That Little Wild Girl

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Earlier today, in our Psycholinguistics class with Matthew, we talked about the Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH).

Wilder Penfield (1959), one of the main proponents of this hypothesis stated that, a person goes through a “critical period” in the early developmental stages wherein language learning and acquisition of a first language happen very fast. Generally bracketed from 4 to 8 years old, this critical period is as important as the other developmental phases;that neglect of exposure to a target language during these  years will deprive the individual to learn a first language further.

It should be noted, however, that CPH is wildly controversial. In the years of linguistic and developmental psychology researches, there have been various arguments that language learning can still occur and develop in the latter years.

On the other hand, there had been cases in the modern world that still proves the CPH worthy of our attention.

At first, I thought that the lecture this morning was going to be just one of those usual talks on theories and principles.

But all changed when Matthew showed us a video of Genie, a feral child who was discovered in her room, strapped in a potty chair for the first 13 years of her life. It was later learned that Genie was a victim of physical and mental abuse since infant hood, by her father who was a retired military officer (reference needed). She was locked in her room for thirteen years with the most minimal exposure to human interaction and relationship. Evidence indicates that her father would hit her with stick whenever Genie attempts to speak or make a sound. The patriarch also forbidden other family members to reach out to Genie, denying the child to interaction and language exposure.

When her mother decided to leave her father, she took Genie with her to seek help in a welfare office somewhere in California. Genie was immediately evaluated and projected to be 6 or 7  years old by the social workers. However, when they learned that she was 13, they immediately called social services for further support.

Why? When Genie was discovered by the outside world, she was almost entirely mute. The only words she can utter were negatives such as don’t, cannot, stop it and no more. Also, she had this strange rabbit-walk, brought about by the months and years being tied to a potty chair for the last thirteen years.

Considered as the most extreme case of human isolation in the study of human psychology in America, to this day, Genie is still considered a living example that CPH , is still something we should think of whenever we delve into the discussion of learning a first language.

If you’d like to know more about Genie, here’s a video of the documentary film they made of her in the 70’s, the same excerpt that Matthew showed us this morning. This, however, is just the first of the many parts in YouTube.

It immediately touched our hearts and temporarily silenced the class.

You can further explore the continuations here.

Though Genie’s case is something academicians will go crazy about, I on the other hand, think that she’s more than that.

Hers is one sad thing. Every child is entitled to love, attention and care. Even without awareness of such theories like the CPH, we deliberately educate our young and nurture them accordingly.

It’s unbelievable that such things can happen in a, supposedly,  modern world

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Hush Hush

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Comfort. Some find it in warm milk or soft slippers by an open fire. Others in the fragrances of a spring garden. Children find it in repetition, returning again and again to the same sentiment or phrase in a storybook.

It’s not only children who find solace in refrain. Think of the conventions of prayer and mantra. Most text-types are just that – form, shape and texture conventionalised by repetition, naturalised over time, to the point of unawareness. This applies to jokes, too. Consider this reconstituted oldie:

One sunny day in 2007, an old man approached the White House from a park bench on Pennsylvania Avenue. He spoke to the US marine standing guard and said, “I’d like to meet President Bush.” The marine stiffly answered, “Sir, Mr Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here.”

The old man said, “OK” and walked away. The following day he re-appeared and the scenario repeated. “I’d like to meet President Bush.” Again the marine said, “Sir, as I said yesterday, Mr Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here.”

The man thanked him and walked away. On the third day, the same man approached the White House and spoke to the same marine and said, “I’d like to meet President Bush.” The marine, understandably agitated at this point, said, “Sir, this is the third consecutive day you’ve asked to meet President Bush. I’ve already told you that Mr Bush is no longer the president and no longer resides here. Don’t you understand?”

The old man replied, “Oh, I understand. I just love hearing it.”

Repetition can happen at the micro-level of a word. Think of heebie-jeebies, airy-fairy, higgledy-piggledy. The technical term is “reduplicative” (from the Latin reduplicare, to double up) – ironically, a misnomer as duplicative per se suggests duplication.

There are at least three types of reduplicatives. In the first kind, there’s an exact duplication of the first word in the second (hush-hush, never-never, tut-tut, goody-goody). In the second type, we have two similar words, with a change of consonant in the second word (hanky-panky, helter-skelter). In the third, which often loses the hyphen, the difference is a vowel change (chitchat, zigzag).

Semantically, the patterning is even more interesting. Sometimes you take a base word, which is meaningful, and repeat it with a slight change, creating a new word that intensifies the meaning (super-duper, dillydally). Or you can take a base word, change the ending, then add a rhyming version (lovey-dovey). In other cases, the compound is meaningful, but the component words are not (hocus-pocus, fuddy-duddy, namby-pamby). Or each part of the compound is meaningful, but is never used without the other (walkie-talkie).

Reduplicatives are a feature of relaxed spoken language where precision and correctness are unimportant. There is often a deliberately laid-back quality (hunky-dory, okey-dokey). Especially with children, there is an infantilising element (silly-billy, pitter-patter). The tone may be disrespectful (arty-farty, mumbo-jumbo), and when borrowing a pattern from Yiddish, it’s a downright put-down (fancy-shmancy) where the second word is constructed to take the wind out of the first. This divests a word of its self-importance, such as when comedian Fran Drescher (The Nanny) said disdainfully of her diagnosis, “cancer-schmancer”

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MULTILINGUALISM: The key to comprehensible education, self-esteem and language preservation

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This is the first of the many reaction/reflection papers that I will submit to my PNU professors starting this sem. I have decided to post ALL my papers here for everyone who might be find my insights and references useful.

Don’t worry…balahura pa rin ako. Let me put on the academic hat once in a while. : )
Submitted to Mr. Matthew Nepomuceno (07/03/2010)

Head of Save the Children UK, Katy Webley once said that, “education is power and language is the key to accessing that power.” This statement is parallel to what Ricardo Nolasco (2008) presented in “The Prospects of Multilingual Education (MLE) and Literacy in the Philippines.” He stated that through MLE, Filipino learners can develop proficiency, not just in content-area subjects, but also in 2nd language learning. Providing instruction using the national language or the learner’s own dialect can provide meaningful and comprehensible learning experiences. Linguists and other business organizations have conducted studies and concluded claims of its effect to early learners’ comprehension and self-esteem. However, academic institutions, lawmakers and even parents are taking sometime to shift from a system where a second language is used as the medium of instruction (MOI).

Studies on MLE support Nolasco’s arguments, some of which are even cited in “Prospects.” Common findings are (1) that children need at least 12 years to learn the first language (Tucker, 1994), (2) that premature use of the second language can lead to low achievement in literacy, mathematics and science (Alidou, 2006), and (3) that this form of linguistic engagement motivates students and will make them more likely to succeed academically and is better to learn additional languages (Webley, 2006).

Further, MLE can promote higher self-esteem and a sense of nationalism among learners. Through classroom interactions and activities done in the native language, learners can receive comprehensible instruction and provide meaningful and appropriate feedback through a medium they are most comfortable with. In addition, by using the mother-tongue, students become aware of the significance of their language and culture, as the community demonstrates its worth through high-status activities such as schooling (Benson, 2005).

It is a sad note, however, that in the past years, our lawmakers have denied the conclusive arguments of these studies. Representative Del Mar’s claim that English proficiency as being the key to better opportunities here and abroad, does not agree to what I believe as an educator. Proficiency in the second language is not, and will not be, sufficient to make a worker globally competitive. Other technical knowledge and skills, work-related behaviors and values are also extremely important qualities of global-competitiveness (Bernardo, 2009).

Based on my observations, it is also alarming to note that schools and Filipino parents are choosing education through a dominant language. Parents and teachers regard their children and students who can effectively express themselves in English, rather than in their own native language. Though it is undeniable that in our present sociological status, where a post-colonial language is deemed superior, and a large chunk of media and jobs gear towards the use of such language, young and old fluent second language speakers are tagged as competitive. However, this mindset eventually pushes our schools to promote the second language as their primary MOI, thus ignoring the importance of MLE to promote a more proactive approach to learning, language development and self-esteem among the minorities.

Cheris Kramarae’s Muted-Group Theory, though gender-based, can still occur in a classroom where a second language is used as a MOI. When students choose not to participate despite their wide range of schema on the subject-matter as brought about by the MOI, they hinder successful interaction and communication in a learning environment.

Moreover, teaching students in a language they do not understand is a clear violation of Article 30 of United Nation’s Rights of a Child to education in a language they use with their families and communities. Apart from denying the child the right to comprehensible education, this, according to Skuntnabb-Kangas (2006), will further lead to what she calls as Linguistic Genocide. According to her, in other parts of the country, and in the world, most indigenous dialects are spoken. With the claim that most indigenous languages cannot adapt to a post-modern technological world, learning institutions deny the effectiveness of MLE in sustaining and nourishing the learner’s own language/dialect. This post-colonial mindset among our parents and educational institutions are unconsciously “killing” their own dialects and native languages (Skuntnabb-Kangas, 2006). Unless these languages are strengthened through other means of linguistic preservation like education, they will disappear.

As someone from the BPO industry, it is alarming to note that recruitment teams generally hire only 2 out of 20 applicants a day, due to poor written and/or spoken English skills. Since 2005, recruiting enough staff to fill the seats for new and existing businesses has been an ongoing problem for HR departments in Manila call centers (Lockwood, 2009). From 2006 to 2009, recruitment rates in Manila call centers dropped from 1.5 to 3.73%, with lack of English language competence being cited as the main reason for staff shortages (Greenleaf and Ferrer, 2006; Lockwood, 2009). The BPO Training unit of the Business Process Outsourcing of the Philippines (BPAP) has identified the 1987 Bilingual Policy as the plaintiff for the poor English proficiency of present job seekers and employees (Agawin and Bonaobra, 2008). However, noting that MLE is being regarded as an alternative approach in teaching content-area subjects and a ladderized method in second language learning and acquisition as Webley and Tucker claimed, it is recommended that we explore its efficiency in preparing our future job-seekers for the world of work.

Nolasco’s “Prospects” and other MLE related studies present an argument worthy of our attention. As language, culture, self-identity and self-esteem are inter-connected; we should proactively start promoting multilingual Filipino classrooms that will assist our learners’ comprehension and preserve our native language.


Agawin, O. and Bonaobra, Y. (2008, February 6). Rekindling Old Flames (The University Linkages Program: PeopleSupport’s Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative). PeopleSupport Post, page 8.

Bernardo, A. (2007). Language in Philippine Education: Rethinking old fallacies, exploring new alternatives amidst globalization. In Language and Globalization – The Politics of Language in the Philippines. Edited by Tupas, R. Quezon City: University of the Philippine Press.

Dumagpi, R. and Gonzales, M. (1997). Reding in the Content-areas. Quezon City, University of the Philippines Press.

Dumatog, R. and Dekker, D. (2003). First Language Education in Lubuagan, Northern Philippines. Retrived from

Greenleaf, R. and Ferrer, J. (2006). English language acquisition and assessment in call center environment. Paper presented at Talking Across the World: English Communication Skills for the ITES Industry Inaugural Conference, Asian Institute of Management, Makati, Philippines, February, 25-26, 2006.

Griffin, E. (2005). A First Look at Communication Theory, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino. (2000). The Prospects of Multilingual Education and Literacy in the Philippines. Manila: Nolasco, R. M.

Lockwood, J., Forey, G., and Price, H. (2009). Engish in Philippine call centers and BPO operations: Issues, opportunities and research. In Philippine English – Linguistics and Literary Perspectives. Edited by Bautista, M.L., and Bolton, K. Pasig, Anvil Publishing.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved from

Skuntnabb-Kangas, T. (2006). Linguistic Genocide? Children’s right to education in their own language. id21 Insights, 5, page 3.

Thomas, C. (2009) A positively plurilingual world: promoting mother tongue education. Retrieved from

Webley, K. (2006). Mother Tongue First – Children’s right to learn in their own language. id21 Insights, 5, page 1.

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