Re: [xmca] Syllogism and interlanguage: Some definitions

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Sat Dec 29 2007 - 08:55:52 PST

Dear Mark:
  In order to even discuss this question, we're going to need some definitions in order to make concepts like "interlanguage" portable (nobody on the list uses it much except for applied linguists like us). But concepts like "interlanguage" are also perishable ('interlanguage' was used a lot by S. Pit Corder and his followers but it's been heavily criticized and for good reason).
  Remember that Corder is working at the beginning of the seventies. He's in an environment where the dominant paradigm is something called "contrastive analysis". You take two languages (say, English and Japanese) and you compare them. Where they are similar, the learner finds the "target" language easy to learn, and where they are different the learner finds it difficult, in proportion to the difference. Difference is difficulty, as the contrastivists still like to say (see Carl James).
  Corder looks across the pond at the work of Labov, who has recently discovered that the grammar of black English is in many ways more intricate (and just as systematic) as white English (what we call standard English). He discovers that what the contrastivists have been calling "errors" are often quite systematic and stable. Like Labov, he suggests that the learner is not trying to be "target-like" and failing but rather trying to be himself (herself) and succeeding. The learner is not speaking either English or Japanese, but an intermediate language in which the vocabulary is English but the grammar is in some ways still Japanese, or the grammar is English but the phonology is still Japanese.
  A lot of people take up the concept of "interlanguage" with enthusiasm. Byalistok suggests that there is not one "interlanguage" but a whole range of interlanguages, and that they are gradually deconstrued and reconstrued in the direction of the "target" language (the way that small children create their own "autonomous" language during what Vygotsky called "the Crisis at Year One" and then abandon them when they discover that nobody else can understand them). Tarone suggests that there is an "interlanguage continuum" ranging from controlled and target-like (which would cover the flashcard tasks you are talking about) to automatic and very non-target-like. Seliger suggests that in some circumstances the "interlanguage" stops developing towards the target language and becomes "fossilized".
  At this point the metaphor (to mix it up again) begins to run out of steam. There were ALWAYS big problems with it!
  a) "Interlanguages" are not externally stable, because as you point out they do not match the environment in which they develop. If they develop in the classroom, the teacher is constantly correcting and updating the "interlanguage", and if they develop outside the classroom the learner is "noticing the gap" and editing his or her interlanguage towards the target norm. So it's hard to see in what sense they are "languages".
  b) "Interlanguages" are not internally stable, because English phonology has evolved to fit English lexicogrammar (for example, reduced vowels are necessary for the correct production of articles) and English vocabulary has evolved in the framework of English grammar (e.g. the use of verbs to produced participles). The foreign language learner really IS like a traveller in a foreign country mapping strange sounds onto familiar word meanings (and familiar sounds onto strange words), and is really NOT like a child creating a language from scratch.
  c) "Fossilization" is a REALLY bad metaphor. We don't say that a fluent native speaker of a language is fossilized, although their language system is far more stable than even the more stable interlanguages. It's hard to see how EITHER a "fossilized" system or a dynamic system is consistent with Tarone's "interlanguage continuum", anyway; it looks very much like the whole thing is under some degree of volitional control, doesn't it? Did the dinosaurs volitionally lie down and choose to become museum pieces?
  Syllogism needs definition too. A "syllogism" is really not a piece of classroom discourse at all. It's a set of logical propositions at different levels. Like this:
  A: All the bears in the North are white.
  B: Novaya Zemla is in the far north.
  C: Ergo, the bears in Novaya Zemla are white.
  1: Cotton grows well where it is hot and dry.
  2: England is cold and damp.
  3: Cotton does not grow well in England.
  Notice that, like definitions, this kind of syllogistic reasoning is portable; the information you need to solve the problem is all right the at the very beginning. What Luria discovered is that syllogistic reasoning is also quite perishable; outside of formal schooling people prefer to work with MORE data than syllogistic reasoning provides:
  Luria: All bears in the north are white, and Novaya Zemla is in the far north. So what color are the bears there?
  Uzbek: I don't know; I've never been there. They have bears around here, though; they are all black. But they have a white "V" mark on their chests, you know.
  If we take your IRF model (which is not JUST prominent in Japan, it's been found that 80% of dialogue in US high schools consists of this sort of discourse), we are actually MORE likely to be able to derive a syllogism. Look:
  (Example one)
  T: What time is it? (holding a flash card)
S(s): It's one o'clock.
T: Good

  (Example two)
  T: Now, what time is it?
S(s): It's 2 o'clock.
T: Good.

  A: It's X o'clock, where X = the number on the card)
  B: The card says "1"
  C: Therefore, the answer is "It's one o'clock"
  This is almost impossible to do with the examples you provide, which I would suggest are those of an American (as opposed to an Uzbek) peasant and are not "interlanguage" at all:
  1. Do you have the time?
2. What's the time?
3. Got the time?
4. Excuse me, could you give me the time?

  You can see that the syllogistic reasoning is much more portable, much less perishable, and much more pratical from a classroom point of view. That's not surprising really. A classroom is just one more discourse environment, and the portable, unperishable syllogistic reasoning we find there evolved there for good reasons.
  Let me end by taking us briefly back in the direction of Andy's article, Mark. One of the problems with "interlanguage" is that it is built on the old knowledge-skill dichotomy (which it inherited from Chomsky's vexed distinction between competence and performance). As soon as you think of "interlanguage" as new skills mapped onto old knowledges you see the problem with this. One of the most apparently "stable" forms of interlanguage is actually ACCENT, that is, the mapping of new wordings and meanings onto old, familiar sounds.
  But is accent a kind of knowledge? Isn't it really a kind of skill, because it has to do with DOING things with MUSCLES? Anderson and the skills theorists get around this by dividing knowledge into "declarative" knowledge (like grammar rules) and "procedural" knowledge (phonology). But you can see it's really the same old distinction: "real" knowledge which is part of the subject and skill which is really OBJECT oriented.
  Andy's paper really provides a way out of this impasse. Like Leontiev, he makes the subject porous, so that it imbibes from processes and objects just as processes and objects imbibe influences from subjects. But unlike Leontiev, he shows that there is a largely unfilled gap between individual subjects and vast, super-individual subjects which we need to step in and fill if we want processes and objects to imbibe anything other than the paltry influences of individual subjects or the massively corporatist influences of states and multinationals. To me, the classroom is a good place to start, despite everything and because of everything.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Sat Dec 29 08:59 PST 2007

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