to have forms that are not seen in NS conversations. Examples are confirmation checks like ‘am I right?’, comprehension checks like ‘did you understand?’ and clarification requests like ‘eh?, huh?, what, etc.’.

Different kinds of questions are asked by NSs and NSSs of English. If a NS and a NNS are in conversation, then it is usually the NNS who expresses non-understanding. The NS then clarifies using different techniques to reduce complexity of the utterance so that the NNS can understand. These tactics convey much information to the NNS. Some of these tactics are, repeating the question after giving a pointer to the answer, giving choices for the listener to choose from, giving alternatives, rephrasing, etc.

But there are subtler differences observed in conversation. In case of NNS, there is a willingness to change topics abruptly when understanding is not reached. This can also happen as a result of unfruitful and long attempts to negotiate meaning. I have similar experiences with a Thai student of mine. We have often abandoned topic because neither of us could make sense of each other.
Here, modifications are for understanding of the NNS. Thus NNS is assisted in understanding what is spoken and to produce speech, so that there is less pressure on her. Another perspective on this is that this exercise could be for showing solidarity. There could be no aspect of ‘helping in understanding’ at all.

But here we need to make a distinction between comprehension and acquisition. Both are not equal. Comprehension is a single event, while acquisition is a permanent state in terms of learning.
The comparison of Conversational Analysis of two theorists Mori and Kasper with an Interactionist analysis of a conversation shows clear differences in approach. Input analysis is surface focused and is not looking for motivation of NS speech. That is, interactionist perspective is not concerned about the detailed aspects of a conversation that they don’t count as learning. For them, activities are not central to their approach. Therefore, increased accomplishment within an activity is not counted as or relevant as learning.


Reference
Gass, Susan M. andn Selinker, Larry. Second Language Acquisition. Routledge. London. 2008.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

ശരീരമില്ലായ്മയുടെ പ്രണയം

അതല്ലേ പ്രണയം?
സ്പര്‍ശവും ചര്‍മ്മഗന്ധവും ഉന്മാദവും
നിഴലല്ലേ, നിറമല്ലേ, മാഞ്ഞുപോകും.
നിന്‍റെ പ്രണയം നിന്നോളം മാത്രം.

പുകമഞ്ഞിനപ്പുറമവളുണ്ടെന്നതും
പുസ്തകമണത്തിലോര്‍മ്മ പൂക്കുന്നതും
ഒരുമാത്ര മിന്നല്‍പ്പിണരിലവളുണരുന്നതും
മാത്രമല്ലേ പ്രണയം?

ദൂരകാലങ്ങളില്ലാതെ,
കരിയിലയനക്കങ്ങളില്‍
പരസ്പരം കാണ്മതല്ലേ പ്രണയം?
ശരീരമില്ലായ്മയിലല്ലേ പ്രണയം?


Input in Language Acquisition

Language learning is not as simple as filling some content into existing structures so that all on a sudden you begin speaking- like installing an operating system onto a new computer. You are not ready to go in 30 minutes. To see how complex a process is language acquisition, there are many frameworks we can adapt. Here, we will begin by looking at language input and its importance in acquisition of a language.

Language Input
Former conceptualizations of second language learning was based on behaviourist models where input in terms of exposure and imitation was the most important aspect in learning a language. Research based on input faded away as behaviourism was kept aside by theoreticians, and it became old fashioned. New interest was in the way of internal mechanisms of the learner. What the learner brings to learning situation began to be seen as very important. the focus is here on innateness and innate system within the learner. The view here is that the learner is the creator of language. Input is not important.

In 1967, Corder made an important distinction between input and intake. Input is what is available to the learner in terms of input, and intake is what is actually internalized, or acquired. Input is that language to which the learner is exposed. Any babble can be input. But that does no good to the learner. Intake is available for the learner to use at all times, and is part of the system of the learner.

Now, what is the nature of input to a language learner? Ferguson says that similar to the language mothers/elders use for their kids (motherese), there is something called 'foreigner talk'. Foreigner talk is simplified talk that Native Speaker (NS) use for the consumption of Non Native Speaker (NNS) or language deficient individuals. Ferguson set out to understand the similarity of motherese and foreigner talk.

There are various ways of making foreigner talk. It could be slow speech rate, loud speech, long pause, simple vocabulary, repetition, elaboration, restraining from use of slang, etc. Speech is adjusted by NS as a function of the learner proficiency. NSs make modifications in speech when they perceive that NNSs don't comprehend.

The techniques used are not only phonological and syntactical, but also like restatement, repetition, elaboration, giving more information, fuller use of noun or object or other classes or phrases, implicit grammatical information being made explicit, etc.

NSs assess and reassess NNS's linguistic ability during conversational interaction. So, during conversation, NS's speech pattern changes. This adjustment facilitates comprehension.

What are the functions of foreigner talk in terms of language learning? One, NNS's understanding is facilitated. Foreigner wants to be understood. Comprehensibility is the important criterion in a conversation. Foreigner talk is produced because comprehensible input is to be produced if comprehension has to occur (Like motherese creates comprehensible input for the baby, foreigner talk produces comprehensible input for the L2 learner). But not all foreigner talk is created equal. Parker and Chaudron says that discourse elaboration or modification of conversational structure aids comprehension better than simplification at linguistic level i.e., foreigner talk.

Input Hypothesis-Krashen
Krashen's Monitor model, where what you learn acts as your monitor to check your language use, and input hypothesis should be discussed in this context. Input hypothesis came as an explanation to Natural Order hypothesis. He argued that there is a natural order in which languages are learned. If there is an order, how does learner move from one point to another? The answer is Input hypothesis. Second languages are acquired by receiving comprehensible input.

For comprehensible input to work, the input should be one bit ahead of the current state of the learner's grammatical knowledge. If the learner's current state is 'i', comprehensible input should be 'i+1'. Input should not be very high or very low compared to the current state. It won't serve the purpose then. This condition has to be satisfied for acquisition to happen. Krashen assumed the availability of the Language Acquisition Device for first and second language acquisition. Comprehensible input activates this structure.

Input hypothesis applies to all acquisition, in class room also according to Krashen. He notes that speaking is the result of acquisition, not the cause of it. Speech emerges as a result of comprehensible input. What you acquire becomes part of your language, which is used in speech. If input is understood, necessary grammatical structures are automatically provided. A teacher need not deliberately teach grammar, the next step in the natural order. It happens automatically if comprehensible input is there. That is, no explicit language teaching is required. (This view led to the development of Communicative Language Teaching of CLT). The teacher's role is limited to ensuring the availability of comprehensible input.

The difficulties of this theory are the following. Krashen did not talk about level of the learner (i, i+1, etc.). He did not specify what is 'specific quantity' of appropriate input. He also did not consider how extra-linguistic information helps in actual acquisition or internalization of a language if understanding is defined at the level of meaning. We may understand what is spoken, but does that necessarily mean the grasp of grammatical rules that underlie the speech? How does exposure to language translate into internalization of language rules? These questions are not answered by Krashen's account.

Now, what is the relevance of Krashen's Monitor model and Input hypothesis to foreigner talk as language input in second language learning? Krashen's theory speaks about comprehensible input. The emphasis is on 'comprehension'. If input is not comprehensible, it is not relevant. That is why he speaks of i, i+1, etc. Likewise foreigner talk is a tactic by which comprehensible input is generated for the listener who is linguistically not at the level of the speaker. By keeping comprehensibility as the criterion, NS adjusts her speech in order to create comprehensibility. This is the relevance of input hypothesis in relation to foreigner talk.

Notes prepared from: Gass, Susan M. and Selinker, Larry. Second Language Acquisition. Routledge. London. 2008.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

ഇരുട്ടിന്‍റെ ബലിച്ചോറ്

മകരമഞ്ഞു മായുമ്പോഴെങ്കിലും 
നീ അരികിലുണ്ടാവുമെന്ന്‍...

ഇന്നലെ,
നിലാവിന്‍റെ ചൂടില്‍ ഓര്‍മ്മകള്‍ കത്തിയമര്‍ന്നപ്പോള്‍
ഇനിയെന്നുകാണുമെന്ന്...

കനലടര്‍ന്ന കൊള്ളിയില്‍ പുകയായി ഞാന്‍മാത്രം ബാക്കിയായി.

ദൂരെ കരിപുരണ്ട വിരഹം ആര്‍ത്തിയോടെ കാത്തിരിക്കുന്നു.
ഇരുട്ടിന്‍റെ ബലിച്ചോറിന്നായി...

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Snow roads

Keeper of my frangipanis,
Though far,
The dark sheen of your cheeks
Melts my melancholy away.

When your flowing hair sweeps over the flowers
Sprouted and bloomed in bereavement,
The snow-laden roads here gather some warmth.
For me, to smile.

Friday, January 15, 2016

മഞ്ഞുവഴികള്‍

എന്‍റെ ചെമ്പകങ്ങളുടെ തോട്ടക്കാരീ,
ദൂരെയാണെങ്കിലും
നിന്‍റെ കവിളുകളുടെ ഇരുണ്ട നിറമുള്ള തിളക്കം
എന്‍റെ വിഷാദമുരുക്കി മാറ്റുന്നു.
വിരഹം കിളിര്‍ത്തുപൂത്ത ചെമ്പകങ്ങളില്‍
നിന്‍റെ മുടിയിഴയോര്‍മ്മകള്‍ ചാഞ്ഞുവീണുപടരുമ്പോള്‍
അറിയാതെയെങ്കിലും പുഞ്ചിരിക്കാന്‍
ഇവിടങ്ങളില്‍
മഞ്ഞുവീണവഴികള്‍ ചൂടൊരുക്കാറുണ്ട്.

.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Bilingualism and Multilingualism: Some Central Concepts

Bilingualism and multiligualism exist and influence a host of social, cultural, political and psychological issues surrounding us. It is a widespread phenomena. When driven by necessity it usually doesn't go beyond a basic level of proficiency necessary for functional purposes. 

In order to be called multilingual or bilingual, one needs to know 

Competence in more than one language can be approached from social as well as individual perspectives. A nation may be full of multilingual people, but may not officially recognize all of them. A country may be officially bilingual or multilingual and yet most of its citizens may fall into the monolingual basket. While both individual and social aspects are important, both are treated and studied differently. Individual bilingualism should be studied linguistically and psycholinguistically while the social version is more historical, political, educational, etc. in dimension. 

Social bilingualism is certainly of the longstanding type. Individual type is less permanent (Immigrants to USA: first generation monolinguals-second generation bilinguals-third generation monolinguals). When different languages are used in different functions and domains, the situation is referred to as diglossia (English and French in England after Norman conquest). There are various individual and social factors at play in the background when nation is being declared monolingual or bilingual. 

People move across the world on various pretexts. Languages get mixed in the process. Trade, military action, political intervention/union, war, etc. are a few instances. For example, when colonial powers entered colonies, they somehow made their language a necessity in the colonies, and to date most colonies continue using the foreign language. Multilingualism is observed in border areas also. Cultural and educational motivation also can be the reason. 

Classification
Every language situation is unique. But some of the elements that influence the formation of bilingual or multilingual situations are recurring. Thus there could be a framework to study this phenomenon. 

John Edwards has created a typological framework of language–contact settings, with particular reference to minority linguistic groups. The framework begins with the adaptation of a geographical scheme. It has three basic distinctions. 

1. Minority Languages

  • those which are unique to one state- unique (e.g., Breton in France), 
  • those which are non-unique but which are still subordinate in all contexts in which they occur- non-unique (e.g., Basque in Spain and France), and 
  • those which are minorities in one setting but majority varieties elsewhere- local-only (French in Canada and French in France)
2. the type of connection among speakers of the same language in different states; are they adjoining (again, Basque in Spain and France) or non-adjoining (French in Canada and French in France)? 
3.  what degree of spatial cohesion exists among speakers within a given state? Cohesive (Cree in Canada) and non-cohesive (Spanish in the United States) 


The Reality of Multilingualism
‘Link languages’ fall into three categories: 

  1. socalled ‘languages of wider communication,’ varieties that have achieved regional or global power- Languages become those of wider communication not because of their intrinsic qualities, but because of the power and prestige of their speakers. Example: Greek, Latin.
  2. pidgins (a simplified language or simplified mixture of languages used by non-native speakers), creoles (a stable natural language that has developed from a pidgin becoming nativized by children as their first language, with the accompanying effect of a fully developed vocabulary and system of grammar), and other restricted linguistic forms whose diminished scope is at once easy to master and sufficient for communicative purposes which are, themselves, quite circumscribed; and 
  3. constructed or ‘artificial’ languages (example:  Ludwig Zamenhof’s Esperanto). 

The other great bridging method is translation. The problem with translation is the elements involved in making the translation. Perfect translation happens only in imagination! 


Personal Fluencies
Some views acknowledged bilingualism only where two well-developed and roughly equal fluencies were found. Others have suggested that linguistic repertoire expansion begins with the ability to produce complete and meaningful  utterances in a second language. Any attempt to come to grips with bilingual competences must obviously start from definable levels or degrees. There are many elements of a language that can be measured. Proficiency in one doesn't guarantee the same in another. 

Many tests have been used to measure bilingualism, including rating scales and tests of fluency, flexibility, and dominance. Factors such as attitude, age, gender, intelligence, memory, inter-linguistic distance, and context of testing are all potentially confounding. Even if you can measure accurately, there would remain problems of adequate labeling (balanced bilinguals, ambilinguals, and equilinguals?). 

Receptive (or passive) and Productive (or active) Bilingualism: the difference here is between those who understand a language – either spoken or written – but cannot produce it themselves, and those who can do both. 
Additive or subtractive tendencies: does learning a new language represent a repertoire expansion or a replacement of the earlier variety? Outcomes here tend to reflect different social pressures and needs. Additive bilingualism generally occurs where both languages continue to be useful and valued; the subtractive variety typically reflects a setting in which one language is more dominant, where one is on the ascendant and the other is waning.
Primary and secondary bilingualism, between a dual competence acquired naturally through contextual demands, and one where systematic and formal instruction has occurred.
‘élite’ and ‘folk’ bilingualism: The former has typically involved two (or more) prestigious languages, and often had as much to do with social-status marking as it did with a thirst for knowledge and cultural boundary crossing. 

The Bilingual or Multilingual Individual
Individuals who are bilingual or multilingual are from all sorts of backgrounds. With sufficient opportunity and motivation, anyone who is sufficiently intelligent can become bilingual. 

Can bilingualism increase the scope of intelligence? Today's scholars say otherwise. Florence Goodenough –an important educational psychologist who worked with Lewis Terman, the developer of the Stanford–Binet intelligence test – actually wrote that ‘the use of a foreign language in the home is one of the chief factors in producing mental retardation’!

There are some important difficulties involved in attempting to show a relationship – positive or negative – between bilingualism and cognitive development, mental flexibility, and intelligence. 
The most obvious bilingual benefit is of course language choice, but it is also common to find linguistic alteration occurring within one segment of speech. Transfer and code-switching are available. Lexcal transfer, transfer involving translation, morphological transfer, syntactic transfer, and phonological tranfer are varieties. Some of these might represent aspects of borrowing.

Theory and Practice
There are advantages of an early-acquired bilingual competence; these tend to reflect, above all, the relative ease of early learning and the higher levels of fluency and vocabulary that often result. This argument about plasticity of brain led to overemphasis on early acquisition. If there is sufficient motivation, older learners also can be good learners.  If we could combine the maturity and articulated necessity of the older with the impressionability, imitativeness, spontaneity, and unselfconsciousness of the younger, we would surely have a recipe for rapid and proficient bilingual acquisition.

The attention on memory based language learning has shifted to conversation/practice based learning. Immersion classrooms provide the most recent and most important embodiment of this principle. In this context many useful theories have emerged.

Most such approached depart from behaviourism and rely upon cognitive conception and go for rule formulation and testing. Learning happens through stages of InterLanguages. Social psychology based theories have looked at motivational features. When the social aspects of language are considered, the force of the situation, and the attitudes it provokes in potential learners, are central. Gardner has consistently attempted to link the social context, and the cultural beliefs within it, to individual learner capacities – including, of course, motivational levels – and the formal/informal settings in which the language is to be learned. Throughout, he stresses the influence of integrative motivation upon positive outcomes. 

Clément’s model sees individual motivations more influential in the social setting. He assigns particular relevance for those language learners who are also minority-group members, and whose first language is threatened by the forces of those speaking the second. 

Giles considers language learning as an intergroup process, with more attention given to assimilative tendencies and apprehensions, to the preservation of ethnic group boundaries and identities. 

Spolsky’s ‘general theory’ (1989) attempts  to bring together all aspects of language learning, and assumes learning to be an interactive and socially contextualized process. 

As theories advanced, we can see a clear emphasis on social and motivational aspects of learning. Most theories discard the assumption that some 'peoples' have no head for languages. They stress the importance of the setting, desires, needs, attitudes and motivation of ordinary people. The fact that millions of people become bilinguals just because of necessity puts all other factors on the backseat. 

Language and Identity
Language is a vehicle of tradition and culture, is a  medium of group narrative, and defines one's identity. When more than one language is involved, its implications should be considered carefully. The important factor here is the degree of bilingualism. Studies on personality and identity is difficult because of the lack of sufficient data being collected. 

Some have the opinion that bilinguals have 'two' identities/personalities. Language choice has bearings on personality.

Each of us may carry the tribal markings of many groups, that our ‘group identity’ is itself a mosaic rather than a monolith. Still, it is clear that, where language issues are central, the pivotal group is the ethnocultural community: overlaps of importance may occur because of simultaneous membership in gender, socioeconomic, educational, occupational, and many other categories, but the base here is an ethnic one.

How does a bilingual feel about her identity then? Does it lead to the borders of psychological duality? The deeper the linguistic and cultural burrowing into another community the greater the impact upon identity. In case of some bilinguals there is a primary allegiance to one identity. But for some who became bilinguals at a very early age, it is difficult to find such allegiance to one identity. 

The influence of language on identity can be clearly seen in the association of language with nationality. Languages in contact can also build walls to protect language identity. An interesting form of this defensive strategy is linguistic prescriptivism or purism which, given free rein, would often lead to proscription. Concern about the ‘contamination’ of one language by another, about infiltration and borrowing and about the bullying of small languages by larger ones is an historically longstanding worry; the desire to keep one’s language ‘pure’ has been strong, at least since the time of the decline of Latin in Europe, the rise of standardized vernaculars, the development of printing, and the growth of literacy. 

The importance of being multilingual is, above all, social and psychological rather than linguistic. Beyond types, categories, methods, and processes is the essential animating tension of identity.


Summary of Chapter 1 of-
Tej K. Bhatia and William C. Ritchie. Edited. (2013) The Handbook of Bilingualism and Multilingualism, Second Edition. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.  

Monday, January 11, 2016

Clause as a linguistic category

Clause is the linguistics equivalent of the term sentence.

How do we identify a clause and differentiate it from a word? There is a longer and decisive pause after a clause.

3 kinds of clauses- functional division based on Mood
There are only 3 moods. Therefore there are only 3 kinds of clauses. They are:
  1. Imperative clauses- expect someone to act on the information in the clause
  2. Interrogative clauses- seek information
  3. Declarative clauses- give information
Generally language speakers confuse mood and modality. (Modality: The expression of the speaker's opinions about present likelihood or about obligation: (a) (narrowly) by means of a modal auxiliary verb; (b) (more widely) using any of the linguistic means available.)

In linguistics, there are only 3 moods, they are attributes of clauses. Modality is an attribute of verbs.

Clauses can be studied syntactically and pragmatically.
Syntactically, we look at types of clauses.
  • Relative clause
  • main clause
  • subordinate clause
  • complement clause
  • etc.
  1. In a complex clause structure, the main clause is simple and is the central element. We can add or embed other clauses to/within this main clause. Main clause is simple and finite (Finite clauses must contain a verb which shows tense). 
  2. Relative clause is related to the argument of the predicate. 
  3. Subordinate clause is called so because the information given there is dependent on the argument of the main clause. 
  4. Complement clause gives extra information about the main clause. 
Inside a Clause
Clauses have a predicate-argument structure. Predicate is the necessary part of a clause. Predicate is the main verb and its auxiliaries put together. An argument is an expression that helps complete the meaning of a predicate. Arguments are different from adjuncts. Adjuncts are optional while arguments are necessary components of a clause. 

The field of study of predicates, arguments and adjuncts is called valency theory. Predicates have a valence. They determine the number and type of arguments that can or must appear in their environment.

Valency
A Predicate can take one or more arguments depending on its valency. 

Valency refers to the number of arguments controlled by a verbal predicate. Verb valency includes all arguments including the Subject (unlike verb transitivity which counts only Object arguments). The meaning of valency is derived from Chemistry (as used by  Lucien Tesnière)

Types of Valency
  1. Avalency - Impersonal verb
    An impersonal verb has no valency/ no determinable subject: It rains. 'It' is a dummy subject- a syntactic placeholder with no concrete referent. 
  2. Monovalency - Intransitive verb
    An intransitive verb takes one argument. She sleeps.
  3. Divalency - Transitive verb
    A transitive verb takes two arguments. He kicked the ball.
  4. Trivalency -ditransitive verb
    A ditransitive verb takes three arguments. He gave her a flower.
  5. Quadrivalent - tritransitive verb
    Some tritransitive verbs take four arguments. I bet you two dollars it will rain.
Valency is a semantic property while Transitivity is a syntactic property. 
Valency reduction (to eat is divalent as in He eats an apple. But it can become monovalent as in he eats.) and expansion (to sleep is monovalent. But it can be expanded as in He sleeps the sleep of death.) can happen. 
An important aspect of Tesnière's understanding of valency was that the subject is an argument of the verb in the same manner that the object is.

Passivization is to decrease the valence of a verb. Causativization increases valence as in ditransitivity: I made you run.

A one argument predicate is called an intransitive clause (related to the verb). Argument of an intransitive verb is called Subject (S). Argument of a transitive verb is called Agent (A) and/or Direct Object (O). O is anything that gets affected by A. 
When predicate doesn't have a normal verb- like 'is' in the clause Ram is a good boy, the verb 'is' acts as a copula relating the S and the predicate. Some verbs need a copula verb. They do a relational activity, relating subject and predicate. 
Normally verb is the head of a predicate. 

Peripheral argument: I hit you on Monday. S, O and A are core arguments. Peripheral argument is an adjunct.

* Class notes

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Applications of psycholinguistics in language instruction

Two major applications of psycholinguistics are Task-based Instruction and Language Testing.

Task-based Instruction
Unlike foreign language instruction, task based instruction gives learners some tasks to perform, leading to communication which is the goal of language. Communication and meaning making processes operate directly.

But the limitation of this kind of instruction is the possible lack of focus on form. Bringing focus on form is the challenge of task based instruction, without compromising on the natural-ness of communication.

Therefore, selection of tasks has to strike a balance between form and content. Evaluation using the criteria of fluency, accuracy and complexity is important for the organization of the order of tasks. These three aspects are independent of each other.

Language Testing
If language performance and learning in psycholinguistics are dual code based (rule based code for performance and memory based code for faster access), and if they have to coexist, the mode of testing also has to change. One has to reflect on how processing factors affect performance. The three aspects of fluency, accuracy and complexity are important aspects.  One needs to draw from cognitive psychology to shape how we make test based generalization about real world performance.

Speaking at normal rates: How is this explained?

Native speakers draw upon lexical modes of communication. Chunks of speech are stitched together to save processing time and processing resources. This saved resources can be used to plan future utterances. Therefore, speech goes on smoothly at a normal pace.

This implies a dual coding approach to language performance and learning. Dual coding requires one to account for the use of a rule based system in economical and parsimonious performance and a memory based system for fast access. Also, we need to account for the coexistence of these to systems. 

Friday, January 08, 2016

Why does politics always use Language as a unifying factor?

"The phenomenon of linguistic imperialism and its attendant forms of socio-political exclusion is not about oppressive relations based on race or skin colour that prevailed earlier. It is about unequal power relations whereby dominated groups regardless of skin colour or nationality are coerced into complying with forces of domination and mental control. In other words, the ultimate goal of linguistic imperialism is to ensure that the dominated identify with the cultural norms of the dominator, and accept the hegemonic language." (Ndhlovu, 181)

This quote about Zimbabwe reveals a lot about the politics of language. At a more parochial level, all of us experience some sort of politics of language in our day to day language. If you are from a monolinguistic state it would identify itself on the basis of language. If it is a multilingual state, it would have its preferences towards certain languages. It will surely employ various techniques to address plurality of languages. 

Politics uses language because language synchronizes the experiences of speakers. Our experience of the world is mapped on to something. This something is called language. If world view is taken as a criterion, then no two language provides same worldview. That is why every language group has a particular world view. At a personal level, language defines your identity. Also at a social level, language defines your identity. This identity is what politics wants to appropriate. 

Ndhlovu, Finex. The Politics of Language and Nation Building in Zimbabwe

Language and Identity

Language is linked to one's identity. There are two perspectives to it- shallow and deep. The shallow perspective is at the level of identifying people according to the language one speaks. One can be placed within or without a certain language speaking group. One can choose to belong to or identify as part of a language group. At a deeper level, one's identity changes when one speaks a different language. Language is not able to say what you want to say, usually in your L2. L1 being your primary language is always available for meaningful and effective communication. It is found that Russian speakers find it easy to identify shades of blue, because Russian has different names for different shades of blue. The earlier you familiarize yourself with a language, the more comfortable you would be in that language. When we use L2, we become conscious and formal. This can be explained on the basis of ethnocultural elements. People usually associate languages with contexts-social and cultural. For example, Hindi for home communication and English for office communication. English has formality attached to it thus. Therefore, if you are forced to use English at home or Hindi at the office, you would feel uncomfortable. Also, status, degree, etc. are associated to certain languages. When English is given to non-English children at home, they get confused. Children know that English is not their first language. This affects the identity of the child.

Bilingualism

Bilingualism is defined as having the ability to use two or more languages.  
Bilingualism can be individual and collective. When an individual in a society learns a second language he/she becomes a bilingual. There are possibilities and instances where an entire society turns bilingual by learning a second language. By learning another language the status of the learner changes. 

Individual bilingualism: There are cognitive advantages. Bilingual people can do certain tasks better than others. 

Collective Bilingualism: Emigrants change the linguistic composition of a place. For example, in 7th, 8th and 9th centuries, Persian came to India. Through interaction with Hindi, a new language was born- Urdu. When people from another linguistic background reach another place (colonists, religious, etc.) they bring their culture and language along with them. When British came to India, they took over the political system and then taught us English for the sake of administration. In Belgium, Flemish and French are spoken. Flemish, spoken in Flanders resembles Dutch because of the geographical proximity to Netherlands.

Varieties of Bilingualism: 

  1. Minority Languages- spoken in restricted areas (Breton in Brittany, France)
  2. Non-Unique language- Basque in Spain.
  3. Minority in one setting, majority in another: French in Canada, French in France
3 important variables in Bilingualism
  1. Speaker
  2. Language
  3. Setting 
How does Bilingualism begin?
  • To bridge language gap
    If people of two different languages come together, there has to be a link language or a lingua-franca. It becomes a pidgin as it begins to take shape. Later when it becomes the first language of second generation learners, it becomes a creole. There could be artificial languages like Esperanto.
How do we judge someone to be bilingual?
Someone should be able to speak 2 fully developed languages (not dialects of the same language). The person should be able to comprehend and produce both languages with proficiency. There should be comparable proficiency in both languages. Someone who knows only how to greet in a second language is not a bilingual. There are rating scales, questionnaires, fluency tests, etc. to determine these factors. 

Age, gender, intelligence, memory, context of testing, inter-linguistic distance, etc. are important factors that affect bilingualism. 

Terminology used in the study of Bilingualism
  • balanced bilinguals
  • unbalanced bilinguals
  • equilinguals
  • ambilinguals
  • receptive and productive bilinguals
  • additive and subtractive bilinguals
  • primary and secondary bilinguals

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Error Analysis (EA)

Error Analysis (EA) is a type of linguistic analysis that focuses on the errors learners make. Unlike Contrastive Analysis, L1 is not used to compare. Comparison is made between learners' errors in TL and the TL form itself. It is similar to the weak version of contrastive analysis in that both start from learner production data; however, in contrastive analysis the comparison is made with the native language, whereas in error analysis it is made with the TL.

Corder (The significance of learners’ errors, 1967) observed that learners' errors may be significant in themselves, and they should not be discarded as such. This led to shift emphasis from pedagogical issues to others. Errors can be indicators of learner's knowledge of L2. It has been found that errors are not a reflection of faulty imitation. But errors are indicators of learners' attempts to bring a system into the new language being learned. Probably, focus on errors led to the beginnings of the field of SLA. It is important because of its implications on psychology and linguistics also.

Corder identifies the difference between errors and mistakes. Mistakes are like the slips of the tongue- one time only events. Speaker corrects it after identifying it. An error is systematic. It occurs repeatedly, ad is incorporated in the language system of the learner. Therefore, these are errors according only to the teacher, not according to the learner. For the learner, it is all part of the IL. For example, utterances like 'no speak', 'no understand', etc. are consistent and systematic errors of the learner, and are mistakes according to the teacher! Such interpretations could hold learning/teaching process back.

Error analysis was done inside classrooms with pedagogical remediation as goal, using the following steps:
  1. Collect data: written and oral
  2. Identify errors
  3. Classify errors
  4. Quantify errors
  5. Analyze source
  6. Remediate: Based on the kind and frequency of an error type, pedagogical intervention is carried out.
Error analysis is more useful to teacher/researcher to explain errors. There are 2 types of errors, interlingual and intralingual in EA. Interlingual errors can be attributed to the NL - cross-linguistic comparisons. Intralingual errors stem out from the TL, independent of the NL. One would expect similar intralingual errors from speakers of varieties of languages. 

Criticism

  1. One criticism said that EA is all about errors, and that one should consider errors as well as non-errors to get the entire picture of a learner's linguistic behaviour. 
  2. A 1974 article by Schachter showed that the NL is a determining factor in accounting for the facts of restrictive relative clause production, yet these facts would not be apparent through an error analysis alone! She studied the use of Restrictive relative clauses in English by native speakers of Persian, Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese. The error data she collected would say that Chinese and Japanese learners of English had control over formation of restrictive relative clauses, and Persian and Arabic users do not. But further data on errors plus non-errors showed a different analysis. While error were more in Persian and Arabic learners had more errors, they also produced half as many correct restrictive relative clauses as Japanese and Chinese learners! Why does this discrepancy occur?
    Japanese and Chinese form relative clause by placing the modifier before the noun it modifies. Persian and Arabic relative clauses are similar to English in that the relative clause is placed after the noun it modifies. Because the difference between how NL and TL forms relative clauses, learners do not frequently use the structure (Chinese and Japanese). But when they use it, they use it cautiously and with high degree of accuracy. Persian and Arabic learners use them a lot because their NL structure is similar to TL structure of relative clauses, and therefore, make more errors. Thus, EA alone couldn't bring out the explanation just by looking at the errors, while in fact, NL was a major factor.
  3. Another difficulty is in judging if something is an error. Learners can use structures of NL to construct sentences in TL. It might be interpreted as an error of some kind, while it might be of another kind. So, there could be a mismatch between what the teacher judges as error and what the learner is actually attempting to do. 
  4. Attempt to give reasons to errors is another inadequacy or EA. The assumption is that is the form is correct, underlying rule is also correct. But learner might make correct sentences, yet may not have internalized the necessary background rules.  In sum, error analysis alone cannot provide us with this information, because an assumption of error analysis is that correct usage is equivalent to correct rule formation.
  5. Source of errors also pose criticism. EA says that errors can be categorized as belonging to one source or another. Can we attribute single reason for errors? Learner production may be influenced simultaneously by multiple sources (article system and Czech learners of English). Source of error could be TL and NL simultaneously also. Schumann studied the use of negation by Spanish learners of English. Learners pass through 5 stages before figuring out that 'do' is the element that carries tense and person distinction qualities in negation. He observed that certain stages of development are more persistent for learners from certain languages. He found that in case of Spanish learner of English, 2 forces, namely native language and facts of development act as sources of error. In case of learners from other languages, the only factor at play is development. He says that a single source of error will have less influence than a set of converging sources, and will lead the learner to move much more rapidly in the developmental sequence. 
EA acknowledges that learners are more than imitators of language. But it only sees a part of what a second language learner produces. Therefore, it doesn't analyse sufficient data. EA doesn't have comprehensive approach. Therefore, one cannot hope to understand a learning situation with a partial study like EA.

Notes prepared from: Gass, Susan M. (2008). Second Language Acquisition. Routledge, New York.

Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis

1950s and 60s saw language as a habit. Second language learning was seen as forming a new set of habits. Therefore, native language had a very relevant role, since in this view of language learning, it was the major cause of lack of success in language learning. The habits established in childhood (NL) interfered with the establishment of a new set of habits (TL). From this understanding emerged the need to compare NL and TL. This is known as Contrastive Analysis which compares the rules of two languages to determine similarities and differences. Robert Lado is the major proponent of the this field.

Contrastive Analysis (CA) is a way of comparing languages in order to determine potential errors to isolate what needs to be learned and what doesn't need not be learned in second language learning. Phonology, morphology, syntax, social aspects, etc. are studied to predict what will be easier and difficult for learners. Similar structures will be easily transferred and learned.

Lado says:
Since even languages as closely related as German and English differ significantly in the form, meaning, and distribution of their grammatical structures, and since the learner tends to transfer the habits of his native language structure to the foreign language, we have here the major source of difficulty or ease in learning the structure of a foreign language. Those structures that are similar will be easy to learn because they will be transferred and may function satisfactorily in the foreign language. Those structures that are different will be difficult because when transferred they will not function satisfactorily in the foreign language and will therefore have to be changed. (Lado, 59) 
Pedagogical materials that came out of CA in North American tradition were based on the following assumptions:
  1. CA is based on the assumption that language is a habit, learning a new language is establisment of a new set of habits. 
  2. major source of error in second language is the native language - NL.
  3. errors can be explained using differences between NL and TL.
  4. Greater the difference, greater the difficulty. 
  5. One has to learn the differences. Similarities are easily transferred.
  6. difficulty and ease are proportional to differences and similarities between the two languages under consideration. 
Various views on CA Hypothesis
Strong/a priori/predictive view: One can predict about learning, and success of materials based on CA. 
Weak/a posteriori/explanatory view: Starts with the learners' recurring errors and gives explanations for the learner behaviour based on CA.
Weak version gained faith because the strong version failed. Weak version gave importance to the learner, the forms they produced and the strategies they used to reach their IL forms.

CA did not survive because its theoretical background-behaviourims- belief that NL was the driving force of L2 learning- was discarded. In the 60s, language came to be seen in terms of structured rules. Behaviourism was discarded. Learning was no more seen as imitation and habit formation, but as active rule formation. 

The failure of behaviourism had implication on SLA. If imitation and reinforcement has no bearing on NL acquisition, may be SL also is not influenced by it. This became evident through data analysis. Some errors learners produced in L2 were in no way related to the structures/errors in their L1. (He comed yesterday- attempt to impose regularity on irregular verb). The theory did not predict what was happening in non-native speech. Not only did the predictions NOT come true, things that they did not predict appeared more than often. Within a theory based on the transference of NL forms, this could not be explained, for why should transfer occur in one instance, but not in another?

For example:
In French, object pronouns precede the verb, as in 
- Je  les  vois.
  I  them see
 "I see them.”
In English, object pronouns follow the verb. However, the following facts emerge in learner data:
By French learners of English 
I see them. (produced) 
*I them see. (not produced) 
By English learners of French- None of these is possible in French. 
a. Je vois elle. I see her. 
b. Le chien a mangé les. The dog has eaten them. 
c. Il veut les encore. He wants them still. 
In other words, French learners of English never prepose the object pronoun. Rather, they correctly follow English word order, which in this case is in violation of French word order. With English speakers, the reverse occurs: they follow the native language word order. If the “habits” of one’s native language are the driving force, then why should they be operative in one language, but not the other? (Gass 98-99)
The ideas of difficulty were also questioned. Difficulty was equated to errors in CA. Error meant that learner was having difficulty in learning. It is not a real measure of difficulty. How does one judge what is difficult for the learner? Error is not a real measure of difficulty. To equate difference with difficulty attributes a psycholinguistic explanation to a linguistic description. 

We can't say that there are no factors in NL that influences TL. But there surely are other factors than NL. The conclusion is that the 1:1 correspondence implied by CA Hypothesis between native and second language does not hold ground. It is not that simple. L1 has its effect, but cannot be limited to difficulty and transfer. There are other factors that may influence the process of acquisition, such as innate principles of language, attitude, motivation, aptitude, age, other languages known, and so forth. 

Comparing languages is a complex business. Lado himself had identified it. Stockwell, Bowen, and Martin gives a framework or hierarchy of difficulty in learning. it speaks also about ways in which languages can differ. Categories in which there is differentiation (NL has one form, TL has two forms), absence of some category in either languages (articles in English; Japanese has no articles), Only one form in L2, but two in L1, Correspondence, etc. are the elements of the hierarchy. CA also failed to validate claims through data from real world (empirical basis). 

Lado's hypothesis inspired a lot of research in the field of second language learning (to match CA predictions and actual data). As a result of Lado's warning to check hypothesis against actual data, Error Analysis emerged.

Reference
Gass, Susan M. (2008). Second Language Acquisition. Routledge, New York.
Secondary: Lado, R. (1957). Linguistics Across Cultures. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.