RE: [xmca] Material cognition

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Wed Oct 31 2007 - 17:43:20 PDT

David K:

  Well, this is something of a quarrel that is internal to language teaching. But you have been a language teacher, so you will understand something about it!
  For a lot of the latter twentieth century, the emphasis was on "communication", or "comprehensible input". You can see the metaphor is a computationalist one: There is an LAD, it's in the brain, when it gets comprehensible input it works more or less automatically. All we have to do is feed it, and it grows by itself. Vocabulary acquisition, in particular, is quite automatic.
  Very early on our students began to smell something wrong. As Michael Lewis noticed, students were carrying around dictionaries rather than "communicative exercises". Next the corpus linguists began to realize that there were more things in the lexicon than were dreamed of in the generative philosophy (for example, the other day I learnt that when you use the verb "set" in English you are almost always talking about something bad: frost sets in, or paralysis, but not happiness or success).
  People like Michael Hoey have actually suggested doing away with grammar altogether and simply describing language as statistical tendencies for vocabulary to occur in some combinations rather than others. His pedagogical conclusions can only be described as EXTREMELY reactionary: study what native speakers say, preferably using a computerized corpus, and then do just what they do!
  This, in my view, reactionary (and even imperialist) tendency has been given a REAL push forward (or rather backwards) by the current enthusiasm for chaos/complexity theory in social science. So I've been reading a lot of chaos complexity theory, and I am very bothered, because it's clear to me that what is being described are NOT volitional phenomena at all.
  In fact, BOTH innatism and emergentism deny free will and agency in language use. Lorenz, the discoverer of the Lorenz attractor (in weather), points out that chaos is really a non-linear but nevertheless, in principle, a deterministic state of affairs. But free will is NOT chaotic behavior because it is truly random (more than one thing is possible next).
  "We must wholeheartedly believe in free will. If free will is a reality, we shall have made the correct choice. If it is not, we shall still not have made an incorrect choice, because we shall not have made any choice at all, not having a free will to do so." (The Essence of Chaos, 1993: University of Washington Press: 160).
  : David K
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Wed Oct 31 17:49 PDT 2007

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