Linguistics and language learning

In my book I have deliberately used the word linguist to mean someone who speaks more than one language and enjoys it. Like a violinist, or artist, a linguist does not dissect language but uses it.

I find most of what I read in books on Linguistics to be useless to the language learner, or even harmful because it inspires much of the theoretical approach to language learning which fills conferences and learned papers and subjects learners to constantly changing fads.

Here is a recent exchange from anti-moon. I am Steve K. I was a little mean,perhaps, to throw cold water on their favourite activity but would appreciate comment from this group.
……………………………………………….
“It’s my understanding that the vowel in “fear” is [I@] in RP. This is vowel. It’s not a tense vowel before an <r> it’s a centring diphthong. It is not followed by any schwa. It’s not followed by anything. Orthographically the <r> is part of the vowel-trigraph.

Similarly, “air” is pronounced as a vowel in RP. The whole word is a grapheme representing [e@]. It’s not [ei] plus [r] it’s just [e@]. The same applies to “tour”: the <our> is the grapheme representing [u@].

Steve K?? ??Tue Oct 04, 2005 5:44 am GMT

Get a pronouncing dictionary or listen to some recorded English and try to imitate the pronunciation. All the the rest of this pseudo-theory is just so much useless hairsplitting that has nothing to do with speaking or learning languages. It is typical of most what is “taught” under the title “linguistics”, so that some pretentious self-styled academics can amuse others of the same ilk, who will perpetuate the rituals.

Travis?? ??Tue Oct 04, 2005 6:25 am GMT

>>Get a pronouncing dictionary or listen to some recorded English and try to imitate the pronunciation. All the the rest of this pseudo-theory is just so much useless hairsplitting that has nothing to do with speaking or learning languages. It is typical of most what is “taught” under the title “linguistics”, so that some pretentious self-styled academics can amuse others of the same ilk, who will perpetuate the rituals.<<

And without such “pseudo-theory”, forget about actually understanding how things like pronunciation and like in various languages, that is, phonology and phonetics, actually work. What does one gain from your idiotic antiintellectualism, other than being able to claim that one isn’t “pretentious” or like, whatever that might happen to actually mean? You seem to think here that ignorance is somehow better than actually understanding languages overall, and that actually understanding such or at least attempting to do so as best as possible is somehow not a good thing, possibly about of some kind of useless pseudo-populism, where any kind of knowledge beyond that of the average person is somehow a bad thing.

Kirk?? ??Tue Oct 04, 2005 6:26 am GMT

<<No need to post any more questions then…let’s just shut down the forum.>>

Haha, agreed–yes, Steve K, linguists aren’t actually always in pursuit of finding out more about how language is and how it works but are actually trying only to amuse themselves, squabble over completely irrelevant linguistic minutiae, and deceive others while cleverly passing off their useless findings as somehow pertinent to the study of human language.

While we’re at it–how about those doctors? I mean, really, who are *they* trying to kid? All they do is pay for expensive medical school, amuse themselves with their highbrow “medical” journals, and pretend they’re actually trying to further the knowledge and treatment of the human body.

And now it’s my turn to say….come on.

Jim?? ??Tue Oct 04, 2005 6:47 am GMT

… and (just my two cents worth) who do you think writes these pronouncing dictionaries … could it be … no … linguists?

Steve K?? ??Tue Oct 04, 2005 12:07 pm GMT

Pronouncing dictionary meant an online dictionary with sound files for each word.

I do not think you can compare doctors or medical research to the sophistry of linguistics. The learning of languages is based on a lot of listening and reading and eventually speaking and writing. A person can learn languages without reference to the work of linguists, but the health of individuals does depend on the progress of medical science.

All the schwas, the phonemes, the graphemes, the dangling participles socio-linguistics etc. are irrelevant to the language learner.

One thought on “Linguistics and language learning

  1. "A pronouncing dictionary" – with the emphasis on "a." There are places all over the web offering a variety of pronunciations of English. For example, the speaker at a site for dyslexics seems to be from somewhere in London. (A wild guess, by a speaker of New-England American English.). People who want to discuss English pronunciations should specify at least what variety they have in mind. In Prague, "English teachers" come from Ireland, all over England, all over America, Canada, Australia … Luckily most students had learned English in school and used a pleasant Czech accent and were beyond worrying about pronunciation as long as there was mutual comprehension. As for people learning Czech in Prague, good advice was to learn to understand how people spoke, but to stick to the formal language when speaking, since you sound ridiculous trying to copy the local patois when your grammar is still weak – like Czechs carefully pronouncing "-in" instead of "-ing" in painfully slow English. (Or even worse, in writing.)

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