TBLT Course: The Book

While I am the first to decry the use of the textbook as the syllabus, we are going to stick pretty close to this book so we will be able to “cover” (another loaded word) the concepts in this course. Let me give my reasons here. But also note that the class plans will morph depending on the participants. I count it as my job to prepare for as many eventualities as possible. More on that tomorrow.

The book is a part of the Cambridge Applied Linguistics series. Read their blurb, and the iTDi (my) take on it in the course description.

For me, the elephant-and-3-blind-men approach to the theory made the book head and shoulders above others in the field. I am one of the blind men, feeling the elephant as either a wall, a rope, or a trunk. They look at TBLT from five different perspectives (Cognitive, Psycholinguistic, Sociocultural, Psychological, and Educational). I enjoy how each builds upon the others while introducing new aspects. That is what I meant by being inclusive.

Conflicting and controversial viewpoints come up and are hammered out. This is probably the result of having five authors. The richness they bring to the text is astounding. If they could have added Peter Robinson, it would have been a perfect book.

I get the Kindle version for these kind of projects. That makes it easier to “mark up” with highlights, quotes, notes, and even flash cards, then share those with others in the class. It’s also cheaper (US$25).

Today’s time: Reading (Ch.9) 0:52. Blog 0:20.

Previously: Announcement.

TBLT Course Prep Announcement

Last December, Steven Herder at iTDi asked me to lead (coordinate? teach?) a course as part of the new Great Minds series. I am honored to be considered along with my new colleagues Steven, Dorothy Zemach, and Scott Thornbury.

We discussed the shape of the series, and we came to focus on books that contained a diverse look at one specific part of language teaching. Scott chose to look at the work of Earl Stevick, calling the book a festschrift. Steven was fascinated by the work of John Hattie and Visible Learning. Dorothy is looking ahead with a new book on 21st Century Skills. I wish I could take them all.

The closest thing on my bookshelf was a recent (2019) look at Task-Based Langauge Teaching by leaders in the field. It is kind of a festschrift to a body of research that I was heavily involved with, but had wandered away from (to CALL). I wanted to take a deep dive, and thought this the perfect opportunity.

I have been preparing the TBLT course for iTDi since then. Like one of my favorite authors, and many bloggers, I find that posting about my preparation helps me think about the book, the course, and to let the potential participants know a little about what they are getting into.

So the plan is to document my preparation from this point. As I read more, and research more, the excitement builds. I hope it will be evident over the next 70 days, until Day 1 of the course. Maybe I will see you there, but if not enjoy the musings on TBLT.

Stay tuned. (Suggestion, use RSS or find me on Facebook and Twitter, and I will announce new posts there.

(Time Track: 0:58 Blog)

Weakly Post #3

Media: Marie Kondo (or in Japanese, Kondo Marie) is famous for her technique of tidyng up. She has a new show on Netflix. I am not sure what to think of it. She is a small bubbly (yes, bubbly) woman who speaks little English, giving advice to families in the USA. I’m not sure if her ultra Japanese-ness is affected or genuine. The families seem to eat it up. The real star of the show is the translator. Maybe something to use in class as an example of how people do simultaneous translation. You only need to watch one episode. I watched 2 and they are the same. Unless you want to see more cluttered homes (voyeur!). Evidently organization porn is a big hit.

Politics: Crazy stuff when the American Taliban prosecute a woman for having a miscarriage. (NYTimes). And other countries might start thinking about tourists from America trying to emmigrate, because of health care. Pet stores in California can only sell rescue dogs and cats (NYTimes). You have to go directly to the breeder if not. Designed to limit puppy farms and animal cruelty, and reduce the state animal shelter budget, this has me wondering.

Business: Amazon is the place where America shops online. Following up last month’s link about how opaque the marketplace (The Verge) is on Amazon, where 3rd parties (small business) sell through Amazon, you can also make money by giving advice to new sellers. But is it legitimate? (Atlantic)

Media: Elsevier owns 2,500 academic journals, publishing articles by unpaid faculty, and charging over US$30 to access each article. Sci-Hub pirates these articles, much like the torrent network does for TV, movies and music. Meanwhile in Europe Open Science is gaining support for Plan S to require all government funded research to appear in Open (free) publication immediately. Publishers are worried, but this really needs to be a global concern to succeed, and this is the first step.

Writing: Is the exclamation point (!) an intensity marker or a sincerity marker? That and more, in how we overuse them!

Looking at this post, I don’t like the mish-mash of topics. I am going to start separating the posts and let the Categories help you find what you need, along with a much shorter Weakly Post each Sunday pointing to the other stuff I posted during the week. Check back here often (or better, add me to your RSS feed reader), and make a comment. I may even start an email list to notify people of Weakly Posts.

Cormac McCarthy on Language

Cormac McCarthy, author of novels like No Country for Old Men and The Road, is, believe it or not, interested in physics and complex systems. Writing in Nautilus (great publication), he muses on language and the unconscious in The Kekulé Problem.

The shoehorn into the discussion is that people solve problems when they are asleep. Kekulé is only the most famous for this; falling asleep and solving the problem of the chemical structure of Benzine. The point is that the image he saw, that revealed the structure, did not contain any language. That is because it is from the unconscious.

Read the article to find out why the unconscious and language are separate. Is it biology, did it evolve, or are they simply incompatible? McCarthy jumps between psychology, biology, philosophy in his quest for an answer. He gets help by discussing with his friend and colleague David Krakauer, both from the Santa Fe Institute (home of really smart people). He ends up solving the problem after a ten-hour lunch with Krakauer and yes, some sleep.

This article reminds me of two other books. The Third Culture was the first collection of essays I read by John Brockman, a literary agent. He assembled a collection of scientists (Gould, Dawkins, Minsky, Schank, Pinker, Penrose, Smolin, Kauffman, and especially Gell-Mann, also at Santa Fe) to answer questions usually reserved for theologians and philosophers. C.P. Snow postulated that Science and Literature would merge into a “third culture.” It had a profound effect on my thinking. Brockman puts a similar book out each year, addressing a new question. Find him at the Edge.

Language is metaphor, and that is what makes us human. China Mieville writes of an alien race inhabiting a trading outpost at the edge of the civilized universe in Embassytown. The heroine watches as the Ariekei try to lie and fail, repeatedly. They are not built that way. Their Language requires people to speak in two voices at the same time. Humans that are conjoined twins fill the role of Ambassadors. When a linguistic “virus” invades, all hell breaks loose.

Which brings us back to language. It language itself just a virus, a parasite, riding on the cerebellum and medulla, causing the cerebrum to develop grotesquely large? Read McCarthy.

Wolfe on Darwin and Chomsky

I thought I had decided not to read Tom Wolfe’s latest The Kingdom of Speech, I had read a few reviews and remembered his declining quality since A Man in Full. I have read everything of Wolfe’s except The Painted Word, and found Back to Blood a warmed over Bonfire of the Vanities in Miami, following the same pattern as Man in Full and Charlotte Simmons. I liked his fiction better than his non-fiction. So I was surprised when it showed up in my Kindle. Ah, I had pre-ordered it before reading reviews. Spring break, why not read it? It IS about linguistics, my field.

I was pleasantly surprised. It was a wonderful 192-page rant. He is a great storyteller and a master wordsmith. His arguments sound really really plausible It is also a great lesson in critical thinking, about how a great author can get you to see one side of an argument.

Kingdom of Speech (KoS) has a style that harkens back to Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, but without the energy. In the 70’s he lampooned the liberal elite and their infatuation with the Black Panthers. In KoS he tries something more dangerous, lampooning Chomsky the linguist by way of Darwin and ultimately science as a whole. He doesn’t get away with it, but it is still an entertaining read. And he makes it all sound so plausible.

Wolfe starts with Darwin, and tells a story of another theorist, or scientist, Alfred Russel Wallace, who, according to Wolfe, beat Darwin and had solid evidence to boot, of the theory of evolution. Wallace was the outsider who collected evidence (a bug-catcher) in the Amazon Basin and Malaysia, and presented it scientifically as a theory. Darwin, who spent 20 years in an armchair came up with the theory only after seeing Wallace’s manuscript of an article, racing to publish at the same time with help from insiders. Then he tells a parallel story of Chomsky, tying the two together with the idea that speech is the only thing that makes man different from other animals.

Chomsky in this telling, is the armchair theorist and his Wallace is Daniel Everett, a linguist who studied a small tribe in the Amazon. Like Wallace, Everett used real data to support his claims, but was dismissed by Chomsky who was better connected. Chomsky rode the wave of scientificalization (great word) of the 50’s, but has this idea of a biological seat of language in the brain that is unrealistic, only changing the theory when pressured by other linguists or anthropologists.  An example:

Thanks to Everett, linguists were beginning to breathe life into the words of the anti-Chomskyans of the twentieth century who had been written off as cranks or contrarians, such as Larry Trask, a linguist at England’s University of Sussex. In 2003, the year after Chomsky announced his Law of Recursion, Trask said in an interview, “I have no time for Chomskyan theorizing and its associated dogmas of ‘universal grammar.’ This stuff is so much half-baked twaddle, more akin to a religious movement than to a scholarly enterprise. I am confident that our successors will look back on UG as a huge waste of time.

High drama, but the facts do not bear out the assertations. We see Wolfe focus on one part of the science only, and like his supposed target, ignore any kind of data that gets in the way of a good story.