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How We Learn Language?

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Are we born with the capacity to speak a language? Or do we learn exclusively through imitation? This is a quick guide to three key theories Behaviourism Sees language as the product of our interaction with our environment. We learn it  like any other skill through imitation and practice. Important aspects of the theory are: reinforcement (positive and negative), repetition, small sequenced tasks and consistency.  Many educational policies are based on social interactionism  - a more nuanced variant of behaviourist theory. Social interactionism focuses on the relationship between the learner, his/her environment and the context under which learning occurs. Key Theorist : BF Skinner Key term: operant conditioning : Put crudely, rewiring the brain to offer reward for successful language acquisition. Skinner saw this as a kind of mechanical process with four elements: motivating operations, discriminative stimuli, response, and reinforcing stimuli. Strengths :  some language elements -

Female gigolo?

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  gigolo   / ˈʒɪɡəˌləʊ / n  (   pl   -los ) a man who is kept by a woman, esp an older woman a man who is paid to dance with or escort women By RKO Radio Pictures -  Fair use,  Etymology: 20 th  Century: from French, back formation from  gigolette  girl for hire as a dancing partner, prostitute, from  giguer  to dance, from  gigue  a fiddle; compare  gigot ,  gigue ,  jig In the 1920s the word gigolo came into a vogue to describe a paid (male) escort. The gig (!) did not necessarily imply sexual services though there was a raffish undertone (see Boulevard of Broken Dreams and the most famous song associated with the occupation, Just a Gigolo .  At that point the term was cheerfully sexist - gigolettes need not apply. But in fact the etymology tracks back to  gigolette  - a French slang term coined in the mid Nineteenth Century. A gigolette  was a small boned cut of meat - the unflattering association was with the feminine form. The word also displayed reverse discrimination, only appl

Irish English: What is cat melodeon?

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Don't shoot me I'm only the piano accordion player! Cat/ Cat melodeon   ( a): dreadful, no good, awful, very bad.   Bernard Share’s dictionary of Irish slang  Slanguage quotes Victoria White in the Irish Times calling cat melodeon “the greatest expression in Hiberno-English.”  The word cat  is used to express disappointment in the quality of something: the food is cat in that place. Where does Cat Melodeon come from? The Cat Melodeon players In his book on Irish traditional music, Ciaran Carson suggests cat melodion is a joking reference to the musicianship:  of  piano-accordion players (who often refer to their instruments as melodeons) to play two notes at once.   Source     As the nephew of a fine melodeon player, I think this is cat altogether  -   you throw in altogether  for emphasis, by the way. When was it first used? Strangely, some dictionaries cite the first use in print as being in the 1980s. This is decades after I first heard it. My guess is that it has been

Why does the USA not have an official language?

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US states where English is an official language.  Light blue is where there are two official languages (Louisiana - French & English, New Mexico - Spanish & English, Hawaii - Hawaiian & English) 58 countries have English as an official language. Surprisingly, the list does not include either the UK or the USA. In the United States this was a conscious decision of the Founding Fathers . They believed that an official language would be divisive and undemocratic in a multi-lingual country.  Around 30% of the 18th century population of the USA was German or Dutch speaking. There were also many other linguistic minorities: 18 languages were spoken on Manhattan Island [New York City] as early as 1646. The Dutch, Flemish, Walloons, French, Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, English, Scots, Irish, Germans, Poles, Bohemians, Portuguese, and Italians were among the settlement’s early inhabitants.  Vincent N. Parrillo, Diversity in America , 2008 An extended version of this post is  here  (

Ten Dickensian eponyms?

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Dickens festival, Rochester. Fagin hanging with Miss Havisham & the gang  I am well aware that I am the ‘umblest person going,” said Uriah Heep, modestly . Charles Dickens, David Copperfield No novelist has been more inventive in using character names to express character traits. Ernest L. Abel identifies seventeen examples that have entered general English. These ten are perhaps the best known: Scrooge -  miserliness, anti-Christmas, bah humbug etc  Mr Micawber -  spendthrift, ludicrously optimistic ‘something will turn up’  Fagin - charming, ruthless, leader of a gang of child thieves. Miss Havisham - embittered reclusive spinster Uriah Heep - obsequious, toadying, false humility. More recently humble brag   Podsnap  - complacent jingoist who “stood very high in his own opinion” Pecksniff -  hypocritical Pickwick - amiable bon viveur, 'Pickwick paunch' Gradgrind  -  hard, ruthless businessman who reduces everything to monetary value. Others are now perhaps less famil

Five ways Dickens expanded the English language

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A mong the 9,218 quotations from {Dickens’} works in the OED, 265 words and compounds are cited as having been first used by him in print and another 1,586 as having been used in a new sense. Source