Linguistics and learning to read


For centuries, linguists have been examining how languages are put together. This investigation is possible because human languages are overwhelmingly orderly and law-governed. But the investigation is also exciting, because of a remarkable fact emerging from recent work: though languages differ in many ways, they are all cast from a common mold -- a "master plan" rooted in human biology. Linguists interested in this discovery try to determine exactly what this master plan is, and how it is reflected in the individual languages of the world. This work is important for many reasons. One reason is purely intellectual. By discovering the nature of human language, we arrive at a better understanding of ourselves. But another reason, less appreciated by most linguists, is social and political. Accurate understanding of human language is important when society is faced with decisions that have a linguistic basis -- for example: how we should teach reading to young children.



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