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Babel No More / Mezzofanti’s Gift

 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
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hrhenry
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 Message 121 of 149
29 February 2012 at 11:24am | IP Logged 
Zwlth wrote:
How about this instead: these two have achieved out of the ordinary (learning many languages), which is quite time consuming and might easily require the sacrifice of certain "normal" activities such as driving.

How is this statement any less leading than any other statement?

One thing I've tried to keep in mind when I read all these blog reviews is that they're generally aligned with the blog author's personal views, not necessarily with the views of the book's author.

R.
==
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Iversen
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 Message 122 of 149
29 February 2012 at 1:05pm | IP Logged 
Zwlth wrote:
How about this instead: these two have achieved out of the ordinary (learning many languages), which is quite time consuming and might easily require the sacrifice of certain "normal" activities such as driving.

hrhenry wrote:
How is this statement any less leading than any other statement?


I read Zwlth's statements as an attempt to show that there could be other reasons for two concrete persons' lack of driving skills than the medical one, and if this leads anywhere in particular it would be away from drawing conclusions on an extremely shaky foundation.

Erard's basic idee seems to be that the group of hyperpolyglots (with 11+ languages) in some way might be different from even ordinary polyglots or multilingual persons. The opposite hypothesis would be that they basically just are more extreme versions 'of the same kind' as other language learners, not qualitatively different.

The Geschwind-Galaburda hypothesis is in itself not particularly well founded, and its relevance for (hyper)polyglots is even more questionable. Ultimately it rests on some assumptions about brain development at an early stage, but is studied mainly through partly statistical, partly anecdotical evidence, not directly through brain scans. But Erard's book paints a picture of a very small AND very diverse group of hyperpolyglots, and it is worth pointing out that even tendencies within this minute group which might be in accordance with the charactistics proposed for 'Geschwind-Galaburdian' could have other, more down-to-earth explanations. And that is exactly what Zwlth does here.

I don't blame Erard for mentioning the hypothesis - somebody has proposed this theory, and because it is one of the few extant theories in the field he has to address it. But the data are not sufficient to draw any farreaching and contrived theorical conclusions. For me the interest in the book lies primarily in its concrete descriptions of a number of 'over-achieving language learners'. And yes, these people like languages, are able to work hard with things which not everybody finds interesting and may or may not feel themselves as members of a 'tribe'. But even this doesn't explain why some persons feel the urge to lean a lot of languages, while others find that 3 or 4 are enough.


Edited by Iversen on 29 February 2012 at 1:13pm

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Zwlth
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 Message 123 of 149
02 March 2012 at 9:08am | IP Logged 
After writing the above, I posed this question on the professor's latest video:

Would you mind if I asked why´╗┐ it is that you can't drive? The book seems to suggest that you have some sort of visual-spatial disability that prevents you from doing so.

Jonzwelet 1 day ago


And just now I found the response that he wrote back:

@Jonzwelet I don't drive because I don't like cars. I most certainly do not have any kind of visual-spatial disability that prevents´╗┐ me from driving, or from doing anything else for that matter.

ProfASAr 5 hours ago


So, he doesn't drive because he doesn't want to drive, not because he gets lost going around the block since he can't tell right from left. What about Graham Cansdale? I wouldn't know how to contact him, but I checked the book again and on page 167, it does say that he is "unable to learn how to drive," though it never explains why.

So, what supportive evidence is there for a link between the G-G hypothesis and hyperpolyglots to suggest that they are inclined to be visually-spatially challenged?

Likewise, what evidence is there that would lead Erard to say [perhaps not in the book itself, but certainly in one of the interviews he gave about it, the link to which is somewhere above, courtesy of Fasulye] that homosexuality is such a characteristic hyperpolyglot trait that it wouldn't surprise him to learn that hyperpolyglot X was gay? Graham Cansdale is the only one in the book.

It seems that many of the generalizations either directly drawn by Erard or the conclusions that his line of investigation leads others to draw are based upon... Graham Cansdale. Take him out of the equation and we'd get a different set altogether.

As Iversen has so rightly pointed out several times now, the sample size for Babel No More was just too small. And, unfortunately, based on that sampling, assumptions are being made about hyperpolyglots - assumptions of a kind that I, for one, do not want made about me.
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translator2
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 Message 124 of 149
02 March 2012 at 2:45pm | IP Logged 
I believe that some hyperpolyglots received a euphoric sense of self esteem in their early years when they discovered they could learn a foreign language in class better than all the other students and/or they were able to learn a language and were admired for this by their peers and/or family. For once in their lives, they were able to achieve something with ease that others could not or that others found difficult. This gave them a sense of pride and a sense of purpose in life. They continue to chase this sought-after self-esteem for the rest of their lives under the belief that more languages will equal more self-esteem and more happiness. However, adults and the current society are less easily impressed (and in many cases downright skeptical) and they have to work even harder to get a "language fix". Many times this obsession can turn into the hoarding of foreign-language books, materials where the buying of the materials (and showing them off on the internet) represents (for them) their "intention" to learn a language which gradually replaces the excitement (at least temporarily) of actually learning the language coupled with the ever-growing realization that they have overestimated what they can feasibly accomplish in a lifetime considering the constraints of time, money, work as well as the real-time limitations of their own abilities.

Edited by translator2 on 02 March 2012 at 2:46pm

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michael erard
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 Message 125 of 149
02 March 2012 at 7:56pm | IP Logged 
Since the book's come out in early January, I have received a large number of emails from people all over the
world who claim to be hyperpolyglots thanking me for writing something that explains them. They have said they
look forward to showing the book to family and friends. If you want to know how to present Babel No More to use
it in this way, the message might be, "I think I recognize myself as having a brain that's described in this book.
There are lots of different types of brains that are good at a variety of things, and I might have one that's so rare,
there's not a lot about it known yet, so there's a lot of speculation. This author is really thorough and cites a lot
of different ideas, but he's careful not to come to any unsupported conclusions. I'm excited that hyperpolyglots
are finally getting some serious attention."

The goal I set out to meet when I was writing my book was to:
1. fold the most relevant parts of the published scientific literature about language talents, language aptitude,
high language performance, and neurodevelopment (and other areas) into a highly readable narrative;
2. rely on evidence-based frameworks in order to move away from anecdotes and self-reports;
3. remain open-minded;
4. to not be reductive (e.g., saying that all hyperpolyglots are X, Y, and Z) or deterministic; and
5. inspire people to continue investigating.

I succeeded in doing all of those things, and I remain proud of my work. I'm grateful that so many readers,
reviewers, and responders in Italy, China, Singapore, Korea, Ireland, the UK, the US, Israel, Brazil, and many other
places have recognized those virtues. To the few who can't help but mis-read the text in such a way as to serve
their own interests and biases and ignore what the book actually says, I'll say: the book is available only in
English, but it's going to be translated into other languages, so maybe the ideas will be clearer there.


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Zwlth
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 Message 126 of 149
02 March 2012 at 10:43pm | IP Logged 
Michael, thank you so much for joining us to discuss this directly. Frankly, you have seemed rather stand-offish, with only 12 posts in 4 years, all short updates in this thread, as if you were avoiding engaging this community at the same time you were researching it. As Iversen has pointed out before, probably more people here than anywhere else spent time filling in your survey, and you didn't really do all that much with it, or with this forum, in the book.

Of your goals, I would say that you thoroughly succeeded in 1 and 3, you did your admirable best in 2, and time will tell but I certainly hope and pray you succeed resoundingly in 5 as well. It is 4 that I am concerned about.

You do lead people to conclude that hyperpolygots are likely to be gay, visually- spatially disoriented, and have Aspergers or OCD. When you said in that interview that you would not be surprised if a hyperpolyglot had any of these traits, is that not tantamount to saying you rather expect this?

My issues are:

A) I don't see these traits widely enough in your sample pool to justify these conclusions, and

B) I don't have any of these traits myself and I don't want anyone to think that I do have them just because I am a hyperpolyglot.

My issues are not an attack on your book, which as I said I enjoyed reading greatly at first, but rather genuine concerns about its ramifications. It would be really nice if you could address them in specific. Thank you.
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Fasulye
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 Message 127 of 149
03 March 2012 at 9:38am | IP Logged 
michael erard wrote:
4. to not be reductive (e.g., saying that all hyperpolyglots are X, Y, and Z) or deterministic;


Somebody who reads "Babel No More" carefully will not find any statements in his book which are reductive (= All hyperpolyglots are...), so in that sense even hyperpolyglots without any of these traits (enumerated in the Geschwind-Galaburda theory) fit well into the findings of Michael Erard.

Fasulye

Edited by Fasulye on 03 March 2012 at 9:40am

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hrhenry
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 Message 128 of 149
03 March 2012 at 10:02am | IP Logged 
Zwlth wrote:

B) I don't have any of these traits myself and I don't want anyone to think that I do have them just because I am a hyperpolyglot.

So make it clear to anyone you wish to know/impress you that you are none of these things. Or write a book specifically about you and hand that to everyone.

Honestly, in this thread and in another, your complaints basically come down to "But I don't want people to think that about me."

A book will never fix that for you, because the book isn't about you.

R.
==


Edited by hrhenry on 03 March 2012 at 10:04am



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