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Thoughts For The Summer

Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Caleb Gattegno


vol. III no. 5

June 1974

First published in 1974. Reprinted in 2009. Copyright Š 1974-2009 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. Author: Caleb Gattegno All rights reserved ISBN 978-0-87825-277-0 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. 2nd Floor 99 University Place, New York, N.Y. 10003-4555

We have from time to time published news items that told of the present bias of our research towards the areas of special education and early childhood education. We do not yet have enough influence on special schools and day care centers to be able to report their reception of our contributions. But in a Newsletter intended mainly for our staff and our friends, there is no reason why we should not share some important aspects of our work even if these are not yet known outside a small group. The selections from a chapter on “What is Language?� from a forthcoming book, The Common Sense of Teaching the Deaf, represent an aspect of our bias. Even if it is not easy to read, it can be seen as an important attempt to bring a discipline acquired in mathematical research to bear on a difficult linguistic problem that everyone finds challenging. The theme overlaps both areas of early childhood and special education. We will be interested in any response from readers to this attempt to tackle a difficult problem. After years of preparing Fidels for many languages, we are now nearly ready to produce our Comparative Phonetics Kit. We hope it will be available by the end of this year. It has been a demanding task, involving the attempt to solve a number of intricate problems, and we think that the brief account here of some of these will shed light on the way we try to meet difficulties rather than avoid them. The issue ends with some miscellaneous short items.

Table of Contents

Excerpts From “What Is Language” Taken From “The Common Sense Of Teaching The Deaf” ............... 1 A Comparative Phonetics Kit ................................................ 9 Can You Believe? .................................................................15

Excerpts From “What Is Language” Taken From “The Common Sense Of Teaching The Deaf”

What needs to be clear from the start is that the self experiences what happens to itself; that the self dwells in its brain and sense organs, and that it responds to energy inputs from outside as well as energy shifts inside. The changes of energy are distinguishable by the self’s receptors that may be cells or even elements in them. Photons carry amounts of energy, and it is not impossible that one single photon can affect a single neuron sufficiently to be noticed by the self's awareness if the self concentrates on that neuron. Whatever may be the case, we shall assume here that awareness of changes of energy in the specialized organs and the central nervous system form the way the self relates to reality. Reality is known to the extent the energy input becomes an awareness of the self. Growing up, as a baby, is to entertain a number of dialogues with these inputs and to hold some recognizable property of theirs as characteristic, distinguishing one input from the next. Energy is a function of time and since we live in time the vicissitudes of energy within the self reflect the workings and functionings of the self and can describe with precision what each of us is doing.


Thoughts For The Summer

This direct acquaintance of the self with what happens to itself through awareness of the dynamics of energy, is the only source of meaning in one’s experience. Since meanings are changes in the soma of which the self can be aware, no one needs to be taught their reach, their interpretation by the self. When a vast number of meanings exist whose basis can be said to be the perception of realities, the baby may turn to the perceptive realities of the utterances he and other people around him make. At this time he may be a few months old. Let us therefore consider for our purpose two kinds of realities: — one which we shall call (R) — resulting from all the impacts that can be perceived, including utterances, and the other — which we shall call (U) — made of everything that utterers propagate as energy but which by itself does not trigger any meanings other than their recognition as energy input. (U) can be part of (R), but is not necessarily; for example it is not for the deaf who are neither lip-readers nor orally-trained. To distinguish the existence of two kinds of meanings in (R) we shall call (M) any meaning that is triggered by an awareness of a change of energy in the self, and we shall use (m) for any (M) which is no more than an awareness of change of energy level. Thus all sounds are (m)s until they trigger some image, memory, feeling, etc., which the self recognizes it has lived through, is part of its life, and then they gain the status of an (M). For hearing people who can speak, the language they use is made of (M)s, while any language they can hear but have not studied is made of (m)s. Both are part of Reality but impinge on the self differently. In the temporal structuration of (R) by each of us, there are elements which are perceptible for some time but which do not generate a meaning other than the fact that they are known to exist. That is, they remain as (m)s and have not yet become (M)s.


Excerpts From “What Is Language” Taken From “The Common Sense Of Teaching The Deaf”

To pre-verbal babies, for instance, what parents say is mostly made of (m)s, except for some of their noises that trigger meanings(are (M)s) although they do not yet belong to the babies’ own utterances (U). For this reason babies can understand much that they cannot yet utter, and all of us at all ages can use language much more easily for expression than for communication. In the history of man we find that many solutions have been proposed for the selection of utterances to be retained in order to trigger meanings. Hence in (R) we have two sets of (U)s: those which, for a given individual are made of (m)s and those (which may be reducible to one) which are made of (M)s. The first set is made of sets of perceptible noises. Only the second set can be called languages for that individual. We shall call (L) any sample of the second set. For a growing child who is using his awareness to sort out the many impacts from the inner and outer environment, the mere fact that some noises have become the sounds of his native tongue does not necessarily change their property from being (m)s to that of being (M)s. Another process is required and it is precisely this process that we regard as the generation of language by the individual. Let us dwell for one more minute on this important matter. Reality (R) contains noises, which are perceptible, as well as stable perceptions that have been processed by the self through awareness, and are part of the mental equipment of the person when they can be distinguished from each other and do not involve the whole self. (If they do involve the whole self we shall refer to them as spiritual rather than mental experiences. ) For our present purpose we shall not need more than the functionings of the mind (as one aspect of the self) to understand what language is and how it is developed by each of us. As soon as an (m) becomes an (M), within the mind, to the element that produced its objectification (the coagulation of energy that gave it its existence) is added a dynamic that triggers something else. Awareness moves from the object to what it triggers and a certain 3

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meaning (M) is experienced in association with that (m). It is in this association and its stability or recurrence that we place the generation of language. This generation like all other mental experiences has two aspects: one local (in space and time) — the here-and-now experience — and one, the assimilation into it of the climate of the self that goes with it, which, because of the self, relates to its continuous presence in all our life, in all our experience, and results in an integration of the impact and all that follows from it in the mind. Its (M) property makes it an instrument for further manifestation of the self, giving to an enlarged (U) its status as part of one’s (R), besides being quite distinguishable within (R) as an (m) that is part of (U). The dynamics of awareness and functionings make these distinctions necessary. Hence if we make a model to display some of the attributes we have been considering here, we can represent by a large circle the impacts of Reality on an individual's mind (his field of cognition) and inside that circle distinguish certain areas which can be labeled according to the kinds of impacts [(m) or (M)] that they make on the self. For our purpose the core (K) is made of an active self working innerly through all sorts of dynamics, having all sorts of inner criteria which ascertain the attributes of perceptions and their actual presence (their truth), and on its periphery are the realities of the (U)s which can be reached as percepts and which are recognizable through their objective properties. During the period required for the transmutation of (m)s into (M)s the self generates the links between the core (K) and the utterances (U) and, conversely, this provides the two-way traffic which leads awareness to assert that something new called language has been generated in the self. field of cognition


Excerpts From “What Is Language” Taken From “The Common Sense Of Teaching The Deaf”

© C. Gattegno, 1974 The above schema remains a schema until an active mind gets hold of it and makes it yield important consequences. We have operated on (m)s rather than words, and rather than assuming that words have meanings in complex Reality we have given them the reality of their perceptibility until such time as they gain their Reality by becoming (M)s linked to the content of the self: to its soma, affectivity, intelligence, imagery, etc. Rather than assuming a date for the ownership of language by an individual, we have made the self generate its language (or languages) by recognizing that many transformations of (m)s into (M)s are needed, that they take time, and become complex realities because of the co-presence of other attributes of experience. Since words form one class or several classes according to the attributes that we single out in the (m)s, these attributes have realities which can be perceived as soon as an adequate sensitivity is at work in the self. The sounds composing a word are as much the criteria for their recognition as objects as their stresses, which can be separated from, or fused with, the sounds. The position of words in statements,


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the various intonations compatible with their form, their capacity to trigger one or more associations of images, feelings, etc., are all perceptible in spite of the purely arbitrary character of each of these attributes. Indeed, languages are constructs and there are many for one and the same Reality. An arbitrary system or a priori unintelligible per se, it gains, through becoming a system of (M)s, a complex reality always triggering movements of the self — emotions, thoughts, memories, etc. — and seems to lose its arbitrariness for its users. But because (M)s are more than words, and because perceptions are of all kinds, everybody can organize their perceptions so that they relate to various grasps of the world, to various awarenesses, to various manifestations of the will, to various transformations, and so on. We can use different sensitivities to note that the world is susceptible of being described in terms of space, time, or cause and effect; in opposing, complementary, concomitant terms, etc.; and we find that utterances-words are offered some stable correspondences, i.e. what the self acknowledges as the “same” is connected to specific recurrence of sounds, and what the self acknowledges as different is connected to different sounds. Besides this awareness of the reality of the connection, which furthers the awareness of the connection itself, the self is aware that there are principles of economy involved in the reduced number of sounds selected for each (U), a number that can be increased through the processes of combination and permutation. Every baby finds out by himself very soon that all the sounds he picks up from the voices of the people surrounding him are composite sounds that employ a small number of distinct sounds, and that words are “passe-partout” units useable by others as by himself — that one reality as (m) is often associated with several realities as (M), and also that one (M) can be rendered by many sets of (m)s even within one language. This gives to each language a basis in which “equivalent expressions” exist and which can be used sometimes indifferently (although regulated by the strict reason of one’s choice of what one is considering) and sometimes deliberately in order to move from a meaning to various shades of meanings.


Excerpts From “What Is Language” Taken From “The Common Sense Of Teaching The Deaf”

Languages evolve for individuals, as for societies, in close connection with, on the one hand, increased experience, particularly in new fields of experiencing, and, on the other hand, increased awareness that the experience (M) can be associated with labels [(m)s] . But adoption of the new (M)s by others requires that these are first recognized as (m)s and that they then become (M)s for them too. Babies do not show a uniform evolution of their mastery of language since their unique awareness in their manifold environment permits them a unique grasp of what strikes them and requires a complex search of what people around them utter for such awarenesses. The fact that almost all babies on earth learn to speak, tells us that the baby's alertness to the sounds that are (m)s for him and (M)s for the people in his environment, is the big help he gives himself. Because both are perceptible he can hold in his mind, until a clear correspondence clears the way, the sound or sounds that have to be uttered for the meaning he wants to express. After his utterance he immediately looks for feedbacks from the environment to confirm that he did the “right” thing — that is, what people around him do in these circumstances. All babies are innerly alerted to notice variations in the inner or outer world of perception. They quickly learn that alterations in the utterances normally accompany changes in the field of perception and that the changes are often consistent. They therefore watch for consistencies as carefully as for changes and recognize that both are arbitrary. Hence languages are constructed from the beginning as systems displaying both changes and permanences. Each of these is woven into sets of transformations which are recognizable because they are perceptible. For example, plurals may be formed from the singular by fixed changes, by no change, or by exceptional changes. But once noticed these changes recur and are therefore easily traceable. Since learners have no investment in the relationships between the behaviors of (m)s, they accept whatever connections are current between the perceptible (m)s and the corresponding (M)s in their universe of Reality. 7

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The question in the title of this chapter, “What is language?, “ has been answered here by describing a deliberate, complex association of two sets of perceptible modifications of the self, one telling of the reality of awareness as produced by changes in the energy inputs to the self, and the other telling of impacts produced by conventional but consistent utterances. Once these two are connected so that utterances trigger meanings and certain meanings trigger certain utterances, language is generated. Š C. Gattegno, June, 1974


A Comparative Phonetics Kit

We are presently working to produce a new instrument that will make an entirely original contribu tion to the study of languages. It is a kit containing a set of thirteen x cards on each of which are colored signs that show at once: 1

how many component sounds a particular language uses,

2 what spellings are used in each language to convey each particular sound (except in the case of Mandarin), 3 what sounds of a language one already knows belong to another language one is contemplating (thus giving a measure of what one starts with in confronting a new language), 4 how many new sounds one must acquire to be at home in a new language, 5 that unfamiliar scripts are not beyond one’s reach. Together c. & d. describe the state of a student entering the study of a new language and how much he has to mobilize himself. The kit has taken much time and know-how to be gotten ready. Once the product is in one’s hands one may see that all the hurdles in one's path have been taken care of and users may feel the power it gives them. But to go from the idea that such an instrument could exist to its realization in the form of this kit presented us with many challenges,


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some extremely tough. We would like to share with our readers some of the problems and some of the solutions. It may seem at first sight that any cultured native speaker can reach the criteria in himself that lead to a correct inventory of the sounds of his language as well as of their representation in the written form; that any dictionary or grammar book will provide the data. In fact this rarely happens. In the case of some languages surprises present themselves to us even more than ten years after the study has been started. Foreigners are sometimes better able than native speakers to notice many of the required items that will decide some matters. Decisions have to be made on the basis of the sensitivity of the producers rather than on the fact of being a native. It happens that a number of challenges in this field have not yet been isolated and that the requirements of the production of this kit have made us emphasize the existence of some properties of speech neglected until now — as far as we know, at least. Starting with what we already know, or with what dictionaries and grammars suggest, we end up with a first approximation. Consultation with scholars and native speakers made us see that for each language we needed to follow a special path and to be inventive in a special way. Thus for Mandarin, where there is no way of presenting the language as an alphabetic language, we colored a set of equal rectangles and ended up with a “Fidel” which only the initiated can recognize as connected to the Chinese language. But the solution has allowed us to force students to produce Chinese sounds knowingly — including the tones — that is, to obtain one component in the learning of the spoken language: the spoken units in which several sounds and a tone are blended to form what will later be associated with the corresponding Chinese characters. We have considered languages such as Hebrew and Arabic (although only Hebrew is part of this kit) in which the vowels do not appear in the written words and have managed to convey the syllables by giving each spelling one or two colors, one indicating the consonant and the other the vowel. Whenever more than one color is employed, we use the 10

A Comparative Phonetics Kit

convention that the top to bottom sequence indicates the temporal sequence of the utterances (as we use the left to right convention in reading English). This convention which was necessary for historic scripts that left out a notation for vowels, became helpful in other languages too; Japanese and Amharic are two other examples (Amharic is not included in the kit). The convention will be found in at least one sign on almost all the cards in the kit. It certainly simplifies the study of some sounds. The idea of using color was an easy one to arrive at. But at once we faced enormous challenges. Can we find enough colors to present all the sounds in a number of languages, say a dozen, as in this kit? The answer is that it is very hard, and users are asked to put up with some uncertainties, to be tolerant until they develop the visual criteria which make two closely related hues “appear” different as they do to a trained eye. Is it possible to convey exactly what sounds are to be produced by giving to certain colors certain sound values? The answer is, definitely, no! The fact that there are only three primary colors and that mixing them only produces shades of them (even though they are not usually talked about in this way) means that they cannot serve to describe univocally the numerous components of the sounds of speech: nasalization, glottal stops, aspiration, etc. The connection between sound and color remains arbitrary and our choice is one among an infinite set. It is ours because we have chosen it and it belongs to the Silent Way copyright. A quick look at the cards in the kit will show that some signs unknown to the user must represent a particular sound that he already knows. Generally if he utters it he will be very close to what native speakers say, but not always. When the sounds of words associated —in a systematic way — with the columns of the Fidels are available on tape, each user will have as many native speakers at his disposal as there are languages represented in the kit. Of course, this comparative phonetic kit is only what it says it is. The learning of each separate language remains untouched. A favorable 11

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climate in the learners will be the greatest gain from it, for now students can see at once that they have entry (phonetically) in all these languages and can learn to read their written form (except in the case of Mandarin) whatever the script. Such an advantage can be counted on to reduce considerably the time it takes to enter into any language, and to provide in some cases help that often costs a great effort for students frightened by a strange script. We have found in several classes that only minutes are needed to sound words in a new language if they are formed from the Fidel. The kit is accompanied by a text which contains comments relevant to each Fidel. Its purposes are: 1

to reduce guessing by those looking at some features of the cards;

2 to stress some points about our arrangements that are not immediately understandable but become rational as soon as explained; 3 to increase acquaintance with the language concerned by stressing its idiosyncrasies and drawing attention to special features; 4 to suggest ways to reach more accurate utterances by starting from the sound associated with a color and producing alterations in specific directions. Besides being an object of curiousity, an instrument for entering new languages, and a collection of solutions to the problem of recording spoken languages, the set of cards in the kit will increase one’s awareness of oneself. For now it is possible to know in a relatively short time that each of us is equipped to own many languages at once and that it is theoretically possible to make each of us into a competent polyglot. For years we have invited educators to consider seriously the possibility of offering ten languages to every child during his years at school. Now we have taken the first step in putting into their hands a document where they may find evidence for the feasibility of our proposal. Bilingualism is a very small step in the right direction. Multilingualism is the birthright of all of us.


A Comparative Phonetics Kit

For some of the languages represented in the kit we have over the years developed the word charts that make the basic functional vocabulary available for Silent Way lessons. Teachers are needed for this approach until such time as a videotaped version is ready for the home market. For further information look at our catalogue or write to us. We can add that by September, 1974, we shall have the 12 English as a second language Word Charts printed in color on cards for use by students .


Can You Believe?

1 At P.S. 133M in central Harlem, where many remarkable things are happening, some kindergarten children are displaying a linguistic competence and mental powers that would puzzle all the Piagetians in the world. In front of a chalkboard where the teacher has written in white chalk all sorts of combinations of letters that say nothing to the uninitiated, a group of kindergarten boys and girls are sitting on the floor. The teacher uses a pointer and touches in succession wh, a, le or wh, i, le and before she has finished everyone shouts “whale”or “while.” There are several a, i, and other signs on the board since the lesson is concerned with the sounds of English. That these children recognize that identical spellings can refer to different sounds, and that one sound may have been given several spellings in English, is already a denial of the patronizing description of many “child psychologists” of how young children function, but what is even more amazing is that they can hold in their minds strings of individual signs that form words in the traditional orthography, involve these in a sequence to form a sentence, and produce it in good spoken English without any hesitation. Rita Brown, their teacher, shows us what can be done when we acknowledge the mental powers of young children. 2 When we understood what was behind the learning to read numerals we tested the simplification of the study of this field in the


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case of several foreign languages. Sometimes in half an hour classes of newcomers can acquire the easy formation of billions of words in the new language, understanding completely what they are doing and being made capable of practicing expansion of their skill on their own. But would you believe that a group of 4 year olds in a Manhattan nursery school would do as well as a class of adults? and perhaps better? They did. In twenty minutes in their native language. 3 Have you tried to find out what you do when you read? Try the following exercise. Sally Kolker devised it. There is much to learn from it that you may not have known. msimanyd laitaps railucep sti ertaehtihpma eht evag dna tniopweiv ralucitrap a morf noitinifed raelc deifed llehs gnivruc ylevisave dna lwob lacof itlum fo nigised detnedecerpnu eht tnelaviuqe raenilivruc a htiw dleif ralugnatcer eht morf tnatsidiuqe gnitamixorppa fo melborp lacirtemoeg eht nevig saw elcatceps eht ot ecaps a tif tsum ohw tcetihcra namor eht


About Caleb Gattegno Caleb Gattegno is the teacher every student dreams of; he doesn’t require his students to memorize anything, he doesn’t shout or at times even say a word, and his students learn at an accelerated rate because they are truly interested. In a world where memorization, recitation, and standardized tests are still the norm, Gattegno was truly ahead of his time. Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1911, Gattegno was a scholar of many fields. He held a doctorate of mathematics, a doctorate of arts in psychology, a master of arts in education, and a bachelor of science in physics and chemistry. He held a scientific view of education, and believed illiteracy was a problem that could be solved. He questioned the role of time and algebra in the process of learning to read, and, most importantly, questioned the role of the teacher. The focus in all subjects, he insisted, should always be placed on learning, not on teaching. He called this principle the Subordination of Teaching to Learning. Gattegno travelled around the world 10 times conducting seminars on his teaching methods, and had himself learned about 40 languages. He wrote more than 120 books during his career, and from 1971 until his death in 1988 he published the Educational Solutions newsletter five times a year. He was survived by his second wife Shakti Gattegno and his four children.

Thoughts For The Summer  
Thoughts For The Summer  

Newsletter, Vol. III No. 5, June 1974