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In praxis "law-of-7"/2 for polyliteracy?

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Zwlth
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 Message 1 of 49
16 August 2011 at 4:11am | IP Logged 
Might there be an in praxis "law-of-7"/2 for polyliteracy?

On page 110 of his book, Как Стать Полиглотом (Ленинград: Лениздат, 1989), Дмитрий Леонидович Спивак mentions a закон семерки, a "law-of-7." Having interviewed many polyglots, Спивак says that although an individual may have a range of abilities in dozens or even scores of languages, it is only possible to know between 5 and 9 languages at a truly high level of fluency; as 7 is the median, he calls this the "law-of-7." This is something that has been discussed several times before on this forum over the years, and while most of those threads have swiftly spun off target, for those who are interested in the basic idea but haven't heard of it before and can't read Russian, this one contains large portions of the methodological technique described in the book, kindly translated by forum member Frenkeld.

The basic proposition makes sense to me, but recently I find myself wondering if there might not be an even stricter "law-of-7"/2 specifically in regards to polyliteracy if I drive a hard semantic divide between what I know that I could do and what I find that I actually can do.

I could, i.e., I am capable of picking up a novel and reading it with a very high level of appreciation and understanding in about 8 languages. However, although I might like to, in praxis, I cannot read books in 8 different languages at the same time. Years ago though, when I was actively learning my languages, I could study 8 different languages at the same time by setting and keeping to a study schedule along the lines of the model provided by Professor Arguelles. That is, when I was focused completely on the languages themselves, I had no trouble dividing my available time by the number of languages I was learning and allocating 20 or 30 minute slots to each. Now that I have primarily moved from language learning to language use, however, I find that the balancing act gets more and more difficult the more advanced I become.

When actively using a language by reading great books in it, you don't focus on the fact that you are using a particular language, but rather you focus upon the content of the book. And, for me at least, reading one book by a great author tends to make me want to read another one by the same author. So, not only do I find it impossible to put down one book unfinished and take up another just because it is "time" to practice another language, I also find it difficult, upon finishing one, to choose my next on the basis of giving another language its turn instead of what I want to read.

Furthermore, I have found that while reading a single shortish book in a language over a period of a few days every month or so might be enough to maintain the language, it is not enough to provide for continued language growth at the advanced level. Because the more you advance, the more you are developing active knowledge of low-frequency vocabulary, the more necessary it is to read extensively for protracted periods of time.

Thus, although I could read books in 8 languages at a time ("law-of-7"), in praxis, over any given period of 3-4 months, I only read books in 4 languages at a time ("law-of-7"/2). This may be because I only have about 4 hours to read on my own each day, but I don't think so because on days when I have more time, I am not at all inclined to branch out, but rather to dig in.

Is all of this just my own quirk, or does it resonate with any other practitioners of polyliteracy?

Edited by Zwlth on 16 August 2011 at 4:21am

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Iversen
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 Message 3 of 49
16 August 2011 at 1:09pm | IP Logged 
The rule of seven refers to the number of languages a person can learn extremely well and be truly comfortable with, both passively and actively. We have a couple of other threads where it is discussed, and it is obvious that only languages you can speak are considered - supposedly you can't be truly comfortable with a language which you only can read.

My own position is that there is a limit somewhere for the number of languages you can be comfortable with in speech, writing, thinking, listening and reading. But the limit is somewhat flexible because it depends on things like the place you live and your choice of languages.

The present thread asks a more limited question, namely whether there is a rule of seven for polyliteracy, and then seven is definitely not enough. There will of course be completely analphabetic polyglots (for instance in certain multilingual areas in the third world), and there will be people who simple never have written and rarely tried to read anything in a language or dialect they speak fluently - for instance the socalled 'dialect' Schwiizertüütsch which is alive and well as a spoken language (or dialect bundle), although its speakers mostly write in Standard High German. But for people who are highly literate in a number of languages it is almost certain that they can read a few languages more than they can speak - for instance languages or dialects which are very close to something they know, but also languages which they only have learnt to read (like Latin) or language which they rarely have opportunity to speak. And then we are speaking about higher numbers than seven.

But Zwlth also discusses an even more restricted language list, namely those in which you actually read books during a certain period. Well, for me it is not necessary to restrict the discussion to books. I would include magazines and homepages and things like that, and then you suddenly face much shorter average timeslots. I have not counted my 'language encounters', but twenty languages within one week would certainly not be unusual (and on top of that you can add a number of so called dialects like hardcore Scots and New Norwegian and Low German). And most of these I can read without a dictionary if I have to.




Edited by Iversen on 16 August 2011 at 1:30pm

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Zwlth
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 Message 4 of 49
17 August 2011 at 8:30am | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
for me it is not necessary to restrict the discussion to books. I would include magazines and homepages and things like that


This is not polyliteracy. I am using the term in the very specific sense that Professor Arguelles, who coined it, uses it, in a room set apart for the discussion of his principles: polyliteracy is restricted not only to books, but more particularly to Great Books, i.e., classical texts and high-brow literature.

So, to put my question in a nutshell: while most monolingual and other sane people would only read one such tome at a time, those of us infected with chronic glossophilitis are prone to assail multiple volumes simultaneously precisely because of their tongues of composition. While I am capable of reading writing of this caliber in the 8 languages that I know best, I find that I am only able to perform this task in 4 of them simultaneously because of the substantive and longitudinal time commitment that reading such writing requires. That is a nice rate of exactly half, and I wonder if other practitioners of polyliteracy (if there are any out there) find the same to be true.
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Volte
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 Message 5 of 49
18 August 2011 at 9:06pm | IP Logged 
I'm not (yet) a practitioner of polyliteracy in the sense that you and Professor Argüelles use the term, but I have a long-standing interest in it, and can't really claim to be monolingual any longer. I read several languages, though less of them than I'd like are at a level sufficient for practising strict polyliteracy.

I find I cannot digest or assail multiple serious tomes simultaneously. Attempting to spread my energies this way, whether in one language or many, tends to be a waste of time. I can eke along making some progress in more than one tome at once, but it's far from ideal.

On the other branch of your question, there are certainly plenty of recorded people who have had quite high levels of reading ability in more than 7 languages. For example, Kálmán Kalocsay, one of the greatest Esperanto poets, translated the poetry appearing in "Tutmonda Sonaro" personally - from 30 languages, and I have seen nothing but praise for the quality of translation. He managed this on top of a successful career in medicine. It certainly appears that Professor Argüelles remains more than adequately competent at reading more than 5 languages at a level sufficient for polyliteracy.

Extensive reading has diminishing returns on language ability after a certain point. I feel that I'm at that point in English - while there is certainly plenty left for me to learn, and plenty which I do not know, neither extensive nor intensive reading quickly changes this. There are a number of directions which one can take once this point is reached, including focused explorations in style, delving into etymology, and starting to learn more languages, related or otherwise. At this level, reading more literature continues to be worthwhile, and can help maintain a high level of active expressive ability, but contributes fairly weakly to actual advances in language ability, in my experience. Take a break from reading literature and the quality of your writing will probably decline, and you may occasionally need a split second longer to grasp something, but your reading ability shouldn't suffer much if this break doesn't last more than a few years. Professor Argüelles has made a similar point, in a more limited context, stating that he loves words, but that after a certain point, he needs to move to a new language to satisfy this, since other people simply won't understand him if he uses sufficiently uncommon words.

The following excerpt, while somewhat lacking in details, may offer food for thought.

The Art and Science of Learning Languages, by Amorey Gethin and Erik V. Gunnemark wrote:

The name for people who can speak many languages is 'polyglots'. I know personally four of the greatest, all members of the association Amici Linguarum ('Fried of languages'). Each of them can read, and translate from, at least 50 languages, and can speak about 25 languages at varying levels from fluent to 'survival' standard.

Eugene M. Czerniawski, Russia, reads more than 50 languages and is the one of the four who speaks the largest number of languages fluently.

Arvo Juutilainen, Finland, can read nearly 60 languages, and has a photographic memory for words.

Donald Kenrick, United Kingdom, can read about 70 languages, and speaks among others a number of Celtic, Semitic and Indo-European Indian languages, including the gypsy language Romani.

Pent Nurmenkund, Estonia, can translate from over 80 languages. He is well known as the founder of the Oriental department at the University of Tartu.

....

The least demanding skill is normally reading.



Edited by Volte on 18 August 2011 at 9:19pm

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Iversen
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 Message 6 of 49
18 August 2011 at 10:16pm | IP Logged 
Zwlth wrote:
I am using the term in the very specific sense that Professor Arguelles, who coined it, uses it, in a room set apart for the discussion of his principles: polyliteracy is restricted not only to books, but more particularly to Great Books, i.e., classical texts and high-brow literature.


I have been thinking about how to react to this, and I have come to the following conclusion: I know from the early days of my membership here that professor Arguelles is very interested in fine literature and sees it as his prime goal for his students to read this kind of literature. But he inadvertently coined a word which can be used with a greater scope than he intended, namely to signify the ability to read texts of all kinds in many languages at a high level. It is not the first time unpolished anarchists like me have taken over something intended for some grand and noble purpose and used it for their own petty projects - which in my case could be reading stuff about supernovas and Napoleon and sea urchins in a number of languages. Actually I have one timid defense, namely that I in former geological periods did read books of the required kind in at least Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, English, German, French, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Latin and Romanian*, so given that this should be enough to corroborate my claim to the coveted title I think it is time for me to relax with something as vile and primitive and base and undignified as sci mags and print-outs from Wikipedia.

* and right now I'm reading The Lord of the Rings in Esperanto. Maybe not exactly what profArguelles had in mind, but for something cathegorized as literature it isn't too bad.

Edited by Iversen on 19 August 2011 at 1:26pm

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Zwlth
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 Message 7 of 49
19 August 2011 at 10:51am | IP Logged 
Iversen, you really didn't need to respond at all since you are not a practitioner of polyliteracy. But, you've made your point: you are deliberately trivializing this matter, just as you admitted to intentionally obfuscating every point I made about the important difference between being multilingual and being a polyglot in that other thread. May I draw your attention for a second time to the fact that this room is specifically set apart for the discussion of such matters? If you have nothing to bring to them but dismissive mockery, then I will thank you very kindly to refrain from joining in any further. I started this thread hoping for some sincere common contemplation of a question of great importance to me, and I would much rather spend my time engaging in that pursuit with Volte and her ilk than in warding off your jeers and jests.

Volte, I'm sure that with your obvious interest as well as your wide knowledge of sources, you will some day become a practitioner of polilteracy if you are not one already. Before I was able to read major works in a variety of their original tongues, I felt just as you do, i.e., that it was a waste of time and energy to attempt to engage more than one at a time. But, having developed that ability, I find myself almost compelled to attempt this for the sake of the languages. And, I find to my delight, I am able to engage in it simultaneously in what I now find, to my surprise upon re-reading about this "law," to be a nice round 1/2 of the languages that I could conceivably choose to do it in at any time.

As to reading in more than "7" languages, of course that is possible, particularly if one isolates the skill and includes all the "in the bargain" related languages as separate in the count as well. But, when you really knuckle down and get into developing them to peak performance, then I'm not so sure anymore. Being able to get the gist of a short and light piece is one thing, especially if you can check a dictionary when needed, but being able to consume and cogitate upon a lengthy and substantive tome without any recourse to a lexicon is another thing altogether.

Thus, the most interesting food for thought in the quote you provided was the statement that:   "The least demanding skill is normally reading." It is not just the oft-quoted Gethin and Gunnemark who say this. I suspect that there is a fairly wide consensus on this matter. I used to think so, too, but I don't anymore. Reading seems to be the least demanding because it is a passive rather than a productive skill, and because you can usually take your time with it, re-read, and look things up as you go along. However, spoken language, even at the highest level, uses only about half of the vocabulary of written language, particularly well-written language. Even when you yourself are writing, you are never compelled to use words that you do not know, so you remain comfortably within the confines of a relatively limited active vocabulary. All in all, you can converse (i.e., speak and understand spoken language) and write fluently with a vocabulary of only about 10,000 word families. However, in order to read a Great Book, you probably need to know 20,000+. Granted, part of that additional recognition can be passive, but part cannot. And, these additional words past 10,000 are all going to be less-commonly-used words, which are, by definition, harder to assimilate.

That's where extensive reading comes in, for this is the only way to get enough exposure to this kind of word for them to ultimately stick. Hence the constraint, I suppose, and hence the limitation to being able to do it with "only" a handful of languages at a time, humbling as that may be for "super polyglots" who can range much more widely than that if not digging into classic texts.

Think about it, even in a basic monolingual context in contemporary society: everyone can converse, and everyone can write something on the order of an information report (though not an expository argument), and while everyone can read an action-packed, heart-thumping, page-turning best-seller, very few can read a Great Book. Reading at this level is clearly already a more demanding skill than any of the others. Add more languages, and thus a much greater vocabulary range, and you will obviously make it even more difficult. In conclusion, far from being the least demanding skill, reading at the level of polyliteracy is the most demanding of all language skills.
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Iversen
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 Message 8 of 49
19 August 2011 at 12:49pm | IP Logged 
Zwlth wrote:
Iversen, you really didn't need to respond at all since you are not a practitioner of polyliteracy. But, you've made your point: you are deliberately trivializing this matter, just as you admitted to intentionally obfuscating every point I made about the important difference between being multilingual and being a polyglot in that other thread. May I draw your attention for a second time to the fact that this room is specifically set apart for the discussion of such matters? If you have nothing to bring to them but dismissive mockery, then I will thank you very kindly to refrain from joining in any further.


Unlike Zwlth I have been here long enough to have discussed certain points of language learning with Professor Arguelles himself, but unlike Zwlth he didn't see any diverging opinions as 'trivializing' or 'obfuscating' or 'dismissive mockery'. Sometimes the disciples become more fundamentalistic than the master (whom I greatly respect).


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