A linguistic Trio – part 3 – della Chiesa

Bruno della Chiesa

If I may for a moment make a librarian analogy, the talk of della Chiesa compared to the other two was a bit like when I looked at information literacy from a more philosophical view rather than a model and implementation view.  Neither is more important than the other. Language doesn’t happen without the daily practicalities of getting enough speaking, reading and writing in, but it’s also necessary at times to look back at the cosmos and say “why do we bother anyway?”. Because let’s face it, at times it feels like a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of money…

So this was a nice little reminder of why.

Della Chiesa warmed us up with some quotes and background to the idea that each additional language you speak adds to one’s ability to understanding and seeing patterns and enlarges our SCC (shared cultural charges). He introduced the concept of Doxa “the ‘box’ of ‘thinking outside the box'” and how language allows us to recognise the existence of Doxa.  He then contrasted the old ‘army’ method of learning language which relied on stimulus / response and contrasted that with a ‘motivational vortex hypothesis’ whereby learning language via immediate family, media exposure, formal and informal learning all contribute to a self-reinforcing intrinsic motivation to learn and improve.  His statement that the worst enemy of learning was fear, struck a deep and personal chord with me, reflecting on one of my children’s experiences of Chinese bilingual immersion.

However, the fear he was referring to also encompassed the fear of the “other” of “them”, a type of xenophobia which included the Doxa of superiority and contempt.  Although one of the ways in which national and cultural identity is formed and reinforced is through that very process of convincing one’s citizens of their commonality and superiority.

He then said that one had to “choose between being a good citizen and being a good human being”.  I found that very interesting given the ‘global nomad’ existence of our student population (and my family). Is it possible that in this group of people wandering around the world, where with each successive generation (and it does seem that third culture kids are somewhat more likely to keep roaming the world) there is less connection to the original idea of state, and therefore there is more possibility of being a good human being?  Or are we just a bunch of people seeking better economic possibility unfettered by the demands of identity and nationality and the potential of being called to the next location before making an impact on the last?

He then came up with some very magnificent spirals along 4 areas, space (as the ‘mathematical’ / real dimension), learning, language and culture and exposited how in each realm one moved from a “universal” potential to a “meta” or “supra” ability and then finally (this is very buddhist) got to the point where there was a superceding of individual excellence or ability to an awareness of the commonality in each realm.  This is rather poorly illustrated in the table below – with the promise that when we get access to the presentation I’ll make a better attempt.

0 / pre Dimension
Universal potential to learn
Universal grammar / potential to learn language
Universal habitus
Phoneme / grapheme / morpheme
Facts / patterns
3rd Dimension
Skills & know how (creative)
Habitus (integrated rules)
4th Dimension
Supra linguistic grammar (commonalities)
Supra cultural habitus
Self awareness
Meta-linguistic awareness
Global awareness

We then had an interesting but brief Q&A session where the role of language at the college and in our community was discussed. (An aside – a month or so ago, the head of our Dover campus wrote in his newsletter, a school can express its desire to make a impact in different ways. At UWCSEA it has been through service.  At his previous school it was through language.)

What do I think?  I think it’s great. I think that yet again it was a presentation to the wrong audience – our language teachers SO understand and get and know all this stuff.  But their hands are tied to 4 or 5 lesson periods a week and a place where language is just not a priority.

I also wonder if one could reach the “4th dimension” in any one of the realms (learning, language or culture) without reaching it in all.  This harps back to the whole Maurice Carder discussion of CALP – for if one doesn’t have a CALP level in language could you have it in thinking and learning, let alone culture?  So I think that every school would like to think that they are leading their students to the 4th dimension and beyond in what they do, I suspect for some this whole exercise results in remaining in the first circle of hell, the limbo of no sophisticated language or culture and where learning is stunted at factual knowledge or information stage.

Further reading:
Languages in a global world. 

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