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Showing posts from March, 2018

Language News Update: Languge, History, and Identity

This final Language News Update of the week looks at an assortment of topics beyond bilingualism and language acquisition.
A study just out has quite interestingly determined that the Dravidian language appears to be about 4,500 years old.Want to learn a language? Drink alcohol! Okay, it is not that simplistic (nor would we here at this blog recommend you actually do so), but a study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology did find some interesting correlations between language acquisition and alcohol.In somewhat more serious news, more Americans really, really do need to start learning more languages. If you do not buy into the neurological and social benefits, than at least recognize the sociopolitical and economic benefits of developing a multilingual population. Language says much, much more even than nuclear weapons or the size of a nation's military.The largely discredited Sapir-Whorf hypothesis may actually have some validity, at least in relation to time (and our perception of…

Language News Update: Language Acquisition

Beyond bilingualism, much research continues to reinforce what we know about language acquisition and pedagogy, and the brain science in particular is always impressive and vital to what language teachers do. Repetition does aid learning!And repetition aids learning because, well, that is just how the brain science works.One should not, however, overstate the knowledge that we have from brain science, because even though language acquisition is largely a science, it is also an art. And even in the scientific realm, we still have a lot to learn. And so the debate will go on as to just how we learn language (consciously or unconsciously), and therefore just how we should teach languages. Steve Kaufmann is a businessman and language learned who popularizes Steve Krashen's hypotheses about language learning, particularly the acquisition-learning hypothesis. This is a great hypothesis, and Krashen and Bill VanPatten et al. have done great research, but one must remember that these remai…

Language News Update: Bilingualism

So much has happened in Language News since 2012/2013 that this week will have several posts, divided by main topics. Today the topic is bilingualism:
We will start out with an unexpected subversion: The benefits of bilingualism, it turns out, can be overstated. The fact that bilingualism is good for the brain is as obvious as the fact that the Earth is round. And yet its effects on the brain can be overstated (to follow our absurd analogy, the Earth is round, yes, but not a perfect sphere). I am not totally on board with all of the study's conclusions, but it is an impressive meta-analysis, and so we need to give heed.Be that as it may, bilingualism is still far better for the brain than monolingualism.And since we need our brains even in the age of Google, why not continue to learn languages as long as you can?

Today in Language: Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21, 1685. Regardless of one's criteria, Bach must be considered one of the greatest composers of all time. What he did for music would be difficult ever to rival or to undo.

My personal Bach favorite, other than just anything he composed, is probably “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” It is not, of course, strictly “his,” as he neither scored the basic melody nor wrote the lyrics. And yet Bachian brilliance infuses any orchestration of it. It is one of those glorious pieces, like Handel’s Messiah, that seem to require that the composer have known God. My favorite philosophical point about the piece is the absolute necessity of the “Jesu” of the title, without which it becomes nonsense, as in the title of a novel by Jean Giono.

Communication: Definition 4

In From Input to Output: A Teachers Guide to Second Language Acquisition, Bill VanPatten gives a definition of communication particularly adapted to language teaching: “the expression, interpretation, and negotiation of meaning in a given social and situational context” (115).


1a. This definition is much more person-oriented and much less mechanical than many definitions of communication.
1b. The "expression, interpretation, and negotiation of meaning" are processes involved in communication, and expressing them in this non-mechanical way seems important at least in regard to linguistic communication.
2. Unlike many definitions, this one references meaning, which has to be crucial to any understanding of communication.
3. This definition does not explicitly reference intention, although it could certainly be inferred from terms such as “expression” and “negotiation.”

Book Review: Crucifixion of the Warrior God

Crucifixion of the Warrior God Vol. 1 and 2, The: Volumes 1 and 2 by Gregory A. Boyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Boyd exposits the utter centrality of Christ and the cross to all biblical theology, particularly the problem texts of the OT. This is quite simply the best (and the only good) book I have read about the problem of texts such as the Canaanite genocide.

Not many theologians get to write a book like this in their career -- a 10-year project written in community with many other theologians and Christians and based on an impressively comprehensive corpus. The length of the two-volume work is definitely warranted. Boyd belabors over chapters and chapters the indispensable nature of a Christocentric, crucicentric hermeneutic, and he also points out how many, many theologians who have promoted such a hermeneutic have failed to live up to it when it comes to Yahweh-sanctioned OT violence.

After the hermeneutical groundwork, Boyd establishes his apparently unique Cruciform Thesis, comprised…

Consumerist Spirituality vs. Ordinary Christianity

“In consumerist spirituality, the new stuff on offer is mostly new experiences, ‘transformative’ experiences that you’re supposed to get if you don’t want to miss out on something special in your spiritual life. [...] You'll also be told that without it you’re just an ordinary, plain Christian, lacking the extraordinary power and blessing that God wants you to have in your life.”

So writes Phillip Cary in Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Dont Have to Do. I have not quite finished the book, but it has to be one of the best popular-level, Christian-living books I have read in a long time. Recognizing the vacuity of consumerist spirituality is not terribly difficult for most of us. But what is the alternative? Well, I’m glad you asked, because Cary goes on:

“Think about what’s wrong with this kind of sales pitch [see previous quotation]. What makes you an ordinary Christian, after all? Isn’t the answer faith in Christ? And what power and blessing do ordinary C…

Communication: Definition 3

In Relevance: Communication and Cognition, Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson define communication as “a process involving two information-processing devices. One device modifies the physical environment of the other. As a result, the second device constructs representations similar to representations already stored in the first device” (1).


1. Like most definitions, this one appears somewhat mechanical, although Sperber and Wilson do avoid the use of the word “code” in their definition.
2. Also like many definitions, this one does not reference either meaning or intention.
3. Unlike many definitions, this one is not limited to language or even to human communication.
4. Sperber and Wilson actually go on to make similar observations. They also distinguish between two dominant models of communication, a code model and an inferential model: “According to the code model, communication is achieved by encoding and decoding messages. [...] According to the inferential model, communicati…