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  1. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #11

    Re: Do you think learning a language requires empathy?

    I like your theory, probus.

    I'm not making any comment on your family here by the way, but it is true that linguistic intelligence, (which is highly associated with various measures of success in language acquisition) is itself highly heritable, so what you're saying about individual variation makes a lot of sense to me.

    I wouldn't expect that there would be a single responsible gene, though.

  2. jutfrank's Avatar
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    #12

    Re: Do you think learning a language requires empathy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Glizdka View Post
    Do you think that grammar is necessary to organize thought, but what allows you to avoid using much grammar is precise vocabulary?
    It seems like there's a very interesting discussion question close by. Could you perhaps bring the question into focus by first saying what you mean by 'grammar', especially with regard to 'avoid using much grammar'?
    Last edited by jutfrank; 23-May-2019 at 20:26. Reason: typo

  3. Senior Member
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    #13

    Re: Do you think learning a language requires empathy?

    By grammar I meant all ways you add meaning to, and transform words, whether it be grammatical cases, syntax, prepositions, or tenses. I guess I should've said 'using many subjects of grammar', but I thought I could use grammar uncountably in that context.

    I think that the lack of precise vocabulary makes my grammar worse because I need to find other means of describing what I want to say.
    Last edited by Glizdka; 24-May-2019 at 17:58. Reason: typo

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    #14

    Re: Do you think learning a language requires empathy?

    My family history supports Probus's theory. My mother started learning English in an illicit school while interned in a Nazi ghetto at age thirteen. She moved to London after her liberation at age eighteen and earned her high-school equivalence (I forget what the certificate was called), all in English, of course. She immigrated to the United States after a year and a half in England, earned her Master's degree at the University of Chicago, got married, and had three kids. She went on to have a career as a writer -- in English, of course.

    Her first sale as a writer was to the very prestigious Atlantic Monthly. My father assures me that by then, the editor would not have found a single grammatical error or unnatural phrase in her writing.


    Many years later, her first cousin immigrated from Russia. The cousin was in her forties and spoke no English. Within a year, she was speaking complex English. She has never mastered articles and makes other errors, but she can express any idea in a language she learned as a mature adult. Her husband, on the other hand, never got very far in English. He once remarked (after having been in California for at least fifteen years) "English ... uh, uh, ... very bad language!"

    My father learned English as a second language at the tender age of three. He attended a Yeshiva, where Hebrew was the language of instruction in religion classes, and speaks fluent Hebrew. He also studied French in high school, attaining a vast vocabulary. His French is hopelessly ungrammatical; he speaks it by surrounding his ideas in words until he beats them into submission.

    My parents lived in Italy for several years in their fifties and sixties. My mother easily learned enough Italian to converse on a variety of subjects. I visited them towards the end of their sojourns there. After five days, I knew far more Italian than my father. I got my mom's language skills, luckily!
    I am not a teacher.

  5. Senior Member
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    #15

    Re: Do you think learning a language requires empathy?

    What amazing stories you guys have... mine seems uninteresting in comparison.

    My parents were born in Poland when it was governed by Soviet Russia. Russian was a mandatory subject in school back then, yet both of them can't really speak Russian, though the number of cognates in Russian makes even me understand it when it's spoken (written Russian is different because of the cyrillic alphabet). They could never learn any other language, except for a few isolated words.

  6. probus's Avatar
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    #16

    Re: Do you think learning a language requires empathy?

    Quote Originally Posted by jutfrank View Post
    I wouldn't expect that there would be a single responsible gene, though.
    No, of course not. I did consider writing group of genes, but thought it too cumbersome.

    Very little is controlled by single genes. A key point made by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene is that genes survive not only by increasing the chance of survival of their carriers (us for example) but by being good at working in concert with other genes. The observation that we share 99% of our genes with chimpanzees has become trite, but Dawkins estimates in another book that a human and an oak tree have about 50% of their genes in common. Distant cousins, but cousins nonetheless! I hope I don't live to see People for the Ethical Treatment of Plants��

    But I digress. Back to language. The Cyrillic alphabet is easy, Glizdka, easier than the Latin alphabet we use. I'm sure you could master it quickly.
    Last edited by probus; 24-May-2019 at 12:49. Reason: Joke

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    #17

    Re: Do you think learning a language requires empathy?

    "The Selfish Gene" is a good read. It is one of my favorite counter-intuitive statistics that humans share about 50% of their genes with an oak (and a banana!), but it isn't as amazing when you consider how redundant our genetic code is, and how functional some fragments of DNA are (genetic grammar?). Redundancy in the genetic code has in it the curious case of the gene DRD4-7R, which codes the dopamine receptors in your brain. The gene DRD4 comes in three variants: 2R, 4R, and 7R (the number of Repetitions in a row of the same gene). The gene DRD4-7R is associated with the tendency to take risk, do drugs, cheat on your partner, learning language, and higher IQ. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for the sensation of pleasure and reward, and DRD4-7R codes the most responsive dopamine receptor.

    Quote Originally Posted by probus View Post
    But I digress. Back to language. The Cyrillic alphabet is easy, Glizdka, easier than the Latin alphabet we use. I'm sure you could master it quickly.
    I wasn't precise. I can read the cyrillic alphabet, I learned a bit of ancient Greek for the same reasons I learned a bit of Latin - many words derive from either Latin or ancient Greek in European languages, which makes it much easier to learn any European language when you can speak even a tiny bit of Latin or Greek. The cyrillic alphabet is derived from the Greek alphabet, so it was very easy to learn the cyrillic script. While at it, do you think there is something like "script cognates"? I'm particularily interested in how Anglo-Saxon runes were influenced by Norse runes, and the differences between the Futhark and the Futhorc. I studied a few runic alphabets and it's curious how there are a few symbols that look exactly the same, but represent a different letter. But it might well be just a coincidence because there's only so many symbols you can make up with a bunch of straight lines, and it might have nothing to do with borrowing other symbols.
    Last edited by Glizdka; 24-May-2019 at 09:58. Reason: typo

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    #18

    Re: Do you think learning a language requires empathy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Glizdka View Post
    many words derive from either Latin or ancient Greek in European languages, which makes it much easier to learn any European language when you can speak even a tiny bit of Latin or Greek.
    That's debatable.

  9. probus's Avatar
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    #19

    Re: Do you think learning a language requires empathy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Glizdka View Post
    do you think there is something like "script cognates"? I'm particularily interested in how Anglo-Saxon runes were influenced by Norse runes.
    That is well beyond my depth. But we have some teachers more scholarly than I who contribute only occasionally these days. They may be able to help. Bhaisahib? BobK? for example.

    Your notes on the genes that code for dopamine receptors were fascinating and a good jumping off point for further research. Thanks.

    Dawkins is the best popularizer of science working, in my opinion. Fifteen to twenty years ago I decided to read all his books and I'm very glad I did.
    Last edited by probus; 24-May-2019 at 13:32. Reason: Expand

  10. Senior Member
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    #20

    Re: Do you think learning a language requires empathy?

    I can still remember how 10 years ago my teachers told us not to use online translators because they do a poor job, and it's obvious the text has been translated in one. Today, Google Translator is capable of translating even long and complex sentences that contain precise vocabulary, and it uses flawless grammar doing it. It doesn't do it every time, but the longest flawless translation from English to Polish I've got from Google Translator was in about 300 words (it was an extract with hotel regulations).

    Google uses machine learning to improve the translator, which is trained by reading text in all languages. In 2017, OpenAI used their bot to utterly defeat a multiple world champion, Danil 'Dendi' Ishutin, in a game of Dota 2. What makes this event particular is the fact that the bot was not written exclusively to be good at playing the game. The program is based on the idea that if we let a program experiment with writing its own code, and compare the difference in performance in order to decide whether to keep the change or not, the program will evolve and its performance will be improving exponentially. The bot even learned how to fake an attack to intimidate its opponent because it found it effective. After they let the bot play with humans, it learned how to use in-game chat to send insults in form of instant messages.

    I believe we aren't farm from creating sentient artificial intelligence. I think it's just a matter of when, not if. Do you think that if machines can learn language, it answers 'no' to my original question "Do you think learning a language requires empathy?"

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