Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On Language Learning

Here a couple of extracts from chapter 4 of my new book 'Embracing the Wide Sky':

"A recent finding by researchers at the University College London Centre for Human Communication demonstrates that, given the right stimulus, the adult brain can indeed be retrained to accurately acquire the sounds of a second language...In one study Japanese subjects were retrained to hear the difference between r’s and l’s (something that Japanese students of English find especially difficult)...By the end of the 10-week training period the subjects had improved their recognition of the two sounds by an average of 18%."

(From a later section of the chapter:)

"Examples like these suggest to many linguists that certain words are a more natural ‘fit’ than others for the things they describe. A number of experiments over several decades have supported this idea...the German psycholinguist Heinz Wissemann asked a group of subjects to invent words for various sounds. He found that the subjects tended to create words beginning with ‘p’ ‘t’ or ‘k’ for abrupt sounds, and words beginning with ‘s’ or ‘z’ for flowing sounds. In a more recent experiment involving natural language, the linguist Brent Berlin provided English speakers with fish and bird names from the Huambisa language (spoken in Peru). He found that they were able to distinguish the words for fish from those for birds significantly more often than chance, even though Huambisa bears no resemblance to English."

3 comments:

Ljóni said...

A little bit late most likely but still:

I've always taken these ideas for granted. Being myself a conlanger (though have no patience for other people's work), I've always used the sound of letters to represent the words. This is why Finnish (and I would imagine Estonian as well) seem so beautiful.

Do you know the word röhöttää and hihittää, laho and uurre? I am still learning the language, but some words I seem to retain immediately.

Just thought I'd say so much.

Ara said...

Hi Daniel,
Earlier this year I read an article about an MIT study on the Pirahã tribe in the Northwestern part of Brazil. It is very interesting... their language has no precise words for numbers beyond expressing quantities of "some" or "more"
Here is a short article if you are interested.
http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/33300/title/Numbers_beyond_words

Doll said...

Hi Daniel I just wanted to say that it's always been my dream to learn all the languages...I'm so ashamed to know only 2!! 2 et demi en fait car je connais un peu l'espagnol mais je voudrais être comme toi!!je vais lire tes livres et essayer alors!!!merciiiiiiiiiiiii!!
ps: j'aime beaucoup le Russe aussi et le coréen..tu les parle? à bientôt!