Höskuldur Þráinsson: Language Preservation, Acquisition, Linguistic Intuition – and the PISA survey
It is a commonly held belief in Iceland that it is better that the language changes as slowly as possible. That way Icelanders are more likely to continue to be able to read texts that were written centuries ago. As a result, „language preservation“ has long been an important goal in Icelandic schools. This paper argues, however, that the language preservation methods typically used in schools and elsewhere are bound to fail. The reason is that these methods do not take into account the established fact that children acquire their native language largely without any direct instruction and they mainly do so by figuring out by themselves the rules and regularities that hold in their language, e.g. with respect to pronunciation, inflection, syntactic structure, etc. Attempts to correct individual reflexes of these rules are bound to simply fail or even confuse the speakers and make them insecure about their language and usage. Several arguments and examples are put forward in this paper to support these claims. It is then pointed out that there is a much better way to strengthen the linguistic intuition of children and adolescents in schools: The teacher reads a short story or a narrative of some sort, the students listen and then retell the story in writing, using their own words, or some new ones they have picked up. Like reading, this will strengthen the students’ linguistic intuition, increase their vocabulary, enhance their ability to write and in the process improve their reading skills. As a result, they will do better on the so-called PISA survey, where Icelandic students have typically not had great results.
Keywords: language preservation, linguistic knowledge, language acquisition, linguistic intuition, PISA survey