I recently published a best selling book on Amazon in the linguistics category about my ideas on language learning and acquisition. It discussed the integral role of adaptation to the whole process and how essentially language acquisition is the process of adapting to various stresses induced by a new language. Since doing this, I've been attempting to find research that backs up this idea or is also looking at it.
Turns out there is.
The 60th anniversary edition of the journal Language Learning was devoted entirely to the idea. Just released in 2009, it is very new research and views language a complex adaptive system or CAS. This is very exciting for me to find and I just got the book with conference and journal papers from that anniversary in 2009. I can't wait to read. Below I discuss this a little more detail.
This post is admittedly ambitious. It won't be long or super technical, but it will discuss what I view as Chomsky's largest error in thinking on language. I am currently reading his book On Language, which is a series of interview responses and talks that he gave over a long period of time. The following passage is what struck me most while reading the book.
But human cognitive systems, when seriously investigated, prove to be no less marvelous and intricate than the physical structures that develop in the life of the organism. Why, then, should we not study the acquisition of a cognitive structure such as language more or less as we study some complex bodily organ?
This above passage is the central issue I have with his way of thinking. I agree with Chomsky that the acquisition of cognitive structures should be studied in the same way we study the acquisition of bodily structures like organs. However, I completely disagree that language is a cognitive structure, unless I misunderstand his meaning of cognitive structure.
Bodily structures such as muscles and organs develop in a predetermined way constrained by our genetics. We all develop a heart or skeleton regardless of the small variations. This development is genetically predetermined. We cannot will ourselves to grow wings or scales.
However, how we use these structures is willed. We can move in an infinite number of ways, none of which are genetically predetermined. Of course, these willed movements are constrained, due to our physical structures determined by genetics. We cannot fly, because we do not have wings. We cannot swim like a fish, because we do not have gills. We rely on our genetically determined physical structures to move in an infinite number of new and novel ways, even without any prior experience. We do not have to see someone else jump onto our couch to do so ourselves. We can do this because of the mix of our past genetically developed physical structures and environmentally developed adaptations of those structures.
This is fundamentally true of language as well. Language is analogous to movement, not bodily structures. It is the coordination of our past genetically developed cognitive structures and environmentally developed adaptations of those structures that allow novel language.
Language is equivalent to the idea of movement which relies on structures, not the structures themselves.
Chomsky's largest disagreement with the behaviorist notions of language was the fact that they could not explain novel sentences generated from the "limited and impoverished experience" that people have throughout life. This is not a problem from my viewpoint. People do not wonder how children are able to produce novel movements from their "limited and impoverished experiences". They develop their physiological structures that develop through adaptation to their environment in a genetically constrained way. These developments and adaptations of their bones, muscles, tendons, etc. allow them to employ those same physical structures in novel ways without relying on past experience to do so.
Chomsky seems to believe that language is a structure that develops, like a heart or lung, and then wonders how it is possible to use those organs in novel ways. This is incorrect. We don't use our organs in novel ways. We use our organs to express novel movement, just as we use our brain's structure and past experiences to express novel language.
I have been looking more and more into the consequences of learning and adaptation. My recent book, seen in the sidebar to the right, attempted to explain many of the ideas that I have on the topic. However, while listening to a polyglot on YouTube today, I realized that I completely missed a very important idea. The relationship between efficiency, intensity, and volume is not linear. To my knowledge, no one else has realized this either.
This hypothesis implies that as the efficiency of your work increases, the intensity of the work you are capable of increases in a non-proportional way. Essentially, Increasing your efficiency by one unit, does not just increase your intensity capability by one unit. Your capability to work intensively actually increases by more than one unit. They are not one to one.
The reverse is true for volume. As your efficiency of work increases, your capacity for volume of work at a fixed intensity actually decreases in a non-proportional way as well. For example, this means the volume of work you were previously able to do at 60 percent intensity, will decrease by more than one unit for each one unit increase in efficiency.
Let's look at a real life example using weight lifting as I did in my book.
When you begin weight lifting, you are very inefficient at the movements. Your coordination and neural connections are not automatic. You must think about every exercise you do and this reflects in an awkward looking squat or bench press for an onlooking expert. Basically you are wasting energy on many things besides the actual work of lifting the weight.
Let's say you are able to lift 100 pounds for one set of one repetition. This represents 100 percent intensity for you on that day. Let's also say that you are able to lift 60 pounds, or 60 percent intensity, for five sets of ten repetitions. This represents a total of 50 repetitions done with your 60 percent maximum intensity level. This workout would be very easy for most people to complete who are beginners at this stage.
Let's also assume you are 50 percent efficient at lifting the weight, which means that 50 percent of the effort you apply to lifting the weight actually translates into the weight being lifted. This whole workout would look like this in a training log or diary:
100 lbs x 1 rep x 1 set (100% intensity, 1 rep of volume)
60 lbs x 10 reps x 5 sets (60% intensity, 50 reps of volume)
Now, let's look at a more experienced weight lifter who has been lifting weights for ten years and is very efficient at the movements.
Let's pretend he is a world champion and record holder who can lift 1,000 pounds for one set of one repetition. The 1,000 pounds represents his 100 percent intensity. Translating what we did above, 60 percent intensity would equal 600 pounds. Doing the same volume, five sets of ten repetitions, would equal a total of 50 repetitions. Again, a training log or diary would look like this:
1,000 lbs x 1 rep x 1 set (100% intensity, 1 rep of volume)
600 lbs x 10 reps x 5 sets (60% intensity, 50 reps of volume)
Now, let's assume from the ten years of hard work and experience, this lifter is 90 percent efficient at lifting the weight. This means that 90 percent of the energy he applies to lifting the weight translates to the weight actually being lifted.
If efficiency had no effect on intensity and volume, then these two workouts would represent relatively equal experiences to the lifter. However, in real life, the first workout is actually no problem and the second is impossible. The beginner would leave the gym feeling fine, while the experienced lifter would mostly likely not be capable of completing it or at best be completely wrecked and require an extended recovery period.
This is what I mean when I say that the relationship between efficiency, intensity, and volume is non-linear. As your efficiency of work increases, you are capable of increased intensity, but decreased volume at a given fixed intensity. You can see from this imaginary lifter that his efficiency went up 40 percent (50 to 90), but his maximum intensity was able to increase 1,000 percent (100 lbs to 1,000 lbs). However, his capacity for volume at any given intensity would go down (50 total reps to perhaps 25 total reps).
This is not unique to weight lifting.
Polyglottery. As I said at the beginning of this post, I realized this while watching a YouTube video by a polyglot. He mentioned that when he began studying languages, he could study for eight to ten hours per day, every day. Now he can only study a language for four to five hours each day. He stated he was unsure why this was, but assumed it was simply because he gets bored more easily now.
I believe that is the wrong explanation.
I believe his efficiency at studying languages has dramatically increased over the time it's taken him to learn the ten or more languages he speaks and he is now simply incapable of sustaining the volume of study he undertook at the beginning. I am sure that most of his energy was wasted on tasks other than learning a language and now that close to 100 percent of his energy can actually be devoted to learning, it is simply more taxing.
He is not the first polyglot I have heard make this remark. I have seen several of the polyglots on YouTube say very similar things. They were all able to devote eight to 12 hours each day to learning a single language when they began, but now are simply incapable.
Schooling. This non-linear relationship is seen throughout life once you are aware of it. Schooling is another excellent example. Students begin K-12 with six to eight hours of study each day. However, as they grow up and go off to college, then graduate school, and possibly even earn a doctorate, their volume of work gets relatively lower as the intensity increases. A typical course at the graduate level consists of meeting once a week for two to three hours. Compare this with elementary school where students meet five days each week for eight hours a day. The volume is lower in graduate school, but the intensity is much higher.
Expertise. This idea also corresponds highly with the work of Anders Ericsson on the nature of expertise. His work has found that the majority of experts are incapable of exceeding roughly four hours of deliberate practice each day. This has been found to be true across domains as diverse as chess and concert piano. This is also the exact same number of hours many advanced polyglots and weight lifters state they are incapable of exceeding as well.
As you can see, this relationship was realized from the connection of various fields of personal interest. It is my personal experience in weight lifting, studying polyglots, the education system, and knowledge from Ericsson's research that helped me connect the dots. Right now, it is only a theory. However, I believe it to be absolutely true and something that could be empirically tested with time.
To conclude and reiterate once more, as your efficiency of work increases, your capacity to apply intensity increases in a non-linear way and your capacity to apply volume decreases in a non-linear way.
The following list is my favorite books as of right now. This is, of course, subject to change over time. I was asked for my ten favorite books by a family member and immediately went to my goodreads account to refresh my memory.
My initial strategy was to only look at books that I rated a perfect five out of five stars. However, this actually didn't work at all. When I was making the list, I kept remembering books that "had" to be on it, but for whatever reason didn't receive a five star rating from me. It's strange to think that many of the books the wound up on the final list were not ones I originally reacted to with complete appreciation.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is the best example of this. I had to plod through much of the second half of the book and force myself to finish. I finished with a rather sour taste for it, but it was the first book I thought of to include on this list and one that absolutely had to be on it. As I said at the beginning, my family member asked me for ten. I actually emailed her 11, but the 28 below were all on the first draft before widdling it down to 11. I bolded the 11 that I actually sent her.
Hopefully I can look back at this list in the future and see if any changes have occurred. I'm really interested to see how my tastes change over time. Also, it is interesting to note that seven of the eleven sent were non-fiction and four were fiction. From this list of 28, there are 12 non-fiction and 16 fiction. I wonder if this will change over time or not.
Below is a ten minute video I made about my theory of language acquisition. It briefly outlines my thoughts on how to utilize stress over time to adapt to a language. This will be elaborated on in future in videos.
Google has many programs and apps that are available for free on the internet. Some are very useful for students or independent learners. The most useful programs in my experience as a teacher, student, and independent learner are:
To use these four programs well, you should have a Google account. If you have Gmail already, then use that. If you do not have Gmail, make an account with these steps:
That creates your Google account. You use the same account for all Google programs. This includes the four at the top of this page.
Most people are familiar with Gmail. It is a program for email. It lets you send, receive, and organize all your emails. This program is very useful! There are three extra uses for Gmail that people do not use effectively.
This is just like DropBox or the hard drive on your computer. It lets you store documents, pictures, powerpoints, and spreadsheets on the internet. It is much better than DropBox because you can also edit and create documents like Microsoft Word. I use it for creating three main types of documents.
Additional Benefits of Drive
This is a program that lets you subscribe to blogs. If you find a certain author, website, or newspaper that you really love and don’t want to check every day, this program is perfect. If you “subscribe” with Feedly, you will see the new articles, posts, writings whenever they are added automatically. You do not have to visit the site, just Feedly.
There are a few steps to getting blogs into your Feedly:
This is exactly like Feedly, but for videos. Feedly is for subscribing to written things like blogs, YouTube is for subscribing to videos that you can watch and listen to instead of reading. This is a great place to get extra listening and comprehension practice.
There are three steps to getting the videos you want:
This is just a summary of the programs. If you have questions, ask me at anytime. Also, there are many more programs and apps that are also useful. These four are not the only Google programs that can benefit you as a student. Be curious and explore their other programs and apps. A few others to get you started are Pocket and Kindle, which I use daily as well.