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Chinese Language Forums - Chinese Etymology Institute • View topic - Language types and second language acquisition
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Language types and second language acquisition

PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:49 pm
by Tienzen
At LinkedIn ESL International group, Hongbo WANG, Kelly Parker, Rod Mitchell and I discussed the issue of Language types and second language acquisition. I am putting my posts here.

Hongbo WANG (Professeur d'anglais et de chinois, ... ed_profile )

Kelly Parker (Learning and Development Consultant at Bleum Software Development, ... ed_profile )

Rod Mitchell (Director of Studies at Cactus Language Training, ... ed_profile )

Hello, I am new here. I was invited by Hongbo WANG.

A few years back, I wrote a paper about the language types. Roughly, I divided the nature languages into two types.

a. Perceptual language --- it identifies space-time info with tailed-vocabulary. The tail encompasses all types of endings, regardless of how and what they are called. The rules of the tail give a very tight control about the grammatical rules.

b. Conceptual language --- it discusses all events at the conceptual level. The space-time info is marked with markers, not carried by the individual vocabulary. Chinese language is an example of the conceptual language. Being without tails on the vocabulary, the Chinese language is “almost” without grammatical rule.

Re: Language types and second language acquisition

PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:52 pm
by Tienzen
To Wang:

In linguistics, the term “grammar” is precisely defined. But, many people still use it in many different ways. Thus, I will use a new set of terms to answer your question.

In general, people view the linguistics as languages. I will define the linguistics universe with three parts.
a. A meta-space --- it encompasses the events and objects in the physical universe.

b. Languages --- they try to describe the stories in that meta-space.

c. A meaning-space --- the meaning of the meta-space story is understood by people.

In general, a meta-space story could be understood differently by different people who have different world views. However, at this discussion, I will exclude the culture element and deal the issue strictly linguistically, that is, in terms of translation among languages only. Then, the meaning-space for all languages is identical.

Now, for all languages, they share two identical parts. In this view, different languages are only different translation machines. I can further reduce (simplify) the issue by viewing the language machine as only a “sentence” machine. That is, we only need to analyze how “one sentence” is produced by all those different machines. A sentence has only two parts, a field (such as many seats) and a set of particles (occupying those seats). For English, its particles (vocabulary) have “only” two types.
i. With tails --- (concept, conceptual, …), (dog, dogs), …

ii. With masks --- (I, me, my, mine), …

Of course, some with both, such as (go, goes, went, gone), … . In fact, the function for both tails and masks is the same as flags. Then, there are two more features.
A. Subject – predicate (SP) structure

B. Word order

So, English sentence is a “field” (having some seats) filled with flagged-particles. The particle’s flag and the seat’s flag color must match. Thus, the English grammar is very tightly controlled by the particle’s tails. With word order and SP, the English sentence has the “line-segment” structure.

For Chinese, its particles have no tails or masks. That is, it can go into the sentence “field” (seats) without restriction, no SP or word order. For example,
(I love you) and (you love me) are completely different sentences in English. But,

(I, love you), (Love you, I), (You, I love) are all identical sentences in Chinese. In fact, the Chinese sentence has ringed-structure.

Without knowing the difference between the flagged and flagless vocabulary and the difference between the line-segmented and ringed sentence fields, the program for universal grammar will destine to fail.

Re: Language types and second language acquisition

PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:53 pm
by Tienzen
To: Hongbo WANG

In principle, No. Chinese sentence does not need word order or SP. But, Chinese sentence is able to encompass the word order and SP. After the May 4th movement, the most of Chinese writings are “now” using the word order and some sort of SP. So, for a young Chinese person like you, you might not read enough old style writings to know it. In my writing at another group, I used a lot of [讀 (逗)]. You might feel it being kind of awkward. I am showing two sentences below.

漢語文系統, 是最容易學的語言。
下點功夫, 三個月就可以, 認識 “所有” 的漢字了。

These two sentences can be rewritten as below while having the identical meanings, not one bit difference.
最容易學的語言, 是漢語文系統。
認識 “所有” 的漢字, 下點功夫, 三個月就可以了。

Even our American friends who know no Chinese can still tell that the rewritten sentences have the identical (number of) words.

For a flagless vocabulary system, every “seat” in the sentence “field” is identical. That is, the “meaning unit” of a sentence does not need to be logically or grammatically linked among them. If the “meaning” of a sentence is composed of from three sub-parts, the order of these three parts is not important. For a flagged system, the sub-parts are linked “logically” and “grammatically”, and that order must be maintained.

[讀 (逗)] is the key part of Chinese sentence, the meaning unit, isolated with a comma (,). It needs no SP. And, the order of those [讀 (逗)] is often not important.

Of course, you can say that this 讀 is functionally equal to a Subject and that 讀 can be identified as Predicate. But, in principle, No. They are not. The SP concept was never, never discussed in the 3,000 years in Chinese history before the May 4th of 1937.

This is a big subject, and I will show more examples in due time.

Re: Language types and second language acquisition

PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:54 pm
by Tienzen
To: Hongbo WANG

I have about one free hour a day. Sorry for not answering your post sooner.

As we all know that the syntax is the foundation for a language to build up its higher structures, such as, grammar, programmatic, etc. . Thus, different types of syntax will definitely have different types of grammar. For the convenience, I will use only English and Chinese as examples in my discussion. Furthermore, their syntaxes are truly different in a big way. One carries flags and masks, the other flagless. As most of the members of this group might not be well-versed in Chinese, I will discuss this issue in a general term without using a lot of Chinese examples. First, I would like to simply use one analogy.

When a particle (syntax) carries a flag, it acts like a hook. Only the matching hooks can make a link. Thus, flagged-syntaxes can link up only via some allowed ways, such as, the SP structure or the word order etc. . For flagless syntaxes, they can go into the sentence “field” without the hindrance of hooks matching. This kind of difference is vividly demonstrated by the example of diamond and graphite.

Both diamond and graphite are pure carbon. Yet, the carbon atom must go into a lattice in a precise manner for diamonds. On the other hand, the graphite has an amorphous structure which is not precisely arranged. They both are great materials. The graphite can be made as the strongest material, often used in airplanes.

The fact that how a sentence can make sense while without SP structure and word order might be very difficult to be understood by Western linguists. And, the Chinese examples might not be any help for them either. Thus, I will discuss this issue in a general term, from the linguistics principles. It will take a few posts though.

Re: Language types and second language acquisition

PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:55 pm
by Tienzen
To: Hongbo WANG

Noam Chomsky dreamed to construct a universal grammar from the assertion that some set of fundamental characteristics of all human languages must be the same. But, his generative linguistics was unable to encompass the Chinese language. In order to overcome that problem, I have introduced a new definition for sentence.

Sentence --- it has two and only two parts, a set of linguistic “particles” and a sentence “field”.

With this new definition, sentence is no longer bound to a particular set of syntaxes and grammar. A sentence field can be a highly ordered structure (such as, English sentence, a crystal lattice-like) or be an amorphous-like structure (Chinese sentence). The particles can be a fermion-like or a boson-like. With this new definition, we thus are able to distinguish the deep structure from the surface structure of sentences of different languages. This new definition is not a choice of technicalities but is based on three new linguistics principles.

The first new principle is ---
“The Martian Language Thesis -- Any human language can always establish a communication with the Martian or martian-like languages.”

This principle is based on the fact that all languages share two identical parts, the meta-space (our physical universe) and the meaning-sphere (the intelligence is universal).

When we meet a Martian, a translation table can be built in no time.
a. We point to Sun and say “Sun”. Martian will smile and say “Arar”.

b. We point to Moon and say “Moon”. Martian will understand and says “Yaya”.

Historically, the universal language was proclaimed with the economic and political supremacy, such as, Greek, Latin and English, etc.. They can, in fact, be the lingua franca for a short time period but will definitely fade into the history sooner or later. Universal language was never a linguistics reality. Yet, with this new Martian Language Thesis, it is not too difficult to prove that the universal language is, in fact, the foundation for all languages. That is, there must be a way to construct the universal language linguistically.

The second new principle will show the metaphysics of how all languages arose from this universal language.

Re: Language types and second language acquisition

PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:56 pm
by Tienzen
To: Rod Mitchell, Kelly Parker

Thanks for your nice comments.

I agree with all of your comments, except “Universal Language is not a linguistic reality, … ”.

Indeed, there are tails and masks in Chinese language, but they are implemented at a different level, not on the character (lowest syntax) level. Most of Chinese natives do not know this. It is so nice that you do know it. And, this makes our discussion much easier.

Traditionally, the meaning of Pidgin and Creole is the dynamical forces in “one” language family. For me, it can also be the forces among families. Then, the language “structure” can actually move from one side (such as, flagged) to the other side (flagless), and Vice Versa. And, this forms a language spectrum.

Indeed, the Martian Language Thesis was subconsciously known in linguistics for long time. But, my description of it does have some metaphysical differences from that subconscious knowledge. In fact, it is only one side of a coin. The other side of the coin is the second principle, The Spider Web Principle.
The Martian Language Thesis is based on the fact that the linguistics universe has two continents, the meta-space (the physical or imagined universes) and the meaning-sphere (the intelligence). The great divide between them is the language universe as we know of traditionally. By definition, a (any, including Martian’s) language must be anchored to both continents. Thus, two different languages (however different they look) are, in fact, connected, via these two continents. Yet, how does a language arises from this “language universe, the divide between the two continents”?

The Spider Web Principle has two points.
a. The language universe is isotopic and homogeneous. That is, every “point” in this universe is identical (total symmetrical). This symmetry is the base for a universal language linguistically.

b. The "Spider Web Principle” --- The whereabouts to build a spider web is completely arbitrary (total freedom or total symmetry). However, as soon as the first spider thread is casted, that total symmetry is broken, total freedom no more. The location of the web is fixed. With the second thread, the center of the web is defined. With the third thread, the size of the web is determined.

Thus, as soon as the first morpheme or the first grammar rule of a language is casted, it enters into a Godel system; “consistency” becomes the norm, and total freedom is no more. That is, every language has its own internal framework regardless of the fact that the language universe (universal grammar) is about the total freedom. Thus, the universal grammar has two spheres.
i. Universal level -- total freedom. Every language can choose its grammar arbitrary with the total freedom.

ii. Language x level -- as soon as a selection is made, it becomes a "contract" (among its speaking community) with a set of internal framework.

Here, I have made distinction between the linguistics universe and the language universe.

Re: Language types and second language acquisition

PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:57 pm
by Tienzen
To: Rod Mitchell

Thanks for a great comment. I do agree with your definition on “linguistic reality”.

The Martian Language Thesis is a law of permanent confinement. No language of any kind can escape from the permanent confinement of the two continents. And, it is also a law of total entanglement. Every language is linked (entangled) with all other languages. It is the force of convergence.

The Spider Web Principle defines the language universe (the divide between the two continents) to be isotopic and homogeneous. If the space of language universe is anisotropic and heterogenetic, then some languages cannot be allowed, but this is not the case. This is, in fact, a force of divergence.

A converging force must have a target to converge to. A diverging force must diverge from somewhere. These two, in fact, guarantee an ontological entity which sits underneath these two forces. There is an ontological reality while it has not manifested as a practical human language. But, in principle, the construction of a universal language is possible, as it is, indeed, an ontological reality.

After knowing the forces of diversities and entanglements of different languages, we, now, are able to address the pedagogical issues of learning the mother tongue and the second language with theoretical analysis, instead of from the empirical trial and error methodology. Yet, I would like to discuss a bit more metaphysical issues first.

a. In Zen Buddhism, the utmost mystery of the meta-space is understandable with intelligence but is unable to be described with languages. Thus, Zen developed a very special pedagogy, by yelling and beating the students, as the explanation teaching is just wasting of the time.

b. In Christianity, the utmost mystery of the meta-space (such as, God) can never be comprehended by human intelligence. That special mystery (God) can only be reached by vesting one’s faith on a special person (Jesus).

Is faith a kind of intelligence? It is beside the point. The two views above claim that the three parts (meta-space, language space and intelligence) of linguistics universe are not equal in size. If they are right, the construction of a “Super Unified Linguistics Theory” will become very difficult, even impossible. Thus, we must first show that these three parts are exactly equal in size. This is the central point of my book "Linguistics Manifesto, ISBN 978-3-8383-9722-1". Thus, I will not repeat it here. But, the conclusion is that the three parts are exactly equal in size. With this conclusion, we can build a Unified Linguistics Framework. And, all issues (such as, the second language learning) can be discussed with theoretical analysis. With a clearly formalized theory, a test can then be carried out.

Re: Language types and second language acquisition

PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2012 4:00 pm
by Tienzen
To: Kelly Parker

The librarian Mrs. Swe Swe Myint of Cornell University Library commented on my book, saying, “Your book will be of great and long-term value to scholarship in multiple disciplines.” Contact telephone number for Mrs. Myint is 607-255-9488

My book was published in December 2010 with the initial retail price of US $79.99 . Now, it is selling over $135. I am not quite sure what my publisher (LAP) is smoking but am sure that they believed that they have lost money by selling too cheap at the beginning.

In the Introduction to The Common Sense, Paine wrote, "Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." (page 3)

But, I think that reason can still prevail. I will discuss my view on the language acquisition to prove this point.

The current paradigm of linguistics has three unstated premises:
Premise 1 -- The mother tongue is acquired naturally, as a living habit. Even those with mental handicaps can often acquire a mother tongue to some proficiency.

Premise 2 -- A second language is always more difficult to acquire than the first language.

Premise 3 -- The first language is kind of a learning obstacle for learning a second language. Thus, many classrooms of ESL have a sign "English Only."

With this paradigm, the immersion teaching (Language immersion) and the 5 C's (Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities) become the central pillar for the ways of second language acquisition.

But, the followings are two important facts.
a. It takes about 5 years for a person to acquire the verbal part of his mother tongue at home and another 5 years in school to master the written part of the language.

b. In general, it takes about 5 years or less for a 10 year old kid to acquire a second language.

On the surface, people learn the mother tongue with immersion. But, down deep, there is another important mechanism, the anchoring. One learned verbal as the anchor, and with that anchor to learn the written.

Thus, with the mother tongue as the anchor, learning the second language “should be” much easier than learning the mother tongue.

The memory of a person at any given day is a “finite” number. Using that finite asset to spread over the 5 C’s is a very inefficient way of using that limited resource. The best way is to identify some anchors for the second language and to master those anchors one at the time.

Chinese language was viewed as one of the most difficult language to learn. Yet, by using the anchor-methodology, it can be mastered in 90 days. The details of this anchor-methodology are available at .

Today, the new paradigm for second language acquisition is having two parts.
i. Finding the anchors of the second language.

ii. Memory management on learning those anchors.

Re: Language types and second language acquisition

PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2012 4:01 pm
by Tienzen
To: Kelly Parker

Your comment is, indeed, a good peer review.

Your two points are facts, and there is no conflict with my view. Only the current second language acquisition doctrine does not utilize or emphasize the “bridge” part of the mother tongue. With the immersion pedagogy, the second language can be learned in the same way as the first language without using the “bridge”. In my view, it is a waste.

Today, there are private companies (already secured millions angel money) try to develop a new second language acquisition methodology, based on two paths.
a. Axiom-ing every language as much as possible. That is, finding many anchors for each language.

b. Finding the best memory managing way for each language, the best way of learning those anchors.

The changing of Chinese language from the most difficult one to the easiest one is just a recent development. The article “The proper perspective of this new Chinese etymology, http://chineselanguageetymology.blogspo ... inese.html” will give some details on that.

Re: Language types and second language acquisition

PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2012 4:02 pm
by Tienzen
To: Rod Mitchell

Thanks for your great comments. Your experiences are obviously valid.

The issue of the mother tongue being a bridge or a hindrance for second language learning is not a central point of my work. My view has the following points.
a. The universal language is an ontological reality. Thus, every language is connected to all other languages. This is reflected as the Martian language thesis.

b. The manifestation of the point “a” is a language spectrum. Thus, two very distinct language types can be defined, and all languages are distributed between them.

c. With the two points above, every language (however chaotic superficially) can be organized wholly or partly as an axiom system.

d. Thus, we can learn any language as an axiom system, similar to learning high school geometry or chemistry. Of course, the mother tongue will be a different story, as the first 10 years of a person’s life has, in general, not developed a logic-based learning ability. So, even the mother tongue is the simplest axiom system, the kids will still learn it as a living habit, at least for the verbal part.

In addition to as a theory, I have made Chinese language as one example. With the immersion way of learning, Dr. David Moser (now a highly respected Sinologist today both in the West and in China) wrote an article “Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard? words-of-the-week/words-of-the-week-002-why-chinese-is-so-damn-hard-t52.html” . Yet, by learning as an axiom system, Chinese can be learned by a 15 year old American kid in 90 days to the level of being able to read newspaper from a beginning of not knowing a single character. Furthermore, he can learn it all by himself without a need of a teacher. There are already many succeed stories. The article “The methodology on mastering Chinese written language in three months, ... ethodology” can provide some info on this.