Category Archives: Language Learning

Mariology & Mary Debate: James White vs. Robert Fastiggi

Here is James R White, the bane of all Arminians, this time Roman Catholics, in a debate on the RC doctrines of Mary. What have they done to the mother of my Lord!

Reformed Baptist Daily

This is an excellent debate on a very serious matter.  The thesis of the debate is basically this: Does the devotion given to Mary detract from the glory of Christ?  Robert Fastiggi (Roman Catholic) says no.  James White (Reformed Baptist) says yes.  Call me bias, but Dr. White did a fabulous job in this debate, demonstrating from Catholic resources that the teaching of and devotion to Mary by Roman Catholics does indeed detract from the glory of Christ’s redeeming work.  Dr. Fastiggi’s argument basically amounts to him quoting Catholic sources that say that devotion to Mary is not to detract from Christ; but simply saying this doesn’t make it so (a point James White repeatedly brings up).  Actions do speak louder than words.  Dr. Fastiggi also makes various attempts to support Catholic dogma on Mary by referencing passages of Mary in the Scriptures, but his points require a stretch…

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Structure in Grammar and in Function: A Marginal Note

Author: Raphael Gamaroff

Introduction

The Structuralist-Functionalist controversy in language learning

Internal and external grammar, and problem solving

Conclusion

References

Introduction
Language learning/teaching theory is shot through with numerous controversies but none so obdurate as the “structure versus function” dispute. One wonders why the problem exists at all, because the concepts form and function are primordial ingredients in all scientific investigation. They are not made, not discovered, but given.

So why do applied linguists have a problem? Let us compare language learning with the study of science.

One cannot think two thoughts at the same time. Thus, one cannot muse on the marvellous structure  (anatomy) of the eye while simultaneously thinking about how it functions (physiology). However, no medical student has ever lost any sleep over which is posterior, anatomy or physiology.

So why all the fuss in language learning? Trying to answer that question is what this marginal note is about.

At the 1990 South African Applied Linguistics (SAALA) conference in Durban, a reception was held in a long reception room. At one end, a hubbub of delegates quaffing and scoffing; at the other, a quartet playing Bach’s Brandenburgs. Except for one person (myself), no one paid any attention to the exquisite music.

Two flies on the wall:

Fly One: Such boors, no culture.

Fly Two: But this is no time to play Bach, except for that solitary asocial creature huddled in the corner.

Each fly had its own idea as to which was important, which marginal; culture or esprit de corps. Each language theorist has his/her own idea as to which is important, and which is marginal.

The Structuralist-Functionalist controversy in language learning

The controversy in applied linguistics revolves around whether language learning is best learnt through the structural (formal) or the functional approach. The structural approach is also called the “grammatical” approach.

Structuralism in applied linguistics refers to the study of language elements below and up to sentence level. Functionalism refers to the study of the message as a whole.

What I would like to do in this essay is examine the relation between the terms structure, function and grammar, and show two things: first, that these three concepts are abstractions from a holistic process; second, that grammar resides and presides at the core of language learning and language use.

In this discussion we focus on language learning in the school situation, and not on preschool language learning.

Let us now tackle the main issues of this controversy by examining sentence meaning and discourse meaning.

There is a difference between sentence meaning (semantic meaning) and the meaning of a discourse as a whole (pragmatic meaning) [Brown 1987:14 and Leech 1983].

The sentence in isolation from a functional context only has potential meaning. It is this potential meaning which has to become actualised in language use (sociolinguistic context).

What is meant by the potential meaning of sentences?

It is obvious that every sentence in isolation from its sociolinguistic context must contain meaningful units. For example, each of the three words in the sentence I am reading is a meaningful unit. These three units are combined into a larger meaningful unit, namely, the sentence.

The sentence, in turn combines, with other sentences to form an even larger unit called discourse. And it is only at the discourse level that parts of sentences and sentences come alive. Meaning at the sentence level and below is referred to in linguistics as semantic meaning, while meaning at the discourse level is referred to as pragmatic or sociolinguistic meaning. So from the point of view of discourse ( language use), the sentence has potential meaning only.

Widdowson (1979:119), using different terminology, makes the same distinction as Brown and Leech. Widdowson distinguishes between two categories; the “signification of linguistic forms” and their “communicative value as utterances in context”.

Language behaviour involves both of these categories. Widdowson (1979:119) explains his distinction:

    ….there is no one-to-one correspondence between the signification of linguistic forms and their communicative value as utterances in context. Discourse meanings are to some degree unpredictable. At the same time they cannot be entirely unpredictable: the relationship between form and function is not purely arbitrary, or otherwise there would be no linguistic basis for communication at all…The fact that context may override the meaning associated with sentences does not mean that one cannot fruitfully explore this meaning…..

In “utterances in context” (discourse), one meaning may take many forms, or many forms may express one meaning. It is this reciprocal relationship between form and meaning which makes possible the infinite creativity of language. However, this infinite creativity, if not controlled, would obstruct rather than facilitate discourse (Ricoeur 1974).

In transformational grammar (TG), the terms surface structure and deep structure are used to refer to form and meaning respectively. However, TG theory is not enough to explain the nature of discourse, i.e. language use. For example, consider the following pair of utterances made famous by Chomsky:

1) “He is easy to please”, and

2) “He is eager to please”.

In both sentence 1) and sentence 2), He is the grammatical subject. TG theory improves on this structuralist theory by pointing out that He in sentence 1) is the recipient of to please, whereas He in sentence 2) is the agent of to please; two parallel structures revealing in sentence 1) a complex relation between deep structure (sentence meaning) and surface structure, and in sentence 2) a relatively simple relation between deep structure and surface structure.

In terms of discourse, the TG explanation does not explain how these utterances function in language use. In TG theory, both He is easy to please and He is eager to please would be regarded as

declaratives, i.e. would be described in terms of mood: but mood conveys nothing about language use. He is eager to please could have at least the following three additional meanings, depending on the context (Brown 1984):

1. He is not eager to please.

2. He is definitely eager to please.

3. He is definitely not eager to please.

4. He but not she is eager to please.

Sociolinguists would consider TG inadequate because it only focuses on semantic meaning (sentence meaning) and not pragmatic meaning (discourse, language use).

The distinction between semantic and pragmatic meaning can also be explained in the following way (Leech 1983):

– the meaning of X, which is the semantic or sentence meaning,

and

what you mean by X, which is the pragmatic or sociolinguistic meaning.

The sentence I am reading means that there is somebody, namely me who is reading. This meaning is the semantic or sentence meaning.

We use I am reading in a life situation.

Student A is sharing a room with Student B. Student A is reading in the room while Student B is out. Student B returns, sees Student A bowed over a book, and shouts: What are you doing? It is obvious to Student A that Student B is not requesting information as to whether Student A is reading a book – it is obvious that this is so.

Suppose Student A’s answer is I’m reading. The semantic meaning of this utterance is clear, namely, Student A is not eating, or sleeping, but reading. But what does Student A mean by I’m reading and what does Student B mean by What are you doing?

Here are a few possibilities of the pragmatic meaning of these two sentences;

Question: “What are you doing?”

1. Hey, what are you doing in my bed?”

2. What a miracle, you’re reading a book!

3. We’ve been looking all over for you, and here you are all the time, rotting at your desk.

Answer: “I’m reading”

1. Please don’t disturb me.

2. It’s no good, I’ll never speak to you again.

3. I’m so bored, the TV is not working; what else is there to do but read – yawn.

4. Who the blazes do you think you are to speak to me like that?

5. You illiterate idiot, go back to your comics.

So the pragmatic context of language does not merely go beyond the sentence meaning, it makes the sentence actually meaningful, and actual meaning is the only kind of meaning that we can live by.

From the point of view of language study, pure linguistics (for example, Chomskyan linguistics) is not interested in “actual” meaning, but only in sentence meaning. Applied linguistics (language teaching), on the other hand, is interested in how sentences combine to formulate discourse.

To summarise the discussion so far:

The structural syllabus focuses on sentence meaning and parts of the sentence as a preparation for the communication of meaning. The functional syllabus focuses directly on the use of language in communication.

The way I see the problem is that it is not a matter of merely looking at individual differences in learners such as learning styles, and then deciding which of the two approaches is the better one. Individual differences could obscure the hidden workings of language.

And it is the workings of language which have to be laid bare. What, with all the tearing and pulling at its “syntactic joints and semantic flesh” (Johnson 1985), language is blanched of its lifeblood; grammar.

But if grammar is structure, how can structure be drained off from itself? Furthermore, what has grammar got to do with function if grammar is synonymous with structure?

The answers to these questions might help us to decide where grammar resides; at the face and/or at the fundament of language.

Here is an example of some of problems involved in defining grammar:

The following is an excerpt from a guide to the course on Practical English (University of South Africa 1988):

Correct grammar is important because grammatical mistakes can lead to people not understanding what you are saying or writing, and, secondly, because grammatical mistakes are like dirty, torn clothes – they give the people you meet a very bad impression of you. If you have good ideas and a good understanding of the work, but your assignments are full of grammatical errors, you will receive low marks, or may even fail (see Du Toit and Orr 1987 for a similar view).

Students, many of whom come from “grammar-based” schools, are firstly told that bad grammar fuddles meaning, and then warned that even if they get their meaning across, they will be penalised for soiling their clothes. The Practical English exam answers do not only have to mean right, they have to look right.

The message to the student: the message is not enough.

The clothing metaphor of language
What I would like to do now is examine whether this clothing metaphor of language is helpful.

In defense of this metaphor, I do not see anything wrong with giving students the impression that grammar is nothing more than dirty clothes. From a practical point of view there is no other adequate way of explaining what editing means, because it would be foolish in a Practical English course to burden students with the paradoxes we are dealing with here.

But the danger is that the understanding of grammar by teachers -including the “coco” (communicative competence [Ridjanovic 1983]) contingent – may remain a superficial matter.

The notion of grammar as external to meaning is confused. This confused view is exemplified in such metaphors as “grammar is the clothing of thought” (see the discussion above on the UNISA Practical English Guide). This confusion is at least double. There is the grammar of the in-built “Language Acquisition Device” (LAD) (Chomsky 1957) and there is the editing at the last stage of the writing process.

Internal and external grammar, and problem solving

The LAD kind of grammar – internal grammar – involves problem solving; at the conscious and at the unconscious levels. Editing also involves problem-solving.

We now examine the relationship between these two kinds of grammar (namely, 1. grammar external to meaning and 2. LAD grammar) and problem solving.

The following authors are of interest here: Baijnath (1991), Murray (1990) and Jeffery (1990).

Baijnath (1990) has tried to trace “the writing problems of EAP [English for Special Purposes] students to their roots”. Baijnath found that many students using the process approach to writing made little progress. The errors of students were classified into a hierarchy of difficulty; for example, reasoned argument appeared towards the top, and “grammar” appeared towards the bottom.

Bajnaith interviewed the students. With regard to grammar, it was discovered that almost all the at risk students did not bother correcting their errors. Baijnath did not offer any reasons why students did not attempt to correct their grammar. Before I suggest possible reasons, it would be useful to read Murray’s (1990:140) views about grammar:

In the case of students’ writing, I began to realise that if I corrected all the surface language errors – grammar, spelling, punctuation and vocabulary – their essays were still not satisfactory: they did not answer the question; they contained irrelevant information; the overall argument was difficult to follow…The essential problem is that they did not distinguish between spoken and written English. Spoken English is context-embedded, that is, it can be understood in terms of the situation in which it occurs. Therefore, it does not need to be explicit. Clarification can always be sought if meaning is not clear. Written English, on the other hand, is context-reduced: the reader relies solely on the words on the page. The writer, therefore, cannot assume shared knowledge; she must be explicit.

In both Baijnath and Murray a distinction is made between grammar and cognitive and academic language proficiency (CALP) [Cummins 1984). The inference is that if grammar is good, it does not follow that the organisation of ideas is good.

The reason, I suggest, why students do not pay much attention to correcting grammar errors is that these errors are not just “dirty-clothing” in need of a wash. If soiled linen was all there was to it, students would not object to spending time in the laundry. The problem is that grammar errors go far deeper than editing.

The distinction between competence and performance is useful here.

Competence refers to the language system, to what the learner knows about the language. This system is called various things by various authors, e.g. “langue” (Saussure 1959), “built-in syllabus (Corder 1981).

Performance refers to slips of the tongue or pen, or memory blocks. Although the distinction between competence and performance is problematic (O’Connell 1988:272), Taylor (1988) and Widdowson 1989), the distinction is still useful in explaining Baijnath’s data.

One possible explanation why students do not correct their performance “mistakes” is that almost all of these mistakes are not slips of some kind, but rather competence “errors”, i.e. a systematic or in-built deficit. In such circumstances, no amount of editing is going to help, because there was nothing to slip on in the first place. Kroma’s (1988:43) view is that students can correct their own errors. The point is whether Kroma’s students can correct these errors (minor mistakes like spelling excluded) without outside intervention.

A distinction should be made between an in-built deficit, which implies both conscious and unconscious incompetence, and a temporary deficit which can be remedied by “consciousness raising”, i.e. teacher intervention.

Whether students need teacher intervention or not, the main point here is that academic writing cannot be taught properly if grammar is merely regarded as an editing exercise rather than as an integral part of the writing process.

Jeffery (1990:120) describes the role of grammar in speaking and writing in the following way:

”… we do need that [grammatical categories – brackets added] in order to gain control of WL [written language – brackets added], for whereas SL (spoken language – brackets added] requires no conscious grammatical understanding, WL does: the most elementary reading and writing presuppose word and sentence at least; and progress is awkward without noun, verb, number, tense, phrase, clause, and so on. These categories come naturally to nobody, and with difficulty to some, for they are all artificial abstractions from the flow of speech. Nobody speaks in words and sentences; therefore everybody needs to be taught about them.”

”Inchoate thought has to be organised in order to make your meaning clear to your readers (and yourself), and that takes skill in arranging the units of WL into structures…So it can come about that after twelve years of schooling some fluent speakers falter on paper; being unschooled in grammar they are still not consciously aware that you cannot depend solely on intuition in writing as you can in speaking.”

To summarise Jeffery’s view: grammar resides in and presides over the whole process of language/cognition, from the phoneme to the completed message. Grammar is more than a stock of static structures; it is a dynamic ability to manipulate language/ideas, and it is this kind of grammatical competence that needs to be developed in the teaching of academic skills.

One caution; Jeffery’s view that spoken language does not require “conscious grammatical understanding” (in Jeffery’s sense of the term) is questionable (Murray above expresses the same view as Jeffery). The boundary between speaking and writing – indeed between all the four skills – is not so clear cut. It may be that speaking in its beginnings is an unconscious activity, but as the speaking skill develops there is an increase in the conscious activity of selecting and arranging of linguistic elements, which in a way is like creating a story (Wells 1987:197). Manipulating grammatical elements (conscious grammatical understanding) originates in informal listening, then moves through a continuum (and combination) of informal speaking and writing to formal listening, formal speaking and formal writing (the last three also occurring in various combinations).

To summarise the discussion so far:

The division of language into structure and function is misleading, because the medium and the message, to use Saussure’s (1959) tarnished metaphor, are two sides of the same coin. The human mind abstracts the universe into form and function, body and mind, time and space, and so on. These abstractions are productive because they reveal reality; yet, abortive, because they distort it.

Finally there are two authors I would like to mention who have made interesting contributions to the debate, Langacker (1990) and Coe (1987).

Langacker’s (1987, 1990), “cognitive grammar” explains language as a conceptual unity of grammar and meaning, where lexicon, morphology and syntax form a gradation. At the Language, Thought and Culture conference (University of the Witwatersrand April 1990) Langacker on being asked “What is the use of cognitive grammar?” replied “It’s Poetry”. What Langacker means is not clear, but I would guess he means that cognitive grammar is a thing of beauty, not to be swallowed up in the practical concerns of language learning. Yet, cognitive grammar is not limited to linguistica poetica, because it does expose the deficiency of splitting language into function words (syntactic joints) and content words (semantic flesh). Therefore Langacker’s insights may be useful in language learning theory.

Coe (1987:13) ventures off the well-beaten track of pedestrian language learning theory and returns with a concept borrowed from New Rhetoric (via Hegel); sublation. This term denotes the simultaneous preservation and transcendence of the form/function antithesis. Coe, addressing composition writers, tries to reconcile the form/function dichotomy using the paradox of preservation and transcendence. This paradox reminds both the structuralist and the functionalist that the abstraction of language into form and function is one dangerous dichotomy to be treated with caution.

Applied linguists, sandwiched between sublation and “poetry”, need to get comfortable with the with New Rhetoric and cognitive grammar . On the other hand, the pure linguists, who prefer art to craft should realise that artists (including poets) never become philosopher kings: Socrates has other plans.

Conclusion

I did not focus in this marginal note on the difference between first and second language learning. What I tried to do was to paint a neutral landscape of one of the main problems common to both kinds of language learning; structuralism and functionalism.

The painting can be – must be – painted on and viewed from both sides of the canvas. On the one side – “structure in grammar”; on the other – “function in grammar”. But – and this is the paradox and origin of the controversy – the picture can only be seen complete when viewed from both sides of the canvas at the same time. However, in the process, grammar is absorbed into and bisected by the canvas, which is the margin – the margin preserved and transcended.

M¦M
A¦A
STRUCTURE R¦R FUNCTION
G¦G
I¦I
N¦N
References

Baijnath. N. 1991. Problems with Process: tracing writing problems to their roots. Paper presented at the South African Applied Linguistics (SAALA) Conference, University of the Witwatersrand, July 1991.

Brown, G. 1987. Twenty-five years of teaching listening comprehension. English Teaching Forum, 25(4):11-15. Chomsky, N. 1957. Syntactic structures. The Hague. Mouton.

Coe, R.M. 1987. An apology for form; or, who took the form out of process. College English, 49:13-28.

Corder, S.P. 1981. Error analysis and interlanguage. Oxford. Oxford University Press. Cummins, J. 1984. Wanted:A theoretical framework for relating language proficiency to academic achievement among bilingual students. In Rivera, C. Language proficiency and academic achievement. Multilingual Matters 10. Clevedon. Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Du Toit, A. and Orr, M. 1987. Achiever’s Handbook. Johannesburg. Southern Book Publishers.

Gardner, M. 1982. The Ambidextrous universe:mirror asymmetry and time-reversed worlds. Middlesex. Penguin

Jeffery, C.D. 1990. The case for grammar: Opening it wider. South African Journal of Higher Education (SAJHE), Special edition.

Johnson, B. 1985. Taking fidelity philosophically. In Graham, J.F. (ed.). Difference in translation.

Krashen, S. 1981. Second language acquisition and second language learning. Oxford. Pergamon Press.

Kroma, S.K. 1988. Action research in teaching composition. English Teaching Forum, 26(1).

Johnson, B. 1985. Taking fidelity philosophically. In Graham, J.F. (ed.). Difference in translation.

Langacker, R. 1987. Foundations of cognitive grammar, Vol. 1. Theoretical prerequisites. Stanford. Stanford University Press.

Langacker, R. 1991. The conceptual basis of grammatical structure. Paper presented at the “Language, thought and culture” conference at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

Leech, L.G. 1983. Principles of pragmatics.London. Longman.

Murray, S. 1990. Teaching English for academic purposes (EAP) at the University of Bophuthatswana. South African Journal of Higher Education (SAJHE), Special edition.

Newmeyer, F. J. 1983. Grammatical theory: Its limits and its possibilities. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.

Newmeyer, F. J. 1986. The politics of linguistics. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.

O’Connell, D.C. 1988. Critical essays on language use and psychology. New York. Springer-Verlag.

Ricoeur, P. 1974. Structure, word, event. In The conflict of interpretations. Evanston, Illinois. North Western University Press.

Ridjanovic, M. 1983. How to learn a language, say English, in a couple of months. English Teaching Forum, 21(1).

Saussure, F. 1959. Course in general linguistics, (Tr. Wade Baskin). London. Peter Owen.

Taylor, D.S. 1988. The meaning and use of the term “competence” in linguistics and applied linguistics. Applied Linguistics, 9(2):148-168.

Wells, G. 1987. The meaning makers. London. Hodder Stoughton.

UNISA. 1988. Practical English Guide. Pretoria. UNISA

Widdowson, H.G. 1979. Explorations in applied linguistics. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

Widdowson, H.G. 1989. Knowledge of language and ability of use. Applied Linguistics, 10(2):128-137.

The Second Language (L2) speaker is dead – Long live the L2 speaker

Abstract

Linguistic apartheid

In the classroom

Alternative mystiques

Hermeneutic implications

Conclusion

Bibliography

Presentation at the Linguistics Summer School, Odense, Denmark, July, 1998.

Raphael Gamaroff (University of Fort Hare)

Abstract

A major issue in modern multilingual societies, where an increasing number of learners, and even where the majority of learners, use English as a second, or additional, language, is the controversial distinction between English as a first language and English as a second language. It is argued in this article that the distinction is a valid one. The notions of “first language” and “second language” are better understood when compared with the notions of “native language” and “non-native language”. These four notions are difficult to unbundle because they are so heavily value-laden, and, accordingly, there is the danger that the distinctions between these notions could be interpreted as a form of linguistic apartheid. In spite of the sociopolitical difficulties, these distinctions do have linguistic and educational value.

Linguistic apartheid

The distinction between L1 and L2 has two descriptive connotations: (1) L1 is acquired before L2. L1 need not be the mother tongue, because the mother tongue may not end up as L1; (2) The L1 learner is stronger than the L2 learner, where the L2 learner is unlikely (the weak interpretation) or incapable (the strong interpretation) of reaching the L1 level (Musker and Nomvete 1996:65).

The L1/L2 dichotomy has given rise in South Africa to a “wide range of discriminatory language requirements and discriminatory assessment instruments” (Musker and Nomvete 1996:65). I first examine South African views on the issue and then relate them to views outside South Africa.

Young (1988:8) advocates that the “apartheid” labels of L1 and L2 be discarded (see also Young 1995). These labels imply for Young that black “natives” are not able to assimilate Western language and culture. Paikeday’s (1985:76) perspective below is similar to Young’s:

When theoretical linguists claim an innate facility for competence in a language on behalf of the native speaker,… it seems like a white South African’s claim that he [or she] can walk into a railway station in Pretoria any day, purchase a first-class ticket, get into any first-class coach, occupy a window seat, and travel all the way to Cape Town without getting thrown out at the first stop, as though a black or a coloured could not do it. Some competence. As everyone knows, apart from manmade restrictions, there just isn’t any rational evidence to bake up such claims to exclusivity of the need for separateness of consideration.

Since the democratic elections of 1994 the actual context of this story is no longer applicable, but the destructive ethos it attempts to describe is no less relevant today, namely the attempt to keep certain racial, ethnic and linguistic groups in their positivistic place. For planners of new policies of language education in South Africa “the separation between first and second language is based on a positivistic construct of language” (Human Sciences Research Council 1996:103). What might explain the unpopularity of these labels among some South African researchers is that they regard “positivism” and apartheid as kissing cousins!

In support of Young’s rejection of the “apartheid” labels of L1 and L2, others argue that it is discriminatory (in the worst sense) to compare levels of proficiency between L1 and L2 learners (African National Congress 1992; Forrest 1994; Burroughs, Vieyra-King and Witthaus 1996:77). These authors object to the social meaning attached to the labels of L1 and L2 to different levels (Rampton 1990). Makoni (1995:27) uses the metaphors of language “boundaries” and “boxes” to explain his opposition to labels that create insiders and outsiders:

Paradoxically, in South Africa and indeed even more so in South Africa, the boundaries conceptualisation of language which creates insiders and outsiders is also typical of colonialist and neo-apartheid discourses…The “boxing” of African speech forms into different languages is reinforced by state, legal and educational pressures.

Makoni’s context is the top-down bureaucratic division of South Africa’s many linguistic communities into 11 official separate official “languages”. His main argument is that the multilingual situation in South Africa is a type of multilingualism as seen through the spectacles of a monolingual. Such a view, for Makoni, is not truly monolingual, but poly-monolingual. This view commodifies language. Although Makoni describes the L1/L2 distinction as a “commodification of language” issue, he would probably also regard it as an imposition, as the “boxing in” of speech forms. Young maintains that the labels “L1 and “L2” segregates “English into separate learning ‘boxes'” and asks: “While the ESL [English as a second language] label is in keeping with international trends in most countries where English is taught and learned, is it not perhaps time that we, in South Africa, begin to consider how socially and politically divisive it is to continue using the ESL label?” (Young 1988:8).

In the classroom

The tendency in NQF thinking is that L2 levels should be based on the L1 paradigm (Alexander 1996:105), and so one should calibrate levels of L1 or native proficiency to determine as precisely as possible what L2 learners are to aspire to (Alexander 1996:106).

This does not mean that L1 and L2 teaching syllabuses should be the same (Alexander 1996:105). Indeed there are very good reasons for keeping L1 and L2 syllabuses apart. The term “apart” in the South African context is thick with negative connotations. If syllabuses must be kept apart, does this mean that L1 and L2 learners must be kept apart in the language classroom? From a practical point of view the idea of separate syllabuses means separate classrooms. Barkhuizen (1991) goes even further by advocating not only separate L1 and L2 classrooms but separate L1 and L2 (ESL) Departments. Barkhuizen (1991:30) states: “The different aims of the second and first language syllabuses and the different approaches used to achieve these aims provide a further rationale for the establishment of an independent ESL Department.” Thus, Barkhuizen takes for granted that there should be separate L1 and L2 classrooms.

No one would dispute that English teaching involves two different kinds of methodology: L1 and L2 methodology. But I don’t think it is necessary or pedagogically sound to (1) divide teachers into L1 teachers and L2 teachers and to go even further by (2) erecting Departmental boundaries between them. One must not forget, however, that most English teachers in South Africa are not “native” speakers of English, and would therefore have difficulty in teaching English as a First Language. Native speakers of English, on the other hand, could teach both English as First and as a Second Language.

Whether we call second-language learning situations by another name, we still have to specifically design learning materials to cater for these second-language situations (Musker and Nomvete 1996:67), and the only feasible way to do so is, I believe, in a separate space such as a classroom (Peirce 1991). Barkhuizen had a change of heart by jettisoning not only the idea of separate English Departments, which was the main thrust of his previous article (1991) but also the idea of separate L1 and L2 syllabuses in favour of “multicultural settings” (Barkhuizen 1992, 1996).

Owing to the political changes in South Africa, what was acceptable in 1991 became unacceptable a year later, and so Barkhuizen met the new challenge of “what needs to be done” (Barkhuizen 1992) under a different political and educational dispensation. The idea of separate L1 and L2 syllabuses is a good one, so is the idea of multicultural settings. It seems that it is difficult to have both because it would mean that the idea of multicultural settings would be relegated to “social” language while the idea of separate L1 and L2 classrooms would hog “academic” language, which would exacerbate the racial-ethnic divide in countries throughout the world.

Alternative mystiques

In the South African political climate the labels “first” and “second” language are becoming increasingly unpopular. Also terms such as “native” language (which in South Africa meant “black”) and “mother” tongue, which feminist movements find sexually discriminatory, are also problematic. James (1994:192) lumps together “native speakerism”, sexism and racism. In the last few paragraphs of this section I discuss briefly a few non-South African views on the topic. . The “whole mystique of a native speaker” (Kachru 1982:vii) who uses his/her mother tongue implies five things, which have been hotly contested (Rampton 1990):

1. A particular language is inherited through birth into a particular social group.

2. If you inherit a language, you can speak it well.

3. One is or isn’t a native/mother-tongue speaker.

4. a native speaker has a comprehensive grasp of the inherited language.

5. Being a citizen of a country is analogous to being a native speaker of one mother tongue.

(Christopherson (1973) was among the first researchers to question these notions mentioned by Rampton).

Rampton (1990) suggests that the following terms replace “native”, “mother tongue”, “first language” and “second language” (See also Leung, Harris and Rampton 1997):

1. Language expertise, i.e. the level of proficiency. An important issue in assessing expertise would be the models of language ability that one would use to decide what is an acceptable or minimum level of expertise. But this is not a new issue, even if the terminology is new.

2. Language affiliation, which is concerned with the affective relationship of a learner towards a language.

3. Language inheritance. Membership of an ethnic group does not automatically mean that the language of the ethnic group has been automatically inherited. In South Africa, one can change one’s “mother tongue” by entering another ethnic group or have a hybrid mother tongue, or “replacement” language. A replacement language is a language that becomes more dominant than the mother tongue, usually at an early age, but is seldom fully mastered, as in the case of, for example, some Coloured and Indian children in South Africa who are brought up on a hybrid of English and Afrikaans (in the case of Coloureds) or a hybrid of English and Indian languages or Afrikaans, and some Bantu speakers in South Africa who are brought up on a cocktail of two or more Bantu languages such as Tswana, Sepedi and Xhosa (and English). (See Gamaroff 1998).

Davies (1995:145) maintains: “In terms of ultimate attainment the post-pubertal second language learner may, exceptionally. attain native speaker levels of proficiency and therefore be indistinguishable from the native speaker.” Paikeday (1985) goes further by suggesting that the exception proves that there is no rule, i.e. that there is no native speaker. Undoubtedly there are exceptional cases that disprove the rule. But this is true of many categorisations. Medgyes (1992) suggests that the exceptions prove the rule, and that, therefore, native speakers of a language are – taking into account some exceptions, or as Quirk in Paikeday (1985:7) puts it the “fuzzy edges” – recognised as such. Paikeday (1985:11) plugs the argument that the exceptions do disprove the rule and consequently one can only legitimately speak of degrees of competence of language use, as one would about any other skill, e.g. rowing boats or mowing lawns.

Mother-tongue speakers (the language one uses in one’s early childhood) and first-language speakers (the language one knows best) are usually identifiable. There are exceptions where one can have (1) more than one first language (2) low competence in one’s mother tongue and (3) no first language, i.e. no language that one knows well, e.g. a “replacement” language, referred to earlier.

Hermeneutic implications

The “elitist” may argue that “not all members of a linguistic community are equal in linguistic knowledge” (Harris 1981:171) about their common native language, and so it is possible to have some native or L1 speakers who know more than others about the language. Harris counters that language qua language is indeterminate because knowledge as such is indeterminate. Accordingly, for Harris, there are no “job-secure” words (Harris 1981:175). But, if language (and ergo knowledge) is so insecure that one cannot define anything – approximately, to be sure; that is, if there is no native or L1 or L2 “bulls-eye” (Russell 1921:197-198 in Harris 1985:170) in language, there can be no truth at all – approximate to be sure. For McArthur (1998) Standard English is a “fuzzy sub-set of a very large set of Englishes” and Lass (1998) believes that English is changing as we speak it. In such a scenario, Standard English – and I would imagine the same applies to the notions of native, L1 and L2 “speakerism” – becomes, in the fuzzy-set theory of Lass, a sub-set of the fuzz that was.

Conclusion

L2, or ESL, is like all labels that distinguishes between those who have more and those who have less. It segregates – nationally and internationally. However, if the rest of the world finds the labels ESL and L2 useful, in spite of its shortcomings, couldn’t South Africans become part of the international community, which has had, and continues to have, its fair share of racial-ethnic-linguistic discrimination. Perhaps it might be better to use the label “primary” instead of “L1” and so get rid of the notion of “first language”. But if “L1” becomes a “primary” language, L2 could be seen as a “secondary” language, which, if not more discriminatory than “second” language, could belittle the notion of “second” language (L2). Perhaps, we could use “additional” language, because the counterpart of additional language is “main” language, which has a less discriminatory ring than “primary” language. One could opt for Rampton’s (1990) alternative set of terms mentioned above. I would think, though, that the traditional labels will be with us in South Africa (and the rest of the world) for a long time to come. For example, the Department of Linguistics of Stellenbosch University is hosting its 4th conference on Linguistics and the Language Professions in April 1999 on the theme of “second languages”.

Bibliography

African National Congress. African National Congress. 1992. ANC policy guidelines for a democratic South Africa. Johannesburg: ANC.

Alexander, N. Alexander, N. 1996. ‘Drawing the issues together: In the context of language education policy’. Human Sciences Research Council (ed.). Language assessment and the National Qualifications Framework. Pretoria: Human Science Research Council Publishers.

Barkhuizen, G. Barkhuizen, G. 1991. ‘Proposal for an independent English Second Language Department at Mmabatho High School’. English Language Teaching Centre (ELTIC) Reporter 16(1):25-32. Johannesburg.

Barkhuizen, G. Barkhuizen, G. 1992. G. Barkhuizen. Teaching English in multilingual settings: What needs to be done. Journal for Language Teaching 26/4:53-68.

Barkhuizen, G. Barkhuizen, G. 1996. Using English in the South African classroom. Per Linguam 12/1:34-47.

Burroughs, E., Vieyra-King, M. and Witthaus, G. Burroughs, E., Vieyra-King, M. and Witthaus, G. 1996. ‘The assessment of language outcomes in ABET: Implications of an approach’. Human Sciences Research Council (ed.). Language assessment and the National Qualifications Framework. Pretoria: Human Science Research Council Publishers.

Christopherson, P. Christopherson, P. 1973. Second-language learning. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Collier, V.P. Collier, V.P. 1987. ‘Age and rate of acquisition of second language for academic purposes’. TESOL Quarterly 21/4:617-641.

Cummins, J. Cummins, J. 1984. ‘Wanted: A theoretical framework for relating language proficiency to academic achievement among bilingual students’. Rivera, C. (ed.). Language proficiency and academic achievement. Multilingual Matters 10. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Davies, A. Davies, A. 1995. ‘Proficiency or the native speaker: What are we trying to achieve in ELT?’ Cook. G. and Seidlhofer, B. (eds.). Principle and practice in applied linguistics: Studies in honour of H.G. Widdowson. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Forrest, F. Forrest, F. 1992. A language curriculum framework for compulsory general education. Johannesburg: Centre for Educational Policy Development.

Gamaroff, R. Gamaroff, R. 1998. ‘Cloze tests as predictors of global language proficiency: A statistical analysis’. South African Journal of Linguistics 16/1:7-15.

Harris, R. Harris, R. 1981. The language myth. London: Duckworth.

Human Sciences Research Council. Human Sciences Research Council. 1996. Language assessment and the National Qualifications Framework. Pretoria: Human Science Research Council Publishers.

James, C.James, C.1994. ‘Don’t shoot my dodo: on the resilience of contrastive and error analysis’. International Review of Applied Linguistics 32/3:179-200.

Kachru, B.B. Kachru, B.B. (ed.). 1982. The Other Tongue: English across cultures. Oxford: Pergamon.

Lass, R. Lass, R. 1998. “English” – “Talk at Will” South African radio programme on SAfm, 26 February.

Leung, C. Harris, R. and Rampton, B. Leung, C. Harris, R. and Rampton, B. 1997. The idealised native-speaker, reified ethnicities and classroom realities: Contemporary issues in TESOL. London: Thames Valley University.

Makoni, S. Makoni, S. 1995. ‘Some of the metaphors about language, in language planning course in South Africa: Boundaries, frontiers and commodification’. Per Linguam 11/1:25-34.

McArthur, T. McArthur, T. 1998. ‘English as a world language, as an African language, and as a South African language. Proceedings of the English Academy of Southern Africa conference “English at the turn of the Millennium”, Johannesburg College of Education, 14-16 September.

Medgyes, P. Medgyes, P. 1992. ‘Native or non-native: who’s worth more?’ ELT Journal 46/4:340-348

Musker, P. and Nomvete, S. Musker, P. and Nomvete, S. 1996. ‘Standards and levels in language assessment’. Human Sciences Research Council (ed.). Language assessment and the National Qualifications Framework. Pretoria: Human Science Research Council Publishers.

Olivier, A. Olivier, A. 1998. ‘The role of input in language development at tertiary level’. South African Journal of Education 18/1:57-60.

Paikeday, T.M. Paikeday, T.M. 1985. The native speaker is dead! Toronto: Paikeday Publishing Inc.

Peirce, B. Peirce, B. 1991. ‘On language difference and democracy’. Language Projects Review 6:21-24.

Rampton, B.H. Rampton, B.H. 1990. ‘Displacing the “native speaker”: expertise, affiliation and inheritance’. English Language Teaching Journal 44/2:97101.

Russell, B. Russell, B. 1921. The analysis of mind. New York.

Young, D. Young, D. 1988. ‘English for what and for whom and when?’ Language Projects Review 3(2):8.

Young, D. Young, D. 1995. ‘The role and status of the first language in education in a multilingual society’. Heugh, K, Siegruhn, A. and Pluddemann, S. (eds.). Multilingual

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The L2 speaker is dead. Long live the L2 speaker

Abstract

Linguistic apartheid

In the classroom

Alternative mystiques

Hermeneutic implications

Conclusion

Bibliography

Paper presented at the Linguistics Summer School, Odense, Denmark, July, 1998.

Raphael Gamaroff (University of Fort Hare)

Abstract

A major issue in modern multilingual societies, where an increasing number of learners, and even where the majority of learners, use English as a second, or additional, language, is the controversial distinction between English as a first language and English as a second language. It is argued in this article that the distinction is a valid one. The notions of “first language” and “second language” are better understood when compared with the notions of “native language” and “non-native language”. These four notions are difficult to unbundle because they are so heavily value-laden, and, accordingly, there is the danger that the distinctions between these notions could be interpreted as a form of linguistic apartheid. In spite of the sociopolitical difficulties, these distinctions do have linguistic and educational value.

Linguistic apartheid

The distinction between L1 and L2 has two descriptive connotations: (1) L1 is acquired before L2. L1 need not be the mother tongue, because the mother tongue may not end up as L1; (2) The L1 learner is stronger than the L2 learner, where the L2 learner is unlikely (the weak interpretation) or incapable (the strong interpretation) of reaching the L1 level (Musker and Nomvete 1996:65).

The L1/L2 dichotomy has given rise in South Africa to a “wide range of discriminatory language requirements and discriminatory assessment instruments” (Musker and Nomvete 1996:65). I first examine South African views on the issue and then relate them to views outside South Africa.

Young (1988:8) advocates that the “apartheid” labels of L1 and L2 be discarded (see also Young 1995). These labels imply for Young that black “natives” are not able to assimilate Western language and culture. Paikeday’s (1985:76) perspective below is similar to Young’s:

When theoretical linguists claim an innate facility for competence in a language on behalf of the native speaker,… it seems like a white South African’s claim that he [or she] can walk into a railway station in Pretoria any day, purchase a first-class ticket, get into any first-class coach, occupy a window seat, and travel all the way to Cape Town without getting thrown out at the first stop, as though a black or a coloured could not do it. Some competence. As everyone knows, apart from manmade restrictions, there just isn’t any rational evidence to bake up such claims to exclusivity of the need for separateness of consideration.

Since the democratic elections of 1994 the actual context of this story is no longer applicable, but the destructive ethos it attempts to describe is no less relevant today, namely the attempt to keep certain racial, ethnic and linguistic groups in their positivistic place. For planners of new policies of language education in South Africa “the separation between first and second language is based on a positivistic construct of language” (Human Sciences Research Council 1996:103). What might explain the unpopularity of these labels among some South African researchers is that they regard “positivism” and apartheid as kissing cousins!

In support of Young’s rejection of the “apartheid” labels of L1 and L2, others argue that it is discriminatory (in the worst sense) to compare levels of proficiency between L1 and L2 learners (African National Congress 1992; Forrest 1994; Burroughs, Vieyra-King and Witthaus 1996:77). These authors object to the social meaning attached to the labels of L1 and L2 to different levels (Rampton 1990). Makoni (1995:27) uses the metaphors of language “boundaries” and “boxes” to explain his opposition to labels that create insiders and outsiders:

Paradoxically, in South Africa and indeed even more so in South Africa, the boundaries conceptualisation of language which creates insiders and outsiders is also typical of colonialist and neo-apartheid discourses…The “boxing” of African speech forms into different languages is reinforced by state, legal and educational pressures.

Makoni’s context is the top-down bureaucratic division of South Africa’s many linguistic communities into 11 official separate official “languages”. His main argument is that the multilingual situation in South Africa is a type of multilingualism as seen through the spectacles of a monolingual. Such a view, for Makoni, is not truly monolingual, but poly-monolingual. This view commodifies language. Although Makoni describes the L1/L2 distinction as a “commodification of language” issue, he would probably also regard it as an imposition, as the “boxing in” of speech forms. Young maintains that the labels “L1 and “L2” segregates “English into separate learning ‘boxes'” and asks: “While the ESL [English as a second language] label is in keeping with international trends in most countries where English is taught and learned, is it not perhaps time that we, in South Africa, begin to consider how socially and politically divisive it is to continue using the ESL label?” (Young 1988:8).

In the classroom

The tendency in NQF thinking is that L2 levels should be based on the L1 paradigm (Alexander 1996:105), and so one should calibrate levels of L1 or native proficiency to determine as precisely as possible what L2 learners are to aspire to (Alexander 1996:106).

This does not mean that L1 and L2 teaching syllabuses should be the same (Alexander 1996:105). Indeed there are very good reasons for keeping L1 and L2 syllabuses apart. The term “apart” in the South African context is thick with negative connotations. If syllabuses must be kept apart, does this mean that L1 and L2 learners must be kept apart in the language classroom? From a practical point of view the idea of separate syllabuses means separate classrooms. Barkhuizen (1991) goes even further by advocating not only separate L1 and L2 classrooms but separate L1 and L2 (ESL) Departments. Barkhuizen (1991:30) states: “The different aims of the second and first language syllabuses and the different approaches used to achieve these aims provide a further rationale for the establishment of an independent ESL Department.” Thus, Barkhuizen takes for granted that there should be separate L1 and L2 classrooms.

No one would dispute that English teaching involves two different kinds of methodology: L1 and L2 methodology. But I don’t think it is necessary or pedagogically sound to (1) divide teachers into L1 teachers and L2 teachers and to go even further by (2) erecting Departmental boundaries between them. One must not forget, however, that most English teachers in South Africa are not “native” speakers of English, and would therefore have difficulty in teaching English as a First Language. Native speakers of English, on the other hand, could teach both English as First and as a Second Language.

Whether we call second-language learning situations by another name, we still have to specifically design learning materials to cater for these second-language situations (Musker and Nomvete 1996:67), and the only feasible way to do so is, I believe, in a separate space such as a classroom (Peirce 1991). Barkhuizen had a change of heart by jettisoning not only the idea of separate English Departments, which was the main thrust of his previous article (1991) but also the idea of separate L1 and L2 syllabuses in favour of “multicultural settings” (Barkhuizen 1992, 1996).

Owing to the political changes in South Africa, what was acceptable in 1991 became unacceptable a year later, and so Barkhuizen met the new challenge of “what needs to be done” (Barkhuizen 1992) under a different political and educational dispensation. The idea of separate L1 and L2 syllabuses is a good one, so is the idea of multicultural settings. It seems that it is difficult to have both because it would mean that the idea of multicultural settings would be relegated to “social” language while the idea of separate L1 and L2 classrooms would hog “academic” language, which would exacerbate the racial-ethnic divide in countries throughout the world.

Alternative mystiques

In the South African political climate the labels “first” and “second” language are becoming increasingly unpopular. Also terms such as “native” language (which in South Africa meant “black”) and “mother” tongue, which feminist movements find sexually discriminatory, are also problematic. James (1994:192) lumps together “native speakerism”, sexism and racism. In the last few paragraphs of this section I discuss briefly a few non-South African views on the topic. . The “whole mystique of a native speaker” (Kachru 1982:vii) who uses his/her mother tongue implies five things, which have been hotly contested (Rampton 1990):

1. A particular language is inherited through birth into a particular social group.

2. If you inherit a language, you can speak it well.

3. One is or isn’t a native/mother-tongue speaker.

4. a native speaker has a comprehensive grasp of the inherited language.

5. Being a citizen of a country is analogous to being a native speaker of one mother tongue.

(Christopherson (1973) was among the first researchers to question these notions mentioned by Rampton).

Rampton (1990) suggests that the following terms replace “native”, “mother tongue”, “first language” and “second language” (See also Leung, Harris and Rampton 1997):

1. Language expertise, i.e. the level of proficiency. An important issue in assessing expertise would be the models of language ability that one would use to decide what is an acceptable or minimum level of expertise. But this is not a new issue, even if the terminology is new.

2. Language affiliation, which is concerned with the affective relationship of a learner towards a language.

3. Language inheritance. Membership of an ethnic group does not automatically mean that the language of the ethnic group has been automatically inherited. In South Africa, one can change one’s “mother tongue” by entering another ethnic group or have a hybrid mother tongue, or “replacement” language. A replacement language is a language that becomes more dominant than the mother tongue, usually at an early age, but is seldom fully mastered, as in the case of, for example, some Coloured and Indian children in South Africa who are brought up on a hybrid of English and Afrikaans (in the case of Coloureds) or a hybrid of English and Indian languages or Afrikaans, and some Bantu speakers in South Africa who are brought up on a cocktail of two or more Bantu languages such as Tswana, Sepedi and Xhosa (and English). (See Gamaroff 1998).

Davies (1995:145) maintains: “In terms of ultimate attainment the post-pubertal second language learner may, exceptionally. attain native speaker levels of proficiency and therefore be indistinguishable from the native speaker.” Paikeday (1985) goes further by suggesting that the exception proves that there is no rule, i.e. that there is no native speaker. Undoubtedly there are exceptional cases that disprove the rule. But this is true of many categorisations. Medgyes (1992) suggests that the exceptions prove the rule, and that, therefore, native speakers of a language are – taking into account some exceptions, or as Quirk in Paikeday (1985:7) puts it the “fuzzy edges” – recognised as such. Paikeday (1985:11) plugs the argument that the exceptions do disprove the rule and consequently one can only legitimately speak of degrees of competence of language use, as one would about any other skill, e.g. rowing boats or mowing lawns.

Mother-tongue speakers (the language one uses in one’s early childhood) and first-language speakers (the language one knows best) are usually identifiable. There are exceptions where one can have (1) more than one first language (2) low competence in one’s mother tongue and (3) no first language, i.e. no language that one knows well, e.g. a “replacement” language, referred to earlier.

Hermeneutic implications

The “elitist” may argue that “not all members of a linguistic community are equal in linguistic knowledge” (Harris 1981:171) about their common native language, and so it is possible to have some native or L1 speakers who know more than others about the language. Harris counters that language qua language is indeterminate because knowledge as such is indeterminate. Accordingly, for Harris, there are no “job-secure” words (Harris 1981:175). But, if language (and ergo knowledge) is so insecure that one cannot define anything – approximately, to be sure; that is, if there is no native or L1 or L2 “bulls-eye” (Russell 1921:197-198 in Harris 1985:170) in language, there can be no truth at all – approximate to be sure. For McArthur (1998) Standard English is a “fuzzy sub-set of a very large set of Englishes” and Lass (1998) believes that English is changing as we speak it. In such a scenario, Standard English – and I would imagine the same applies to the notions of native, L1 and L2 “speakerism” – becomes, in the fuzzy-set theory of Lass, a sub-set of the fuzz that was.

Conclusion

L2, or ESL, is like all labels that distinguishes between those who have more and those who have less. It segregates – nationally and internationally. However, if the rest of the world finds the labels ESL and L2 useful, in spite of its shortcomings, couldn’t South Africans become part of the international community, which has had, and continues to have, its fair share of racial-ethnic-linguistic discrimination. Perhaps it might be better to use the label “primary” instead of “L1” and so get rid of the notion of “first language”. But if “L1” becomes a “primary” language, L2 could be seen as a “secondary” language, which, if not more discriminatory than “second” language, could belittle the notion of “second” language (L2). Perhaps, we could use “additional” language, because the counterpart of additional language is “main” language, which has a less discriminatory ring than “primary” language. One could opt for Rampton’s (1990) alternative set of terms mentioned above. I would think, though, that the traditional labels will be with us in South Africa (and the rest of the world) for a long time to come. For example, the Department of Linguistics of Stellenbosch University is hosting its 4th conference on Linguistics and the Language Professions in April 1999 on the theme of “second languages”.

Bibliography

African National Congress. African National Congress. 1992. ANC policy guidelines for a democratic South Africa. Johannesburg: ANC.

Alexander, N. Alexander, N. 1996. ‘Drawing the issues together: In the context of language education policy’. Human Sciences Research Council (ed.). Language assessment and the National Qualifications Framework. Pretoria: Human Science Research Council Publishers.

Barkhuizen, G. Barkhuizen, G. 1991. ‘Proposal for an independent English Second Language Department at Mmabatho High School’. English Language Teaching Centre (ELTIC) Reporter 16(1):25-32. Johannesburg.

Barkhuizen, G. Barkhuizen, G. 1992. G. Barkhuizen. Teaching English in multilingual settings: What needs to be done. Journal for Language Teaching 26/4:53-68.

Barkhuizen, G. Barkhuizen, G. 1996. Using English in the South African classroom. Per Linguam 12/1:34-47.

Burroughs, E., Vieyra-King, M. and Witthaus, G. Burroughs, E., Vieyra-King, M. and Witthaus, G. 1996. ‘The assessment of language outcomes in ABET: Implications of an approach’. Human Sciences Research Council (ed.). Language assessment and the National Qualifications Framework. Pretoria: Human Science Research Council Publishers.

Christopherson, P. Christopherson, P. 1973. Second-language learning. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Collier, V.P. Collier, V.P. 1987. ‘Age and rate of acquisition of second language for academic purposes’. TESOL Quarterly 21/4:617-641.

Cummins, J. Cummins, J. 1984. ‘Wanted: A theoretical framework for relating language proficiency to academic achievement among bilingual students’. Rivera, C. (ed.). Language proficiency and academic achievement. Multilingual Matters 10. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.

Davies, A. Davies, A. 1995. ‘Proficiency or the native speaker: What are we trying to achieve in ELT?’ Cook. G. and Seidlhofer, B. (eds.). Principle and practice in applied linguistics: Studies in honour of H.G. Widdowson. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Forrest, F. Forrest, F. 1992. A language curriculum framework for compulsory general education. Johannesburg: Centre for Educational Policy Development.

Gamaroff, R. Gamaroff, R. 1998. ‘Cloze tests as predictors of global language proficiency: A statistical analysis’. South African Journal of Linguistics 16/1:7-15.

Harris, R. Harris, R. 1981. The language myth. London: Duckworth.

Human Sciences Research Council. Human Sciences Research Council. 1996. Language assessment and the National Qualifications Framework. Pretoria: Human Science Research Council Publishers.

James, C.James, C.1994. ‘Don’t shoot my dodo: on the resilience of contrastive and error analysis’. International Review of Applied Linguistics 32/3:179-200.

Kachru, B.B. Kachru, B.B. (ed.). 1982. The Other Tongue: English across cultures. Oxford: Pergamon.

Lass, R. Lass, R. 1998. “English” – “Talk at Will” South African radio programme on SAfm, 26 February.

Leung, C. Harris, R. and Rampton, B. Leung, C. Harris, R. and Rampton, B. 1997. The idealised native-speaker, reified ethnicities and classroom realities: Contemporary issues in TESOL. London: Thames Valley University.

Makoni, S. Makoni, S. 1995. ‘Some of the metaphors about language, in language planning course in South Africa: Boundaries, frontiers and commodification’. Per Linguam 11/1:25-34.

McArthur, T. McArthur, T. 1998. ‘English as a world language, as an African language, and as a South African language. Proceedings of the English Academy of Southern Africa conference “English at the turn of the Millennium”, Johannesburg College of Education, 14-16 September.

Medgyes, P. Medgyes, P. 1992. ‘Native or non-native: who’s worth more?’ ELT Journal 46/4:340-348

Musker, P. and Nomvete, S. Musker, P. and Nomvete, S. 1996. ‘Standards and levels in language assessment’. Human Sciences Research Council (ed.). Language assessment and the National Qualifications Framework. Pretoria: Human Science Research Council Publishers.

Olivier, A. Olivier, A. 1998. ‘The role of input in language development at tertiary level’. South African Journal of Education 18/1:57-60.

Paikeday, T.M. Paikeday, T.M. 1985. The native speaker is dead! Toronto: Paikeday Publishing Inc.

Peirce, B. Peirce, B. 1991. ‘On language difference and democracy’. Language Projects Review 6:21-24.

Rampton, B.H. Rampton, B.H. 1990. ‘Displacing the “native speaker”: expertise, affiliation and inheritance’. English Language Teaching Journal 44/2:97101.

Russell, B. Russell, B. 1921. The analysis of mind. New York.

Young, D. Young, D. 1988. ‘English for what and for whom and when?’ Language Projects Review 3(2):8.

Young, D. Young, D. 1995. ‘The role and status of the first language in education in a multilingual society’. Heugh, K, Siegruhn, A. and Pluddemann, S. (eds.). Multilingual

Academic and Social Language: Implications for Language in Education

Author – Raphael Gamaroff.

Introduction

The functions of language

Language, cognition and cognitive functioning

The information and social function of language

BICSandCALP

Cummins’ framework of second language proficiency

Language learning and problem-solving

Intelligence, CALP and the mother tongue

Conclusion

References

Introduction

Academic administrators and policy makers at tertiary institutions are generally abysmally ignorant on language matters. The most they know is the inane fact that language matters. They don’t make a distinction between “literature” and “language”. Thus, if one has passed a first course in English (which could consist largely of literature or interpersonal English skills), they assume that the student would have the ability to write scientific/academic discourse, i.e. to write a history or an economics essay. They also assume that if a student can gabble in English, such a student is good at English for academic purposes. These assumptions are, as I shall argue, disturbingly wrong. A key distinction in understanding the problem is that between two different kinds of language skills/proficiency.

Cummins (1980, 1983, 1984) divides language proficiency into the two categories of Basic Interpersonal and Communicative Skills (BICS) and Cognitive and Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). This distinction is very important in any discussion of language proficiency in education. All healthy humans beings automatically acquire BICS in their mother tongue, but not all human beings are capable of achieving the level of CALP that is required for academic study. To understand what is involved in academic performance, it is also important to understand the role of intelligence in CALP. This article considers some of the issues.

The functions of language

The three paramount concerns of language are the creation, expression and communication of meaning, which Kinneavy (1983:131) describes as the “aims of discourse” and which could be summarised as “learning how to mean” (Halliday, 1975). The creation, expression and communication of meaning are the ways language functions. The “functions” of language is “one of the major dimensions of language study ” (Kinneavy, 1983:131) because . the functions of language tell us why we use it. The why is connected to the what (content), the where (context) and the how or how well (accuracy) of language use.

The functional criteria in language emerges from a child’s interaction with objects and people (Atkinson, Kilby & Roca, 1982:302). A child gradually learns language as a “system of meanings in functional contexts” (Halliday, 1975:9): contexts such as ordering people about, getting them to do things for him or her, and making contact with others.

Owing to the (false?) economy of linguistic terminology in the English-speaking world, there are many linguistic terms that remain nebulous. The term function is one of them. There is the grammatical (or linguistic) function, which refers to the way linguistic elements behave in a sentence. Widdowson (1979) refers to this grammatical function as the rules of “usage”, also called the “semantic function” (Leech, 1981) and “linguistic-sense” (Parker, 1986:32).

There is also the discourse function, which refers to the way in which sentences are put together in the “use” of language (Widdowson, 1979), which is also referred to as “pragmatic meaning” (Leech, 1981, 1983). A nice way of putting the distinction is  1. the (semantic) meaning of words and 2. what we mean by our words (pragmatic meaning) (Leech, 1983).

Halliday (1975:5) proposes two meanings of the term function: “functions in structure” and “functions of language”. “Functions in structure” is concerned with the relationship between different words of a sentence. For example, the word “load” by itself can be either a verb or a noun; it needs the context of a sentence to determine its function. “Functions of language”, on the other hand, goes beyond individual linguistic elements or words (Saussure’s “signs”) to discourse, which besides the knowledge of the rules of discourse (sometimes referred to as communicative competence) also requires one or more of the following kinds of “Other Knowledge” (Bialystok, 1978:73):

– knowledge of the world (factual knowledge and culture)

– situational knowledge

– information gained from earlier utterances

The three kinds of knowledge above are content knowledge. The term content is problematic because it can subsume knowledge, skills and understanding  applied to language use ( Popham, 1981:100). For Nunan (1988:26) “knowledge” and “skills” are “products”, which he distinguishes from the “process” of learning. If content is a problematic term, so is knowledge, because it is difficult to separate factual knowledge from skills knowledge. The following section explains some of the difficulty.

Language, cognition and cognitive functioning

There is a wide and a narrow definition of cognition. The wide notion subsumes attention, action and control, categorisation, processes of recognition, processes of recall, reconstruction of episodes, incidental learning, mnemonics and memory skill, problem solving, creativity, and language acquisition and language use.

Carroll’s (1993) definition of “cognitive task” emphasises mental processes:

I define a cognitive task, therefore, as any task in which correct or appropriate processing of mental information is critical to successful performance. A cognitive ability is any ability that concerns some class of cognitive tasks, so defined.

(Carroll, 1993:10; original italics)

Cognition is also used in a narrower way:

No one has yet located a language organ or a grammar gene, but the search is on. There are several kinds of neurological and genetic impairments that compromise language while sparing cognition and vice versa. [One of these mentioned by the author is Broca’s aphasia].

(Pinker, 1995:46)

On the latter view, “[t]here is a language-specific ability or faculty. distinct from other cognitive abilities” (Spolsky, 1989:100).

What we find being discussed under Callis’ (1994:53) heading “The role of language in cognition” is vocabulary – the content words of a language; and rightly so, because cognition is much concerned with the “process whereby words are learned [which] is very complex (Callis, 1994:54).The term process in Callis is very important. It is difficult to separate, as Nunan (1988:26) does, the “product” of “knowledge” from the “product” of “skills”, and these products from the “process” of learning. All three – the products of “knowledge” and “skills” and the processes of learning – are aspects of cognition.

In the discussion that follows I shall elaborate on the role of these products and processes in (second) language learning, specifically academic language learning.

What do I mean by academic?

English for Academic Purposes is one of two branches of English for Special Purposes (ESP); the other branch of ESP is English for Occupational Purposes (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987). EAP originates in English language teaching and has little to do with the humanistic studies of literature.

The term academic English refers to either scientific discourse alone, that is, English for Academic Purposes (EAP), or to a more general concept of academic discourse, which consists of EAP as well as literary discourse. Literary discourse may refer to a literary creation such as a novel or to the (academic) analysis of a literary creation.

The term scientific has two meanings; firstly, the general sense of “academic”, and secondly, the particular sense of science (in contradistinction to the humanities). I am referring to the general meaning of the term.

The information and social function of language

In classifications of language functions a distinction is made between the social/interactional use of language on the one hand, and the informational/ transactional/referential function on the other (Halliday, 1975:18-21; Leech, 1981:40). A major bone of contention in arguments about the nature of authentic language testing (Stevenson, 1985; Spolsky, 1985) is the relative importance of the interactional function and the transactional function of language. An important question is whether the language used in face-to-face communication is more authentic than the language used in the testing situation.

Researchers differ on the relative importance of these two distinct uses. Van Lier (1988:228) and Hymes (Cazden, John and Hymes, 1985) advocate moving away from the transactional (referential) use of language. Van Lier (1988:228) maintains that “much of our day-to-day communication is not aimed at transacting information or discussing content-matter problems, but rather at developing and maintaining social relationships and at self-expression.”

Hymes (Cazden, John and Hymes, 1985:XIX) maintains that the main emphasis in the classroom has been on the “neutral, affectless uses of language for information and report…what may be broadly called the `referential’ function…the “social” functions have remained marginal.” Lantolf and Frawley (1988:189) maintain that the “scholastic environment” is too dominant. For Van Lier, Hymes and Lantolf and Crawley, the emphasis is on face-to-face communication – on talk – whereas in the scholastic environment the emphasis progressively moves away from talk towards transacting information through reading and writing.

The opinions mentioned above have special relevance to learners of a second language. Although all first language learners, except severely mentally handicapped and autistic children, attain basic communicative competence, the same is not true for second language learners. This is a crucial issue because it has to do with the question of whether basic communicative skills in a second language are a prerequisite to academic proficiency in a second language.

In contrast to the strong emphasis of the social function of language in authors such as Lantolf and Frawley, Hymes and Van Lier mentioned earlier, others (e.g. Cummins (1980, 1983, 1984, 1991; Saville-Troike, 1984; Oller & Perkins, 1978) examine the relation between language proficiency and academic achievement. Prabhu’s task-based teaching is concerned with language in a problem-solving context. “`Communicative’ competence, in the sense of an ability to achieve social situational appropriacy, is not seen [by Prabhu] as a relevant objective ” (Yeld, 1986:17) in the school situation. Saville-Troike (1984:199) maintains that “communicative competence in social interaction does not guarantee communicative competence in academic situations.” For Saville-troike (1984:214),

[a] reasonable hypothesis is that reading achievement in English is more dependent on native language reading ability than on proficiency in oral English…There appears to be some specific transfer of reading skills involved, such as the strategies use for inferring the meanings of unfamiliar words.

Saville-Troike (1984:210) found that “top academic achievers appeared to make minimal use of their developing English for social purposes.” Also, “there was a very low correlation between school achievement and time spent using English” in interactions with either peers, teachers, or the text (Saville-Troike, 1984:213).

BICS and CALP

The terms BICS (Basic and Interpersonal and Communcative Skills) and CALP (Cognitive and Academic Language Proficiency) originate in Cummins (1980, 1983, 1984).

Some theorists do not make the distinction between BICS and CALP, and may even want to know why the theory should change. The reason why the theory has changed (“should” shouldn’t come into it) is simply because it has changed – for some, if not all or most, theorists. I shall argue that the distinction is a useful one. I begin with Krashen and Terrell.

Krashen and Terrell (1983:67) maintain in their “Natural Approach” to second language learning that it appears reasonable to assume that a “good basis” in basic personal communication skills will lead to greater success in academic learning skills. Larsen-Freeman (1987:7) challenges this view:”…just because students can speak and hear does not mean that they know how to communicate orally or listen effectively.” “Effectively” refers to academic skills. Larsen-Freeman is suggesting that the specific social and pragmatic skills of oral communication that relate to academic skills require a deeper level of language proficiency than basic interpersonal communication.

This view is also shared by Cummins (1980, 1983, 1984:2), who, as pointed out above, divides language into BICS and CALP. Cummins social and pragmatic skills (which is the same as Larsen-Freeman’s “effective communication”) encompasses more than BICS (Cummins, 1984:4), therefore advanced social and pragmatic skills belong to CALP; not to BICS.

In Cummins and Larsen-Freeman above there is no disagreement with Krashen and Terrell’s (1983) view that BICS is necessary for CALP. One might argue that the difference between Cummins, and Krashen and Terrell is that Cummins claims that BICS is not sufficient for CALP, while Krashen and Terrell claim that it is sufficient for CALP. However, such an argument may not stand up to deeper scrutiny, because Krashen and Terrell’s (1983:57) “good basis” in “basic personal communication skills” might be equivalent to Cummins’ advanced social and pragmatic communication skills, which belongs to CALP.

It is therefore possible that Krashen and Terrell as well as Cummins believe that BICS is necessary but not sufficient for CALP. Cummins (1979, 1980) emphasises the point that if academic skills, e.g. reading skills, are not developed in the mother tongue, a learner may find it difficult to achieve academically in the second language. In other words, mother tongue strategies are transferable to the second language (see Cummins’ [1979] “interdependence hypothesis”).

Although it seems a reasonable assumption that academic language proficiency requires the foundation of basic interpersonal skills as Krashen and Terrell (1983) maintain, Saville-Troike (1984:209-210) has found no evidence to support this assumption. What is more, she argues (1984:216) that [s]poken practice in English may not be necessary for the development of English proficiency and may retard it in some instances. Emphasis on interpersonal communication may even inhibit academic achievement.” Saville-Troike is referring to second language proficiency and not to mother tongue proficiency. (No one would doubt that both first language CALP and second language CALP are rooted in first language BICS). If it is true, as Saville-Troike (1984) maintains, that interpersonal skills are not necessary for the development of second language proficiency, this would have an important impact on syllabus design.

Saville-Troike, whose “spoken practice” and “interpersonal skills” are synonymous with BICS, is not saying that speaking is unimportant in education. Rather, she is making a distinction between academic abilities (what she calls “proficiency”) , and informalspeech (which she calls “interpersonal communication”). Wald (1984:57) makes a similar distinction between “language proficiency” as “test language” (spoken and written) and “spontaneous language” /”face-to-face” communication.

With regard to tests, it is important to keep in mind that, in terms of the arguments presented above, there is no such thing as a BICS test. If Wald (1984:52) is correct in stating that (only) CALP is “test language” a question such as “What would a BICS test look like?” would not be a valid question. But this does not mean that one cannot “gather” what someone’s BICS is like in a non-test situation. All language (BICS and CALP) is communicative. However, tests are CALP tasks, not BICS tasks. Test skills are CALP skills, which can involve all four language modes – listening, speaking, reading and writing. For example, an oral cloze test is a CALP task (Wald, 1984:52).

Bruner (1975) and Canale (1983) make a distinction between basic language (linguistic competence), analytic competence, and other kinds of competences. In terms of these distinctions, it would be possible to have tests of basic language (grammar tests) and of analytic language. But a “basic” language test is not the same concept as BICS. Basic language tests (grammar tests) and analytic language tests both involve CALP – because they are tests. I am using the term “test” to refer to formal assessment (formal language – reading, writing, as well as listening and speaking).

Cummins’ framework of second language proficiency:

Cummin’s Framework

Two other important notions in Cummins are “contextual support” (1984:12)” and “cognitive involvement” (1984:13). Consider Cummins’ theoretical framework of language proficiency. The framework consists of two orthogonal continua. The horizontal continuum indicates the variation in contextual support. The vertical continuum indicates the variation in cognitive effort. The horizontal continuum moves from the one extreme of context-embedded communication, i.e. actively negotiated face-to-face feedback, which relies on interpersonal involvement (paralinguistic cues) and a shared reality, to the other extreme of context-reduced communication, which relies completely on linguistic cues (Cummins, 1984:12-13). The activities along the horizontal continuum from left to right may be of the following kind; 1.chatting with a friend 2. writing an informal letter 3. writing or reading an academic article (Cummins, 1984:13).

The vertical continuum is concerned with the level of active “cognitive involvement”, which Cummins conceives in terms of the “amount of information that must be processed simultaneously or in close succession” (Cummins, 1984:13). This means that the level of cognitive involvement is determined by the amount of cognitive effort needed to organise specific information into a coherent piece of discourse. For example, making a list of loosely related ideas would be less cognitively demanding than combining propositions in a logical or chronological sequence. Combinatorial skills are in turn dependent on the context of Other knowledge (culture, subject knowledge and linguistic knowledge).

An important feature of the framework is that activities are graded in terms of a continuum. For example, reading for information in content subjects could involve retrieving a number of loosely related facts, which is relatively a cognitively undemanding task, compared to processing facts that have a logical and cohesive sequence. Therefore, in explaining the natural transitions within the framework, it should be made clear that an activity such as reading for information is not restricted to the cognitively demanding context-reduced quadrant.

The framework also explains how these notions are related to BICS and CALP. The framework was an improvement on the BICS/CALP distinction in the following three ways (Cummins, 1983:119):

It incorporated a developmental perspective which showed the difference between species-specific competences (BICS) i.e. which all healthy human beings learn automatically, independently of IQ.

It showed the differences between the academic language demands of the classroom (CALP) and the language demands of interpersonal contexts outside the classroom (BICS). (This is not to say that BICS doesn’t play an important communicative role in the school, outside the academic use of language in the classroom).

It also described the developmental relationships between L1 and L2.

Cummins (1984:4) states that it would be incorrect to equate CALP with “cognitive” and BICS with “communicative”. Both BICS and CALP are “cognitive” as well as “communicative”. The difference between BICS and CALP lies in the level of cognitive involvement. BICS refers to salient basic features such as fluency (speed of delivery) and accent (lower left quadrant of the framework), and not to advanced social and pragmatic communicative skills, which is a cognitively demanding task; for example, the skill of persuading (in face-to-face communication, (upper left quadrant of the framework), which requires relatively much more cognitive involvement than a BICS task, is a cognitively demanding CALP task. In other words, it would be incorrect to equate BICS with formal and informal speaking, because formal speaking, such as the function of persuading, belongs to advanced communicative skills, and must consequently be part of CALP.

Although both BICS and CALP are communicative as well as cognitive, only CALP, as mentioned above, involves “test language” (Wald, 1984:57). Another common feature of BICS and CALP is that they both involve language to think about language. However, CALP does this in a far more cognitively demanding way, which makes a CALP task more like an academic task.

Although context-reduced communication is impersonal, it does not occur in a social vacuum. For example, when pupils go through the proper channels at a school, they have to know the specific social norms for expressing a request or a complaint. Cummins (1984:40) emphasises that CALP (as in BICS) is rooted in social interaction.

Saville-Troike’s (1984:47) criticism is that Cummins does not take into account socio-economic factors. Saville-Troike argues that knowledge of the world, which is important in reading ability, depends on socio-economic factors; for instance, poor children do not have much opportunity to learn about the outside world.

Cummins’ ideas are presently applied in several educational institutions, for example, academic support programmes at several universities in South Africa and elsewhere are trying to make language courses more meaningful to students by embedding them in course content (Starfield, 1990; Starfield and Kotechka, 1991; Murray, 1993, 1997; Smoke 1988). The problem is trying to distinguish between language proficiency, academic skills and content mastery in academic performance. On the one hand, it is recommended (Hughes, 1989:82) that we test language ability and nothing else: “In language testing we’re not normally interested in knowing whether students are creative, imaginative, or even intelligent, have wide general knowledge, or have good reasons for the opinions they happen to hold.” On the other hand, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to separate language-specific cognitive structures from general problem-solving abilities (Vollmer, 1983:22) or from world knowledge (Taylor, 1989:81ff); and it is the combinatory mechanisms of these three aspects which is of major interest in the theory of CALP, owing to its impact on academic achievement.

Language learning and problem-solving

CALP is closely related to O’Malley’s (1988) “Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA), which is very similar to Cummins’ CALP. CALLA is concerned with “learning strategy instruction” O’Malley (1988:54). The CALLA model is based on the following four principles (O’Malley, 1988:54-55):

Mentally active learners, i.e. who consciously relate new information to previous knowledge, have more “cognitive linkages to assist comprehension and recall than do students who approach each new learning task as something to be memorised by rote learning.”

“Strategies can be taught.”

“Learning strategies transfer to new tasks.”

“Academic language learning is more effective with learning strategies. Academic language learning among students of English as a second language is governed by the same principles that govern reading and problem solving among native English speakers.”

Consider the relationship between the first three principles: Mentally active learners have more “cognitive linkages”. According to O’Malley, these “cognitive linkages” are “learning strategies [that] transfer to new tasks” that “can be taught”. According to Chomsky (1988:198) , “[e]xperience does seem to support the belief that people do vary in their intellectual capacities and their specialisation”, i.e. in their ability to transfer skills and knowledge, and in their ability to learn from what is taught. The variability in “intellectual capacities” has key implications for academic achievement.

It is O’Malley’s fourth principle that I want to focus on. He maintains that the learning strategies of native language speakers and of second language learners are governed by the same principles. This view “is based in part on our own observation that strategies for language learning are similar to strategies for learning content” and “in part on our positive experience in training learning strategies on integrative tasks among ESL students” (O’Malley, 1988:55). The “critical period” during which languages are acquired is generally between the ages of early childhood and about 12 years of age, which is the beginning of the “adult” stage. Several (“second”) languages besides the mother tongue can be acquired during this period. In O’Malley’s description above, it is the strategies for advanced first language learning and second language learning (at all stages) – where both usually occur in a tutored (i.e. artificial) situation – that are probably governed by the same principles as the strategies for learning content, and not the strategies for language development in general. I equate O’Malley’s “strategies for learning content” with Bley-Vroman’s (1990:4) “general adult problem-solving”, which Bley-Vroman (1990:4) maintains resembles “adult foreign language learning” but “not child language development” (Bley-Vroman, 1990:4).

There is an important distinction between the “universal grammar” (Chomsky) and knowledge of a specific language, whether of the mother tongue or of other languages. In terms of this distinction, Bley-Vroman (1990:17-21) argues that it is not the universal grammar (UG) that is involved in the “learning” of a second language but the (specific)knowledge of the first language. White, however, maintains that although there are many ” differences” (White, 1990:61) between L1 and L2 acquisition, these differences are not “necessarily due to the absence of UG”.

White (1990:60) states that it “is important to remember that [Bley-Vroman’s] fundamental difference hypothesis is a claim about child/adult differences, rather than about L1/L2 acquisition differences per se.” However, I would think that L1/L2 acquisition differences has also much to do with child/adult differences in language learning. To illustrate, consider the Contrastive Analysis versus L1=L2 debate of the 60s and 70s. For Krashen (1981) the processes of both L1/L2 development and child/adult development are not different. According to Brown (1974:139): “Traditionally we have believed that the second language was learned by a different process from the first language; recently that belief is being questioned.” And (Brown, 1974:140): “It seems unlikely that the nature of second language learning strategies changes with age where L1 learners resemble younger learners more than older ones.”

For Krashen, whose views are similar to Brown’s, both (1) L1 and L2 development and (2) child and adult development can only occur through “acquisition”. It is “learning” (rules) that occurs through the “monitor”. But, for Krashen, the monitor does not make any direct contribution to language”acquisition”. Krashen’s (1981:1) “monitor theory” hypothesises that “adults have two independent systems for developing ability in second languages; subconscious language acquisition and conscious language learning.” Krashen believes that the best way to develop grammatical accuracy is to “acquire” it unconsciously through a focus on meaning. When the focus falls on the learning (monitoring) of grammatical accuracy, acquisition ceases to operate.

According to Hammerly (1991), with whom I tend to agree, the “second-language- acquisition- through-classroom-communication/interaction (SLACC/I)” view (of whom Krashen is a well known example) wrongly maintains that the processes involved in L1 (“native”) and L2 (“nonnative”) language acquisition are virtually identical, and that L1 “acquisition” (Krashen) is unconscious, and L2 “learning” is conscious.

Having considered some of the arguments, it seems quite possible that L2 learning processes are similar to problem-solving processes, whereas mother tongue/L1 learning is spontaneous (for healthy individuals) and does not involve problem-solving, i.e. intellectual effort. In Cummins’ (1983) terms, L1 is far less “cognitively demanding” than L2 learning. But not all of L1 learning is less cognitively demanding, because the mental processes of L2 learning – in a tutored situation – and of advanced L1 learning – are very similar to academic learning. Recall that CALP is “test language” (Wald, 1984:57), which is the language used in problem solving, specifically in academic study.

Intelligence, CALP and the mother tongue

The everyday meaning of intelligent is clever, inventive, methodical, quick-witted. In more academic terms, an intelligent person is one who is able to perceive new order and new structure, and thus is able to combine things together in fresh ways, creating new abstract patterns and relationships such as identity and difference, cause and effect. (These new patterns do not have to be new to the world, but new to the person’s mind).

Consider intelligence in terms of BICS and CALP . All healthy humans beings automatically acquire BICS in their mother tongue, but not all human beings are capable of achieving the level of CALP that is required for academic study. In order to understand what is involved in academic performance, it is important to understand the role of intelligence in CALP and the consequent role of CALP in academic performance. To elaborate:

The crucial question is whether there is a causal connection between limited intelligence and limited CALP in the second language (namely, English). The immediate response by many would be: “Of course not!” Some would even maintain that there is no direct link between first language/mother tongue proficiency and intelligence either. In the following paragraphs, I try and explain the distinction between BICS and CALP in terms of the symbiotic relationship between first language development and intelligence.

BICS does not require intelligence, specifically academic intelligence, but CALP certainly does. With regard to CALP, various authors (e.g. Lemma & Squelch, 1993; Collier, 1987; Cummins, 1979, 1980) maintain that if CALP has not been developed in early childhood and/or the early years of schooling through the mother tongue (or at least through the language the child knows best), many disadvantaged children will not succeed in an academic environment, where the medium of instruction is a second language like English, which for many is an alien language (and culture).

One of the main problems in the English-as-a-medium-of-instruction situation is perceived to be that low proficiency in English language blocks the flow of information and the development of skills. However the problem is deeper than a low level of English language proficiency. Many learners who enter higher primary and lower secondary school, where a second language is the medium of academic instruction, is that they have gained neither the necessary content knowledge nor developed the necessary problem-solving skills in their mother tongue to learn anything academic – whether it be (CALP in) a second language or some other subject (see Callis, 1994:55-56).

A crucial point is that second language CALP cannot be separated from first language CALP, nor can either of these be separated from proficiency in the “content” subjects. In order to attain CALP in a first language, e.g. Polish, one must first know BICS in Polish. However, if a Polish speaker wants to develop CALP in a second language, e.g. English (ESL), it is not a necessary prerequisite to develop BICS in ESL, because the attainment of a reasonable standard of BICS in ESL often only occurs after the attainment of a reasonable standard of CALP in ESL. In these circumstances, CALP in a second language is developed mostly through the modes of reading and writing.

Conclusion

I have focused mainly on L2 students. However, there are also many L1 students who have underdeveloped CALP. With regard to L1 speakers at tertiary institutions, many of them have not developed an adequate level of CALP. Recall Larsen-Freeman’s (1987:7) view mentioned earlier, namely that “just because students can speak and hear does not mean that they know how to communicate orally or listen effectively”, that is, they don’t know how to communicate orally or listen effectively in an academic context.

There exists today a growing body of opinion (mostly of political inspiration) that would like to see the end of the L1/L2 and the BICS/CALP dichotomies. Level the playing fields they say. By all means, but don’t flatten the players – the good ones – in the (democratic) process. Our energies should not be spent on trying to bolster the fatuous notion that all people have the same potential for higher intellectual processing but rather finding out the cognitive constraints involved, where substantial individual differences, as in every other human trait (psychological or physiological,) are to be expected.

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Language as a Deep Semiotic System and Fluid Intelligence in Language Proficiency

Raphael Gamaroff, South African Journal of Linguistics, 1997, 15(1):11-18.

See also: Cognition & Language proficiency

Deep language and language proficiency in learning

Academic Failure among Black Learners in South Africa

Abstract

1. Introduction

2. Language of thought and intelligence

3. Intelligence as semiosis

4. Intelligence and fluid intelligence

5. Culture Fair Intelligence Test (CFIT) and the deep semiotic system

6. Deep semiotic system and natural language

7. Basic Interpersonal and Communicative Skills and C ognitive and Academic Language Proficiency

8. Conclusion

9. References

Abstract

The notions of fluid intelligence and language as a deep semiotic representational system are examined. Many modern educational psychologists regard the concept of fluid intelligence as central to understanding cognitive abilities as manifested in intelligence tests and school performance. The deep semiotic system of the mind incorporates the total life of human beings in all their thoughts, feelings and activities. Oller’s intention is to provide a solid theoretical basis for the hypothesis that intelligence is a kind of semiotic representational capacity. The article deals with the relationship between the semiotic representational capacity, fluid intelligence and language proficiency. The connection between cognitive and academic language proficiency and intelligence is also discussed.

1. Introduction

Linguists are thrust into a double abyss of ignorance; the abyss of language, and the abyss of the abyss, which is the study of language. Besides language there is cognition, which is inseparable from language. Linguists often do not have the time or inclination to study in depth the cognitive dimensions of language. The in-depth study of cognition in language is often left to psychologists, philosophers and anthropologists, who in turn may not have the necessary linguistic background to talk adequately about language in cognition. The organising principles of language and cognition as a deep semiotic phenomenon remain elusive, and therefore in the quest for illuminative paradigms there is always the danger of dismembering cognition. In this article the notions of fluid intelligence ‘(Horn & Cattell, 1966) and language as a deep semiotic representational system (Oller, 1991) are examined. Many contemporary psychologists regard the concept of fluid intelligence as central to understanding cognitive abilities as manifested in intelligence tests and school performance. The deep semiotic system of the mind incorporates the total life of human beings: thoughts, feelings and activities. Oller’s intention is to provide a solid theoretical basis for the hypothesis that intelligence is a kind of semiotic representational capacity that shares similarities with but also has differences to language proficiency. This article focuses mainly on the similarities. In academic/scientific discourse this semiotic capacity is manifested in Cognitive and Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) (Cummins, 1980, 1983, 1984). The relationship between the semiotic capacity, fluid intelligence and CALP is examined.

2. Language of thought and intelligence

Bloch (1991) maintains that much of our thinking is done through language, while Fodor, Bever & Garrett (1974), Fodor (1975, 1987) and Oller (1981; 1983; 1989; 1991) maintain that there is a non-verbal ‘language of thought’ or ‘deep language’. According to Pinker (1995:102) ‘language and thought have to be different’ because ‘a particular stretch of language can correspond to two distinct thoughts’.

Oller (1983: 355) defines deep language as a ‘deep propositional reasoning system’. Fodor, Bever & Garrett describe the role of this ‘deep propositional reasoning system’ in the following way:

‘Deciding on an action is, among other things, a computational process. In particular, it presupposes that the agent has access to a system of representation in which the various behavioral options can be formulated and assessed … Deciding upon an action itself involves the use of a language-like system, and this is true whether or not the action up for consideration happens to be a speech act’ (1974: 375).

This ‘deep propositional reasoning system’ (1974: 375) is, according to the above authors, the driving force behind all thought, whether the thought involves high-level reasoning tasks such as looking for causes and effects or low level reasoning tasks such as tying bootstraps. This ‘deep propositional reasoning system’ is not the ‘deep structure’ of Chomsky’s transformational grammar, which pertains to the grammar of a particular language (for example English) and designates a particular stage in the derivation of a sentence.

Pinker who distinguishes between ‘language’ and ‘thought’, also distinguishes between ‘language’ and ‘intelligence’. Pinker suggests that the probable genetic origin of ‘Specific Language Impairment (SLI)’ is a

‘hypothetical gene that does not seem to impair overall intelligence, because those who have the affliction score in the normal range in the nonverbal parts of IQ tests’ Pinker, 1995: 49).

3. Intelligence as semiosis

A proper study of language learning cannot be done without taking intelligence into account. One is aware of the sensitivity of the topic owing to the fact that IQ tests discriminate not only between individuals but have also discriminated between groups, specifically racial and ethnic groups. (One can discriminate scientifically or ideologically.) Whatever one’s opinion of IQ tests there is no doubt that they reveal real differences in intelligence between people:

To say that older or younger learners are better or worse is not normally considered a breach of egalitarian principles, for most of us have our turn at being young and old. Proposing some other explanations for difference is more questionable, for labeling one learner as inherently less qualified than another runs the risk of establishing or justifying permanent divisions among people. Consider explanations based on intelligence, for example. There is certainly a good deal of evidence that human beings vary considerably in whatever ability or abilities may underlie the construct that is labeled intelligence.

(Spolsky, 1989:100)

Oller (1991: iv) hypothesises that ‘intelligence itself is a kind of semiotic representational capacity’. This capacity is synonymous with notions such as ‘deep language’, ‘mentalese’, ‘language of thought’ and ‘deep propositional reasoning system’. This ‘theory of semiosis’ (Oller, 1991: 11) integrates linguistic, kinesic (gestural) and sensory motor systems. Oller maintains that

without such an integration it will be impossible to explain the fact that we can talk about what we see, or visualize what someone else talks about’ (1991: 11).

Oller acknowledges the valuable contribution of Charles Sanders Peirce (1897; 1931 [1897]; 1992 [1898]); John Dewey (1938) and Albert Einstein (1941; 1944) to his own thought. Peirce’s theory of signs, ‘semiosis’, incorporates thoughts, feelings and activities. Jackendoff (1983) refers to the essential relatedness between the linguistic, kinesic (gestural) and sensory-motor systems as the ‘cognitive constraint’. (See also Oller above).

There must be levels of mental representation at which information conveyed by language is compatible with information from other peripheral systems such as vision, nonverbal audition, smell, kinesthesia, and so forth. If there were no such levels, it would be impossible to use language to report sensory input. (Jackendoff, 1983:16).

(See also Fodor, 1975; 1987; and Pinker, 1995; for similar views)

These deep levels of mental representation do not only make it possible for us to talk about our sensory input but also to make sense of our sensory input. In order to achieve some understanding of how language works, we need to discover what it has in common with other semiotic systems, or to use the French equivalent term, ‘semiological’ systems (Saussure, [1916] 1974; Benveniste, 1969).

Oller suggests that owing to the fact that

language. especially one’s primary or best developed language, represents the most powerful and most general semiotic system for nearly all normal human beings, it follows that primary language abilities will play a central role in all sorts of abstract representational tasks. It is in this refined sense that the hypothesis that intelligence may have a kind of abstract semiotic (even a sort of deep linguistic) basis has, it would seem, its greatest plausibility and theoretical strength (Oller, 1991: iv).

Advances in brain sciences and genetics (e.g. Danesi, 1994; Paradis, 1991; Perecman, 1989; Pribham, 1971; Woese, 1967:4; Young, 1978) provide additional support for the theory that ‘deep language-like representational systems are critical to all aspects of biological organisation and neurological functioning’ (011er, 1991: 4). There may indeed be more to the biblical proposition ‘In the beginning was the word’ than meets the ear. For Vygotsky (1962) ‘in the beginning was the deed’, and ‘the word is the end of development, crowning the deed’ (quoted from Oller, 1991: 35; see his Note 1). It was only a few months after Vygotsky had made the latter remark that he died

never dreaming that his remarks would be tested in scarcely three decades by one of the most remarkable advances in the history of science – the discovery of the genetic code (Oller, 1991: 35).

Vygotsky’s view that ‘in the beginning was the deed’ is less plausible than the view that ‘in the beginning was the word’, the ‘deep’ word, which is the biological and logical predecessor of activity and development.

In the next section I discuss the relationship between intelligence and fluid intelligence, which will link into the subsequent section on nonverbal intelligence tests and the deep semiotic system.

4. Intelligence and fluid intelligence

Spearman (1904) attributed a dominant role to the ‘g’ factor namely ‘general intelligence’. The ‘g’ factor in intelligence is analogous to the notion of global/overall/general language proficiency, also known as the ‘unitary competence hypothesis’ (UCH) (Oller, 1976; 1979; 1983; Oller & Kahn, 1981). The UCH posits that a holistic language ability is manifested through the four language modes of listening, speaking, reading and writing and that, accordingly, it was possible to predict UCH from the output of any one of these modes. For example, a high level of proficiency in writing would indicate a high level of proficiency in all the other language skills. Spolsky expresses the overall proficiency claim in the following ‘necessary’ condition:

As a result of its systematicity, the existence of redundancy, and the overlap in the usefulness of structural items, knowledge of a language may be characterized as a general proficiency and measured (1989: 72).

In contrast to the UCH, the ‘divisible competence hypothesis’ posits that language proficiency does not consist of a unitary factor. A middle position holds that language proficiency consists of a hierarchy of a unitary factor and divisible factors. (See Oller, 1983a for a survey of the issues.)

As with theories of language proficiency, theories of intelligence also differ, and are analogous to the different theories of language proficiency. As mentioned, Spearman attributed a dominant role to the ‘g’ factor. Subsequent researchers regarded intelligence as hierarchical in nature, where the ‘g’ factor stands at the top of the hierarchy, and two major group factors stand on the stratum below. These two major group factors are (1) a verbal-numerical-educational factor and (2) a practical-mechanical-spatial-physical factor; other minor group factors occupy lower levels (Horn & Cattell, 1966).

Thurstone (1938) originally claimed that the ‘g’ factor could be accounted for by a number of primary factors, but later conceded that a ‘g’ factor could also be identified. Guilford (1959; 1966; 1967) rejected the notion of general intelligence and claimed to have identified 120 narrow factors that are generated by the three-way classification of the ‘Structure of Intellect’, namely, Content, Operation and Product. Cattell (1957; 1963; 1971), Horn (1965) and Horn & Cattell 1966) rejected the Thurstone model and took Spearman’s hierarchical concept of intelligence further. The Horn-Cattell model (1966) consists of Fluid Intelligence (Gf, Crystallized intelligence (Gc), General Speediness (Gs), General Visualization (Gv) and General Fluency (F). (Some authors use ‘g’ but others use ‘G’: they refer to the same concept.) For Horn and Cattell, the two main dimensions of intelligence are Gf and Gc, where Gf refers to a general innate attribute:

The fluid-crystallized theory argues that the primary abilities, which can be said to involve intelligence to any considerable degree, are organized at a general level into two principal classes or dimensions. One of these referred to as fluid intelligence ( abbreviated to Gf) is said to be the major measurable outcome of the influence of biological factors on intellectual development, that is, heredity, injury to the central nervous system (CNS) [Gf might be affected by brain damage or a smoking mother; Vernon, 1979: 48, R.G.] or to the basic sensory structures, etc. The other broad dimension, designated crystallized intelligence (abbreviated Gc), is said to be the principal manifestation of a unitariness in the influence of experimental-educative-acculturation influences. Each dimension is, according to theory, so pervasive relative to other ability structures and so obviously of an intellectual nature that each deserves the name of intelligence (1966: 253-254).

(See also Cattell, 1973: 58, and Horn, 1965,1985,1988.)

Pascuale-Leone & Goodman’s (1979: 352) M (mental power/energy) ‘can be regarded as an explication of Cattell’s “Gf’, which has a ‘heavy biogenetic basis’.

Contrary to Horn & Cattell, Carroll (1993: 639) argues for a distinction between I. G (as a third-order factor) and 2. Gf and Gc as second-order factors. (Carroll’s Chapters 5 to 15 are interpretations of factor-analytic studies in terms of a three-stratum theory of cognitive abilities’ (Carroll, 1993: 633). The following diagram, which is an abridgement of Carroll’s 1993: 626) outline of the structure of cognitive abilities, shows the relationship between general intelligence (G), fluid intelligence (F) and crystallized intelligence (C). I have omitted the following from Carroll’s original outline: broad visual perception, broad auditory perception, broad retrieval ability, broad cognitive speediness and processing speed. (Figure 1 below).

What is noticeable is that the ‘level factors’ in Gf (induction) are more abstract than those in Gc, where the factors in Gc are concerned with language abilities. Gf is closer than Gc to General Intelligence (stratum 3). Carroll indicates this by the distance of the boxes in stratum 2 from the General Intelligence box of stratum 3.

Thus Gf is more abstract than Gc, because it is closer to the General Intelligence box.

A high correlation exists between ‘fluid intelligence’ – which is responsible for ‘new’ conceptual learning – and crystallized intelligence’ which is manifested in education and experience; in language learning for example (Horn & Cattell, 1966; Jensen, 1972; Demetriou et al., 1992). A crucial point is that the quality of Gc is dependent on the quality of Gf because ‘the acquisition of knowledge and skills in the first place depends on fluid intelligence’ (Jensen, 1972: 80).

Many modern educational psychologists regard Gf as central to understanding cognitive abilities as manifested in intelligence tests and cognitive and academic language proficiency. For example, the neo-Piagetians Demetriou, Gustafsson, Eflides & Platsidou (1992: 90) use educational tasks that are shown to be directly related to fluid intelligence.

5. Culture Fair Intelligence Test (CFIT) and the deep semiotic system

A variety of nonverbal instruments have been used to measure fluid intelligence. In the Kaufman Adolescent and Adult Test (KAIT), where the major theory ‘underlying the KAIT is the Horn and Cattell view (1966) that intelligence can be separated into fluid intelligence and crystallized components (Brown, 1994), rebus1 learning and block designs are used, while Raven’s (1965) Progressive Matrices Test and Cattell’s (1973) Culture Fair Intelligence Test (CFIT) use figural shapes. There are various theoretical accounts of the processing in nonverbal tests, for example Carpenter, Just & Shell’s (1990) account of the processing in the Raven Progressive Matrices Test and Oller’s (1981; 1991) account of the processing in Cattell’s CFIT, which has many similarities with Raven’s Progressive Matrices (Oller, 1991:51 and 102). Oller’s account of the processing in the CFIT is dealt with here. Oller refers to the CFIT as a test of ‘g’ (general intelligence – Carroll’s stratum 3), while Cattell describes his CFIT as a test of Cf (fluid intelligence – Carroll’s stratum 2). Oller regards his ‘g’ as equivalent to Cattell’s Gf (fluid intelligence) because the processes Oller describes as belonging to ‘g’, Cattell describes as belonging to Gf. Oller’s description of the processing in the CFIT serves to illustrate what he means by the deep semiotic system. The point of Oller’s ‘logical analysis of intelligence test items’ (Oller, 1991:11) – Cattell’s CFIT – is to show that the processing involved in the CFIT (which Cattell claims tests Gf) is a test of what he regards as ‘g’ and also what he regards as (logical) evidence for the deep semiotic system. Thus, in the description of the CFIT, I shall equate Cattell’s Gf with Oller’s ‘g’ and with his deep semiotic system.

Cattell (1973: 5) claims that the CFIT is ‘designed to reduce as much as possible the influence of verbal fluency, cultural climate, and educational level’.

Cattell’s CFIT (1973: 7; see also Oller, 1981: 484) consists of three scales (that is, levels):

Scale 1. Four to eight years of age.

Scale 2. Eight to 14 years and adults of average intelligence.

Scale 3. Adults of high intelligence.

The rationale for different scales is the existence of stages in mental development. Pascuale-Leone & Goodman state that the ‘developmental growth curve of M measures in normal children … is very similar to the curves Cattell and his followers (e.g. Cattell, 1971) have reported for their measures of fluid intelligence or Gf, reaching asymptotic levels at late adolescence’ (original italics) (1979: 352).

Cattell’s Scale 3 (Adults) refers to people over the age of fourteen years. It is at about this age that one reaches, according to Pascuale-Leone & Cattell, one’s full mental potential.

Each scale consists of four subtests, which are composed of visual symbols that involve the perception of relationships:

I. Progressive series completion;

2. Classification;

3. Matrices; and

4. Conditions.

Sample items of Scale 2 are provided in Figure 2. These subtests tap the following four operations:

Figure 2. Cattell’s CFIT Scale

Subtest 1: Progressive series completion

In the example above, the bar becomes progressively longer

The correct answer is choice 1.

Subtest 2: Classification

Five figures are presented where the aim is to select the one different from the others. The correct answer is choice 4.

Subtest 3: Matrices

The aim is to complete the matrix presented in the bottom right-hand corner. The correct answer is choice 1.

Subtest 4: Conditions

The aim here is to select from the five items the one where the dot would lie outside the box but inside the circle. Only choice 3 meets these conditions.

With regard to Cattell’s subtests 1 and 4, Oller argues that the mental processes required in subtest 1 to internally represent the dashes function

‘like a series of potential subjects which may be associated with predicates in a propositional manner. For instance, a logical predicate for the second dash in the series is that it is longer than the first’ (198 it 483).

In subtest 4 there are: firstly, the potential subjects ‘dot’, ‘circle’, ‘square’; secondly, a set of implicit predicates ‘inside’, ‘outside’; and thirdly, a set of superordinate operators ‘not’ and ‘and’. One has to discover the logical proposition ‘dot inside circle and outside square’ (Oller 1981: 483). This mental operation involves the testing of hypotheses that results in a mapping of the deep (abstract) propositional form into the visual elements. Oller’s (1981: 487) point is that it seems impossible to explain the mental processes revealed in the CFIT in non-propositional terms, that is, these mental processes cannot be explained without the ‘deep propositional reasoning system’ (the deep semiotic system; see also Oller, 1991: 49-55).

6. Deep semiotic system and natural language

What goes for nonverbal reasoning also goes for verbal reasoning, revealed in verbal intelligence tests and language proficiency tests. The relationship between intelligence and language proficiency has been the occasion of much controversy (Oller & Perkins, 1978; Boyle, 1987; Oller 1991). Oller (1978:14) states that the name of a test does not necessarily reveal what the test is in fact measuring, and that therefore an ‘intelligence’ test or an ‘achievement’ test may in actual fact be a language test more than anything else (see Gunnarson, 1978 for the same opinion). Oller’s meaning is not that intelligence tests and achievement tests are in fact nothing but language tests, but that it is difficult to know exactly what intelligence tests or achievement tests are measuring, owing to the fact that (natural) language pervades all verbal intelligence tests. What verbal and nonverbal tests have in common is that both presuppose what Fodor (1975) calls an ‘internal language’ or the ‘language of thought’. Fodor’s position is the following

1. There is no internal representation without an internal language. This applies to both human (including preverbal children) and infrahuman organisms (Fodor, 1975: 55);

2. We do not have any notion of how a language can be learnt other than by hypothesis formation and confirmation:

‘(L)earning a first language involves constructing grammars consonant with some innately specified       system of language universals and testing those grammars against a corpus of observed utterances in some order fixed by an innate simplicity metric. And, of course, there must be a language in which the universals, the candidate grammars, and the observed utterances are represented. And, of course, this language cannot be a natural language since, by hypothesis, it is his first language that the child is learning’ (Fodor, 1975: 58).

In other words, we cannot learn a language, or anything, without hypothesising and unless we already possess an internal language. This internal language is the same notion as Oller’s deep semiotic (representational) system.

The kind of hypothesizing revealed in the CFIT (which involves the rejection of some and the acceptance of other hypotheses) plays an important role in language comprehension and production. It is this kind of hypothesising that is the basis of Oller’s (1979: 34) ‘pragmatic expectancy grammar’, which is the psychological source of ‘pragmatic language ‘hat is, language in use).

Consider the following list of pragmatic language demands required to understand a simple story (Schank, 1982:15), all of which involve hypothesizing:

Access and utilise raw facts.

Recognize stereotyped situations.

Make simple inferences.

Establish causal connections.

Track people’s goals.

Predict and generate plans.

Recognize thematic relationships between individuals and society.

Employ beliefs about the world.

For 0ller, it is the deep semiotic system that undergirds the abilities required to fulfil these demands listed above. Oller provides several examples to show that

in important ways “verbal items” have some common semiotic ground with “nonverbal” ones in the propositional operations that they require. For another, it should also be possible to examine the extent to which such items are distinct from so called “language proficiency” items’ (1991:55).

Oller uses a typical item from the original Binet tests to illustrate how verbal intelligence tests tap the deep semiotic system. The test-taker is required to point out the mistake in be following statement: The judge told the prisoner: ‘You are to be hanged at dawn. Let this he a warning to you’. On the surface there does not seem to be anything as profound as a deep semiotic system involved. One merely laughs at the joke. What’s so complicated about that? But, on deeper analysis, one discovers a network of categories of propositions, which involves a complex web of inferencing and hypothesising. To understand the joke (and to tell it) one has to have a large store of knowledge (for example semantic, syntactic, pragmatic knowledge, etc.) that involves not only facts but also all sorts of principled connections, that is relationships (between the facts). (See Oller, 1991: 56-60 for a detailed account.)

In the next section, I deal with an important distinction in language proficiency, and how it relates to intelligence.

7. BICS and CALP

Cummins (1980; 1983; 1984) divides language proficiency into the two categories of Basic Interpersonal and Communicative Skills (BICS) and Cognitive and Academic Language Proficiency (CALP).

Although BICS is the foundation of CALP and all healthy human beings automatically ‘acquire’ BICS in their mother tongue, it does not follow that all human beings are capable of ‘learning’ the level of CALP that is required for academic study. BICS and CALP are communicative as well as cognitive, but BICS is not academic language. In both BICS and CALP, language is used to think about language, but CALP does this in a far more cognitively demanding way, which makes a CALP task more like an academic task, and a BICS task more like a non-academic task.

Significant differences in intelligence do not have a significant effect on the acquisition of BICS, but they do play a significant role in the effective development of CALP. At the core of CALP is fluid intelligence, what I understand to be Chomsky’s (1967: 4) ‘intelligence’ or his ‘intellectual capacities’ (Chomsky, 1988:198):

We find that over a very broad range, at least, there is no difference in the ability to acquire and make effective use of human language at some level of detail, although there may be differences in facility of use. I see no reason for dogmatism on this score. So little is known concerning other cognitive capacities that we can hardly even speculate. Experience does seem to support the belief that people do vary’ in their intellectual capacities and their specialization. It would hardly come as a surprise if this were so, assuming that we are dealing with biological structures, however intricate and remarkable, of known sorts (Chomsky, 1988:198; my emphasis).

I equate Chomsky’s ‘ability to acquire and make effective use of human language at some level of detail’ with BICS. BICS is basic language and thus does not differ among individuals. There is no doubt that ‘there may be differences in facility of use’ (Chomsky, 1988:198) in less basic interpersonal and communicative skills, which goes beyond BICS and which involves ‘other cognitive capacities’ (Chomsky. 1988: 198). These ‘other cognitive capacities’, however, come more to the fore in CALP than in advanced interpersonal and communicative skills, owing to the fact that CALP (spoken and written) is more cognitively demanding than interpersonal skills.

Although healthy human beings have the same ‘amount’ of lower order intelligence to ‘acquire’ BICS in their mother tongue, not all human beings (a scurrilous notion?) have the same amount of higher order intelligence to ‘learn’ (a high level of) CALP. IQ tests are the best predictors of academic achievement (Locurto, 1991: 160; Itzkoff, 1991; Pearson, 1991: 111), where academic achievement is understandably often closely related to CALP (Cummins & Swain, 1986: 50).

One of the major problems of many learners who enter higher primary and lower secondary school, where a second language is the medium of instruction, is that they have gained neither the necessary knowledge nor developed the necessary skills through their mother tongue to succeed academically. Second language CALP cannot be separated from first language CALP, nor can either of these be separated from proficiency in the ‘content’ subjects. For Jensen (1972), Cummins & Swain (1986), Spolsky (1989), Chomsky (1988) ~d Cattell (1973), the river that runs through all academic ability is intelligence, specifically, as Jensen (1972) and Cattell (1973) maintain, ‘fluid’ intelligence.

Besides intelligence there is another important issue: To attain CALP in a first language, one must first know BICS in the first language. One of the causes of cognitive stagnation is the lack or proper use of BICS in the home and school. However, if a learner wants to develop CALP in a second language, for example ENGLISH (ESL – English as a second language), it is not necessary to develop BICS in English, owing to the fact that the attainment of a reasonable standard off BICS in ESL often only occurs after the attainment of a reasonable standard of CALP in ESL. In these circumstances, CALP in a second language is developed mostly through the modes of reading and writing. A crucial point is that a high level of BICS in a particular language (whether the mother tongue or another language) does not necessarily lead ~) a high level of CALP in the same language.

In South Africa many non-mother-tongue speakers of English are obliged to develop BICS in English in order to gain a foothold in CALP in English, because they haven’t developed sufficiently in the CALP of their mother tongue to move relatively smoothly into CALP in English. Thus, one of the major problems in South African education is that disadvantaged learners have not developed sufficient CALP in their mother tongue, which is dependent on the development of BICS in the mother tongue. Consequently they are obliged to learn CALP in English. To add to their plight, they have to develop BICS in English and CALP in English both at the same time.

With regard to cultural factors, ‘Western’ culture emphasises the kind of knowledge and skills involved in both Gf and Gc. According to Kaplan (1966) academic thinking is culture-bound, which supports McDonough’s (1986: 20) view that Western academic concept formation is foreign to a non-Western mind where ‘students from a different “concept world” may be under more pressure than is realised’. In contrast, protagonists of English as an International Language claim that many scientific fields such as biology, medicine, physics, psychology, and linguistics transcend particular cultures.

8. Conclusion

The deep semiotic system of the mind incorporates the total life of human beings in all their thoughts, feelings and activities. Many modern psychologists regard the concept of fluid intelligence, which is closely related to this deep semiotic system, as central to understanding cognitive abilities as manifested in intelligence tests and school performance.

The cardinal issue is not trying to prove the notion that all people have the same potential for higher order processing but finding out the cognitive constraints of fluid intelligence, deep language and natural language, where individual differences are to be expected. In the academic domain one would be specifically interested to know how intelligence (fluid and crystallized) and the deep semiotic system relate to CALP. I conclude with the realization that

‘we still do not understand very well how cognitive structures interact with each other and how their formation is affected by the structure of knowledge as it exists in our present educational and broader cultural environment … we also know that mental and school-specific knowledge structures are constrained by both internal and social constraint systems … we have already gathered firm knowledge about the developmental and cognitive preconditions under which learning may occur. However, we still need to learn a lot more about how learning situations work in the mind and/or the brain to alter its present state into a more advanced one’ (Demetriou et al., 1992; 6).

Notes

1. ‘The examinee is taught a series of rebus symbols (drawings) that are then combined into sentences that the examinee must translate. The subtest [unlike Cattell’s CFIT, R.G.] includes an extensive teaching process which precedes the actual testing phases’ (Brown, 1994: 89).

2. Some psychologists and educationists reject the CFIT (and intelligence tests in general) for the following reasons:

– The moral revulsion at the racial tensions that such measurements have occasioned.

– Political pressure from egalitarian circles such as Marxism and other pseudo-democratic movements that discourages investigations into the relationship between intelligence and heredity (Pearson, 1991). Nowadays, the tendency in these circles is to attribute learning problems solely to causes such as the clash of cultures or political/educational oppression (for example Bantu Education in South Africa) or economic exploitation (e.g. capitalism). There has been strong opposition to IQ tests in various parts of the world at different times (e.g. the Soviet era, America for many decades, and still on the increase, and in South Africa more and more so. In South Africa entrance tests to schools are now unconstitutional. At an ‘Academic Development Workshop’ held at Port Hare (22 August. 1995), Dr Carson Carr, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, State University of New York, stated that in America, not only do they no longer speak about ‘intelligence’ and IQ, there is also a move to get rid of the A in SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Testing).

– The opposition of many psychologists to the purportedly simplistic (yet statistically complex) measurements of intelligence represented by an intelligence quotient (IQ).

– Some authors such as Wober (1975: 58) maintain that there are cultures that have difficulty with the general recognition of shapes. If Wober is right then these visual symbols (as they appear in Cattell’s tests) might not be culture-fair, and accordingly, an intelligence test such as Cattell’s CFIT should not be considered as a universal test of IQ. However, according to Jensen (1973:188), the shapes used in Cattell’s CFIT are universally applicable and the concepts tested are common to all societies. Oller (1981: 483) maintains that although the CFIT is a visual test, it may nevertheless be argued that the mental processes required to do the CFIT are universal. Thus 0ller agrees with Jensen and Cattell on the validity of the CFIT.

References

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UNDERSTANDING THE CONSTRUCT OF LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY

Per Linguam, 12(1):1996, pp.48-58

Author – Raphael Gamaroff

ABSTRACT

PROFICIENCY: UNDERSTANDING THE CONSTRUCT

THE PSYCHOMETRIC POSTURE

BIBLIOGRAPHY

ABSTRACT

This article examines concepts often used in debates on language proficiency and proficiency testing. It argues that the notions of “reality”   and the “constructed” world of the test, is not mutually exclusive, because “reality” is also “constructed”. This argument opens up important questions in language testing.

PROFICIENCY: UNDERSTANDING THE CONSTRUCT

In the abstract to their article with the above title, Lantolf and Frawley state that they ‘argue against a definitional approach to oral proficiency and in favor of a principled approach based on sound theoretical considerations” ( italics added). The authors use oral proficiency as a backdrop to their views on language proficiency in general. These general views are the concern in this article.

In their section “The tail wagging the dog”, Lantolf and Frawley (1988: 182) use the part of Omaggio’s (1986) manual entitled “Defining language proficiency” to illustrate their criticism that the “construct of proficiency, reified in the form of the [American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages- ACTFL] Guidelines, has begun to determine how the linguistic performance of real people must be perceived”:

In her discussion she considers various models of communicative competence, including those of Hymes, Munby, Widdowson, and Canale and Swain, all of which are reductionist approaches to communicative competence, because they define communicative competence by reference to a set of constitutional criteria. She then proceeds to a subsection entitled “From Communicative Competence to Proficiency.” However, nowhere in her analysis is there any in-depth consideration of proficiency that is independent of the proficiency test itself [emphasis added].

It is not enough for Lantolf and Frawley that ACTFL recommends “the adoption and acceptance a common yardstick, a series of descriptors of foreign language ability that are based on real life performance” (Woodford, 1979:73; quoted in Hiple, 1987). They see the ACTFL’s tail (the series of real life descriptors) that is wagging the real dog as not real. The unreal tail is the unreal “construct”; the dog being wagged is real people. The metaphor is clear: it is researchers who have fabricated the “construct””, and fabrications have no psychological reality. In other words the construct constricts the reality of “the nontest world of human interaction.” The test world, which for these authors epitomises the term construct, “has come to determine the world, the reverse of proper scientific methodology” (Lantolf & Frawley, 1988:182). Ochsner’s 1979:58) opposition to these so-called fabricators is put even more strongly:

If chemists juggled their basic units like we do, their laboratories would blow up. But more damaging, and less debatable, is the obvious fact that research design and the ‘real’ world only sometimes covary. We trade off internal for external validity, or vice versa; either way, we obtain in our experiments important results only from those small, and trivial, bits of human reality that allow a reductive analysis.

The issue is that the only way to obtain “important results” is from “trivial bits of human reality” (Lantolf & Frawley’s word in the above quotation). Where do “bits” end and “reality” begin? Each thing is a bit of something else. One cannot study wholes without reducing them ~ bits, to smaller wholes, because there does not seem to be any other way to deal with wholes -besides appreciating them – than superficially. The only effective way of studying “human reality” is bit by superficial bit. Every gestalt is a bit of a larger gestalt (Pratt in Goldmann, 1970:123), where one gestalt may be more satisfying than another depending on individual preference. Human reality or the whole person if not reduced, cannot be understood. The labour of a lifetime is required to understand anything from endocrine glands to indoctrination.

The study of language must be one of the most – if not the most – complex of human undertakings. Chomsky, a reductionist par excellence, is witness to this fact. That is why he has chosen to reduce his language interests to the one aspect of language wherein it is possible to fruitfully explore universal principles, namely “linguistic competence”.

The criticism of Hymes, Munby, Widdowson, Canale and Swain, quoted above, suggests that Lantolf and Frawley are concerned not only with oral proficiency but also with language proficiency in general. Recall that they are arguing in “favor of a principled approach based on sound theoretical considerations”, which they seem to think authors such as Widdowson do not use. Yet Widdowson, who was probably not unaware of Lantolf and Frawley’s criticism, ends his Aspects of language teaching” (1990) with the following:” There needs to be a continuing process of principled pragmatic enquiry…I offer this book as a contribution to this process – and ~ such, it can have no conclusion” (my italics). Widdowson perceives the content of both the structural and the notional syllabus to be, in Nunan’s (1988:28) words, “synthetic” and “product orientated”: i.e. the content of both syllabuses is static and lacks the power to consistently generate communicative behaviour. Widdowson’s (1979:141) argument against structuralist and notional syllabuses is that “[i]t has been generally assumed…that performance is a projection of competence. ..that once the rules are specified we automatically account for how people use language.” His argument is that structural and functional-notional syllabuses do not link in past experiences with new experiences, because they lack proper learner involvement (Widdowson, 1979:246). Lantolf and Frawley, and Widdowson have much in common. It seems that the main difference between them lies in the value they place on school learning. All three believe in “teaching language as communication” (the title of Widdowson, 1978), but much of Widdowson’s work is concerned with academic achievement and what Lantolf and Frawley call “unnatural” school “tasks” (e.g. Widdowson, 1968, 1978, 1983, 1990; 1992) rather than with “real life”. According to Lantolf and Frawley (1988:183) “tasks cannot be authentic by definition”, which implies that very little in school is authentic, i.e. natural. But: “Just what is a natural environment’ as far as learning or acquiring a second language under any circumstances is concerned?”‘ asks Morrissey (1983:200); (his specific context is the second language “acquisition”/second language “learning” controversy):

There is no environment, natural or unnatural, that is comparable with the environment in which one learns one’s mother tongue. Furthermore, it seems to me that there is a teaching (i.e. unnatural?) element in any L2-L1 contact situation, not just in cases of formal instruction. This element, even if it only consists in the awareness of the communicants that the [teaching or testing] situation exists, may be a more significant factor in L2 learning and L2 acquisition [and L2 testing] than any other factor that is common to [the natural setting of] L1 acquisition and L2 acquisition.

Lantolf and Frawley are seeking a testing situation analogous to the L2 “acquisition” situation, which in Krashen’s (1981) definition is “natural”. Nature is a slippery customer, and nowhere more so than in the tutored (artificial?) environment. Much of language and learning, like culture, consists of extrapsychological elements, which, in this sense, are an “imposition” upon nature. As far as evaluation is concerned, Widdowson’s “empirical evaluation”, where the focus is on the “process of learning”, which he distinguishes from “assessment”, i.e. “learner attainment matched against norms or criteria of success” (Widdowson, 1990:51), seems to be very close to Lantolf and Frawley’s view. It is not Widdowson, Omaggio, Canale and Swain – who undoubtedly analyse language learning and language use into criteria – who are peddling a false authenticity.

There is no doubt that the test situation is artificial in the sense that the (language) test focuses more on learning language than on using it. But then so is the school situation an artificial situation. It is true, as Lantolf and Frawley (1988:183) point out, that in real life one uses far less words than one uses in “tasks” in the school situation, and this is one of the reasons why, they maintain, tests “cannot be authentic [i.e. natural] by definition.” However, as Politzer & Mcgroarty (1983) show, it is possible to say or write few words (as one often does in natural settings) in a “communicative competence” test by using a “discrete-point” format. When one uses far less words in natural settings than in many “artificial” school tasks, one is in fact using a “discrete-point” approach to communication. The nub of Lantolf and Frawley’s criticism, however, is that the exchange between tester and test-taker is not a natural one, therefore “discrete-point” formats, or any kind of test format cannot be a natural kind of communication. Communicative testing, it seems, would be for them a contradiction in terms. What is more, communicative school “tasks” would also be a contradiction in terms. In that case, school, which may be defined as an institution whose role is to guide learners by defining and dispensing tasks, would be another figmental tail wagging the real dog.

The ACTFL Guidelines, according to Lantolf and Frawley, draw a line between the world and the individual. They regard such a situation as scientifically unprincipled and morally untenable. There is very little in “tasks” such as instructional activities and nothing in tasks such as tests that Lantolf and Frawley (1989:182) find authentic in the Proficiency literature: “the task of the test overpowers and detracts from the other tasks [“instructional activities”] we may assume the speakers are engaged in. In essence there is only one task in OP [oral proficiency] testing – the test.” (As I mentioned earlier, Lantolf and Frawley are using the subdomain of OP testing to illustrate their opposition to language proficiency testing in general). They want language tasks to be contextualised in natural settings such as the “cooking club” (Lantolf & Frawley, 1988), or the “cocktail party” (Alderson, 1981a:56).

Surely what is relevant in a language proficiency test, or in any test, is its predictive validity and not the particular tasks. Obviously, people have to leave school and get to grips with real life, and one should be taught how to cope with the real demands outside the school gates, but teaching and testing are two different, if closely connected things. If I get my eyes tested, which involves looking at an eye-chart – something I would only be called upon to do when I visit the optician/optometrist and never in real life (unless I was an optician!), the results of such a test, would be an accurate assessment of my ability to cross the road at a busy intersection.

Hymes and Canale (1987:1), who commend Lantolf & Frawley’s (1985) earlier “efforts [which have been] eloquently and persuasively voiced,” caution that the danger of “the proficiency movement” as espoused by Lantolf and Frawley and others such as Savignon (1985), as “with any movement, is that a rhetoric of fear and enthusiasm will develop which is more likely to misrepresent and confuse than to clarify the crucial issues. One crucial issue is the measurement of language proficiency. Alderson’s (1981b: 56-57)description of the problem, i.e. whether what we are measuring is authentic, is worth quoting in full (what he says about language evaluation is relevant to all evaluation):

If one is interested in whether students can perform adequately (adequacy being undefined for the moment) at a cocktail party, ‘all’ one has to do is put the student into a cocktail party and see how he fares. The obvious problems with this are that it may not always be possible to put the student into a cocktail party (especially if there are several thousand students involved [or even a hundred, R.G.]), and the fact that the performance is being assessed may actually change the nature of the performance. One solution is to simulate the cocktail party in some way, but that raises problems of authenticity, which relate to the second problem, that of the relationship between the performance and its assessment. Inevitably, any test is in danger of affecting the performance if the testee is aware that he is being tested. To that extent, it is impossible for a test to be ‘authentic’ in the sense of mirroring reality. Of course, tests are themselves authentic situations, and anything that happens in a testing situation must be authentic in its own terms: the problem comes when one tries to relate that testing situation to some authentic communicative situation. In a sense, the argument about authenticity is trivial in that it merely states that language varies from situation to situation. The feeling was expressed that the pursuit of authenticity in our language tests is the pursuit of a chimera: it is simply unobtainable because they are language tests.

Consider the role of grammar in learning/teaching language for communication. Grammar is not something that one raises one’s conscious glasses to at a cooking club or at a cocktail party. Yet it is an essential, if not the major, ingredient in the cake. Widdowson (1990:97-98) puts the case for grammar in the communicative approach to language teaching:

It seems sometimes to be supposed that what is commendable about a communicative approach to language teaching is that it does not, as a structural approach does, have to get learners to puzzle their heads with grammar. If we are looking for nonsense, this suggestion is a prime example. For if this were the really the case, a communicative approach would have very little to commend it. For language learning is essentially learning how grammar functions in the achievement of meaning and it is a mistake to suppose otherwise…. A communicative approach, properly conceived, does not involve the rejection of grammar. On the contrary, it involves recognition of its central mediating role in the use and learning of language.

What Widdowson has stated concerning language learning should be, I would think, the main concern of language testing as well. That is why the concept of an integrative continuum ranging from basic indirect grammatical elements to complex direct language use is very useful, because it emphasises the organic relationship between grammar and discourse, or to use Widdowson’s (1979) terms, between “usage” and “use”. Jeffery’s call (1990:120) to open the case for grammar wider is similar to Widdowson’s call not to neglect the conscious awareness of how grammar functions: in fact a call to make grammar the main link between language learning and language use.

This approach to grammar as “consciousness raising” (Rutherford, 1987) is an extremely useful one in the academic context of language learning. It also has a spin-off for learning in general, because the conscious cognitive and metacognitive strategies required for hypothesising and inferencing are similar in both domains (e.g. if this, then [not] that; if not this, then [not] that). One adopts such an approach based on an appreciation of the following points: in Politzer and McGroaty’s words (1983:186):

Traits of communicative competence can be defined in very precise and specific ways and measured by the same discrete point method as linguistic competence. If these principles are followed, communicative competence emerges as quite distinct from linguistic competence. The two kinds of competence are however related: communicative competence includes abilities which go beyond linguistic competence and which, to a certain degree, can make up for some deficiency in the latter. At the same time, lower levels of linguistic competence impose limits on communicative competence. Any language-related level of communicative competence has a minimum level of linguistic competence as a prerequisite. Communicative competence presupposes linguistic competence, but is not guaranteed by the latter.

THE PSYCHOMETRIC POSTURE

Lantolf and Frawley’s rejection of school tests is closely related to their rejection of the psychometric paradigm. They introduce their critique of psychometrics by quoting from Duran (1984:54):

[Developers of proficiency tests] who wish to develop scales of communicative competence skills are unlikely to leave their psychometric perspective – nor should one expect them to. Accordingly, the instrument development strategies for communicative competence skills should adhere to the highest standards of psychometric test design principles.

Lantolf and Frawley argue that such a view is a false imposition and an imposture. To summarise their argument: The direct as well as indirect domination of psychometrics in language testing has obfuscated the concept of proficiency. Psychometrists are more interested keeping their tools of measurement intact than in the object of measurement. They quote Lewontin, Rose and Kaman (1984:91): “the fact that it is possible to devise tests on which individuals score arbitrary points does not mean that the quality being measured by the test is really metric. The illusion is provided by the scale.”

Lantolf and Frawley believe that language proficiency) is “real”, whereas psychometric measurement is not. But how real is (“natural”) language compared to the (“artificial”) language metrics? Real-life tests, unshackled by psychometric validity and reliability, remain prisoners imprecision. If (metric) scales are reductions of reality – many psychometrists are acutely are of the fact that the scale is reductionist – so is language, and perhaps even more so. The illusion, contrary to Lewontin, Rose and Kamin, is not in the scale, but in language, because an illusion is, by definition, a deception. Many psychometrists are not deceived by measurement, because they indeed are aware of its limitations. They are aware that scales are reductionist, but they also aware that all kinds of knowledge, not only numbers, is, by definition, reductionist, because the only human way of accommodating the “logically uncrossable gulf’ that separates world of impressions from the mental or physical world is to reduce the world to a symbolic system, be it words or numbers (Oller, 1995: 282, in his commentary on Einstein). Words are double-edged swords: they cut to clarify but also to kill. Words often also stand in the place of reality, but many protagonists of “real-life” language proficiency – a contradiction in terms – don’t seem to be aware of this fact. If psychometrics is close to being fictional (magical?), so is language. In Jerison’s (1986: 9) words:

It is as if we could communicate by having others see what we see and hear what we hear. The normal role of language in communication is very close to fictional accounts of communication by extrasensory means and may explain the attractiveness of ideas of such psychic powers. These imagined powers are not far removed from what we do in everyday life when we use ordinary language.

Knowledge cannot but be degenerate, owing to the “logically uncrossable gulf’ between Light and reality. Fictional accounting or counting are degeneracies of reality but not as degenerate as errors or lies or illusions. Some kinds of fictional accounting, e.g. hypothetical inferences, predictions, expectancies (Oller, 1995:279), which are the conceptual tools of academic study, indeed of language study and language use as well, progressively degenerate into errors, then into lies, then into illusion or pure nonsense. Some kind of fictional counting, e.g. the psychometric measurement of human behaviour, may do likewise. All statistics like all language is fictional, in the sense described above. But Statistics, likewise language, is not an error or a (damn) lie by “nature”, or by design.

To elaborate on the issue of reductionism in terms of the relationship between levels/scales of language and psychometrics, Lantolf and Frawley maintain that

the lack of agreement among psychometricians on the number of levels to include in a proficiency hierarchy is further indication of the primacy granted to psychometric principles to the detriment of a clear understanding of the concept under investigation…What is missing from all of the scales, as far as we can determine, is sound justification that proficiency is indeed scalable in the manner assumed.

Spolsky is a firm believer in levels, which Lantolf and Frawley associate with psychometrists. But as is well known, Spolsky (1978, 1985) holds psychometrics in contempt: he refers to psychometrists as “hocus pocus scientists in the fullest sense of the word” (Spolsky, 1985:33-34). Accordingly, it is possible to reject psychometrics and believe that “items are added one at a time” (Spolsky, 1989:61), which is an “atomistic approach to language” (Alderson, 1981a: 47). But this does not mean that such an approach is, as Rutherford contends (1987:36-37), “static” and “mechanistic”. (See Alderson’s [1981a] criticism of Morrow [1981] for a succinct account of the false dichotomy between “atomistic” and “holistic” approaches to language testing.

Further, constructs; i.e. what (we think) is going in each individual’s invisible mind, can be scientifically inferred and described only when one has some idea of what is going on in many individual minds, i.e. what is going on in a group. In other words, it should be recognised that in some ways norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests are mere abstractions if separated from each other. Rowntree (1977:185) explains:

Consider a test whose results we are to interpret by comparison with criteria. To do so we must already have decided on a standard of performance and we will regard students who attain it as being significantly different from those who do not…The question is:

How do we establish the criterion level? What is to count as the standard? Naturally, we can’t wait to see how students actually do and base our criterion on the average performance of the present group: this would be to go over into blatant norm-referencing. So suppose we base our criterion on what seems reasonable in the light of past experience? Naturally, if the criterion is to be reasonable, this experience must be of similar groups of students in the past. Knowing what has been achieved in the past will help us avoid setting the criteria inordinately high or low. But isn’t this very close to norm-referencing? It would even be closer if we were to base the criterion not just on that of previous students in general. (Emphasis added).

The main problem in human evaluation is how to assess human abilities in an individual (i.e. authentic), real way. One is conscious of the danger that:

group statistics may falsify the facts of individual speech, since individuals having a given phenomenon always present or always absent are lost in group statistics among the hordes where uses of the phenomenon more obviously reflect the Great Bell Curve in the sky.

(Bailey, 1976:97-98; cited in Nicholas & Meisel, 1983:82. Nicholas and Meisel’s context is second language acquisition)

The “Great Bell Curve” may be a pie in the sky, but as many (including mathematicians and statisticians) are aware, the Great Bell Curve in the sky is also very much down to the cosmic offshoot we call earth.

In conclusion, the problem is not only how to assess individual people, but how to assess “individual” criteria (grammar, content, and so forth). As Rowntree argues above, the individual or the group in isolation is an abstraction from social reality. Criteria – as Lantolf and Frawley, and most psychometrists as well, would agree – are abstractions when separated from the functional language of life. But if life is not reduced to criteria, knowledge – and the writing of articles (on such topics) – is not possible:

[W]hat kind of explanation will satisfy us if we wonder how a complicated machine, or living body, works?… If we wish to understand how a machine or living body works, we look at its component parts and ask how they interact with each other. If there is a complex thing that we do not yet understand, we can come to understand it in terms of simpler parts that we do already understand.

(Dawkins, 1987:11)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

ALDERSON, J.C. 1981a. Reaction to the Morrow paper. In: Alderson, J.C. & Hughes, A. Issues in language testing: ELT Documents III. The British Council.

ALDERSON, J.C. 198 lb. Report of the discussion on general language proficiency. In: Alderson, J.C. & Hughes, A. Issues in language testing: ELT Documents III The British Council.

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Deep Language, Intelligence and Language Proficiency in Learning

Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of South Africa conference. (University of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, 1995).

Author – Raphael Gamaroff

See also: Language as a deep semiotic system and fluid intelligence in language proficiency, and Cognition & Language proficiency

ABSTRACT

1. INTRODUCTION

2. THE DEVELOPMENT OF LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT

3. DEEP LANGUAGE, THE LANGUAGE OF THOUGHT AND REASONING

4. THE MENTAL PROCESSES IN THE CULTURE FAIR INTELLIGENCE TEST

5. “LANGUAGE AS INTELLIGENCE”, INTELLIGENCE, BASIC INTERPERSONAL AND COMMUNICATIVE SKILLS (BICS), AND COGNITIVE AND ACADEMIC LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY (CALP).

6. THOUGHT AND INTELLIGENCE

7. BICS, CALP AND INTELLIGENCE REVISITED

8. OLLER’S HIERARCHY OF LEARNING

9. CONCLUSION

10. REFERENCES

ABSTRACT

The arguments in this article are based on the premise that intelligence plays a major role in learning. It is argued that intelligence is a “deep” language, which, although similar to language proficiency in some respects, is fundamentally different in others. Oller distinguishes between “deep language” and natural languages (e.g. English, Zulu, Russian). Oller argues that the reasoning processes involved in “deep language” are the primordial mental processes involved in all learning. Cattell’s Culture-Fair Intelligence Test (CFIT) is examined as an example of a test of these “deep language” processes.

Oller also uses the term “language as intelligence”, which he regards as equivalent in meaning to “deep language”. With regard to language (proficiency), Oller (following Cummins) distinguishes between Basic Interpersonal and Communicative Skills (BICS) and Cognitive and Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). It is argued that Oller’s “language as intelligence” is a confusing concept, because it doesn’t distinguish between the “general intelligence” common to all human being and the “intelligence” that is required for academic success. It is only by taking this distinction into account that one can appreciate the further distinction between the automatic acquisition of BICS and the conscious learning of the more intellectually sophisticated CALP, where the latter plays a crucial role in academic learning. A distinction is made between “thought” and “intelligence”, which helps to clarify the notion of “language as intelligence”. An understanding of the distinction between BICS and CALP and their relationship to “intelligence” is indispensable in understanding academic learning.

1. INTRODUCTION

Although there is a great need in applied linguistics to “bridge the gap between linguistic theorists and language practitioners” (Young 1990:6) by relating “our practice to the base discipline of linguistics” (Young 1990:10), there is something else that should be seriously considered by applied linguists, namely, the relationship between language and cognition. This relationship is the topic of this paper. Young (1993:276) makes the following important point in this regard:

Applied linguistics, if it is to be relevant in this process [i.e. the reconstruction of education in South Africa], needs to depend less on social theory for its inspiration and descriptive and explanatory power. We need to explore the deep structures of language and cognition more seriously than we do now. [My square brackets]

I agree with Young and would therefore like to explore the “deep structures of language and cognition”. In so doing, I shall try not to get trapped in common sense judgements. According to Chomsky (1972:26):

We must recognize that even the most familiar phenomena require explanation and that we have no privileged access to the underlying mechanisms, no more so than in physiology and physics. Only the most preliminary and tentative hypotheses can be offered concerning the nature of language, its use, and its acquisition. As native speakers, we have a vast amount of data available to us. For just this reason it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that there is nothing to be explained, that whatever organizing principles and underlying mechanisms may exist must be `given’ as the data is given. [For Chomsky “data” is a singular noun]

This “vast amount of data available to us” (Chomsky above) consists of natural languages such as English, Tswana, and Russian as well as artificial languages such as formal logic, mathematics and computer languages. But, there may also exist another kind of language that could be the source of both natural and artificial languages. This possible kind of language has been given many names, e.g. “deep language”, “language of thought” (referred to henceforth as LOT), “language as intelligence”, “mentalese”, a “deep propositional reasoning system”. I discuss the relationship between “deep language” and natural language, and thus exclude the relationship between “deep language” and artificial languages. Suffice it to say that artificial languages cannot develop without language: natural langauge and deep language.

Cattell’s Culture-Fair Intelligence Test (CFIT) is used to show the connections between non-verbal intelligence and language proficiency. I examine the possibility that this non-verbal intelligence is also a language; a deep language, which has strong connections with language proficiency and learning. Such an analysis may help bridge the disturbing gap, which Young (1990) complains about, between applied linguistics, pure linguistics and psychology.

2. THE DEVELOPMENT OF LANGUAGE AND THOUGHT

The complexity of the relationship between language and thought continues to frustrate (violate?) the ablest minds. Indeed, for Groddeck (1977:249-250), language is a violation of thought; a lie:

We are thus faced with the fact that every word in our language is a lie, whether it is uttered by our mouth or remains mute in the brain, a lie which violates facts, which makes us look at the world from a false perspective and think falsely.

In contrast to Groddeck’s negative view, Vygotsky (1962) sees thought and language in terms of a symbiotic relationship, where “a word devoid of thought is a dead thing, and a thought unembodied in words remains a shadow” (Vygotsky 1962:153). For Vygotsky, language is thought’s crowning glory; for Groddeck, its crown of thorns.

Devitt and Derelny (1987:127) maintain that language originated out of a need to understand the environment and ourselves in order to use and control the environment. Out of this need to control the environment culture was born. Primitive man conveyed meaning through body language such as grunts and gestures. Grunts and gestures caught on out of which was born linguistic conventions. The capacity to think – according to Devitt and Derelny – is borrowed from those who created these conventions and thus primitive thought was made easy. (It is not explained who these “creators” of conventions were). The drive to understand leads to more complicated thoughts, to more complicated speaker meanings to more complicated conventions. “If this sketch is right, they add, we have, as individuals as a species, engaged in a prodigious feat of lifting ourselves up by our own sematic bootstraps”. Thus, through the introduction of a public language, the “language of thought” (Devitt and Derelny, 1987:127) is able to expand into a discourse. This description of language development fits in very well with Vygotsky’s view (and I would think with other authors such as Hayakawa and Hayakawa 1990; and Halliday 1977).

With regard to language, Vygotsky (1978:28) maintains that human beings would be no different from animals without the social contact with other people. This is indeed so. But not because the social imprints itself onto a tabula rasa, but because the human brain has the innate structures to learn, whether it be a language or some other kind of “tool”.

Vygotsky adopted Engels’ notion that labour and tool use transforms human nature. Vygotsky “celebrates the social formation of the mind” (Daniels et al. 1995) through the mediation of the supreme mental tool, namely language. According to Gregory, we are “forced to attribute the way we think very largely to our tools and what has been created by them” (Gregory 1981:42). This means that tools (technology) would be the source of the most abstract notions of philosophy and theories of mind, and science.

Although there is no doubt that a psychology that is merely based on biology is inadequate, this does not mean that tools are the only source of the abstract notions of the brainmind. Surely there is a symbiotic relationship between the development of the brainmind and mind tools such as tools of measuring, calculating and thinking and communicating. The tool of tools (and the tool of fools) is the sign:

The use of signs leads humans to a specific structure of behaviour that breaks away from biological development and creates new forms of a culturally-based psychological process (Vygotsky 1978:40).

It is Vygotsky’s term “breaks away” (which I assume is a correct translation of the Russian text) that I find problematic. In order to explain the problem, it would be useful to examine the concept of maturation. According to Vygotsky, it is a fact that “maturation per se is a secondary factor in the development of the most complex, unique forms of behaviour.(Vygotsky 1978:19). Secondary? I don’t think so. To explain why I disagree with Vygotsky, I shall look at language in the context of growth and maturation. In the discussion that follows I shall not refer to Piaget’s views (which are well known by most social psychologists) but to Eric Lenneberg’s views on the biological basis of language (which are very similar, if not identical, to Chomsky’s views on the same topic). I present the salient features of Lenneberg’s biological view of language development:

Language for many seems to consist of arbitrary cultural conventions, e.g. Wittgenstein’s “language games”. However, fruitful explanatory principles are of a biological nature.There are radical differences between the rules of games (arbitrarily determined) and the rules of language (biologically determined). However, we can still speak of the biology of game-playing (what are the capacities that enable a human to play a game of chance, to “waste” one’s time away. An animal (humans are included under “animal) is not like a tool that can be arbitrarily assigned a particular use. The structure of the brain and the body are an interdependent unit. These structures are programmed from within, i.e. genetically (Lenneberg 1967:1-4). Thus the developmental process is physiological in nature. Modifications after birth are determined by genetic and prenatal events. The degree of plasticity (e.g. the diversity between individuals) is the product of biological conditions. Specificity and plasticity are mutually independent and all depend on the environment. “Thus the notion `dependence on environment’ (which by implication is the same as `dependent on experience’) is not a useful criterion for the classification of behaviour (Lenneberg 1967:10-12). In other words, culture is bioculture (where culture is subsumed under the notion “environment” in this article); and sociology is biosociology (Boyd and Richerson, 1985). There is not only a logic of biology, but also a biology of logic – this circular description illustrates the basic epistemological and hence ontological problem of the mind-brain duality, which is ultimately a problem of the origin of logic – the logos, the “word”.

Advances in brain sciences and genetics provide additional support to the theory that “deep language-like representational systems are critical to all aspects of biological organisation and neurological functioning” (Oller, 1991:4). There may indeed be more in the biblical proposition “In the beginning was the word” than meets the ear. For Vygotsky (1962), on the other hand, “in the beginning was the deed”, and “the word is the end of development, crowning the deed” (quoted from Oller, 1991:35; see Note 1). It was only a few months after Vygotsky had made the last remark that he died “never dreaming that his remarks would be tested in scarcely three decades by one of the most remarkable advances in the history of science – the discovery of the genetic code” (Oller, 1991:35), and also by the remarkable advances in the brain sciences (Clark, 1977; Danesi, 1994; Paradis, 1991; Perecman, 1989; Pribham, 1971; Woese, 1967:4; Young, 1978). Vygotsky got it wrong; the word, the “deep’ word, is the beginning not the end of development. The constraints of this paper do not permit a detailed discussion on the biological evidence for “deep language”. Oller (1981) and especially Oller (1991) provide a good summary of theories on the biological foundations of deep language (that is, LOT).

3. DEEP LANGUAGE, THE LANGUAGE OF THOUGHT AND REASONING

Some authors argue that it is possible to think without (natural) language – indeed that if one couldn’t think without language, one would not be able to think – or use language – at all.

For example, Bloch (1991) maintains that much of our thinking is done without language. Bloch’s position is supported by Fodor, Bever and Garrett (1976), Fodor (1986) and Oller (1981), who maintain that there is a non-verbal “language of thought” or “deep language”.

Oller (1983a:355; see also 1981) defines deep language as a “deep propositional reasoning system”. Fodor, Bever and Garrett (1974:375) describe the role of this “deep propositional reasoning system” in the following way (this would be Oller’s view as well):

Deciding on an action is, among other things, a computational process. In particular, it presupposes that the agent has access to a system of representation in which the various behaviourial options can be formulated and assessed…Deciding upon an action itself involves the use of a language-like system, and this is true whether or not the action up for consideration happens to be a speech act.

It is this “deep propositional reasoning system” that is claimed by the above authors to be the driving force behind all thought, whether the thought involves high level reasoning tasks such as doing IQ tests (which will be discussed shortly) or low level reasoning tasks such as tying shoelaces.

Let us now consider whether there is a difference in meaning between the “deep propositional reasoning system” described by Fodor, Bever and Garrett and what I consider to be a conventional definition of reasoning. Consider Carroll’s explanation of reasoning (1964:93):

Thinking aided by [natural] language is called reasoning, and the ability to reason depends largely on the ability to formulate steps in an inferential process in terms of language. [My square brackets]

For Carroll, reasoning only comes into play when “thinking [is] aided by language”; but for Oller (1983a:355), the mind’s “deep propositional reasoning system” precedes “language” (natural language). In other words, for Oller (and for Fodor, Bever and Garrett), one can reason – in the “deep” sense of the term – without (natural) “language”. For Carroll, thinking is inchoate, until it is “informed” by language, whereas for Oller, the “deep propositional reasoning system” itself is a component – indeed the principal component – of thinking. (My underlining and square brackets). Thus, for Oller, there are two levels of reasoning; the deep level and the level that Carroll describes.

I need to point out that this “deep propositional reasoning system” is not identical to the “deep structure” of Chomsky’s transformational grammar, which pertains to the grammar of a particular language (i.e. a natural language like English or Tswana) and designates a particular stage in the derivation of a sentence. I cannot be sure from Chomsky’s writings whether his “universal grammar” only pertains to a metatheory or schematism for grammar (natural language) – LAD – or whether it is equivalent to LOT. Fodor (1976), on the other hand, seems to equate “universal grammar” with LOT. Young’s meaning of “deep structure” in the introduction to this paper is used loosely and does not refer specifically to LAD or LOT. (Strictly speaking LAD and LOT should be preceded by “the” – but I prefer to leave it out). (See criticisms of the notion of LOT [Loevinger and Rey 1992; Nolan 1993] and rebuttals of some of these criticisms (e.g. Fodor in: Loevinger and Rey 1992).

4. THE MENTAL PROCESSES IN THE CULTURE FAIR INTELLIGENCE TEST

In this section, I examine Cattell’s CFIT, which Oller uses to illustrate what he means by a “deep propositional reasoning system”, i.e. deep language, mentalese, or the language of thought.

Cattell’s CFIT (1973:7); see also Oller, 1981:484) consists of three scales (i.e. levels):

Scale 1: Four to eight years of age.

Scale 2: Eight to 14 years and adults of average intelligence.

Scale 3: Adults of high intelligence.

Each scale consists of four subtests, which are composed of visual symbols that involve the perception of relationships: 1. Progressive series completion, 2. Classification, 3. Matrices and 4. Conditions. Sample items of Scale 2 are provided in Figure 1:

Figure 1

Cattell’s CFIT

Sample items of Cattell’s CFIT

1. Progressive series completion

2. Classification

3. Matrices

4. Conditions

These subtests test the following four operations:

Subtest 1. Progressive series completion. In the example above, the bar becomes progressively longer. The correct answer is choice 1.

Subtest 2. Classification. Five figures are presented where the aim is to select the one different from the others. The correct answer is choice 4.

Subtest 3. Matrices. The aim is to complete the matrix presented in the bottom right hand corner. The correct answer is choice 1.

Subtest 4. Conditions. The aim here is to select from the five items the one where the dot would lie outside the box but inside the circle. Only choice 3 meets these conditions.

With regard to Cattell’s subtests 1 and 4, Oller (1981:483) argues that the mental processes required in subtest 1 to internally represent the dashes function

like a series of potential subjects which may be associated with predicates in a propositional manner. For instance, a logical predicate for the second dash in the series is that it is longer than the first.

In subtest 4 there are: firstly, the potential subjects “dot”, “circle”, “square”; secondly, a set of implicit predicates “inside”, “outside”; and thirdly, a set of superordinate operators “not” and “and”. One has to discover the logical proposition “dot inside circle and outside square”. This involves the testing of hypotheses that results in a mapping of the deep (abstract) propositional form into the visual elements. Oller’s (1981, p.487) point is that it is impossible to explain the mental processes revealed in the CFIT in non-propositional terms, i.e. these mental processes cannot be explained without the “deep propositional reasoning system”, i.e. without deep language.

5. “LANGUAGE AS INTELLIGENCE”, INTELLIGENCE,  BASIC INTERPERSONAL AND COMMUNICATIVE SKILLS (BICS), AND COGNITIVE AND ACADEMIC LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY (CALP)

There is no doubt that intelligence plays a crucial role in reasoning, and, accordingly, also in learning. Intelligence is one of those notions that are endlessly being bandied like a “theoretical shuttlecock” (Ryle 1949:12) from one discipline to another. In this section, I examine Oller’s (1980) “language as intelligence”, which is another term he uses to describe “deep language”, “language of thought” and the “deep propositional reasoning system”.

Some confusion could arise between Oller’s “language as intelligence” and intelligence. For example, Boyle (1987:278) rejects the view (which he describes, incorrectly, as Oller’s view) that language proficiency and “language as intelligence” are equivalent concepts and tap the same abilities. Owing to Oller’s unclear explanation of his “language as intelligence” (reasons are provided shortly), it is understandable that confusions may arise between “intelligence” and “language as intelligence”, but as Oller has made clear on several occasions, his “language as intelligence” is something deeper (deep language, LOT) than language proficiency (natural language). In the attempt to untangle the links between language proficiency, intelligence and “language as intelligence”, I shall argue that Oller’s “language as intelligence” is not identical to either “intelligence” (a distinction which Oller does not make very clear) or to “language proficiency” (a distinction which Oller does make clear, in spite of what his undiscerning critics say, e.g. Carroll, 1983a, 1983b, Boyle, 1987). (See Oller, 1991 for a restatement of his earlier views (1978, 1981, 1983a) concerning the distinction between language proficiency and “language as intelligence”).

Oller uses a non-verbal intelligence test (Cattell’s Culture Fair Intelligence Test – CFIT) in order to argue the case for the existence of deep language, but nowhere does he tackle the question of whether the CFIT tests quickwittedness, cleverness, perceptiveness, which are what I.Q. tests are supposed to measure. For some reason, Oller does not mention I.Q. No doubt, there would be quite a lot of opposition (heat?) if he had referred to Cattell’s CFIT as an I.Q. test, and a universal one at that, which is exactly what Cattell (1973) intended his CFIT to be. Culture-fair intelligence tests are regarded by many contemporary (cross-cultural) psychologists and others at best as primitive psychology, at worst as a “Western”, imperialist and elitist device for the suppression of disadvantaged cultures. Oller would possibly be accused of trying to resurrect these tests to serve some nefarious purpose disguised as philosophical speculation.

I suggest a few reasons for the rejection of the CFIT (and intelligence tests in general) by some psychologists and educationists:

1. The moral revulsion at the racial tensions that such measurements have occasioned.

2. Political pressure from egalitarian circles such as marxism and pseudo-democratic movements that discourages investigations into the relationship between intelligence and heredity (Pearson, 1991). Nowadays, the tendency in these circles is to attribute learning problems solely to causes such as the clash of cultures or political/educational oppression (e.g. Bantu Education in South Africa) or economic exploitation (e.g. capitalism).

3. The opposition of many psychologists to the purportedly simplistic (yet statistically complex) measurements of intelligence represented by an intelligence quotient (IQ).

4. Some authors such as Wober (1975:58) maintain that there are cultures that have difficulty with the general recognition of shapes. If Wober is right then these visual symbols (as they appear in Cattell’s tests) might not be culture-fair, and accordingly, an intelligence test such as Cattell’s CFIT should not be considered as a universal test of IQ. However, according to Jensen (1973:188), the shapes used in Cattell’s CFIT are universally applicable and the concepts tested are common to all societies. Oller (1981:483) maintains that although the CFIT is a visual test, it may nevertheless be argued that the mental processes required to do the CFIT are universal. Thus Oller agrees with Jensen and Cattell on the validity of the CFIT.

There is no sense in avoiding the I.Q. question because I.Q. tests are the best predictors of academic ability, which subsumes first and second language proficiency (specifically CALP) and general academic subjects (Cummins and Swain, 1986:50; Locurto’s (1991:160), Itzkoff, 1991; Pearson, 1991:111). (In Cummins and Swain is found the assertion that I.Q. tests are good predictors of second language CALP. More about CALP after the next section.

6. THOUGHT AND INTELLIGENCE

At this stage, I need to introduce a distinction between “thought” and “intelligence” (which may initially seem odd and even unnatural, but I ask the reader’s forbearance). Consider the following distinction between thought and intelligence proposed by Bohm, a quantum physicist. First, thought (Bohm, 1983:50):

Thought, considered in its movement of becoming (and not merely in its content of relatively well-defined images and ideas) is indeed the process in which knowledge has its actual concrete existence.

What is the process of thought? Thought, is, in essence, the active response of memory in every phase of life. We include in thought the intellectual, emotional, sensuous, muscular and physical responses of memory. These are all aspects of one indissoluble process. To treat them separately makes for fragmentation an confusion. All these are one process of response of memory to each actual situation, which response in turn leads to a further contribution to memory, thus conditioning the next memory.

And intelligence (Bohm, 1983:51):

The perception of whether or not any particular thoughts are relevant or fitting requires the operation of an energy that is not mechanical, an energy that we shall call intelligence. This latter is able to perceive a new order or a new structure, that is not just a modification of what is already known or present in memory…What is involved [in intelligence] is perception through the mind of abstract orders and relationships such as such as identity and difference, cause and effect, etc.

(These new orders and relationships do not have to be new to the world, but only new to the person’s mind).

For Bohm, thought is by definition conditioned, while intelligence is by definition unconditioned. But how can intelligence be unconditioned by the brainmind which is ostensibly its seat (source?) of energy? Bohm remarks in this regard:

At this point, however, one may ask: `How can one know that such an unconditioned response [i.e. an intelligent perception] is at all possible? This is a vast question, which cannot be discussed fully here. However, it can be pointed out here that at least implicitly everybody does in fact accept the notion that intelligence is not conditioned (and indeed, that one cannot consistently do otherwise).

But, if intelligence is unconditioned (by heredity and environment), it would mean that intelligence operates independently of heredity and environment. Bohm (1983:51-52) argues that if intelligence were conditioned by either heredity or environment (or both), it would then follow that the statement “intelligence is the product of heredity or/and environment” is merely the product of heredity or/and environment. This would mean that meaning is the product of heredity or/and environment, and therefore meaning would be nothing more than the conditioned “spouting forth of word patterns” (Bohm, 1983:51-52). This would reduce intelligence – and I suppose all efforts to understand the world – to conditioned “thought”.

I don’t think it is possible to deny that intelligence is to some extent conditioned by both heredity and environment. How this works is the big question, which perhaps quantum physicists (like Bohm) will be able to answer (Bohm, 1983, 1987). Or are we expecting too much from science and too little from other sources of knowledge such as theology or zen?

7. BICS, CALP, AND INTELLIGENCE REVISITED

I now examine more closely the relationship between Oller’s “language as intelligence” as revealed by Cattell’s CFIT discussed above and language proficiency.

The kind of hypothesising revealed in the CFIT (which implies the rejection of some and the acceptance of other hypotheses) plays an important role in language proficiency (i.e. language comprehension and production). It is this kind of hypothesising that is the basis of Oller’s (1979:34) “pragmatic expectancy grammar”, which is the psychological source of “pragmatic language” (i.e. language in use).

Consider the following list of pragmatic language demands required to understand a simple story (Schank, 1982:15), all of which involve hypothesising:

1. Access and utilise raw facts.

2. Recognise stereotyped situations.

3. Make simple inferences.

4. Establish causal connections.

5. Track people’s goals.

6. Predict and generate plans.

7. Recognize thematic relationships between individuals and society.

8. Employ beliefs about the world.

Oller does not explicitly mention the pragmatic demands listed above, but I do think that he would accept them as valid “pragmatic” demands. For Oller, it is “language as intelligence” (i.e. deep language) that undergirds the abilities required to fulfil these demands listed above. In other words, deep language stands under, i.e. is the sub-stance of language proficiency.

Oller makes a distinction within language proficiency between BICS and the more sophisticated ability of CALP. (This distinction originated in Cummins, 1980, 1984). However, it still remains unclear how “intelligence” (meaning, quickwitted, perceptive) is accommodated into his language as intelligence and into the BICS-CALP distinction.

Cummins (1980, 1984) divides language proficiency into the two categories of Basic Interpersonal and Communicative Skills (BICS) and Cognitive and Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). Although it is true that BICS is the foundation of CALP and that all healthy humans beingsautomatically “acquire” BICS in their mother tongue, it does not follow that all human beings are capable of “learning” the level of CALP that is required for academic study. According to Cummins (1984), the BICS-CALP distinction is not a distinction between “communicative” language and “cognitive and academic” language [my underlining], because BICS and CALP involve both dimensions. Although I agree that both BICS and CALP are communicative as well as cognitive, I prefer to exclude the “academic” component from BICS. The reason is that although both BICS and CALP use language to think about language, CALP does this in a far more cognitively demanding way, which makes a CALP task more like an academic task, and a BICS task more like a non-academic task.

It is important to note that significant differences in intelligence (in Bohm’s sense) do not have a significant effect on the acquisition of BICS, because, as Chomksy (1967:4) points out, significant differences in intelligence (in Bohm’s sense) have only a small effect on the development of BICS. However, it is also important to note that intelligence does indeed play a significant role in the effective development of CALP.

Oller states that the major teaching problem could be a “problem of teaching language in the deep and general sense of the term” (Oller 1981:489-490). If Oller’s “language in the deep and general sense of the term” is the same notion as his “language as intelligence”, which seems to be the case, it is logical to infer that “language as intelligence” is not only “deep” language/intelligence but also “general” language/ intelligence.

The use of the term “general” in this context is confusing, because “general” intelligence in humans can refer to what Oller (1983b) – following Spearman – refers to as “g”, which is closely related to the “fluid” intelligence of Cattell (1973), where the latter refers to intelligence that is unaffected by culture or learning, and which is tested by the CFIT. Yet there is a significant difference between the lower order (what I call “general”) intelligence that all humans possess and higher order “intelligence” (as defined by Bohm above).

Regarding this confusion between these two kinds of intelligence, I focus on the (higher order) intelligence component of Oller’s “language as intelligence” and relate it to the mental processes used in the CFIT described above: If Oller’s deep intelligence is equivalent to general intelligence, then it follows that general intelligence would also be equivalent to the “deep propositional reasoning processes”, i.e. Oller’s “language as intelligence”. But, I would think that it is mostly higher order intelligence and not general intelligence that is required to grasp the orders and relationships in the CFIT, which Oller uses to illustrate the “deep propositional reasoning processes”.

To bring BICS and CALP back into the picture, Oller’s “language as intelligence” seems to subsume 1) lower order (i.e. general) intelligence (which Chomsky relates to the controversial “Language Acquisition Device” – LAD) that enables all healthy human beings to learn basic language (BICS), and 2) higher order intelligence, which is required to learn CALP. (I consider general intelligence to be belong to Bohm’s conditioned “thought”).

The salient issue is that although healthy human beings have the (lower order) general intelligence to “acquire” BICS (in their mother tongue) not all human beings have the (higher order) intelligence i.e. academic potential to “learn” CALP.

One of the major problems of many learners who enter higher primary and lower secondary school, where a second language is the medium of instruction, is that they have gained neither the necessary knowledge nor developed the necessary skills through their mother tongue to learn anything academic – whether it be (CALP in) a second language or some other subject. The fact is that second language CALP cannot be separated from first language CALP, nor can either of these be separated from proficiency in the “content” subjects, e.g. science, history.

In order to attain CALP in a first language, e.g. Chinese, one must first know BICS in Chinese. However, if a Chinese speaker wants to develop CALP in a second language, e.g. English (ESL), it is not a necessary prerequisite to develop BICS in ESL, because the attainment of a reasonable standard of BICS in ESL often only occurs after the attainment of a reasonable standard of CALP in ESL (as I have experienced with Chinese immigrants in my community). In these circumstances, CALP in a second language is developed mostly through the modes of reading and writing.

8. OLLER’S HIERARCHY OF LEARNING

With the above distinctions in mind, consider Oller’s hierarchy of learning. Oller (1983a:355) distinguishes three levels of learning as indicated in Figure 2:

Figure 2. Oller’s hierarchy of learning

Oller’s “skills” of listening, etc. in Figure 2 refer to the general skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing as well as the deeper cognitive skills that are learnt through these four modes of language.

So far, I have emphasised the central role of deep language in learning, but it is important to keep in mind that in the learning process the development of deep language depends (partly?, mostly?, entirely?) on the development of natural language. A dialectical and internal relationship exists between the two levels, in fact, between all the levels in the hierarchy of learning. What occurs is not merely a top-down bottom-up exchange between the three levels, but a far more complex transaction between biomental mechanisms, intelligence, linguistic knowledge, world knowledge and skills.

The fact that Oller does not include other important factors in his hierarchy of learning does not mean that he is unaware of their importance. Some of these factors are motivation, acculturation, and mother tongue interference. Besides these aforementioned factors, there are also economic and sociopolitical factors that may play a significant role in learning, e.g. the unequal distribution of resources, or strikes and boycotts (which have been so rampant in South African education in recent times). The point is that many factors may influence learning, but none of them (including natural language), in my view, is as fundamental as the attribute of deep language. And this is what Oller’s hierarchy attempts to show.

A possible defect in Oller’s hierarchy is that the inclusive term of deep language does not distinguish between intelligence, in Oller’s general sense of a “deep propositional reasoning system”, and intelligence, in the specific sense of finding new order, and so forth.

A possible defect in Oller’s hierarchy is that the inclusive term of deep language does not distinguish between intelligence, in Oller’s general sense of a “deep propositional reasoning system”, and intelligence, in the specific sense of finding new order, and so forth.

Bohm’s distinction between (“conditioned”) thought and   (“unconditioned”) “ntelligence  comes in useful here. For example, early language learning is a product of conditioned thought. Chomsky shows very clearly that child language acquisition is conditioned, i.e. automatic, i.e. it is built into the hardwiring of the brain, into what he calls the Language Acquisition Device (LAD). Whether LAD is a distinct “organ” is another matter, which won’t occupy us here. But all language cannot be conditioned; if it was, meaning would be nothing more than the conditioned “spouting forth of word patterns” (Bohm, 1983:51-52), as discussed above. Intelligence (in Bohm’s sense) enables us to make deductions and inductions (and “abductions”, as discussed in the works of C. S. Pierce; see Nagel, 1959; Oller, 1991:6).

For example, the existence of LOT is partly derived from (induction) the empirical observation that children learn language (grammar and lexis) automatically, and partly from the reasoning that in order for a child to know how to mean (which involves both thinking and expressing “in” a linguistic system), the child must already have some innate mechanism of knowing how to mean. This innate mechanism, as it has been argued in this article, is LOT (deep language). The concept of LOT is arrived at not only through a process of inductive reasoning, but also through hypothesising about how language can exist at all. The epistemological journey (i.e. process of acquiring knowledge) takes us from child language learning (empirical data) and philosophical speculation (rational data) to LOT. Much “intelligent” learning is based on these two directions of enquiry. The ontological discovery at the end of the journey is that LOT existsprior to (natural) language. To oversimplify: the empirical data is already given; it is left to theorists to take (to) the theory that best suits their view of the world – a rationalist view, a behaviourist view, or a what have you . According to Dewey, ideas are not “givens” but “takens”. Point taken.

9. CONCLUSION

This article dealt with the notion of deep language (“language as intelligence”) and showed some of its connections to thought, intelligence, language proficiency and learning. The (unusual) distinction between “thought” and “intelligence” was used to clarify Oller’s confusing notion of “language as intelligence”. It was also argued that Basic Interpersonal and Communicative Skills (BICS) requires lower order (general) intelligence, while Cognitive and Academic Language proficiency (CALP) requires higher order intelligence. An understanding of the distinction between BICS and CALP, and their relationship to intelligence is indispensable in understanding the process of (academic) learning.

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Cognition and Language Proficiency

Cognition and Language Proficiency

This unpublished article contains ideas that appear in the following published articles:Deep language, intelligence, and language proficiency in learning . Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of South Africa conference, University of Port Elizabeth, 1995, and Language as a deep semiotic system and fluid intelligence in language proficiency, South African Journal of Linguistics, 15(1):11-17, 1997.This article contains supplementary material.

1. INTRODUCTION

2. LANGUAGE, THOUGHT, COGNITION AND INTELLIGENCE

3. LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY AND INTELLIGENCE

4. THE METALINGUAL FUNCTION OF LANGUAGE AND FLUID INTELLIGENCE

5. CONCLUSION

6. BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. INTRODUCTION

Although there is unanimity among cognitive scientists that there exist entities called the brain and the mind, there is no unanimity on whether the brain will be able to ultimately explain cognition or whether current descriptions of the mind really represent the processes of the brain (Eimas & Galaburda, 1989:2). Without interdisciplinary knowledge, there is little hope for understanding the brainmind even if that theory is biologically, psychologically or linguistically consistent. Nowhere is this truer than in the mother of all disciplines: language, which comprises an extremely complex network of biological, cognitive, cultural and educational factors. Chomsky (1972:26) describes the difficulties involved in studying language:

We must recognize that even the most familiar phenomena require explanation and that we have no privileged access to the underlying mechanisms, no more so than in physiology and physics. Only the most preliminary and tentative hypotheses can be offered concerning the nature of language, its use, and its acquisition. As native speakers, we have a vast amount of data available to us. For just this reason it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that there is nothing to be explained, that whatever organizing principles and underlying mechanisms may exist must be ‘given’ as the data is given. (Chomsky has used data as a singular noun).

2. LANGUAGE, THOUGHT, COGNITION AND INTELLIGENCEThe fact that the object of study is language itself plunges us into a double abyss of ignorance: the abyss of language, and the abyss of the abyss, which is thestudy of language. What I want to focus on in this paper is not the study of language in general but the study of language as a tool of intellectual development, i.e. of the higher cognitive processes.What makes language even more difficult to define is that we have to use language to study and define it. Definitions are not merely concerned with words, but are also, and perhaps primarily, concerned with the process of relating words to the concepts they represent. Owing to the fact that language “itself”, in the sense of language as a linguistic system, is only one component of language, it would be difficult to appreciate how language works without understanding (to an appreciable extent) how thought works, i.e. how concepts are formed, where concept formation depends heavily on the ability to make abstractions (Hayakawa & Hayakawa, 1990). It is through concepts that one tries to answer the basic philosophical question: “What is the nature of human knowledge?” (Adamson, 1990:2); which may be very similar to the question: What is the nature of language?; which brings one back full circle to the question: “What is the nature of human concepts?” (Adamson, 1990:2). Both language and intelligence are components of the broader notion of cognition. However, it might be argued that “language” processes are not “cognitive” processes. Applied linguistics, like psychology and so many other disciplines “covet[s] cognition” (Miller, 1986:278):

Psychologists take for granted that cognition is a “problem” defined for their experimental convenience, philosophers, who were there first, feel that psychologists are intruders who obscure rational argument by premature empiricism, computer scientists, who invent artificially intelligent systems, freely define cognition in their own likeness, linguists claim special cognitive intuitions about language as their intellectual birthright, social anthropologists speak as if their concern for culture gave them some special authority to study cognition, even neuroscientists now speak of cognitive brain processes. Moreover, each discipline has proceeded as though its own enterprise were the only one of consequence.

(Miller, 1986:278)

In the quest for illuminative paradigms there is always the danger, as Miller warns (1986), of “dismembering cognition”. There is a wide and a narrow definition of cognition. The wide notion subsumes attention, action and control, categorisation, processes of recognition, processes of recall, reconstruction of episodes, incidental learning, mnemonics and memory skill, problem solving, creativity,and language acquisition and language use.

This definition of cognition shares similarities with Cummins and Swain’s (1986:7) “cognitive functioning”:

[c]ognitive functioning is used….to refer to measures involving general intellectual and linguistic skills such as verbal and non-verbal IQ, divergent thinking, academic performance and metalinguistic awareness” (my italics and underlining).

An equivalent term to “cognitive functioning” is Shuy’s (1975:5) “cognitive involvement”. Carroll’s (1993:10) definition of “cognitive task” also subsumes all the processes mentioned above:

I define a cognitive task, therefore, as any task in which correct or appropriate prcessing of mental information is critical to successful performance. A cognitive ability is any ability that concerns some class of cognive tasks, so defined.

Cognition is also used in a narrower way::

No one has yet located a language organ or a grammar gene, but the search is on. There are several kinds of neurological and genetic impairments that compromise language while sparing cognition and vice versa. [One of these mentioned by the author is Broca’s aphasia].

(Pinker, 1995:46)

Pinker distinguishes between language and cognition, whereas the broader definition of cognition subsumes language. Fine’s(1994) “cognitive functioning”, on the other hand, is ambiguous. Fine (1994:3) maintains that “language is also the product of cognitive functioning” but ends his book with the words “language and cognitive functioning (Fine, 1994:274; my italics).

Pinker also distinguishes between “language” and “thought”: “language and thought have to be different: a particular stretch of language can correspond to two distinct thoughts” (Pinker, 1995:102). Thus it is possible to thinkwithout (natural) language. Bloch (1991) maintains that much of our thinking is done without language, while Fodor, Bever and Garrett (1976), Fodor (1986) and Oller (1981), maintain that there is a non-verbal “language of thought” or “deep language”. Oller (1983a:355; see also Oller, 1981) defines deep language as a “deep propositional reasoning system”. Fodor, Bever and Garrett (1974:375) describe the role of this “deep propositional reasoning system” in the following way (which would be Oller’s view as well):

Deciding on an action is, among other things, a computational process. In particular, it presupposes that the agent has access to a system of representation in which the various behavioural options can be formulated and assessed…Deciding upon an action itself involves the use of a language-like system, and this is true whether or not the action up for consideration happens to be a speech act.

It is this “deep propositional reasoning system” that is claimed by the above authors to be the driving force behind all thought, whether the thought involves high level reasoning tasks involving cognitive and academic language proficiency, which Cummins (1983, 1984) has given the acronym “CALP” and which O’Malley (1988) refers to as “Cognitive Academic Language Learning”, or whether the thought involves basic interpersonal and communicative skills, which Cummins has given the acronym “BICS” and which Chomsky (1988:198) refers to as “the ability to acquire and make effective use of human language at some level of detail”. By language proficiency I mean the ability to use a language.Cummins’ identification of “skills” with BICS, and “proficiency” with CALP is unfortunate, because it creates the impression that “skills” in general, are of a lower intellectual order than “proficency”, in general.

Pinker does not only distinguish between “language” and “thought”, but also between “language” and “intelligence”. Pinker suggests that the probable genetic origin of “Specific Language Impairment (SLI)” is a “hypothetical gene [that] does not seem to impair overall intelligence, because those who have the affliction “score in the normal range in the nonverbal parts of IQ tests.” (Pinker, 1995:49). While Pinker distinctions between (1) “language” and “thought”, and (2) “language” and “intelligence”, Bohm makes a distinction between “thought” (which is always conditioned) and “intelligence” (which is always unconditioned). The distinction between (conditioned) “thought” and (unconditioned) “intelligence” may appear strange, and even unnatural, if one is accustomed to understanding these terms in the conventional way. But, as long as one defines what one means by the terms one uses, there shouldn’t be a major problem in understanding what is meant. Consider the following distinction between thought and intelligence proposed by Bohm. First, thought (Bohm, 1983:50):

Thought, considered in its movement of becoming (and not merely in its content of relatively well-defined images and ideas) is indeed the process in which knowledge has its actual concrete existence…What is the process of thought? Thought, is, in essence, the active response of memory in every phase of life. We include in thought the intellectual, emotional, sensuous, muscular and physical responses of memory. These are all aspects of one indissoluble process. To treat them separately makes for fragmentation an confusion. All these are one process of response of memory to each actual situation, which response in turn leads to a further contribution to memory, thus conditioning the next memory.

And intelligence (Bohm, 1983:51):

The perception of whether or not any particular thoughts are relevant or fitting requires the operation of an energy that is not mechanical, an energy that we shall call intelligence. This latter is able to perceive a new order or a new structure, that is not just a modification of what is already known or present in memory…What is involved [in intelligence] is perception through the mind of abstract orders and relationships such as such as identity and difference, cause and effect, etc.

(These new orders and relationships do not have to be new to the world, but only new to the person’s mind).

For Bohm, thought is by definition conditioned, while intelligence is by definition unconditioned. (The pair conditioned/unconditioned refers to the influence of both biology and the external environment). The question is how intelligence can be unconditioned by the brainmind which is ostensibly its seat of energy. Bohm remarks in this regard:

At this point, however, one may ask: `How can one know that such an unconditioned response [i.e. an intelligent perception] is at all possible? This is a vast question, which cannot be discussed fully here. However, it can be pointed out here that at least implicitly everybody does in fact accept the notion that intelligence is not conditioned (and indeed, that one cannot consistently do otherwise).

(Bohm, 1983:51)

If intelligence is unconditioned (by heredity and environment), this would mean that intelligence operates independently of heredity and environment. Bohm (1983:51-52) argues that if intelligence were conditioned by either heredity or environment (or both), it would then follow that the statement “intelligence is the product of heredity or/and environment” is merely the product of heredity or/and environment. This would mean that meaning is the product of heredity or/and environment, and therefore meaning would be nothing more than the conditioned “spouting forth of word patterns” (Bohm, 1983:51-52). This would reduce intelligence – and all efforts to understand the world – to conditioned “thought”. It is undeniable that intelligence is to some extent conditioned by both heredity and environment: how this works is the big question.

3. LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY AND INTELLIGENCE

Cummins (1980, 1984) divides language proficiency into the two categories of Basic Interpersonal and Communicative Skills (BICS) and Cognitive and Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). Although it is true that BICS is the foundation of CALP and that all healthy humans beings automatically “acquire” BICS in their mother tongue, it does not follow that all human beings are capable of “learning” the level of CALP that is required for academic study. According to Cummins (1984), the BICS-CALP distinction is not a distinction between “communicative” language and “cognitive and academic” language, because BICS and CALP involve both dimensions. Although I agree that both BICS and CALP are communicative as well as cognitive, I prefer to exclude the “academic” component from BICS. The reason is that although both BICS and CALP use language to think about language, CALP does this in a far more cognitively demanding way, which makes a CALP task more like an academic task, and a BICS task more like a non-academic task.

Significant differences in intelligence do not have a significant effect on the acquisition of BICS (Chomksy, 1967:4; of course, Chomsky does not use the term BICS, but he does seem to mean the same concept). However, it is also important to note that intelligence does indeed play a significant role in the effective development of CALP. It is specifically the notions of “fluid” intelligence and “g” that I am referring to. Spearman (1904) attributed a dominant role to the “g” factor, whereas subsequent researchers regarded intelligence as hierarchical in nature, where the “g” factor stands at the top of the hierarchy, and on the next level there are two “major group factors: “v:ed” (verbal-numerical-educational factor) and “k:m” ( a practical-mechanical-spatial-physical factor); other “minor group factors” occupy lowers level (Horn & Cattell, 1966). Thurstone (1938) originally claimed that the “g” factor could be accounted for by a number of primary factors, but later conceded that a “g” factor could also be identified. Guilford (1959, 1966) rejected the popular belief in general intelligence and claimed to have identified 120 narrow factors that were generated by the three-way classification of the “Structure of Intellect”), namely, Content, Operation and Product. Cattell 1957, 1963, 1971), Horn (1965) and Horn and Cattell (1966) rejected the Thurstone model and took Spearman’s hierarchical concept of intelligence further. The Horn-Cattell model (1966) consists of Fluid Intelligence (Gf), Crystallised intelligence (Gc), General Speediness (Gs), General Visualisation (Gv) and General Fluency ((F). The two main dimensions of intelligence, for Horn and Cattell (1966), remain Gf and Gc, where Gf refers to a general innate attribute:

The fluid-crystallized theory argues that the primary abilities which can be said to involve intelligence to any considerable degree are organized at a general level into two principal classes or dimensions. One of these referred to as fluid intelligence (abbreviated Gf) is said to be the major measurable outcome of the influence of biological factors on intellectual development – that is, heredity, injury to the central nervous system (CNS) or to the basic sensory structures, etc. The other broad dimension, designated crystallized intelligence (abbreviated Gc), is said to be the principal manifestation of a unitariness in the influence of experimental-educative-acculturation influences. Each dimension is, according to theory, so pervasive relative to other ability structures and so obviously of an intellectual nature that each deserves the name of intelligence.

(Horn & Cattell, 1966:253-54, see also Cattell, 1973:5-8, and Horn 1985, 1988)

Contrary to Horn & Cattell, Carroll (1993:639) argues for distinction between “g” (as a third order factor) and GF and GC as second order factors. (Carroll’s Chapters 5 to 15 are intpretations of factor-analytic studies in terms of “three strutm theory of cognitive abilities” [Carroll, 1993:633]).The concept of fluid intelligence is regarded by many modern educational psychologists as central to understanding cognitive abilities as manifested in intelligence tests and school performance. The neo-Piagetians Demetriou, Gustafsson, Eflides and Platsidou (1992:90) use educational tasks that are shown to be directly related to fluid intelligence. In the Kaufman Adolescent and Adult Test (KAIT), “[t]he major theory…underlying the KAIT is the Horn and Cattell view (1966) that intelligence can be separated into fluid intelligence and crystallized components” Brown (1994).A variety of instruments have been used to measure fluid intelligence: the KAIT uses rebus learning and block designs, while Raven’s Matrices and Cattell’s Culture Fair Intelligence Test CFIT) use figural shapes. The CFIT has lost favour with many psychologists because of the difficulty of finding such a thing as a culture-fair test. Interestingly, another non-verbal test, which is strikingly similar to parts of the CFIT, has been advocated by some cross-cultural psychologists (Campbell, 1985; Macdonald, 1990) as a true culture-fair test, namely Pascuale-Leone and Goodman’s (1979) FIT (Figural Intersections Test), which Pacuale-Leone and Goodman regard as a measure of universal “mental power”. Oller (1981, 1983, 1991) has made a significant contribution to the neglected area of cognition in language proficiency. Oller acknowledges the valuable contribution of Charles Sanders Peirce (1931 [1897]; 1992 [1898]), John Dewey (1944, 1956) and Albert Einstein (1916, 1938) to his own thought. Peirce’s theory of signs, “semiosis”, which is the equivalent of Oller’s “deep language”, incorporates the total life of human beings in all their thoughts, feelings and activities. Oller suspects that the opposition to the concept of “deep language” is its associations with “intelligence”:

…associated with a fairly general scepticism about the validity of tests, is a certain hopefulness that some of the discouraging claims (notably those of Arthur Jensen, 1969, 1980) about the impossibility of substantially improving IQ scores or related school performances may have been based on inappropriate interpretations of test scores, especially scores on what are called “intelligence measures”.

(Oller, 1991:iv)

A proper study of language learning cannot be done without taking intelligence into account. One is aware of the sensitivity of the topic owing to the fact that IQ tests discriminate not only between individuals, but have in the past discriminated between groups, specifically racial and ethnic groups. Spolsky (1989:100) goes to the heart of the issue:

To say that older or younger learners are better or worse is not normally considered a breach of egalitarian principles, for most of us have our turn at being young and old.. Proposing some other explanations for difference is more questionable, for labelling one learner as inherently less qualified than another runs the risk if establishing or justifying permanent divisions among people. Consider explanations based on intelligence, for example. There is certainly a good deal of evidence that human beings vary considerably in whatever ability or abilities may underlie the construct that is labelled intelligence.

The cardinal issue is not trying to prove the notion that all people have the same amount of intelligence (universal intelligence) but finding out what are the cognitive commonalities and differences between, and cognitive constraints of, intelligence and language ability. With regard to the commonalities, Oller’s (1991:11) “intelligence as semiosis” posits a

theory of semiosis…which integrates linguistic, kinesic (gestural), and sensory-motor systems. Without such an integration it will be impossible to explain the fact that we can talk about what we see, or visualize what someone else talks about.

Jackendorff (1983) refers to this essential relatedness between the linguistic, kinesic and sensory-motor systems as the “cognitive constraint”. Oller (1991:11) above echoes Jackendorff’s (1983) view that

[t]here must be levels of mental representation at which information conveyed by language is compatible with information from other peripheral systems such as vision, nonverbal audition, smell, kinesthesia, and so forth. If there were no such levels, it would be impossible to use language to report sensory input.

Jackendorff (1983:160)

Which in turn is reminiscent of Saussure ([1916]1974): “If we are to discover the true nature of language, we must learn what it has in common with other semiological systems. ” Oller’s intention is to provide a “solid theoretical basis” for the hypothesis that “intelligence itself is a kind of semiotic representational capacity”:

Since language, especially one’s primary or best developed language, represents the most powerful and most general semiotic system for nearly all normal human beings, it follows that primary language abilities will play a central role in all sorts of abstract representational tasks. It is in this refined sense that the hypothesis that intelligence may have a kind of abstract semiotic (even a sort of deep linguistic) basis has, it would seem, its greatest plausibility and theoretical strength.

Oller (1991:iii-iv)

4. THE METALINGUAL FUNCTION OF LANGUAGE AND FLUID INTELLIGENCE

This “general semiotic system”, which is responsible for “all sorts of abstract representational tasks”, is also responsible for all sorts of language functions. Consider Jacobson’s (1960 [1985:150]) six functions with their matching “constitutive factors in any speech event”.

Jacobson’s Classification
Function Constitutive Factor
Referential Context
Emotive Addresser
Conative Addressee
Phatic Contact
Poetic Message
Metalingual Code

I focus on the metalingual function – which is the one most closely related to higher cognitive processes – in terms of the BICS-CALP distinction described above:Language can be used to speak about ” things” or it can be used to speak about itself. The latter function of language is called the metalingual function. There are two levels of the metalingual function; the less cognitively demanding level of everyday communication and the more cognitively-demanding level of academic learning and communication. In everyday language use, it often occurs that addressers and addressees have to verify whether communication has taken place. Expressions such as “Did I get you right?” and “Say that again, I can’t make much sense out of it?” are part of normal communication. In such situations, the metalingual function focuses on the code. This metalingual function is extremely important because all processes of language acquisition at any age is dependent on this metalingual function. On the academic level, languages may be learnt in a “cognitive” way, where the focus is on the structure of the language. In the production and understanding of academic/scientific discourse, the focus often falls on grammar, which is not only concerned with keeping the clothes of discourse clean. Du Toit and Orr (1989:199) describe a piece of writing containing grammatical errors as “clothes covered with food stains and dirt, with perhaps a few missing buttons”. Grammar is a much wider notion, in that it is necessary for the effective communication of “potential meaning” (Halliday, 1975). The metalingual function, therefore, especially in writing, plays a crucial role in academic discourse. Jeffery (1990:120), who suggests that we should open the case for grammar wider, describes the metalingual function in academic/scientific discourse:

[T]he most elementary reading and writing presuppose word and sentence at least; and progress is awkward without noun, verb, number,tense, phrase, clause, and so on. These categories come naturally to nobody, and with difficulty to some, for they are all artificial abstractions from the flow of speech. Nobody speaks in words and sentences; therefore everybody needs to be taught about them…Inchoate thought has to be organised in order to make your meaning clear to your readers (and yourself), and that takes skill in arranging the units of WL [written language] into structures.

At the core of academic\scientific discourse is fluid intelligence, what I understand to be Chomsky’s intelligence (1967:4) or his “intellectual capacities” (1988):

We find that over a very broad range, at least, there is no difference in the ability to acquire and make effective use of human language at some level of detail, although there may be differences in facility of use. I see no reason for dogmatism on this score. So little is known concerning other cognitive capacities that we can hardly even speculate. Experience does seem to support the belief that people do vary in their intellectual capacities and their specialization. It would hardly come as a surprise if this were so, assuming that we are dealing with biological structures, however intricate and remarkable, of known sorts. (My italics)

(Chomsky, 1988:198)

IQ tests are good predictors of academic language proficiency; and this positive relationship between IQ and academic language proficiency is, I suggest, also a causal one. However, there are many other factors besides “intelligence” that may affect learning. Cattell (1973:5) observes:

Many saw intelligence as the major dimension of individual differences… this line of thought led to many abuses in intelligence testing…intelligence, though important, is only one element of a larger set of individual attributes that need to be considered when we attempt to understand and predict human behaviour comprehensively.

According to Horn and Cattell (1966), Jensen (1972), Demetriou et al. (1992), there is a high correlation between “fluid intelligence” (responsible for “new” conceptual learning and ) and “crystallised intelligence” (education and experience). The latter intelligence is dependent on the former because “the acquisition of knowledge and skills in the first place depends on fluid intelligence” (Jensen, 1972:80). “Western” culture emphasises the kind of knowledge and skills involved in these two kinds of intelligence. According to Kaplan (1966) academic thinking is culture-bound, which supports McDonough’s (1986:20) view that Western academic concept formation is foreign to a non-Western mind where “students from a different ‘concept world’ may be under more pressure than is realised”. In contrast, protagonists of English as an International Language (EIL) claim that many scientific fields such as biology, medicine, physics, psychology, and linguistics, transcend particular cultures.

5. CONCLUSION

I conclude with the realisation that

we still do not understand very well how cognitive structures interact with each other and how their formation is affected by the structure of knowledge as it exists in our present educational and broader cultural environment…we also know that mental and school-specific knowledge structures are constrained by both internal and social constraint systems…we have already gathered firm knowledge about the developmental and cognitive preconditions under which learning may occur. However, we still need to learn a lot more about how learning situations work in the mind and/or the brain to alter its present state into a more advanced one. Thus, we are not very knowledgeable about how to engineer specific learning environments aimed at quickly and efficiently imparting specific knowledge structures useful to a particular individual of a particular age for a particular purpose.

(Demetriou, Shayer and Eflides, 1992:6)

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Biosociology of Language and Discourse

The original title of this paper was entitled Doing what comes socially (and naturally?): Discourse as social practice in education. Presented at the “Social reconstruction in a fragmented society” Conference of the South African Sociology Society, Rhodes University, South Africa, 3-5 July, 1995.

Abstract

1. Introduction

2. Biology and social thought

3. Language and Discourse and discourse

4. The bio/socio split in language development

5.  Maturation and mediation

6. Conclusion

7. References

Abstract

In contemporary social thought there is an inordinate emphasis on social development, which results in the neglect of the natural (i.e. biomental) realities of human development. This article discusses this inordinate emphasis on social aspects of language and discourse. It is argued that the biomental mechanisms of language and thought are not only the roots of discourse but that these biomental mechanisms ramify into the very branches of discourse. Thus it would be incorrect to maintain that “the use of signs leads humans to a specific structure of behaviour that breaks away from biological development and creates new forms of a culturally-based psychological process” (Vygotsky, 1978:40). The Vygotskian view that the lower cognitive processes of human development are biological in origin, while the higher cognitive processes are social in origin, is critically examined. Biological constraints should receive more emphasis than they are given in contemporary social thought.

1. Introduction

The relationship between the biological sciences and social thought is not only extremely interesting, it is of central importance in the human sciences, because the conclusions we reach on this matter and act upon, will have profound implications in all human activity. For example, consider the opening paragraph of an article on multicultural education from a lecturer who teaches at a South African College of Education, where I previously had taught:

Before the assumed implications are dealt with, it is necessary to say a few words concerned what I understand by “culture” and “multicultural education”. This paper uses “culture” in the sense of whatever a person must know in order to function in a particular society. Such knowledge is socially acquired: that is, the necessary behaviours are learned and do not come from any kind of genetic endowment.

(Masheane, 1995:5)

Before the author presents his “assumed implications”, he wants to set in stone the Rosetta of his intentions. Everything that is to be subsequently written in the article, is based on what he considers to be the correct interpretation of human reality: genes have nothing to do with social behaviour.

In this article, I argue that this is a truncated view, because “culture”, i.e. “whatever a person must know to function in society” (Masheane above) is closely connected to genetic endowment. The question is not so much “Why does Masheane make such a shortsighted pronouncement?” as “Why does he make it with such confidence?” I think the answer is that there would be very few people in the educational field, or in any other “social” field in South Africa who would expect him to say anything different. The reason for this is quite obvious. Talk genes, then you must be talking about someone’s abilities, which leads to all the nasty things about racial differences in intelligence. The huge gaps between the social sciences and the biological sciences are largely due to racism (Barkow, 1989:14). With regard to the “question of race and intellectual endowments… in a decent society there would be no social consequences to any discovery that might be made about this question. Individuals are what they are… (Chomsky, 1988:199). It is in the light of “individuals are what they are…” and not of “race” that the following discussion should be evaluated.

2. Biology and social thought

Those who are opposed to the emphasis on biology in social development can take comfort in the fact that human reasoning is limited. And thus it is safe to maintain that biology’s pre-eminent role in human culture is a matter of – and for – conjecture. Nevertheless, even though

it has not been possible to solve the more interesting empirical questions definitively: Is an explicit theory of the mechanisms of cultural evolution necessary? And, if so, what exactly should it be like? … a deductive theory which clearly sets out the logical relationships between and cultural evolution does advance our understanding of such problems by more clearly showing what is at issue in controversies, such as those between human sociobiologists and their critics, which otherwise appear to be the result of irreconcilable “philosophical” differences.

(Boyd & Richerson, 1985:18)

A moot question in the social/human sciences is whether social science is a science. However, choosing a scientific point of view – whether in, say, physics (a “hard ” science) or in, say, sociology (a “human” science) has probably got less to do with science than with philosophy; the philosophy of beliefs, values and social practices (i.e. a world view) rather than with philosophical theories of knowledge and existence. Whether the domain of study be art, religion, physical science, psychology, social work or linguistics, it is the “paradigm[that] determines the identification and interpretation of “empirical evidence” [or of any other kind of evidence or experience] in a given discipline”

(Bizzell, 1979:764; my square brackets).

World views usually conflict with one another. Thus what one person may consider to be his or her world view, another may label as an ideology, where the will to dominate may be interpreted by the latter to be the mainspring of the former’s world view.

Scientists search for (ever deeper) causes. All causes involve a transfer of energy. Thus science is regressionist and reductionist by nature, for there is no other way to know anything unless to analyse it, i.e. break it up (or down) into simpler bits. On the other hand, it is impossible to know how human beings function unless we also take into account sociohistorical influences. However, as Boyden (1987:v) points out, “a serious flaw in the historical approach [of human society, e.g. Toynbee, Marx]…lies in the fact that it takes far too little account of the biological components of the societal system with which it is concerned.” (My square brackets). We know much more about the molecular biology of genes than about the neurophysiology of social learning (Boyd & Richerson, 1985:37), consequently there is much more consensus on genetic encoding than on the cultural encoding of discrete particles, or perhaps rather, the discrete encoding of cultural particles: Lumsden and Wilson’s (1981:7) “culturgens” and Dawkins’ (1976, 1985) “memes” (sociocules!):

But, given that brains, books, computers exist, these new replicators, which I called memes to distinguish them from genes, can propagate themselves from brain to brain, from brain to book, from book to brain, from brain to computer, from computer to computer. As they propagate they can change – mutate. And perhaps ‘mutant’ memes can exert the kinds of influence that I am here calling ‘replicator power’.

(Dawkins, 1987:158)

Culture – as far as we know – is not transmitted (directly) through genes: “Cultural transmission takes place at the ontogenetic, or life cycle, level, through complex processes of socialization” (Lopreato, 1984:23), which Dawkins calls “memes”.

At this point a distinction between culture and environement should be made For many social scientists, environment and culture are distinct. For example “environment” is defined as “those processes in the physical and biological realm that affect the population but that are somehow external to the population.” (Boyd and Richerson, 1985:5). For example, drought may have a major effect on a population. “Culture” is the social behaviour that is affected by the environment. As man evolved, social behaviour became more and more influenced by his (man is used generically) psychological environment, if not necessarily less by the physical environment.

To continue: Although culture may not be transmitted directly through genes, it is transmitted according to “epigenetic” rules (Lumsden & Wilson, 1981). These epigenetic rules are biological adaptations, and thus are not engineered by sociocultural forces.

Beavers – supreme engineers – build dams because they are genetically programmed to do so. These dams are products of the beaver phenotype – the phenotype is the effect that the genotype has on organisms. (Dawkins, 1982, 1987). Human house-building is also an extension of the phenotype, which itself depends on the structure of the genotype. Thus there is no (onto)logical separation between the adaptive stages of the phenotype and the genotype. In such a view the main component in culture is the (selfish) individual, or more punctiliously, the selfish gene(s) (Dawkins, 1976). Culture and society in terms of the views of Lumsden & Wilson, and Dawkins are bioculture and biosociology.

We say bioculture (Lopreato, 1984), but we don’t say biosociology, preferring sociobiology (Wilson, 1975) for no other reason, it seems, than its more euphonic ring. Biosociologygives precedence to bio, which highlights the biological basis of society. Not to overlook the fact that humans are far more complicated than “noncultural organisms” (Boyd & Richerson, 1985:6) and thus “social learning causes the communication of phenotypic traits directly from individual to individual” (Boyd & Richerson, 1985:6).

According to Rushton (1995, xiv) the “prevailing social science paradigms are fast giving way to gene-culture coevolutionary perspectives”, which is reminiscent of Boyd & Richerson’s (1985:2) “dual inheritance theory”. The terms “coevolutionary” and “dual” merely connote that both genes and culture are involved in human activity, but they do not spell out the nature of the relationship between genes and culture. Boyd and Richerson’s view is that genes and culture function in two independent domains, where their main interest lies in cultural transmission. Thus if we call such a view coevolutionary, it has a completely different meaning to the coevolutionary view of Rushton or or of Lumsden and Wilson above, or of many other authors prominant in the field, e.g. Barkow, 1989; Tooby & Cosmides, 1992; Pinker & Bloom, 1992. The latter authors hold the view that there is a direct link between biology has a direct influence on culture and society. In other words, one should take into account the crucial point that the mainspring of all living creatures, no matter how culturally developed they are, is genetic inheritance. If the genes aren’t “happy” transmitting themselves, no amount of culture is going to make the rest of the architecture happy. It is on this happy note that I sing the rest my tune.

3. Language, Discourse and discourse

Language represents our perceptions and conceptions, which in turn are representations of “reality”. Language as representation is a highly selective and a highly evocative process, which makes it impossible to establish a one-to-one correspondence between reality and one’s description of it. Accordingly, we justifiably only speak of evocations of reality, and not portraits of it. These evocations do not only differ between linguistic systems and cultures, but also within each of them, and also between and within individuals. With regard to the individual, within every “abstractly unitary national language”, there exists a “multitude of concrete worlds” (Bakhtin, 1981:288). Language exists on three levels: the linguistic system level, the common culture level, and the level that Bakhtin is stressing, namely the “multitude of concrete worlds” level. It also exists within what James calls seven “sub-universes” (Bolton, 1977:43):

1. The world of sense, of physical things, as we apprehend them.

2. The world of science, of physical things, as the learned conceive them.

3. The world of ideal relations and abstract truths believable by all – logical mathematical, ethical, metaphysical propositions.

4. The world of “idols of the tribe”, illusions or prejudices common to all.

5. The various supernatural worlds.

6. The various worlds of individual opinion.

7. The various and numerous worlds of “sheer madness”.

What I want to discuss concerning these “concrete worlds” and “sub-universes is the relation between the “biological bases of behaviour and the social conditions in and through which human activity [i.e. Discourse] takes place” (Cole et al. in Vygotsky 1978:124; my square brackets). I am interested not only in “mind in society” (Vygotsky 1978), but also in “society in mind”; or perhaps more correctly – owing to our ignorance of what is brain, what is mind – the brainmind in society and society in the brainmind.

There are “Discourses” with a capital D and “discourses” with a little “d” . The focus of the sociolinguists Gee (1991:142) and Lee (1992:198) is on Discourse, which is broadly defined by these authors as a world “perspective” or “social practice”. Discourses with a capital “D” are “identity kits” (Gee 1991:142) which betoken membership in a particular social group. Discourse with a little “d” is “connected stretches of language that make sense” (Gee 1991:142). For Fairclough (1989:41), language is “a form of social practice”, which he also calls “discourse” (with a little “d”, Gee’s Discourse), and what is central in and behind discourse is power: “The idea of `power behind discourse’ is that the whole social order of discourse is put together and held together as a hidden effect of power” (Fairclough, 1989:55).

In any Discourse, there are three key moments that comprise its equilibrium: Who/what is being “Discoursed” (the object) and who (i.e. the subject) is “Discoursing” (with whom). Discoursers are by definition subjective because they are time-space/relational beings concretised in a diversity of sociobiological configurations, i.e. they occupy both the biological and social dimensions. They (can only) see and act from a particular point of view. This view is influenced by both social and biological (innate, genetic) forces:

Human beings have all sorts of beliefs [whether they be physicists, philosophers. applied linguistics; to mention only the academic domain]. The way in which they arrive at them varies from reasoned argument to blind faith. Some beliefs are based on personal experience, others on education, and others on indoctrinations. Many beliefs are no doubt innate: we are born with them as a result of evolutionary factors. Some beliefs we feel we can justify, others we hold because of “gut feelings”.

Davies (1993:19; my brackets)

Discourses are inherently ideological, i.e. the supreme drive for many human beings is social power and the good(s of) life. A Discourse resists criticism from its members, is usually opposed to other Discourses, and often marginalises them (Gee 1991:144). Discourses are social realities that are fleshed (and flushed) out within human relationships, where “beliefs and values are inextricably caught up in the networks of power and desire, and resistance to power and desire.” (Gee 1991:9).

Consider more closely the relationship between Discourse and discourse. Without discourse, i.e. “connected stretches of language that make sense” (Gee above), there can be no social practice; or identity (kits), because the id can only be an entity when entered into a discourse – which impliesdiscourse competence.

Linguists regard discourse competence as one of the components of communicative competence. Communicative competence subsumes four sub-competences: grammatical competence, sociolinguistic competence, discourse competence and strategic competence (Swain, 1985:37):

(1) Grammatical competence, which is concerned with components of the language code at the sentence level, e.g. vocabulary and word formation.

(2) Sociolinguistic competence, which is concerned with contextual components such as topic, status of interlocutors, purposes of communication, and appropriateness of meaning and form.

-360 (3) Discourse competence, which is concerned with: (i) different genres – scientific reports, business letters, which involves a knowledge of text forms, semantic relations and an organised knowledge of the world; (ii) Cohesion – structural links to create meaning, and (iii) Coherence – links between different meanings in a text, literal and social meanings, and communicative functions. As we saw above, Fairclough (1989:24) defines discourse differently to Swain. Fairclough makes a distinction between “discourse” and “text”, where discourse is the whole process of social interaction of which (the spoken or written) text is one part: this is Gee’s and Lee’s meaning of the term (mentioned above).

– Strategic competence, which is concerned with (1) improving the effectiveness of communication, and (2) compensating for breakdowns in communication.

All human languages contain these four components of communicative competence. These four components are interwoven in the fabric of human thought and behaviour, and thus Discourse (as social practice) involves all four components. Discourse without discourse is not possible. Of course, one can be deaf and dumb and still use discourse. Discourse is obviously possible in a sign language.

Social theories can undoubtedly shed light on how beliefs and values create and preserve social relationships within Discourse. The question is whether social theories (or linguistics) are explanatory enough. Consider the following speculations about language.

We are born with many beliefs, because they are one of the varieties of “cognitive adaptations” (Jerison, 1986:7). Another variety of adaptation is language itself, which we use to think about if not to think through (or see through) our beliefs. According to Jerison (1986:8), the early evolution of language had little to do with communication, because it is not communication that requires a large brain, but thinking about whatto communicate.

Communication by means of language is a kind of extrasensory perception. What makes language such an unusual kind of animal communication is that it enables us to bridge the gap between brain and world/other brains:

It is as if we could communicate by having others see what we see and hear what we hear. The normal role of language in communication is very close to fictional accounts of communication by extrasensory perception.

(Jerison, 1986:9).

Thus, reading people’s brain’s through the language they use is just a little less marvellous – and more credible – a feat than reading brains “directly”. For Jerison ESP is very close to the normal use of language. (Teachers of another kind of ESP [English for Special Purposes] might take note). Jerison marvels at the “extrasensory” ability of humans to bridge the gap between – and shape – one another’s brains through language. So does Pinker (marvel); with this difference:

For you and I belong to a species with a remarkable ability: we can shape events in each other’s brains with exquisite precision. I’m not referring to telepathy [Jerison’s “extrasensory” perception] or mind control or other obsessions of fringe science; even in the depiction of believers these are blunt instruments compared to an ability that is uncontroversially present in every one of us. That ability is language. (My square brackets).

Jerison and Pinker are talking about language as communication. They are also both correct. We communicate through the senses. Any sensible person agrees on that. Thus Jerison’s description of language as being “close to fictional accounts of extrasensory perception” does not imply that humans are some kind of telepathic toms peeping through verbal keyholes at neuronal meatloaves caught in the state of nature, but that one can only marvel at the feat of being able to communicate our mental and emotional states through the physical senses.

Thus, there is far more to language than communication. What is important is not the mechanism of communication, but what is constructed before it is communicated. Language contributes to the “reality constructed by each of our brains” (Jerison, 1986:8). When we communicate, we share what we have constructed. No doubt there is a continual reconstruction and development going on in the interchange between communicators, which is an important part of learning. But the point I want to argue is that (natural) language, e.g. English, Zulu, is not only a product of social practice (which I defined earlier as Discourse) but is also a product of the human brain. Besides the identifiable language areas, specialised language functions are distributed throughout large parts of the brain, because it is a distributed system, (Jerison, 1986:6,8). Which brings us the bio/socio split in language development.

4. The bio/socio split in language development

The suggestion that many of our beliefs are the result of (biological) evolutionary forces is anathema to educational psychologists such as Vygotsky and Luria (1994:131), who consider human development, especially adult/adolescent development (including language) as mainly a cultural-historical phenomenon. Development in Marxian thought is a succession of qualitative transformations , which result from inner pressures or “contradiction”, which is the “very moving principle of the world” (Hegel quoted in Sowell, 1985:25, Note 47). Such a view is not wrong, because human learning is a “feedback from chaos” (Ford, 1989:354), in order to hopefully create cosmos. Chaos is contradiction and conflict. According to Piaget and Inhelder (1969:78) “[a]ll development is composed of momentary conflicts and incompatibilities which must be overcome to reach a higher level of equilibrium.” The problem with the marxian perspective is that it overemphasises the role of social forces in this “feedback from chaos”. Ford’s “feedback from chaos” is in the context of evolutionary biology, where the feedback of natural selection and survival of the fittest “biases the dice so that, over many rolls, life forms not only survive” (Ford, 1989:354), they are also very likely to improve. Because they improve, they survive.

The inadequacy of social theories is, I believe, adequately shown in theories related to the development of the mind “tool” par excellence – language. For the purposes of my argument I would like to conflate discourse (language) and Discourse and refer simply to the language of discourse, or simply to language. I shall also use “language” and “sign” interchangeably, in order to accommodate Vygotsky’s terminology.

With regard to the social emphasis on human development, Vygotsky, 1978:28) rightly maintains that human beings would be no different from animals without the social contact with other people; and this contact is best initiated and developed through language. Vygotsky and Luria (1994:131) explain their view of the difference between human and ape in terms of the use of tools.

If, in the first case [the ape’s use of tools], functions of biological formation solve the problem set before the animal, in the second case [the child’s use of tools] analogical functions of historical formation come to the fore, and they begin to take a leading part in the solution of the problem. These functions which, from the point of view of phylogenesis, arenot products of the biological evolution of behaviour but of the historical development of the human personality, possess also, from the point of view of ontogenesis, their own particular history of development, closely connected with its biological formation but not coinciding with it and forming along with it a second line of the child’s psychological development. We call these functions higher functions, meaning by this, first and foremost, their place in the plan of development, while we are inclined to call the history of their formation, as distinguished from the biogenesis of the lower functions, sociogenesis of the higher psychological functions, having in mind above all the social nature of their inception. (Original italics; my underlining)

If language – in Vygotsky’s context, adult/adolescent language (and concept development) – is regarded as an artifact of the phenotype that has no close connection to the genotype, it would be logical to regard language as a (cultural) tool. However, those who believe that language -at all stages of development – has strong biological connections might hesitate to call language a “tool” on a par with other tools such as pitchforks and shoe tongues.

For Vygotsky and Luria, adult/adolescent concepts, which are represented by language, cannot be innate. If adult/adolescent concepts were innate, this would mean that social theories would also have to have an innate component; which would mean that history (or some of it; which part?) would be the product not only of social forces but also of biological forces throughout one’s life, not only in early childhood.

Consider Devitt and Derelny’s view on the origin and functions of language, which has a strong Vygotskian character. Devitt and Derelny (1987:x,7) are committed to (1) “naturalism”, i.e. the theory of language has no special status; it is an empirical and conjectural theory like all other theories, and to (2) “physicalism”, i.e. people are nothing else but complex parts of the physical world. Concerning point (1), theories are by definition conjectural, but are not by definition empirical. Surely the core problem in epistemology is the relationship between experience/experiment/ empiricism and thought/knowledge/scientific imagination. In this regard we talk of hermeneutic and epistemological circles. While it is a truism that theories are conjectures (any good dictionary should tell you that), the connection between empiricism and theory is more problematic. Empiricism is a theory, but theory is not empiricism. Devitt and Derelny have committed themselves to the theory that language is – presumably because people are – nothing but complex parts of the physical world. Physicalism is plausible because it is supported by evolutionary theory, biology and biochemistry. Devitt and Derelny (1987:9) do not believe that there are any good arguments against this perceptive. However, physicalism, might be the folk opinion par excellence, just because it has been so thoroughly researched. Consider their view of the origin of language:

Devitt and Derelny (1987:127) maintain that language originated out of a need to understand the environment and ourselves in order to use and control the environment. Primitive man conveyed meaning through body language such as grunts and gestures. Grunts and gestures caught on out of which linguistic conventions were born. The capacity to think – according to Devitt and Derelny – is borrowed from those who created these conventions and thus primitive thought was made easy. The drive to understand leads to more complicated thoughts, to more complicated speaker meanings to more complicated conventions.

If this sketch is right we have, as individuals as a species, engaged in a prodigious feat of lifting ourselves up by our own semantic bootstraps…The picture is of a language of thought expanding with the introduction into it of a public language.

(Devitt & Derelny, 1987:127)

It is not explained who these “creators” of conventions were; As Pinker (19995:365) asks: “…if language involves, for its true expression, another individual, who did the first grammar mutant talk to? Pinker (1995:365) suggests not so much a bootstrap operation as Devitt and Derelny suggest, but perhaps more of a rachet operation: “Selection could have ratcheted up language abilities by favoring speakers in each generation that the hearers could best decode, and the hearers who could best decode the speakers”. It is possible that humans did lift themselves up by their semantic bootstraps. These semantic bootstraps could be interlaced into the neurons. Humans don’t learn semantics; they are semantic beings (semanticules!) because they are genetically programmed to be so. What is at stake here is the vexing question of which is more operative in human development: maturation (biology) or learning throughmediation, i.e. through society/teaching.

5. Maturation and mediation

Consider Vygotsky’s “The socialist alteration of man” (1994), which sits well with Devett and Derelny and with the majority of social scientists.

As an individual only exists as a social being, as a member of some social group within whose context he follows the road of his historical development, the composition of his personality and the structure of his behaviour turn out to be a quantity which is dependent on social evolution and whose main aspects are determined by the latter. (My italics)

On this view changes in society bring about changes in the individual. The development of the individual is brought about by society and culture. These are facts that Vygotsky or any sensible person would never deny. But it is the inordinate emphasis on social development that seems wrong. The complexity of human consciousness involves much more than social development. it involves primarily an innate, i.e. biological, mechanism. “Learning is not an alternative to innateness; without an innate mechanism to do the learning, it could not happen at all” (Pinker, 1995:408). This principle is the basis of Tooby and Cosmides’ (1992) “psychological foundations of culture”. Heredity and environment obviously – and boring it is to say this – both have their respective roles to play. “Thus the notion `dependence on environment’ (which by implication is the same as `dependent on experience’) is not a useful criterion for the classification of behaviour” (Lenneberg 1967:10-12).

Lenneberg’s logic would not have gone down well in October, 1917. Chelpanov, the director of the Russian Institute of Psychology was dismissed because of his critique (“The mind of man”, Chelpanov, 1917) of the materialist, behaviourist theories of mind. Chelpanov agreed that marxian thought could explain the social organisation of consciousness (could he have publically said otherwise without ending up in a gulag?), but not the properties of individual consciousness. Kornilov rejected Chelpanov’s “idealism”, and maintained that Marxian materialist philosophy could also embrace a materialist view of individual consciousness (Cole et al., in Vygotsky, 1978:4-5). According to Cole et al. (Vygotsky, 1978:5), Vygotsky, more than a decade after Chelpanov, rejected both Chelpanov and Kornilov’s marxian stance. If Vygotsky did indeed publically reject the view that marxian thought could explain the social organisation of consciousness (Kornilov’), it would have been interesting to know what the political repercussions of such a rejection would have had on Vygotsky if his poor health and premature death from tuberculosis had not intervened. It is hard to believe that Vygotsky would have rejected Kornilov’s socialist standpoint, but not hard to believe that he rejected Chelpanov’s “idealism”. Human “development” for Vygotsky, as in Marxian thought, is mainly a social process. Human nature in Marxian thought is mainly a social construction (Durkheim), or better still a socialist construction, which capitalism seeks to cripple through its distorted view of labour (Vygotsky, 1994:177). Capitalism, in the Marxian view, has distorted human development, which is mainly a historical, not biological, process:

Within a general process of development, two qualitatively different lines of development, differing in origin, can be distinguished: the elementary processes, which are of biological origin, on the one hand, and the higher psychological functions, of sociocultural origin, on the other. The history of child behaviour is born from the interweaving of these two lines. The history of the development of the higher psychological functions is impossible without a study of their prehistory, their biological roots, and their organic disposition.

(Vygotsky 1978:46; my italics).

Vygotsky assigns the elementary psychological processes of language to the biological level, to the “roots” of behaviour, to the intrapersonal; but the higher psychological processes of language to the social level. With regard to cultural development, psychological processes are manifested on two levels:

first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological), and then inside the child (interpsychological). This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, and to the formation of concepts. All the higher functions originate as actual relations between human individuals.

(Vygotsky 1978:57)

The internalisation of socially rooted and historically developed activities is the distinguishing feature of human psychology, the basis of the qualitative leap from animal to human psychology. As yet, the barest outline of this process is known

(Vygotsky 1978:57).

With regard to language – the “sign”, for Vygotsky (1978, the

use of signs leads humans to a specific structure of behaviour that breaks away from biological development and creates new forms of a culturally-based psychological process.

Vygotsky (1978:40)

It is Vygotsky’s term “breaks away” that is problematic. Consider the problem in terms of maturation. According to Vygotsky, it is a fact that “maturation per se is a secondary factor in the development of the most complex, unique forms of behaviour” (Vygotsky 1978:19). Vygotsky assigns biological (intrapersonal) properties to the “roots” of the tree, and social properties to the tree (itself). This metaphor paints an image of biology confined to the roots of the tree, whereas the ramifications of biology are not confined to the roots but extend up the trunk into the branches of the tree. People don’t “break” away from their biological origins. Vygotsky’s view is contrary to Piaget’s view of development, for whom (biological) maturation is a primary factor (See Piatelli-Palmarini, 1980) . According to Fodor (1980:149),

The only intelligible theory of enrichment of conceptual resources is that it is a function ofmaturation [of the inner unlearned structures of the cognitive subject], and there simply isn’t any theory of how learning can affect concepts. (My underlining; original italics)

Maturation (i.e. biological forces), as Fodor points out, plays a much greater role in cognitive development than Vygotsky claims.

In this final section, I examine language in the context of growth and maturation. I shall refer mainly to Eric Lenneberg’s views (1967) on the biological basis of language, which is the classic and – in my view – unsurpassed work on the biological foundations of language. Without Lenneberg, it is possible that other expositions on the topic, e.g. Bickerton (1981, 1990), Brown (1991), Chomsky (1988:35-65, 136-137, 133-170) and Pinker (1995), would have been all the poorer. The following are the salient features of Lenneberg’s biological view of language development, which the above authors also share:

1. Language for many seems to consist of arbitrary cultural conventions, e.g. Wittgenstein’s “language games”. However, for Lenneberg, fruitful explanatory principles are of a biological nature. For example, there are radical differences between the rules of games (arbitrarily determined) and the rules of language (biologically determined). However, we can still speak of the biology of game-playing, i.e. of what the capacities are that enable a human to play a game of chance, to “waste” one’s time away.

2. The question “What is it in humans that enables them to speak a natural language, and which animals can’t?” is different to the question “In which ways is learning a language similar to conditioning or operant learning in animals?” The latter question disregards the differences between the species (Bloomfield).

3. An animal (humans are included under “animal) is not like a tool that can be arbitrarily assigned a particular use. The structure of the brain and the body are an interdependent unit. These structures are programmed from within, i.e. genetically (Lenneberg 1967:1-4).

4. Thus the developmental process is physiological in nature. Modifications after birth are determined by genetic and prenatal events. Specificity and plasticity (e.g. the diversity between individuals) is the product of biological conditions, and both depend on the environment. The specificity of brain mechanisms ( Fodor’s [1983] modules] as described in the “post-Standard Model” of pscychology is rapidly replacing the “Standard Model” of a “general purpose and free of any contentful structure” (Tooby & Cosmides, 1992:93). In addition to general purpose mechanisms, human (and nonhuman) minds contain a large arrray of mechanisms, e.g. “functionally -specialized, content-dependent, content-sensitive, domain-specific, context-specific, special-purporse, adaptively-specialized, and so on” (Tooby & Cosmides, 1992:93).

5. As in the case of stance or gait, no special training is required to acquire basic language skills. The change in the social environment (influence of the [m]other) is a response to changes in the child’s abilities (Lenneberg 1967:125). In other words, a mother does not have to teachher child a language. The mother is merely the trigger; and of course triggers are essential. For Vygotsky, it is the other way round, namely, changes in the child’s abilities is a response to the change in the social environment. For Vygotsky (1978:90) “internal speech and reflective thought arise from the interactions between the child and persons in her environment. No one doubts that without this interaction, internal speech and reflective thought will not develop. But what is important in this contrast between Vygotsky and Lenneberg is how language and thought emerge.

6. Lenneberg’s view, in contrast to Vygotsky’s, is that the emergence of language is more accounted for by maturational changes. Cooing and babbling, which would be commonly regarded as language-like utterings, haven’t any direct bearing on language development. Thus language develops independently of articulatory skills and motor coordinationm which means that language production is not necessary for language comprehension. For example, in diseased children, where the voice-box is affected, they are not able to coo and babble. These children do not practice language in the normal manner as healthy children, but this does not mean that they are not “learning” language (Lenneberg uses “learning” in the sense of unconscious development). Language is not caused by the need to speak. Rather, needs are occasioned by maturational processes within the individual. The onset of speech consists of a gradual unfolding of capacities during the second and third year of life (Lenneberg, 1967:126,127,131,139,141,142).

6. Conclusion

We theorise about “the events that causally mediate the production of intelligent behaviour” (Fodor, 1975:9). These theories may be wrong, because all theories are, after all, conjectures. It is probable that mental processes (that mediate the production of behaviour) are too complicated to understand? We are committed to theorising – which is our human condition – in the hope of finding answers. But we should not be committed to reducing mental events to physiological events (behaviourism). This is not to deny that mental events may eventually turn out to be physiological events. The problem is finding a sophisticated enough vocabulary of physiology to explain these physiological events. Thus the ontological status of mental states could be physiological, but the epistemological status would have to be more, because another vocabulary is required to explain these states or concepts (Fodor, 1975:9).

Biology/physiology (unconspiratorially, one hopes) sets each individual up in different ways to cope with the environment. Thus, there is no doubt that the freedom to express what we are operates within certain constraints; many of these constraints are biological. Biological structures are extremely important in human development and ipso facto in Discourse (social practice), which subsumes discourse (language use). A sociological perspective emphasises culture and the environment; a biological perspective emphasises the internal biological processes triggered by culture and the environment. What we need to know is the actual contribution, as far as possible, of biology (heredity, genetics) and society (/history/culture) to human Discourse. One thing seems certain, biology does not only lie at the root of human development, but courses through every vein of the tree of social life. It is in the light of the biosociological discourse presented above that Discourse, i.e. social practice may be better viewed and appreciated.

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