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Re: “Language: Innate or Invented?

One in every three secondary school leavers failed in English, year after year, decade after decade. This seriously affected their career prospect in an age of global economy. I gave up a HK$2.5m directorate job in the Government, took early retirement and set up Le Beaumont Language Centre (2004-14) as a teaching and research base. We were the first ones to merge language study with neuroscience. I was particularly impressed by Charles Nelson's findings on the neurogenesis of the neurons in the Broca's area which peaked out at the end of the 9th month after birth. We admitted infants one month after birth into our multilingual playgroup. They embarked on a 5-nation tour, an hour a day, Monday to Friday, conducted by graduate teachers from England, France, Spain, Germany, Japan and or China. The babies all grew up into linguistic geniuses by the age of 3. They were super intelligent. We also observed how 12,000 kids of different ages acquired different number of languages for different durations with different outcomes, burning HK$112m in 10 years.

The Beaumont Study (2004-14) is probably the most important study after the classic Abecedarian Study (1972-77) in the past century. For 10 years, we observed at close distance how a large number of infants acquired languages.

The following are our key findings.
1. The brain is made up of billions of neurons and trillions of synapses. A memory is formed when 2 neurons connect in a synapse. The brain is a huge memory base.
2. Language is made up of 2 components, a sound database developed from interaction with people during the first 9 months after birth, and a matching software inherited from the genes. The sound database and the matching software form the voice recognition system.
3. The voice recognition system is at the 'developmental' mode during the first 9 months. It can recognize the sounds of whatever language the infant interacts with and input them into his voice database. The baby is only interested in sounds, not in meaning. Grammar does not come into the picture.
4. The voice recognition system is at the 'application' mode from the 10th month onwards when the baby begins to imitate sounds. He 'recognizes' the sound he hears by matching the incoming soundbites with those in the voice database.
5. You 'hear' what the matching software can find in the voice database. If the incoming sound cannot be found in the voice database, its looks for the nearest sound in the voice database. This is what you 'hear' and what you imitate. This minor distortion of sounds gives rise to ascents.
6. All languages are built on sounds made from mouth. Sounds made with mouth opened are called vowels. The mouth can only make limited number of shapes, flat or round, wide opened, half-opened, or relaxed. It gives rise to the 5 cardinal vowels, which were first recorded in Latin, now shared by languages from English to Japanese. You can find the 5 cardinal vowels in practically all languages in the world.
7. A language is the outcome of a natural developmental process, based on the manipulation of our data from our memory, or learning process. Language starts from the memory of sounds to form phonemes in the first year, the association of sounds with objects and actions to form vocabulary in the 2nd year, and the application of the memory of patterns of usage to form grammar in the 3rd year. We have observed our polyglots compressing the time scale in the 3 processes involved. But the sequence is the same.
8. Even IQ is the application of the database of dynamic memories acquired during interaction with people, in games, in life experience and in problem solving.

Conclusion
The Beaumont Study discovered the following,
1. A biological basis for language development, i.e. the language neurons, which are designed to record voice. The timeline of the developmental path was first identified by Charles Nelson. Joan Stiles pointed out that language neurons used during the first 9 months were fed and kept and those not used were deprived of nutrition and perished with time.
2. The brain is but a huge storage space of gargantuan proportion. The contents are input from the child's interaction with the outside world.
5. Like the computer, there are 2 types of memories,
a) Memories in the Central Processing Unit forming the Operating System. The developmental process of this type of memory is time sensitive. It is related to the exponential growth of functional neurons in the early years, viz. the first 3 months for vision; the first 9 months for language; and the first 3 years for cognition.
b) Memories in the hard disc, which is not time sensitive.
6. Language acquisition is a deceptively simple process in memory. The only thing we inherited from our genes is a simple matching mechanism for the operating systems, for vision, language or cognition. It is void of any contents. Chomsky's grammar genes is an adult's postulation of a much simpler process in the language development of a baby.

Sam TS Chow
Founder, Le Beaumont Language Centre (2004-14)
Love to hear from you! samtschow@gmail.com

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Posted by email on 09/29/2016 at 6:17 PM

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