Language Uptake – Programming – On Learning to Listen

Note: I have the gross disadvantage of zero funding for the library-related scholarly journal reading that would be immensely helpful in sorting out the dimensions and details applicable to the earliest experience of sound and the infant’s ability to bring meaning and sense to what is heard.  The costs are those of subscription, first, and the cost of covering labor in time required for narrow reading off the Hollywood-bound track — I’d think it much more pleasurable to settle into a novel for a long Sunday in early spring.

From the first abstract glimpsed on the web, it appears what we may know of infantile listening we may have to infer from adult second-language learning, .e.g, Taylor & Francis Online :: Language awareness: A learner‐centred view – Language Awareness – Volume 3, Issue 3-4 (1994).

A glance at the contents the classic Language Experience and Early Language Development: From Input to Uptake – Margaret Harris – Google Books tells too that researchers, if not now at least then, took an adversarial and polarized approach to discerning fundamentals in broad ways, so I may glean from the first chapter second section title, “A Historical Perspective: The Chomsky-Skinner Debate.”

One or the other?


For I would suggest that decision-making related to listening may be (must be) the infant’s second challenge, the first being to notice that some sounds may be more important for pleasure or survival than others:

I. What to listen to;

II. What to acquire

A. How to treat acquisition

Skipping section I — I can do that: no one’s grading me 🙂 — I may suggest one acquires what is pleasing, say mother’s voice ingested with nourishment (my shorthand for some part of the verbal abuse involved in the middle east conflict has been “Not mother’s milk; mother’s tongue”), the sound of music, the repeated voices and sounds of the household, including the “primal experience” which perhaps we are lucky for not having access to recollection, for one might note also the presence of unpleasant sonic experiences — yelling, fighting, the loud thumps and crashing of things being broken.  I should think with the ears active that we would pay attention to those sounds too.

II.A is the bear — how to treat what is important to remember.  In that we cannot program ourselves, much less our infant selves, until we have comprehension of ourselves in language, i.e., have the achievement of advanced abstracted adult understanding, it may stand to reason that we nonetheless passively apply a limited choice of possibilities to sounds we have come to know.

We may echo or parrot a sound, for example.

Sidetrack: the parts of sound: attack (onset); pitch, modulation, length, timbre, variance; amplitude and shape; decay (diminishment to event end).

We may for boredom or out of the caprice of an active intelligence “bend the parrot” some — dada, dad, daddy, daoud, dah, dah dah, all the dooh dah day — and not be far off the original feel of the particle obtained by frequent encounter in the presence of infantile ambition.

This is not Skinner and what’s reinforced: it’s the spontaneous enjoyment of achievement (acquisition of a sound) and invention (playing with it some); and it’s not Chomsky, who perhaps has looked for a rule where the rule is natural wildness, effusion, abundance (for the infant and many adults, of time at least), and plain sheer dumb luck.  One might be born into the Pirahã so well explored by Daniel Everett and, without awareness of it, finding one’s self happier, less encumbered, less fretful with a language efficiently fit to one’s immediate and only cultural and ecological environment, or one might be born into the genteel of the 112+ nations that access this blog (annually, so far) and discover the depths of human sorrow and tragedy while nonetheless acquiring between two to half a dozen or more useful languages abetting survival (in academia, business, or politics) worldwide.

There’s a third way — I’ll it Anymom’s Language Way: a melange of what works in conversation with migrated family — in mine, mostly English sprinkled with German, Polish, Hebrew, and Yiddish expression, often in a single sentence, such has been the fate of multilingual immigrant households from the dawn of speech and its interactions with conflicts and famines, that force people to move, take their languages with them, and interact with strange tongues.  However, unlike the contents of a suitcase, language is biological, a suspension of repeated chemical reactions and virtual channels active and contained in mind — and the infant listener within the adults has, perhaps, never stopped listening, inferring, experimenting, testing, enjoying.

Kick that infant out of his land of birth, place him among strangers at age 35, more or less, and watch him go.  There’s no language like one’s first (I so dread settling into learning Hebrew, so much so I may never do it . . . I have taught, however, a semester of English as a Second Language, and that to the most wonderful students in the Washington area . . . once upon a time and very long ago), but the acquisition pattern — Listening First! Rule-basing (decisions shaping individual functional and social grammar approximating an ideal language — specific language — grammar) — may not change IF (ever) we may agree on the natural process from the minute the ears provide the fetus with an aural experience.



Combining (x need x want x emotion x effect within the mind (sonic rehearsal within hallucinatory interior imagining) x social effect (yield).

Did the baby get fed?

Did the comedian get the laugh?

Did the filmmaker get the tears at the SMPT (time code) frame or moment intended?

Did the comrade rally the troops?

Inventing — New World?  New words; new word style.

* * *

In encounters online with anti-Semitic ranting and Far Left agitprop, I’ve detected some dependency on parroting.

The politician’s “Big Lie”, the politicos sloganeering may tap that dimension within the language learner who has emphasized memorization and socially exciting and yet safe expression by plugging in familiar strings, like that having to do with the brutal-criminal-fascist-regime in Tel Aviv.  (Yes, it’s sad: some people really do talk like that, obsessively and excessively).

At the moment, so this will date an otherwise evergreen page, the Delusional Narcissistic Reflection of Motivation taking place in Moscow would have the world believe that the nationalist drive belongs to the Ukrainians (and their thugs) when, in fact, Putin and United Russia (add Sergei Aksyonov) represent precisely the mafia-type nationalist fascism of interest.

A close friend of mine says the same thing in colloquial Baltimorese: “The guy pointing the finger ought to point it back at himself.”

What the open democratic multicultural society may call “hate speech” may also represent an early discovered, learned, invented pattern in language that takes advantage of trope to facilitate its communicating while trimming the energy and time required to speak.  After programming (by way of the individual’s discerned rules of listening), the script and the routine of it eases the passage through life — as much has been expected or promised in the learning process.

Referencing Hanah Arendt here (The Life of the Mind: Volume I – Thinking), that method in listening reflects what she has found elsewhere: thoughtless in speech.  Loud, vigorous, full of emotion — feels good! — but in political agitprop, in “hate speech”, in formulations intended to shock audiences into action, the brutal, criminal, illegal, fascist thing turns out the preoccupation with the sound of one’s own voice and behind that, perhaps, emptiness.  

Whether shouted on the street or announced from high office, the accusing banner may have no substance and behind it may stand the individual’s discernment about rules attending having learned how to listen in that person’s way.

Clinically speaking, the lingo ain’t the thought.

Beware the false accusations, slogans, and tropes that become the sound of the absence of thought culture-wide, specifically utterances in the shrill screaming of the thoughtless.

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