RE: [xmca] Material cognition

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Wed Oct 31 2007 - 00:07:14 PDT

Let me put in a word for consciousness and explicit learning, namely (as usual) "volition" (that is, voluntary access to knowledge). In language teaching, for some decades now, we've had exactly the contrary bias from the one Reber complains about. Only implicit language learning is considered "real" learning. As far as I canmake out, there are two reasons:
  a) There is no language whose grammar has been fully described in explicit terms. So the assumption is that all fluent use of language is implicitly learnt.
  b) There is usually no time in real interaction to retrieve and apply explicit knowledge about grammar (much less HOW you pronounce a particular sound). So the assumption is that only implicit knowledge is actually used in communication.
  Both these arguments seem radically wrong to me. First of all, fluency is much more likely to come from volitional imitation and even more volitional variation than it is from "implicit" knowledge. Imitation is conscious and deliberate; otherwise variation would not be possible.
  Secondly, when we speak, we only speak the small language that we know, and we only actually use a small part of that at a time. When we go outside that, we do find disfluencies and uncertainties, exactly as we would expect if language use too depends on explicit knowledge rendered implicit through use.
  Downgrading explicit learning in language teaching has been quite disastrous (and very disempowering for hard working Asian students of English): first the idea of "comprehensible input" automatically causing something called "acquisition" (not to be confused with learning). More recently the idea of "emergence", a kind of "bottom up" learning of "grammaticized lexis" that once again denigrates choice, volition, conscious creative construction (and humor, language play, creativity.).
  LSV assures us, foreign language learning is really topsy turvy with respect to native language learning; we START with volition in everything, including pronunciation. In fact, foreign language learning is really nothing more than applying the principle of volition (that is conscious and explicit choice) to a whole language system (and even a whole culture) rather than merely a sound or a word or a clause.
  About a month ago in London I heard a reasonably well known linguist argue that language MUST have an innate genetic basis because comprehension is involuntary and automatic and never depends on explicit knowledge. I objected that I actually found comprehension strenuously voluntary when I read, say, Hegel or Peirce or when I had to take part in grad student orals in Korean and that I frequently required long and very explicit explications, and he interrupted me. This shows that his (in)comprehension was voluntary!
  Besides, the inflated value of "implicit" linguistic knowledge privileges native speakers and disenfranchises non-native creativity (viz. "error"). It's simply NOT possible to cover an infinite world with a finite vocabulary, without more than a little deliberate and conscious inventiveness and explicit knowledge. That is why we find that in language learning, it is FAR better to open your mouth and be thought an idiot than to keep your mouth shut and remove all doubt.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Wed Oct 31 00:14 PDT 2007

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