A New Application for Linguistics: Logogenia

Bruna Radelli1

Logogenia is a method whose purpose is to stimulate the acquisition of Spanish, or of any other historic-vocal language, in deaf children and adolescents, allowing them to acquire the ability to understand what they read and to write correctly, in the same way any other hearing contemporary would. I have developed this method on the theoretical basis of generative grammar and I have experimented with, applied and made it known, first in Mexico and later in Italy.

When we speak of deaf people and their education, we often forget to state a basic difference between the deaf who know Spanish and those who do not. People who become deaf after having acquired Spanish do not have a serious linguistic problem because, with respect to written Spanish in particular, they are no different from those who can hear. However, among pre-linguistic deaf people -who were deaf before they acquired the historic-vocal language of the country where they live- it is important to note that only a few of them manage to attain linguistic competence in that language. Some manage to learn many elements of Spanish thanks to enormous efforts -their own, their teachers’ and their therapists’, but even if this greatly enriches their communicative competence, it is almost never enough to get them to acquire linguistic competence in that language. Those who have the ability to make themselves understood in a certain way in a given language manage to do so only because they have learned the lexicon and a limited series of phrases and sentences. They will definitely have communicative competence in that language, but not linguistic competence. Although there are pre-linguistic deaf people, some of whom even suffer from profound deafness, who know Spanish as if they could hear, it is a fact that others do not manage to develop this competence and their use of certain elements of Spanish is limited to communicative or school situations in which they also have information coming from other sources unrelated to the language (from their experience, their knowledge of the world, sign language, images, mimics, etcetera). These deaf people often reject reading, simply because they do not understand what they read. They face serious difficulties at school because they cannot understand textbooks and their writing is fairly basic and sometimes unintelligible.

It is possible to describe the situation of the deaf “who do not know Spanish” in more appropriate terms: although they have communicative competence, they have not developed linguistic competence over Spanish. For communicative competence, it might be enough to have learned the lexicon, as well as certain phrases and sentences of the language and a few mechanical procedures for forming them. For linguistic competence, it is also necessary to have the ability to recognize syntactic meanings. Let us consider the following examples:

1 a) The notebook hides the book.
1 b) The book hides the notebook.
2 a) She does love work.
2 b) She does lovely work.
3 a) I like blackbirds.
3 b) I like black birds.
4 a) I arrived with the owner and the manager of the factory (I arrived with two people).
4 b) I arrived with the owner and manager of the factory (I arrived with one person).
5 a) *Ana is photographing Maria upside-down.

In order to understand the difference in meaning between sentences a) and b) of examples 1, 2, 3 and 4 it is not enough to know the meaning of the words that constitute them, it is also necessary to take into account the syntactic information they contain. This is the nonlexical information that is conveyed by means of the sentence structure itself. The fact that the sentences of a language have a structure, and that this structure conveys information, is clearly shown in sentence 5 a) It is an ambiguous sentence (as indicated by the “#”symbol) because upside-down might refer either to Maria or Ana. What happens in this case is that the same word sequence corresponds to two different sentences: one in which it can be interpreted that Ana is upside down, because upside-down is related to Ana, and another in which Maria is upside down, because upside-down is related to Maria. It must be noted that syntax does not allow the use of this same structure to say that they are both upside-down

For every the sentence of the language to have a meaning, it is necessary to perceive its structure. It is the structure that conveys syntactic information by means of small “signs”, like word order in 1, word form in 2, intonation (reflected in spelling) in 3 and the presence or absence of an element (“the”) in 4. These signs, as well as a few others, convey syntactic information, and those who do not understand this or know how to make use of it do not have linguistic competence, even if they may have good communicative competence.

The objective of logogenia may now be more clearly delimited: to instill linguistic competence in the deaf who, in spite of their having been educated in Spanish, have only communicative, but not linguistic competence. Corroborating that there are deaf people who know Spanish and deaf people who do not is perhaps the first step in facing a problem that is often underestimated and even overlooked, but whose consequences are felt at every level of school and in every situation: for the deaf who do not know Spanish, this is a serious and deep disadvantage which adds to their sensory disability and is often misinterpreted.

Acquiring a language is a process and it is very different from learning one. The logogenia method intends to activate in the deaf an acquisition process of Spanish that is as similar as possible to the natural process of language acquisition developed in all children during the first years.

During the past several years, a theory of language acquisition has been developed stemming from the theoretical presuppositions of generative grammar, according to which there is an innate biological function that must be activated to allow the brain to develop the ability to understand and produce an infinite number of sentences in the language to which it is exposed, and to recognize which sentences belong to that language (those that are grammatically correct in that language) and which do not. We can compare the language faculty, for example, to the sense of sight: in the same way sight develops only if the eyes are exposed to light, and not otherwise, the development of the language faculty is activated through exposure to an appropriate input during a critical period. From this point of view, it is possible to distinguish clearly between language learning and language acquisition:

Acquiring a language means being exposed to an adequate input, during the appropriate period, which allows us to develop the faculty that is present in our brains since birth and which is ready to be activated. It is in this way that we achieve the linguistic competence that all the native speakers of a given language have.

Learning a language, in the context of helping deaf children, means learning many things about that language, but without achieving the development of the language faculty. Having explicit and systematized knowledge of certain aspects of a language (learning verb conjugation by heart, for instance, or having learned a wide lexicon, or having learned many phrases and sentences and some mechanisms to build them), does not mean having acquired a language, because this kind of information does not constitute the appropriate linput to determine the development of the innate faculty and, therefore, it does not guarantee that the specific linguistic competence shown by anyone who can produce and understand the examples in this text will be achieved.

Given these assumptions, in the case we want the deaf to acquire a historic-vocal language, we must ask ourselves: a) Is it possible to activate the acquisition process of the language after the period of normal development (0-5 years)?; b) What is the linguistically relevant linput for activating this process?, and c) What is the most appropriate way to expose the deaf to this linput?

The first of these questions has an affirmative answer based on empirical evidence, because there are pre-linguistic profoundly deaf people who have developed linguistic competence in a historic-vocal language, even without having had any previous contact with another language, such as a sign language, for instance. From the theoretical point of view, we must consider the hypothesis that states that the critical period for the activation of some biological faculties (such as sight or language) is in fact longer than the period needed under normal conditions.

The second question requires us to determine which elements of the language are essential for the activation of the acquisition process. As we have seen, linguistic competence has to do with the ability to build and perceive syntactic meanings conveyed through phrase structure by means of small signs. Let us look at some other examples:

6 a) I’d send the letter.
6 b) I’d sent the letter.
7a) The group, led by Maria, began the strike.
7b) The group led by Maria began the strike.
8 a) Only Ana likes pizza.
8 b) Ana only likes pizza.
9 a) It might well be.
9 b) It might be well.

In these examples, it is also the syntactic meanings and not the lexical ones (that is, the meanings of each one of the words) that allow us to distinguish between the a) and b) sentences: again, syntactic information manifests itself by means of small signs, such as the opposition between the forms of a word in 6, between intonation forms -represented in writing by the use of punctuation- in 7, or simply the opposition between word orders as in 8 and 9. If we look at the language from this point of view, we can affirm that all syntactic information (but not only syntactic information) manifests itself through oppositions: the small differences shown in each pair of examples from 1 to 9 change the meaning of the sentences.

The perception of opposition is the basis of all experience and all knowledge. Each perception instrument we have selects, registers, processes a very precise and restricted kind of opposition, without the possibility of working with other kinds: the palate registers oppositions in flavor, but it does not have access to color. The eyes register oppositions in color, but they do not have access to temperature. The nose registers oppositions in smell, but it does not have access to sound waves.

The theory of logogenia and practical experience in that area say that language acquisition develops because we have a biological faculty that perceives, selects, registers and processes strictly and specifically linguistic oppositions. This fact can be seen at several levels -phonetic, lexical or syntactic, to mention the most immediately evident- and logogenia gives pride of place to syntactic oppositions.
In the following examples we show how very slight differences can also turn a grammatical sentence into an ungrammatical one:

10 a) The boy eats the apple.
10 b) * The boy the apple eats.
11 a) The boy eats the apple.
11 b) * The boy eat the apple.
12 a) The boy had a cold.
12 b) * The boy had the cold.
13 a) The boy reads the book.
13 b) * The boy reads book.
14 a) Who is it?
14 b) * Who is it. (declarative intonation)

The relevant linput, which provides acquisition process with all the necessary information for developing the grammar of the language, thus consists of oppositions. These oppositions render syntactic information visible and identifiable: in all the pairs of examples reported up to this point, the difference of a single element corresponds to a difference in meaning or determines whether a sentence is grammatical or ungrammatical. Presenting oppositions through minimal pairs such as the ones seen here allows the clear and precise perception of the syntactic information that is needed for the understanding of a sentence. Let us look at a few more examples:

15a) Draw your finger.
15b) Draw with your finger.
16 a) The cut of the tablecloth is nice.
16 b) * The cut of the tablecloths are nice.
17 a) The cat chased the rat
17 b) The rat chased the cat

What often happens in the case of deaf people who do not have linguistic competence is that they interpret sentences a) and b) above as identical, because in 15 they do not recognize the value of the preposition with; in 16 they do not see the ungrammaticality of the second sentence; and in 17 they do not recognize what limits word order imposes on meaning -since it is more normal for cats to chase rats, that is the interpretation given to both sentences.

Logogenia tries to offer deaf people significant linguistic linput, that is, a series of oppositions expressed through minimal pairs of sentences which differ by a single element, as in all the examples presented up till now. Oppositions are naturally present in the language in which hearing children are ordinarily immersed during their waking hours. In the case of deaf people, on the other hand, linguistically relevant input can be presented to them only for a few hours a week. For this reason, we need a method to make those syntactic oppositions immediately accessible and evident, because they are as necessary as lexical information, or even more so.

To verify unequivocally and in detail the child’s exact understanding of all the information present in the sentence, and, also, to show the meaning of new sentences in an easy way, minimal pairs are presented in the form of written instructions that the child or adolescent must follow. If he or she is unable to carry out the instruction, it is shown to another person, who will execute it in the presence of the child, without any other comment. Here are some examples of these instructions:

18 a) Touch my nose.
18 b) Touch your nose.
19 a) Put the books on the box and open them.
19 b) Put the books on the box and open it.
20 a) Give me the cap of the bottle.
20 b) Give me the cap and the bottle.

The third of the questions posed above was what the most appropriate way to expose a deaf person to this linput would be. Our answer is the written language. In the first place, Spanish is the only means we can possibly use if we want them to acquire Spanish as a mother tongue. In the second place, the written form of the language is the only one that is totally accessible one for deaf people. Logogenia is thus performed in writing, providing deaf children and adolescents with minimal pairs of sentences which allow them to see syntactic oppositions and recognize the meanings that relate to them. This way, even the deaf have access to those aspects of linguistic linput which are essential for activating the natural process of language acquisition.

Once this process is advanced enough, the deaf person can freely access, through reading, all the supplementary linguistic information necessary for building the grammar of the language and achieve a linguistic competence similar to that of hearing people.

The practice of logogenia

Logogenia is essentially linguistics applied to a specific problem, and there are some essential guidelines for its application.

First, I would like to make it explicitly clear that the work method is learned through workshops: they are an indispensable complement of theoretical courses and are performed under the supervision of a logogenist who helps deaf children individually. “Logogenists” who are self-taught -and they are starting to spring up here and there- are as irresponsible and dangerous as “doctors”, “physical therapists” or “teachers” who start practicing without the adequate training. Now that I have stated this warning, I will go on to basic work tools for a logogenist.

First, I must mention that all the work is done in the written language. This choice, however, does not really define logogenia in itself, since many other specialists who help deaf children use, or give a special place to, writing in theoretical and practical propositions that are contrary to those of logogenia. This happens, for instance, when writing is used to try to teach the grammar of the language in a traditional way through exercises and homework. Writing is simply the easiest and most evident way to make the historic-vocal language available to deaf children, no matter what the operator’s theoretical position or objectives may be. The defining element of logogenia is not the use of writing, which is generically good for almost everything and everyone, but the following two points:

1)The identification and selection, based on theoretical and experimental considerations, of the type of linguistic information we consider necessary and sufficient to activate the natural and spontaneous process of the acquisition of a historic-vocal language. It is generically affirmed that the trigger of this process is immersion in the language. Now, if it were necessary to reproduce immersion in the language for deaf children, exactly as it takes place for hearing children, there would simply not be a logogenia. In fact, offering deaf children at least three years of intense immersion in the language from the time of birth is not possible: this is precisely the most dramatic consequence of deafness. However, I believe there is great redundancy in the amount and quality of the information to which the hearing child is exposed during his/her immersion in the language, and I think it is possible to choose from it, concentrate it and rid it of everything not central to the acquisition process. The process of identifying and taking what is indispensable is nothing new: it is done, for instance, when manufacturing a bottle of oxygen for someone who cannot have natural contact with the surrounding air, or when a drug or food is prepared for astronauts. As I have said before, the starting point of logogenia is the idea that the fundamental factor of language experience is the perception of linguistic opposition: the perception of this opposition, under its various concrete manifestations in a language, constitutes the minimal necessary and sufficient input to activate the acquisition process. Logogenia identifies, selects and presents syntactic oppositions, or the deaf child’s equivalent of what a bottle of oxygen would be for someone who could not benefit from the immersion in air.

2) The specific strategies of the work, or an efficient technique to make the deaf child perceive with precision and clarity the concrete manifestations of linguistic opposition found in a language. As for these strategies, I must observe that they cannot be mechanical and cannot be taught in an abstract way. In fact, this is the reason why I always insist on the need for practical workshops in the training of logogenists. But, on the other hand, I think there is a legitimate curiousity about how logogenia is done in practice, and this is, in fact, a question we are often asked, even before any curiosity has been shown regarding its objectives and its theoretical foundations. We have described in detail the practice of logogenia in several texts, courses and workshops, so I will limit myself to a summary of what has already been said in the books listed in the bibliography. Actually, the practice of logogenia has changed very little since it started, unlike the explicit analysis of its theoretical aspects, which is progressing at a reasonable pace, particularly as regards the implications for the theory of language acquisition and the extent of the “critical period”.

The bases for working in logogenia are the following:

a) Writing, and only writing, is used in logogenia sessions. The logogenist must pay special attention to spelling and punctuation while completely ignoring the oral manifestations of the language. This position does not imply at all that the task of teaching children how to speak becomes useless: their communicative abilities and therefore their lives will undoubtedly be better if they learn how to pronounce and to read lips; however, this task must continue to be handled by professionals who are specifically trained for it, and is not the business of the logogenist. The tasks of the oralist teacher and of the logogenist must be kept separate, each with its different strategies and objectives, even though they are sometimes performed by the same person working with the same children. Under this view, I believe that specialists in deaf children’s oralization should specifically try to make these children understand the oral language, and make themselves understood in it, in the most spontaneous way possible -in the way that happens with hearing children- that is, without trying to teach them grammar or give them explicit and conscious syntactic information.

b) Sign language must never be used, because the “mother tongue” is, by definition, the one that has been acquired through the same language. A language learned through another language is and always will be a second language, a “foreign language”, no matter how well it is learned. The position of logogenia on that score is that the ideal situation for all deaf children is to become natively bilingual, in other words, that they acquire two mother tongues: Spanish through Spanish and sign language through sign language. I underline two aspects of this line of thought: 1) that the bilingual condition is easy and natural, as shown by the fact that a large part of humanity is bilingual without even being conscious of it, and 2) that the acquisition of any of the two languages neither obstructs nor helps the acquisition of the other.

c) The objective of logogenia is always and only to make the child acquire syntactic information through oppositions, and make him/her realize that this is the subject matter of the course. Thus, it must be clear to him/her that we are not trying to have a conversation at a real level of communication. For deaf children and their parents and teachers, the use of the language to provide and receive useful information, to “communicate”, largely prevails over the attention to the syntactic aspects of the language, over the small signs shown by the structure of the sentence, so it is normal for the child to believe, at the beginning, that the logogenist is trying to converse with him/her. However, I can affirm that he/she very quickly comes to understand that the interest point is going to be the understanding of the sentences, no matter how useless this may be from the point of view of a normal conversation. The basic instrument of our work is the minimal pair, that is, a pair of sentences that differ between them by only a single detail, as in the pairs illustrated in this text. The important thing is precisely that the child (subconsciously) realizes that the formal difference between the two sentences of the pair corresponds to a difference in meaning, because the two sentences provide different information. This can be achieved by presenting minimal pairs in the form of instructions that the child must follow. The execution of an instruction lets us know whether the child has or has not understood the instruction and, more importantly, gives the child basic information about what and whether he/she has understood. He/she must know that it is not enough to understand roughly; that it is no good trying to guess; that partial understanding may be enough for superficial communication, but that it is not enough for the autonomous understanding of a written text. And this will lead the child to pay attention to the opposition that is present in the two sentences of the minimal pair, and to start mentally registering the element that differs in them.

e) The instructions must not have any practical value: if we provide a sequence of orders that leads to making some lemonade, the child will believe that our objective is to teach him/her how to make lemonade and therefore, in order to try to understand the instructions, he/she will be guided by common sense and experience of things and lemonade, more than paying attention to all the linguistic details of the sentence. This is why we must not limit the instructions to what is reasonable, expected and sensible: we have to avoid all intrusion of extra-linguistic factors in the interpretation of the sentence and focus all the child’s attention on the syntactic information contained in it. This will allow him/her to understand that the language can express reasonable and unreasonable things, logical and illogical, licit and illicit, possible and impossible, in the same linguistic framework in the real world. Besides, it is a lot of fun to touch the teacher’s nose, pull Pedro’s hair, make oneself a braid and make me a braid, take a shoe off Juan and put it on me, take his/her shoe off and put it on Juan, sit on his/her mother’s watch, seat the mother on my watch, put coffee in the sugar and put sugar in the coffee, count the sweaters hanging near the board, count the buttons on the sweaters hanging near the board, hide the pencil in a sleeve of the yellow shirt, draw a doll with three legs and one eye, give me the cap of the bottle and give me the cap and the bottle, tell Maria that he wants to eat and tell Maria what he wants to eat, tell Maria she is ugly and ask Maria if she is ugly…

f) When the child does not understand the instruction, this is shown to someone else, or to several people: those who read it execute it without any particular emphasis and with no comments. From the first logogenia session, we teach children to show the sentences they do not understand to others and to the logogenist who wrote them. This allows them to understand the meaning of the sentence and, besides, teaches them that it is independent from those who read it and write it. Later on they will start to write instructions themselves, and to exchange fun or weird instructions with children and adults. They love it all!

g) During the whole period in which we work on the understanding of the language, the instructions, no matter how weird, must be performable. This is necessary because the child will obviously not execute an instruction that cannot be executed (for example, put the desk in your pocket). We would remain with the useless doubt of knowing and letting him/her know whether he/she did not execute the instruction because he/she did not understand it or because it was impossible to do. We will be able to use ‘unperformable’ instructions only much later, when we reach the phase in which we want linguistic production from the child. It will be a way to get the answer It can’t be done or I can’t do it or any other grammatically correct sentence appropriate for the situation.

h) The instructions must be given quickly, repeatedly and randomly, to prevent the child from learning them mechanically and memorizing their meanings, based on their order of appearance, or on any other equally irrelevant series of details. Mechanizing and memorizing the interpretation are the worst enemies of the practice of logogenia, and only large amounts of attention, training, experience and creativity on the part of the logogenist will prevent this from happening.

i) It is necessary to show the children grammatical/ungrammatical oppositions- which are the most important ones- by letting them know that the grammatical sentence is correct and we give it a check markt, and that the ungrammatical one is incorrect, we do not accept it, and we mark it with an asterisk. (I suppose it is not necessary to underline the fact that this exercise has to do with showing them this opposition, and not explaining to them the reason for the ungrammaticality.) But we must be careful! Children (and sometimes even their teachers) mistake the grammatical/ungrammatical opposition for oppositions of a different kind, such as true/false or logical/illogical. It is necessary -and even easy and fun- to make them see that the boy eats poop or the mouse eats the cat, are “correct” and that they are ticked, whereas the boy eats a meat or the cat eat the mouse, are “incorrect” and they are marked with an asterisk. This is one of the things logogenists learn during workshops and through direct work with children.

j) There is not, and there must not be, a predetermined sequence according to the degrees of difficulty of the syntactic structures we present to the child. When we talk about language acquisition we often think much more of production than of understanding. However, language acquisition implies both understanding and production of sentences, and the fact that there certainly are stages of difficulty in production in hearing children does not necessarily mean the same stages exist in the development of understanding. In fact, understanding in hearing children comes way before and is far greater than their ability to produce, and we do not have elements to establish exactly how they develop this understanding or what they need to develop it. The fact is that children who acquire the language under normal conditions have access to the whole language from birth, and they process the input on their own, following stages and procedures which we know nothing about. Logogenia attempts to reproduce the normal conditions of language acquisition as faithfully as possible and therefore to offer what comes closer to all languages, without establishing structure sequences according to their degrees of difficulty. This does not exclude common sense and experience and, most of all, the reactions of the child must guide the logogenist: I have never found anyone who starts with a sentence that is three lines long, or who writes give it back to him before give me a pen.

k) All the first stage of the work must be oriented to the understanding of instructions and questions. Production will appear spontaneously later on. It is possible to make dialogues, write stories, guess what something is based on its description or ask the child to write how two things, like a bird and a plane are similar. It is very important to nourish the enjoyment and interest of production, which means it is necessary to avoid boredom and excessive correction. It is not necessary to correct everything all the time: instead, the logogenist should pay attention to the mistakes the child makes and look for the appropriate minimal pairs to provide him/her with the information he/she needs.

l) The ideal logogenia session must be one hour a day carried out with one individual and adjusted to the personal progress of each child. Various attempts to use logogenia with small groups have shown the difficulty of achieving content that is appropriate for every child. Important results are certainly obtained with logogenia sessions five hours a week throughout a school year.

m) As to the age of children, logogenia can be used from the moment they can start reading (long before they can start writing) through the whole elementary school period and for a little longer. For the time being, we do not have enough cases to set an upper limit on the critical period for language acquisition. It is already fairly evident, however, that very good results may be achieved with adolescents or young adults whose starting point regarding linguistic competence is not zero: I have found a certain kind of partial linguistic competence, which is “like leopard spots”, in certain adolescents from specialized secondary schools, for whom excellent results can be obtained (see, especially, the cases I have reported in Nicola vuole le virgole).

n) The next question is how we be sure we are offering the child all the structures of the language. The answer is that we cannot be sure, because there is not a full list of the structures of the language anywhere, and besides, it is very possible that we have not even imagined the existence of many of them yet. This is the reason why the logogenist must bring the child to reading. When the child is able to read alone, he/she will fortunately find in the texts all the structures needed to complete his/her acquisition process.

And now to a list of what must not be done:

a) Words such as “subject”, “predicate”, “article”, “noun”, “verb”, “agreement”, “conjugation”, etc., must not be used. The stage of conscious and explicit analysis of the language is and must be subsequent to the stages of understanding and production. Besides, it is an unnecessary and useless task for acquisition, as proved by the fact that most people speak a language without knowing how to analyze it. In the specific case of deaf people, talking to them in grammatical terms can certainly be an obstacle for their acquisition process, precisely because it is not possible for them to understand the terms and perform the corresponding analysis before knowing the language.

b) Neither grammar nor rules should be taught. In fact, nothing must be taught, because logogenia is not a teaching method: it is an artificial insemination method for acquiring the language. In the same way an artificial method can be used to start a natural baby, logogenia uses an artificial method to start the development of a natural language. In both cases, it is not about teaching something, but about offering an efficient means for repairing a situation in which, for any reason whatsoever, a person has no direct access to linguistic evidence which will spur the spontaneous and natural activation of a biological process. The method will have succeeded, in the case of language acquisition, when the child can read and write autonomously, and when he/she understands and produces in writing different sentences and structures of the type we have shown. In fact, one of the distinctive features of language is that we can understand and produce sentences we have never heard before, and of course both hearing and deaf children have said The cat “eated”, even though they have never heard this potentially correct word before.

In conclusion, we logogenists want deaf children to be able to do what hearing people do with the language, and hearing people can understand and produce grammatical sentences that are detached from any context, even if they contradict our experience of the world, as shown by the following example:

20 a) The lady who sold the balloon that flies over the rooftops arrived.
20 b) The lady who sold the balloon and flies over the rooftops arrived.

Example b) seriously contradicts our expectations, but so what? It definitely informs us that the lady is the one who flies over the rooftops, contrary to what happens in sentence a) which informs us that it is the balloon that flies over the rooftops.

We can even produce and understand examples that contradict logic, as in the following examples from Spanish:

21 a) Llegarán Juan o Pedro.
‘Juan or Pedro will arrive’
21 b) ¿Llegará Juan o Pedro?
‘Will Juan or Pedro arrive?’
21 c) Juan llegará con Pedro.
‘Juan will arrive with Pedro’.

In a) the verb is used in the plural even though it is clear that only one of them will arrive, whereas in b) the mere fact that the sentence has changed from an affirmation to a question means that the verb is used very reasonably in the singular form!). In c) the verb is used in the singular even if it is clear that two people will come. No take a look at the following minimal pair:

22 a) Noventa por ciento de los hombres están casados.
‘Ninety percent of men are married’.
22 b) El noventa por ciento de los hombres está casado.
‘Ninety percent of men are married’.

According to logic, “noventa por ciento de los hombres” and “el noventa por ciento de los hombres” are an identical -plural- amount, but in the universe of the syntax of Spanish, only the first structure has a verb in the plural, whereas the second structure has the verb in the singular.

Or we can understand and produce mere absurdities, such as the following:

23 a) Circles are square.

If we could not understand this this sentence, we would never be able to confirm its absurdity. On the other hand, we know certain sequences are wrong, and we do not produce such “reasonable” or “understandable” things as

23 b) * Circles round.

All speakers of Spanish know how to perform linguistic gymnastics like these without even being conscious of it. This is precisely the essence of “knowing Spanish”.

Current lines of research

The practice of logogenia is a privileged meeting point between theoretical and applied linguistics regarding the acquisition of a historic-vocal language by deaf children. Linguistic theory of any persuasion may benefit from the input of empirical data that cannot be obtained under different conditions because we obviously cannot do experiments, for example, that arbitrarly delay the exposure of a group of children to language or impoverish the stimulus to which they are exposed. For these cases, logogenia is a privileged instrument for creating, gathering and systematizing data that would be of interest in any kind of research program. It is also a valuable instrument for the exploration and validation of theoretical hypotheses. On the other hand, the application of logogenia will undoubtedly benefit from the theoretical interpretation and validation of the data that arise from the work done with deaf children and from the enrichment of the theory resulting from its analysis of data obtained through logogenia.

We can never know in advance how the spiral of knowledge generated through the contact between theory and practice will develop in detail, nor what the questions, answers, results or failures might be. At this point, the main research topics we are working on (not the royal we: I am glad to confirm that logogenia has already had theoretical and methodological contributions from my ex-students Elisa Franchi and Debora Musola) are the following:

Besides answering the big questions already mentioned in the first part of this text, one of the current objectives is to extend our understanding of the concept of linguistic competence. For example, when working with deaf children it is possible to prove that there are stages in this concept, and to analyze the characteristics of these stages and their sequence. In children and adolescents with much time in the school system, there are certain “islands” of linguistic competence (which I have called “leopard-spot-like linguistic competence”), which will be interesting to identify and describe as soon as we have more than the four rather heterogeneous cases I have described in detail in my book Nicola vuole le virgole.

Another interesting task is to contribute to the identification of the upper limits of the critical period and the minimal possible ones in the case of deaf children: in the case of hearing children we can say the upper limit is five years of age, but this indicates that, in optimal conditions, five years are enough, not that the window of the critical period is closed at that age. As to the lower limit, we need to establish how soon we can start to expose a deaf child to logogenia, taking into consideration that we do not need the child to be mature enough to write, but we do need him/her to be mature enough to read (the reading stage being prior to the writing stage.) Up to this moment, we have not had access to any child younger than five, and we are just beginning to work with smaller children.

Another important problem we must look into is the assessment of results. There are many tests for evaluating the acquisition of a mother tongue or a foreign language. They measure many things, but we have not found any that measure the ability to understand the difference of meaning there is, for instance, between sentences in pairs 3, 4, 7, 9 and 21 of this text (and of course of many other minimal pairs exemplified in previous work). Right now, there is a student who is brave enough to have chosen the search of a reliable assessment method as the main topic of her thesis. I do not know yet if this thesis will prosper, but the work would be very valuable even if it did not find what it is looking for. Without underestimating the importance of creating a reliable and significant method to measure the linguistic acquisition of deaf children, I would like to say that it the results of using logogenia are clearly evident to anyone who engages in the logogenia experience -parents, teachers, linguists. The proof that this evidence is reliable, and sufficient for the moment, resides in the rapid spread of logogenia. This spread is precisely a consequence of the fact that we can acknowledge something as useful before and apart from the existence of any control or measuring device: much knowledge of astronomy was acquired long before telescopes even existed, much less the scientific concept of falsification. However, in the area of assessment, logogenia fortunately allows the convincing detection, in half an hour or so, of the lack of, or lacunae in, linguistic competence, even in deaf children whose communicative competence and/or school mechanization are so good their teachers and parents believe these children know Spanish.

A much more abstract topic is trying to make an inventory and description of the syntactic oppositions necessary and sufficient to activate the acquisition process. They must be few, if we consider our experience with children, and even so few that we can but be shocked. But what, precisely, are they? How are they interrelated? Are they part of a set or are they elements of a series? From the point of view of practical work, we can assume by now 1) the possibility that the input we offer is not as pure as it might be and 2) the opposite possibility that the does not contain all the necessary oppositions (the reason we insist so much on having children read: reading will allow them to find all the oppositions that might have escaped us). However, it is clear that one of the main tasks of logogenia is to continue purifying the input, “the bottle of oxygen”, in order to avoid redundancy in. or absence of, data, although we know that this kind of task cannot be performed quickly. After all, aspirin is still being improved on, even after its having been used for over a hundred years!

A remarkable characteristic of the method used to apply logogenia is that we have a record of all the input that has been offered to the child. This constitues a considerable advantage because it makes the precise correlation between the offered input and the results obtained possible, from the point of view of the number, quality and temporal succession of the events. The problem is that the gathering of this information is slow: each child needs a school year of logogenia with a one-hour session per day. Thus, each logogenist can help only five to six children per school year. The training of the logogenist requires at least one year of university courses and workshops. At the moment, there are only four or five logogenia trainers; the children we have access to are heterogeneous in age, degree of deafness, attendance at sessions (in Mexico, many of them are not able to come to school every day), and school and linguistic background. In these conditions, it should not be necessary to explain -although who knows- that the production, gathering and systematization of statistically significant data and their relative analyses are inherently slow. This happens, of course, in many fields of science, and in no way constitutes a flaw in this work.

To conclude, I would like to mention, at least very quickly, that the fact that oppositions are processed during the development of language says nothing about the characteristics the brain must have to execute this processing, and therefore does not support any cognitive theory in particular, in the same way that the application of logogenia is not restricted to generativists and might be useful even for behaviorists, if there still are any. The proposition that there are receptors, sensors which are specifically sensitive to syntactic oppositions (and, more generally, linguistic ones), just like there are specific receptors for smells, flavors, colors and temperature, is an important theoretical point that unfortunately cannot be confirmed by the linguist: he/she can only point it out to the neuroscientist and ask him/her to look for it.


Cianfanelli, Anna, L’insegnamento delle materie letterarie Atti del XLIV Convegno Nazionale di Aggiornamento, Siena, Associazione Italiana Educatori dei Sordi, Cuneo, August 23-28, 1998, Ed. Cantagalli, 1999.

Franchi, Elisa, “Nel mondo dei sordi: un cammino verso il linguaggio. Il ruolo delle categorie funzionali e la Logogenia”, Venezia, Major degree thesis, Dipartimento di Italianistica, Facoltá di Lettere e Filosofia, Universitá degli Studi di Venezia, 1997-1998.

Musola, Debora, “La Logogenia. Viaggio al centro della lingua: la nascita della lingua nei sordi”, Padova, Major degree thesis, Dipartimento di Linguistica, Facoltá di Lettere e Filosofia, Universitá degli Studi di Padova, 1999-2000.

Radelli, Bruna, “El cuál y el cómo en la sintaxis del Español”, in Homenaje a Jorge A. Suárez, Beatriz Garza Cuarón and Paulette Levy (editors), Mexico, El Colegio de México, 1990.

__________, “Buscando configuraciones sintácticas y sus significados: pistas para neurólogos”, in Homenaje a Leonardo Manrique C., Martha Muntzel and Bruna Radelli (coordinators), Mexico, INAH (Científica), 1993.

__________, “Naturaleza del lenguaje y problemas para la rehabilitación de los niños sordos”, in Memorias del Segundo Encuentro de Lingüística en el Noroeste, Mexico, Universidad de Sonora, 1994.

__________, “Agramaticalidad, ambigüedad sintáctica y metáfora: criterios e instrumentos para evaluar la adquisición de competencia lingüística”, in Dimensión Antropológica, vol. 1, INAH, 1994.

__________, “Significados sintácticos”, in Estudios de lingüística formal, Marianna Pool Westgaard (ed.), Mexico, El Colegio de México, CELL, 1997.

__________, Nicola Vuole le virgole Introduzione alla Logogenia, Bologna, Decibel-Zanichelli, 1998.

__________, “La logogenia en el desarrollo de los sordos”, in Memorias del XV Congreso FEPAL, Spain, Facultad de Ciencias de la Educación de la Universidad de A Coruña, 1999.

Radelli, Bruna, and Julio Collado Vides, “Una hipótesis acerca de la naturaleza del lenguaje”, in Tiempo, población y sociedad. Homenaje al Maestro Arturo Romano, Ma. Teresa Jaén, Sergio López, Lourdes Márquez, Patricia O. Hernández (editors), Mexico, INAH (Científica), 1998.

  1. Bruna Radelli. Dirección de Lingüística, INAH. I have expounded some of the topics of this article at the symposia “La Lingüística desde El Colegio de México”, on the panel “Entre hipótesis y datos: estructuras sintácticas y fónicas”, organized by Dr. Marianna Pool (October 24, 2000), and on the panel organized by Dr. Oralia Rodríguez, entitled “La adquisición de la lengua en situaciones de hipoacusia” (November 7, 2000). The first part of this text includes and partially modifies the presentation La Logogenia y el desarrollo lingüístico de los sordos, written in collaboration with Elisa Franchi and published in an internal bulletin of the INAH: Diario de Campo, num. 28, Co¬¬na¬culta-INAH, November 2000 (Spanish translation by Marita de Teresa). Translation: Denisse Piñera Palacios []

Los comentarios están cerrados.