Is there a limit to how many languages you can learn?

fluffykef   Thu Aug 02, 2007 9:31 pm GMT
Guest   Thu Aug 02, 2007 10:08 pm GMT
The brain can only store a finite amount of information, so yes.
K. T.   Fri Aug 03, 2007 12:56 am GMT
I have no idea how much information the brain can store. This seems to vary widely. Ever meet a savant? Ever meet anyone REALLY bright? My point is this: Storage isn't the problem; it's getting all the information in there during a lifetime.
die Wahrheit   Fri Aug 03, 2007 2:16 am GMT
I have heard that there are tests you can do to measure a person's aptitude for learning languages.

I know that the United State's government has something called the DLAB (Defense Language Aptitude Battery), which measures a person's ability to learn a language on a scale of 0-5.

"The Modern Language Aptitude Test or MLAT was the outcome of a five-year research study at Harvard University and is published by the Psychological Corporation. This test provides an indication of a student's probable degree of success in learning a foreign language. It predicts their potential for learning to speak and understand a foreign language and for learning to read, write, and translate a foreign language."

What is interesting is that the results of these tests "can" be used to limit the number languages a person can learn.

These exams are designed to estimate your language learning capability, and then range them to specific learning criteria needed for specific languages.

A person might discover that they show great potential for learning a Slavic language but might struggle with learning a Romance language. Now does this mean that this same person cannot learn a Romance language? No it does not. It means the results show that this person might struggle with learning a Romance language for some reason.

The accuracy of these exams is impressive. In fact, they are being used more and more by international companies, government, and the education system here in the United States.
Guest   Fri Aug 03, 2007 2:19 am GMT
1) The brain is of finite size, with a finite number of simple elementary particles, so there is a definite and finite limit to how much information can be stored in it.

2) The input bandwith into the brain is of finite speed, and a person's lifetime is also finite.

3) There's a finite number of "real" languages currently on Earth to learn, and I assume we can rule out non-Earth langauges.

So, clearly there must be a limit on the number of languges that can be learned. Item (3) is probably the easiest to guess (some 1000s of languages, I suppose, would be the upper limit.) Only someone with a real knack for languages could learn so many.

In my case, the limit is one, BTW.
K. T.   Fri Aug 03, 2007 2:59 am GMT
Interesting links, Die Wahrheit. Thanks!
die Wahrheit   Fri Aug 03, 2007 3:46 am GMT
Well, there are many sites out there on this topic...I just google searched and put down the first few hits.
die Wahrheit   Fri Aug 03, 2007 4:12 am GMT
Also, I do not know if we can say there are a "finite number of real languages..."

When I think of the word finite, I think of having measurable limits. And I do not think this is true with language. There may be a countable number of natural languages at a given time, but that number is not finite because this number may shrink, and this number may grow.

Using English as an example:

If you traveled back to the year could say there were a finite number of languages also, however just 100 years later there was a new language being spoken...Old English.

With mass communication taking place across the world, I do not think that we can possibly predict what the future looks like. Some languages may die, some languages may blend, and some new languages may come to be.

This in my opinion means that we cannot use the word "finite" because there the defined boundaries aren't so defined.
Franco   Fri Aug 03, 2007 7:26 am GMT
There is no limit to languages you can know (to learn, yes there's limits), for when it's invented, memory sticks for human brain, it will be the same as a flash drive. Just plug it in, and full languages abound!
Dawie   Fri Aug 03, 2007 12:25 pm GMT
There's absolutely no evidence that the physical size of your brain limits how much data you can store in it.

The truth is that scientists still have no idea how memories are stored in the brain. Trying to use the paradigm of a computer with a human brain is just silly. The brain is not like a hard disk drive with a finite limit.
Guest   Fri Aug 03, 2007 1:09 pm GMT
I think one (1) is the limit for me. :)
die Wahrheit   Fri Aug 03, 2007 2:02 pm GMT
I think another point to consider is what does it mean to "learn a language."

I am a native English speaker who has been around the German language my entire life. In fact, I am willing to say that English and German have been pretty equal in my life, but I feel that I am still "learning both these languages."

I am always running into situations were I do not know a word or phrase. And to make matters worse, I am at that age were the mind is starting to get a little foggy.
furrykef   Fri Aug 03, 2007 2:19 pm GMT
I'd like to point out that the original poster of the thread is not me. (Not that I think there's that much scope for confusion... I'd never start a thread and put only a question mark in the body. I'm much too verbose to do that!)

<< There's absolutely no evidence that the physical size of your brain limits how much data you can store in it. >>

Sure there is. The amount of information is limited by the number of neurons and synapses. You could only do so much with a brain that has only four neurons. The same applies to a brain with a trillion neurons, though you can obviously do much, much, MUCH more with it. ;)

But we have no idea how much information the brain can store, and you're definitely right that it isn't as simple as hard drive storage. The human brain is not composed of bits and bytes -- at least, not the same kinds.

- Kef
Franco   Fri Aug 03, 2007 10:25 pm GMT
Soon we will have supercomputers to simulate the brain, and think and feel as humans. The brain is analogous to computer.
die Wahrheit   Sat Aug 04, 2007 12:43 am GMT
Hmm...even computers have trouble with languages.

Just try to use an on-line translator ;-)