Monday, March 3, 2008

Shoshana's First Word

People sometimes ask whether Shoshana's first language will be Greek or English. The more sophisticated inquire, "Will she call you πατήρ or אבא?" There has to be a good comeback line. For now, the best I can offer is "I wish."

In his contribution to When Dead Tongues Speak, Kenneth Scott Morrell explains that normal infants start producing words "around the time they turn one...and by eighteen months they have begun to develop syntax. Most three-year-olds are grammatically correct 90 percent of the time. For this process to occur, children must perceive and comprehend examples of language in use, which usually, but not always, take the form of spoken discourse....[A]ny average four-year old can be fluent in one or more languages without coaching or training of any type and without any conscious understanding of grammar" (134-5).

Morrell's point, not surprisingly, is that teachers of ancient Greek should learn from the way children naturally learn to speak: "[T]he 'teaching' of language ultimately represents the process of creating an environment that will allow students to encounter as much input as possible in a way that will engage and facilitate their innate ability to acquire language" (135).

My point, of course, is to sing the praises of my daughter who at just three and a half months had her first word. The word was not the expected πατήρ or אמה but "ivy." That's right: "ivy." Random letters tapped on a computer keyboard count, don't they?


Bob MacDonald said...

what a glorious picture!

Rachel said...

Great picture Dave!!

ErinOrtlund said...

Way to go Shoshana! David, maybe if you speak to her in Greek, and Tenyia speaks to her in English, she will be bilingual by 3?

Flint Cowboy said...

Yes, it is a great picture! I have been observing my 22-month old grandson as he learns to speak. On fact has struck me: his language learning is very active and generative: He is teaching us as much as we are teaching him. He finds ways to communicate what he wants and making sure we understand.

I have also wondered about using modern "immersion" methods for teaching Greek, Latin, or Hebrew. I definitely think there can be some advantage in the early stages.

I also think the active-communicative-meaning generating feature of language could prove to be counter-productive with this methodology. What I mean is students in such a class will begin to produce and communicate their own meanings, in effect to create their own language--which they will assume is identical with the actual ancient language they think they are learning.

d. miller said...

Thanks for the comment 'flint cowboy.' Hmm...I suspect the text would function as a control. If students were able to communicate in a quasi-Greek or Hebrew that is not fully ancient or biblical, they would still have something to compare with the ancient text, which would prompt the question: Why did they say it that way? The answers would prompt the students to correct their quasi-Greek. And having something similar to compare with the ancient text is still a tremendous advantage.