Power of language?

Linguist   Fri Jul 06, 2007 7:49 pm GMT
Hi all!

I ve just saw a very unusual and intresting article at one of Russian sites:

My poor translation is as follows:
Schoolchildren who know Russian language have more chances to be successful in education then those who don't speak language of Pushkin and Dostoyevsky. Researchers from Israeli town of Haifa made such conclusion.

Reading and writing skills in Russian before school give great advantage in knowledge absorbing, sais professor Mila Schwarz.

As the research showed, schoolchildren who know at least something about Russian grammar show higher results then other children of their age who speak only Hebrew or another languages. By the way, spoken Russian skills don't give such advantage.

Schwarz explains this "enigma" by extraodinary linguistic complexity of Russian language.

Research showed also, that even reading skills in Russian only give students advantage in reading in other languages.

What do you think about it?
OïL   Fri Jul 06, 2007 8:03 pm GMT
... which is a little bit ironic since it means that Christians are more successful in a Jewish environment.
Most Russians in Israel are notoriously fake Jews who pretended to be just to get a visa in the late 80's!
die Wahrheit   Fri Jul 13, 2007 5:01 am GMT
Well, I don't know if the article is correct, but I have to admit that learning Russian really helped me learn other languages...

Growing up in the United States, the only grammar courses I received were very basic in nature. I knew what the parts of speech were...but I didn't really understand or appreciate how they interacted with each other in language. When I started learning Russian, I began to see how all those things I learned as a child really worked and how to use them.

I stopped learning Russian soon after, but thanks to Russian...I had a new understanding of grammar that helped me learn several languages and establish a career in linguistics because I was able to learn their grammars very easily.
Anechka   Fri Jul 13, 2007 6:48 pm GMT
"extraodinary linguistic complexity of Russian language."

I believe that this is somewhat of a myth; not that I can judge very well being a native speaker, but I have honestly never viewed Russian to be incredibly complex language from the grammatical point of view. Were there some specific points they made about it (I checked the original article, but it also says nothing about it), as in what precisely that complexity consists of?

'cause honestly, to me, Russian is one nice, perfectly logical and fairly easy language. I fail to see what is so mysteriously complex about it that it would affect one's cognitive abilities greatly knowing it.
die Wahrheit   Fri Jul 13, 2007 8:40 pm GMT
For some languages that do not use a case system as heavily as languages like Greek, Russian, and Finnish, it may seem difficult at first to learn these languages because of the lack of understanding of grammar and its function.

Most people know what a noun is. It is a person, place, thing, or abstract concept. But most people do not know how the noun changes in language usage.

I am going to use English as my example because I am a native English speaker...

A) Jim played with the ball.
B) Jim played with John's ball.

Most native English speakers can look at these two sentences and tell you that Jim is a noun and is the subject of the sentence, to play is the verb and it is the action of the sentence, with is a preposition, the is an article, and ball is a noun and is the object of the sentence.

However, if you asked the average native English speaker which of these words is in the nominative, the genitive, and the accusative...do not be surprised when they cannot answer your question. They are not stupid! Like most native English speakers, they do not know that nominative = the subject of the sentence, genitive = the possession in the sentence, and accusative = the object of the sentence because in English we do not use these words because we do not use cases to show functions...we use word order to show function.
When English speakers learn case-system based languages...they get frustrated because they think they are learning new grammar rules. The truth is, they already know the grammar rules, but don't know it yet. They just need to learn the terminology.

Джим играл с мячом.

This is a very simple sentence. However, many English speakers have a difficult time with it because they are think too hard...they get all frustrated and confused because in their heads they think "Jim is the subject, the subject = nominative case, the noun that ends with a consonant, it is a masculine noun, masculine nouns are left alone in the nominative case...ball is the object, object = accusative case, it ends in a consonant, it is a masculine noun, masculine nouns that end with a consonant add "om" in the accusative case...with is a preposition, it causes nouns to be written in the accusative case...to play is the verb, it is in the past tense, past tense verbs add "л"..."

You might laugh but I am willing to bet this is pretty close to the average thought process for such a simple sentence. Once a person becomes accustomed to these rules, it becomes easier and faster for them. Eventually, that entire mental process happens in a blink of an eye...but until it does, people might think that it is a very difficult language to learn because there is a lot of thinking involved.
Katie   Tue Jul 17, 2007 2:29 am GMT
Oh, thank you very much,it was very-very interesting I learned a lot from your post. I am an English language fan, but I learned Russian as well and I am about to brush up my Russian knowledge again. Since my native language is an agglutinativ language, learning Russian gave me also great experience.
Franco   Wed Jul 18, 2007 9:10 am GMT
If knowing a language with complex grammar boosts intellect, what about knowing a language of simple grammar, like Spanish (or , more related to native language, for clarification)?

Does it mean , someone knowing 2 unrelated languages is more intelligent (linguistically, average) than someone knowing 2 related?
edo   Wed Jul 18, 2007 5:55 pm GMT
Even if you buy Guest's nonsense (i.e., ignoring Cervantes, Borges, Goya, etc.), what about Chinese? Chinese grammar is even simpler than Spanish (no cases, conjugations, tenses, plural markings, etc.). To say that their are no artists, inventors, etc. throughout the long Chinese history is either ignorance or prejudice.
furrykef   Wed Jul 18, 2007 6:16 pm GMT
I'm not sure I'd call Christopher Columbus a genius, at least in the English sense of the word.

There is zero correlation between grammatical complexity and intellect. If there were any, Native Americans and Australian Aborigines would dominate science, because their languages are extremely complex! The stereotype of Indians speaking in monosyllables couldn't be more wrong.

I'm not sure that Spanish has a "simple" grammar. My Spanish grammar book is pretty fat. I still don't even fully understand when to use the simple preterite and when to use the imperfect, and that's a fairly basic grammatical point.

- Kef
Franco   Thu Jul 19, 2007 8:44 am GMT
Spanish grammar is relatively simple. It's not a cake-baking class, however, just must have patience.
Anechka   Thu Jul 19, 2007 9:26 am GMT
Franco, I would not quite agree that Spanish (or Italian, as I cannot speak Spanish so I feel more comfortable speaking about a language I know) grammar is "simple", rather, I would name them to be "different".

What most people see in Russian are the notorious declensions. Declensions, declensions, yes, but the sole presence of declensions does not make the language hard. And alright, vocabulary does not overlap with the English one as much, but...

Those same people tend to neglect the fact that Russian has few tenses, or, for example, that it does not use subjunctive - things such as the subjunctive of the pluperfect in Russian simply do not exist... whilst they do in Italian. Those same people also tend to neglect the "continuum" of Russian through the areas it spreads, i.e. the significant lack of dialectal diversity, which means that you can always get understood and understand people in any Russian-speaking area - on the other hand, look at one little Italy with its dialects which are not always mutually intelligible, some of them could be classified as languages. So see, in a way, one eats the another, and the presence of some hard aspects of Russian (I hear that foreigners have problems with perfective/imperfective aspect, as well as with declensions) guarantees that in some aspects it is also easy compared to the languages traditionally considered "easy", such as Italian or Spanish.

Russian is my native language, but seriously, I have *never* considered it a ridiculously hard, complex language, impossible to learn, nor felt "gifted" for the fact that I spoke Russian. In fact, I always tended to view Croatian (which was also my native language) to be much harder, and I have achieved fluency in Italian only when I moved to Italy - not before - and I have never understood the "Italian is easy" stereotype.

The "problem" with Italian or Spanish is, in my view, that those are the languages which give you very fast, good start. When you start them, they are ridiculously easy, it is all about "ciao" and "come stai", logical spelling with the same writing system, and you get huge discount on vocabulary (speaking for the native speakers of English). You can progress quickly at the beginning and you are taken away by the good feeling of it... until you reach a certain point where it gets hard, for those are the languages easy to get basic knowledge of, but hard to just "jump" to advanced stage. Then it seems to you for ages that you are stuck "in-between", not having reached the actual fluency, but having a pretty good grasp of the language. That is how I had with Italian for a while, right after having finished the formal side of studying (having done the entire grammar, etc), and it was just frustrating. I felt as if I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, despite de facto "knowing" a language.

Russian is, from the experiences of foreigners I have met, precisely the opposite thing - harsh beginning, hard to get used to the language, and the initial phases of learning are quite hard; but then at some point it starts to get easier and easier, and the "in-between" barrier is easier to overcome - the only real obstacle is vocabulary which is largely not similar to English.

So see, a lot of people give up Russian in those initial phases, which then creates an urban myth of how insanely hard language Russian is, whilst in reality, it might not be at all.

Only my views, though.
Franco   Thu Jul 19, 2007 9:37 am GMT
Да, ты права. Но я никогда не говорил, что русский язык трудный. На самом деле, я придуривался, потому что я считаю эту статью ерундой! Я не думаю, что знания русского языка сделает тебя умным. (ну, у меня некоторые знания русского, и я довольно умен,... может быть, эта статья и права... ха ха ха)

Не важно на каком языке ты говоришь... это не имеет никакого отношение к интеллекту.

Как бы то ни было, когда Путин станет президентом мира, всем придется учить русский язык.
Guest   Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:28 am GMT
Franco, you know nothing about Russian politics.
Dr Cojute   Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:42 am GMT
somethings that languages can do

better memory
decreases risk of dementia
better at mathematics and logical thinking
Anechka   Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:51 am GMT
from Franco: "На самом деле, я придуривался, потому что я считаю эту статью ерундой!"

I agree.