Native american language

dihydrogen monoxide

Senior Member
Slovene, Serbo-Croat
I've read a long time ago that there's a native american language where you become fluent in it when you reach the age of nine. I find this weird, so my question would be,
what would be the science behind it and what could make it so. That is so far the only case I know.
 
  • Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    One should always exercise caution before accepting statements about languages. Special caution is required when it comes to statements made a long time ago or about "exotic" languages. I have a book first published in the 1950s which clearly states that Basque has no active voice. Statements about "exotic" languages are often made by those who do not know them well, or indeed at all, or by non-linguists.

    If discussing fluency you have to ask what you mean by it. It is one of those words which we all think we know what it means, but is difficult to define. If you want to measure it it becomes what you decide to measure. Whatever you decide to measure the measuring is going to be tricky. Anyone studying how quickly a child becomes fluent in. say, Navajo and English should ideally speak both fluently and preferably be a native speaker of neither.

    If the age at which a child acquires fluency does vary from language to language one would expect it to depend on the complexity of the language. However, the general but not universal view of linguists is that all languages are more or less equally complex. All languages have the degree of complexity necessary to communicate the sort of things humans want to communicate, but are not so complex that children cannot learn them. If all that is correct, the expectation is that, however you define fluent, speakers of all languages become fluent at the same age.

    It is not clear from what you say whether you find it weird that a nine year old can be fluent in a Native American language or in any language. If the former, is it because you perceive Native American languages as extremely complex? If the latter, perhaps you are equating fluency with mastery.
     

    dihydrogen monoxide

    Senior Member
    Slovene, Serbo-Croat
    I don't find it weird that a nine year old is fluent in a Native American language. I think it said about the language that you master it when you're nine. (doing it from memory). That would be a long time to master a language if you're a native speaker.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Sorry, I misunderstood your first post. I thought you were suggesting that nine was an early age to be fluent. Nine seems very late if you mean something like "with minor exceptions speaks according to the rules of the language". Fluency is not the same thing as mastery. An adult with an extensive vocabulary does not speak more fluently than an adult with a limited vocabulary.

    What you read a long time ago may refer to a child who had only limited exposure to the language or started learning it late. Or it could be a statement about learning how to write the language correctly.

    Since my last post I have done a little Googling which confirms the view that there is no significant difference between languages when it comes to the rate at which the average child makes progress.
     

    Ben Jamin

    Senior Member
    Polish
    If the age at which a child acquires fluency does vary from language to language one would expect it to depend on the complexity of the language. However, the general but not universal view of linguists is that all languages are more or less equally complex.
    In Japan children do not learn the complex rules and expressions of deference, and speak without using them until they learn them as young adults.
    All languages may be equally complex if you arrive at the stage where you have a 100% command of the language, including writing, but most people never gets to that stage using a simplified version of their native tongue.
     

    Hulalessar

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Many societies have social conventions requiring special language in certain cases. Rather than saying that the everyday language is simpler, I think that the situation is better described by saying that the special language has baroque complications which exhibit a high degree of artificiality.

    This thread is about fluency which is not the same thing as mastery. I probably know more Spanish words than the average Spanish five year old. However, the average Spanish five year old speaks Spanish fluently whilst I do not, though I consider I speak it well.
     

    Awwal12

    Senior Member
    Russian
    In Japan children do not learn the complex rules and expressions of deference, and speak without using them until they learn them as young adults.
    In Russians entire classes of words (adverbial participles and a good half of other participles) are virtually absent in colloquial speech and must be properly learned at school; while all Russian speakers passively understand them, the grammatically correct usage of adverbial participles is something which illiterate people often never grasp.
    And while "primitive" languages lack sophisticated written standards, it should be noted that they aren't devoid of different styles of speech, which may incorporate grammatical nuances as well.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Not relating to Amerindian languages, but on the general principle:

    I believe that English children will have recognised the rhythms and intonations of their mother's tongue in the womb, and learnt the basics of grammar by the age of three, but then spend several years learning the detail. Vocabulary of course comes last - we learn that continuously throughout life.

    I once gave a vocabulary test* to French teenagers, some of whom were incredulous to find that they had English vocabularies of 12,000 words, equivalent to a 10-year-old. "Mais je n'ai jamais appris 12 000 mots d'anglais -- ce n'est pas possible !" But this was of course their recognition vocabulary and since some 50% of English is derived from French they were merely recognising shared words.

    *Hunter Diack, Test your own wordpower, Paladin, St Alban's 1975.
     
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