Friday, January 25, 2013

On more "things coming clear"

We're in Session 12 of Phase 1B, or about half way through Phase 1B, and well over half way through the First 100 hours, aiming for ten hours a week. A week or two into it, I wrote about how so much Potwari speech that was "mud to our hears" kept coming clearer--popping into focus--referring to both the sounds of Potwari and the individual words that we were focusing on (for example, in "Where is the man" the focus would be on the word "man").

More weeks have passed.

In recent sessions we're rejoicing that so much more detail is "coming clear". Our interactions with our nurturer are often long and complex and "natural" (within the restricted context of the particular activity, of course, but increasingly also in "meta-activity" comments while the kitchen timer ticks down during a "monolingual twenty minutes" or whatever). Now most of the other details (person, number, gender markings, oblique case markings, various function words) are "coming clear" much of the time. Based on what I concluded in doing my dissertation, I don't expect these grammatical elements to become "active" in our comprehension systems all at once. I'm convinced that that happens gradually over years. But neither are they "mud" to our ears. In that sense they are active--just not doing their actual jobs yet. They are not just filtered out as we listen, which I attribute in part to the structured input activities (and input flood nature of many other activities).

There is a lot of mystery in all this. Angela and I hold that our initial "L2 processor" is just the "L1 processor" (which Brian McWhinney also said somewhere), and it slowly develops an alternative system that gets better and better at processing the new language. (In the terms of those uncommon readers of this blog who like Universal Grammar, they could take this to mean that there is "full transfer; indirect access".) There is just no way we could be understanding and producing (with the help of nurture scaffolding) the amount and variety of speech that we are if we were starting from scratch--if this were our L1. That took years! So something in there is letting us do this in our L2 (well, L6, I guess) and I would say it is my L1 processor (with no small help from my L3, Urdu processor). What is happening in there is much, much too complex and language-dedicated to be the work of some general processor. Give me a break! But in any case, is it ever satisfying to see it happening once again! As I said in my dissertation thirteen years ago, "A self-aware, psycholinguistically literate second language learner is justified in marvelling at how soon the wall of sound starts to serve as a window—if perhaps a smoked-up window—to meaning."

I think many GPs marvel at the Phase 1 experience as well, but may not express it so pompously.