Monday, January 23, 2006

Material Production


Question: What is known by knowing a language?
Ans.: If one knows the lexical items and patterns or the structure of the language, one can be said to have the knowledge of the language. The beginning is to be made with some lexical items. Without knowing some of the words of a language one cannot even begin to use it for communication. But words in any language would be numerous. English has over half a million. A distinction is made between ‘content words’ (lexical items) and ‘structure words’ (grammatical items). ‘Content words’ carry a definite identifiable meaning even when used in isolation such as ‘fruit’, ‘eat’ and ‘green’, etc. The list of such words is long and ‘open-ended’. It is always capable of growing by receiving new entries. For instance, ‘cosmonaut’ and ‘helipad’ have been recently added to the vocabulary of English. In the some way, ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’ from Russian language and ‘samosa’ from Hindi have been included in the latest edition of Hornby’s Advanced Learners Dictionary. On the other hand, structure words are used only in relation to other words in a structure, e.g. ‘of’, ‘and’, ‘some’, etc. The list of such words is a ‘close’ set. No new entries are being added to the list. In learning the words of a language, one is required to learn almost al the ‘structural words’ even for the most ordinary kind of communication. The question, therefore, would be which words and structures should be selected and included in the material, we produce for the teaching of English at certain level.
This will depend on what we want to use the language for. Within the same language there are different varieties, which differ widely from each other. We know that English used in America is different from that used in Britain. Varieties of the same language differing in geographical distribution are called ‘dialect’. It is being claimed that English as being used in India is different from other varieties to claim an independent status for itself as Indian English. Inhabitants of the same region use different forms of the same language depending upon circumstances. The variety of language conditioned by circumstances or domain is called ‘register’. Thus, there may be a doctor’s register of English and engineer’s register, a business’s register, a lawyer’s register, and also a bureaucrat’s register.
The selection of register is important but there is part of the language which is common to all register and is used for all kinds of communication. This constitutes what is termed as the ‘General Service Core’ of the language and this should be offered as ‘the first slice of the language cake. But even a full slice will be too much for anyone to manage at a time. This requires a selection of items, which would need to be graded to be incorporated into constituents to be learnt in some kind of order of difficulty or teach-ability.
Attempts have been made to arrive at some objective criteria for the selection and grading of items for the teaching of English. Far more work has been done in connection with the selection and grading of vocabulary than of structures. During 20’s and 30’s of the 20th century, a number of linguists, Thornlike, Michael West and Richards try to prepare the list of the minimum of vocabulary that one should possess. The first criterion is that the frequency in use. Frequency counts of words would include samples from all the register of the language as this would make the evidence more comprehensive and reliable. A word with a wider range must be preferred to an item with a narrower range.
Then there are words which carry multiple meanings. They have great utility. For instances, one associates multiple meanings with the word ‘table’: a piece of furniture, time-table, multiplication table, table of contents, etc. In a frequency count, one has to indicate which meaning of a word is more frequently used than another. A word having a wider semantic range must be preferred to one having a narrower semantic range.
Another useful criterion is that of productivity. Some words provide scope for the formation of many new words, e.g. ‘man’: ‘to man’, ‘salesman’, ‘statesman’, manful, manfully, one-up-man-ship. English forms new words by adding prefixes and suffixes to word stems and once the process of word formation or derivation is known, the learner can add many more new words to the stock.
Finally there may be practical consideration of teach-ability. The learner needs a core vocabulary of words which are intimately connected with this environment and which can be taught more easily in the classroom using practical technique. Such words should get priority for inclusion in materials that are produced for teaching a language.
It is generally held that the learner of English needs a core vocabulary of approximately 2500 general service words to be able to fulfill all his communicational needs. This list would include, of course, nearly all the structure words of English --- articles, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, demonstratives, relatives, question words and auxiliaries --- about 150 or so. Such a list was prepared by Michael West using the criteria mentioned above. It was meant to be used mainly by the framers of syllabuses, writers of text book and teachers of English. West’s general service list of 2000 words remains authoritative and useful even today, but it needs to be revised and up-dated. Keeping in view the milieu of the Indian learner of English, now many more words are being coined, derived from word stems and borrowed from other languages. The lexicon of English has, therefore, expanded considerably during the last 50 years. Computerization has assigned new meanings to some of the words, which are already in use. Recent researchers in various disciplines have brought into existence a large number of vocabulary items which did not exist earlier. There are many more things being talked about and written about today than 20 years earlier. Therefore, one needs a core vocabulary of approximately 3000 words to meet one’s minimum requirements.
A distinction is to be made between active (productive vocabulary) and passive (recognition vocabulary). Obviously the passive vocabulary of any individual will be more extensive than the active. Therefore a normal learner of English (every learner of English) should aims at achieving active vocabulary of 3000 words and passive vocabulary of approximately 5000 items.


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