September 29, 2009

On the evolution of linguistics

Christine Kenneally’s 2007 book The First Word is the subject of a series of columns in Lex Talk! by Norbert Cunningham. These are just highlights.

Meaningful study of language just beginning
September 21, 2009

…Kenneally’s book shows modern linguistics is a rapidly burgeoning field going off in several directions at once, and explains the significance of what’s being learned or just being probed with no definitive answers yet. There is no shortage of work or questions to investigate, but the science is now, at last, clearly on a better footing. The new linguistics revolution dates only to 1990 and the really phenomenal growth in the field has only been in the last nine years…

Thinking carefully about language reveals insights
September 21st, 2009

…What is language? The increasingly prevailing view is that it is not a ‘thing’ at all and to think of it that way is misleading. Rather than being a big thing that we have or possess, researchers think of it as a ‘thing that we do.’ In other words, language is an activity, not a thing…

Things that are essential to having language
September 28th, 2009
…Language isn’t just words, it represents a whole ‘suite’ of physical traits and abilities coming together. Language doesn’t exist without gestures (some suspect it started with gesture). You also need speech (and hearing) for language to arise. And structure: language puts words together in specific ways (innate things like alarm cries, which most animals have, aren’t language). Language includes complex, abstract thought; thoughts within thoughts; thoughts dependent on shared knowledge etc. It also entails creating entirely new thoughts. …

September 22, 2009

Executive Summary “Improving Health Begins with Understanding” A CIGNA Foundation Thought Leadership Forum

In 2007 CIGNA Foundation’s Thought Leadership Forum hosted Improving Health Begins with Understanding, which reached these conclusions about literacy and health.

  • People avoid what they don’t understand. Fear, shame, anxiety and confusion often drive personal health care decisions.
  • Poor health literacy knows no demographic limits. Age, education, ethnicity, income, and gender are not reliable predictors.
  • Demography does drive content. Different groups understand information in different ways.
  • Reading literacy isn’t health literacy. Being able to read a professional journal doesn’t necessarily mean someone can understand the instructions on a prescription drug bottle.
  • Fluency isn’t communication. Being able to speak a language doesn’t mean someone can understand a doctor’s instructions delivered in that language.
  • Communication is multi-faceted. Printed material, audio/visual elements, electronic information and face-to-face interaction must all work together.
  • Success will be slow and incremental. At first, improvements depend on listening, understanding and responding to people’s needs on a case by case basis.
  • Failure is not an option. Poor health literacy is costing our country in terms of dollars and lost productivity, threatening not just our nation’s health, but our future.

Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate decisions.
– Parker & Ratzan, 2001

September 16, 2009

How do we know what other people are thinking?

September 3, 2009

Clear your path

Naïve realism is the conviction that one sees the world as it is and that when people don’t see it in a similar way, it is they that do not see the world for what it is.

“Lee Ross characterized naïve realism as “a dangerous but unavoidable conviction about perception and reality”. The danger of naïve realism is that while humans are good in recognizing that other people and their opinions have been shaped and influenced by their life experiences and particular dogmas, we are far less adept at recognizing the influence our own experiences and dogmas have on ourselves and opinions. We fail to recognize the bias in ourselves that we are so good in picking out in others.”

“Lee Ross’s Lecture on Barriers to Conflict Resolution” (The Daily Gazette – Swarthmore):

Don’t waste your breath

David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell confirmed:
• Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill.
• Incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others.
• Incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy

“Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1999, Vol. 77, No. 6. ] 121-1134. Copyright 1999 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.