2 Videos of Kenneth Hale Speaking at a Conference in Portuguese

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2 Videos of Kenneth Hale Speaking at a Conference in Portuguese

Postby Finny » Sun May 22, 2016 3:40 am

Ken Hale is, in my opinion, the most dazzling example of polyglottery I've ever come across, and ever since I came across him 10 years ago (unfortunately he'd passed by then), I've always been eager to learn more about him and his legendary abilities to pick up languages. Here are two long (close to 1h each) videos of him giving a presentation ( "A Estrutura das Línguas Indígenas Brasileiras",) in Petropolis, Brazil, in 2000, a year before he sadly passed away due to prostate cancer. I used to be on the old forums a decade ago, and was thinking about him tonight when I came across this.

Part 1:


Part 2:


The talk, unfortunately, isn't about his language acquisition as far as I can tell (I speak Spanish and spent a bit of time with Portuguese back in the day, so I can generally follow it), but I just thought it was amazing to actually find clips of him speaking. The entire talk is in Portuguese, and he appears thoroughly comfortable.

Here are some articles on Ken Hale, for those who never heard of him. An extraordinary man, with a fully humanistic mission toward preserving endangered languages and cultures who represented some of what the best humanity had to offer.

Image

http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/ ... 44,00.html
http://www.anu.edu.au/linguistics/nash/ ... goyan.html
http://web.mit.edu/linguistics/events/t ... onies.html (my favorite...the stories are amazing)

Here are just a few excerpts from his retirement congratulations...

Ken's linguistic ability is legendary. Everybody has a story to tell about it and I am no exception. In my early days at MIT, I think it was somewhere around 1978 Ken and I went to the Linguistic Society of America meeting in New York City. At lunchtime he had a couple of errands and asked me if I would like to come along. The first stop was at the Irish Consulate. He needed a visa for a visit. When we went into the consulate, he began the conversation in Gaelic. Ken and the person behind the counter must have conversed for about five minutes when the other person asked Ken if he spoke English. She apologized that her own Gaelic was not up to his.

I have told this story on other occasions and people have wondered why Ken spoke in Gaelic in the first place. The answer is simple courtesy. Ken believes that it is a mark of respect to speak to someone in their own language. If only I could be that respectful.

After the consulate we went to an international bookstore where Ken found a novel and a dictionary in Dutch. He was going off to Holland for a year to teach and work and wanted to learn a little Dutch before he got there. About a year later Jan Koster told me this story. He was walking through one of the corridors at the University of Tilbourg when he heard, but could not yet see, someone lecturing in Dutch on linguistics. He was surprised that there was someone on the Tilbourg staff who could lecture so authoritatively on the languages of the American South West and when he entered the room, he was astonished to see that it was Ken Hale. Jan told me Ken's Dutch was flawless.


Maybe the myths about Ken as a language savant are true. After all, he did come back to the department suddenly speaking Japanese after watching the mini-series Shogun with subtitles. I remember going to him my first year at MIT and discussing some ASL data that I thought might lead to a generals paper. A full year later, in the middle of a practice presentation for my generals exam, he raised his hand and corrected me on an ASL example that was inconsistent with the ones he had seen the year before. And, I had indeed mis-signed the example.


I'll never forget the time I had given you a handout containing St'at'imcets data, and we were to have an appointment. I walked into the appointment, and you immediately began writing St'at'imcets sentences on the board. Without looking at the handout. Making up St'at'imcets sentences from scratch (without mistakes), and in addition telling me how they reminded you of switch reference in a language I had never even heard of. There is no-one else who can instantly draw connections between phenomena in different languages the way you can.


Within a week of arriving in Yuendumu, many people started talking to me in Warlpiri - some because it was the only language they spoke - but others because they had heard I was a linguist, like that Japanangka from Mirika. You see Ken was the only linguist they had had experience of and he learned Warlpiri instantaneously, so all linguists must have this extraordinary power of being able to learn languages like Ken Hale. Sounds logical enough. Imagine the pressure, if one didn't learn to speak the language pretty darn quickly then what credibility did one have as a linguist? One was clearly a fraud. So to save face one threw oneself into learning to speak and understand Warlpiri as fast as one could.

About three months after settling into Yuendumu, I met a young Warlpiri man George Robertson Jampijinpa with whom I worked very closely for quite a few years. He had been taught to write Warlpiri by Ken in 1974 and he had a real flair for writing and for linguistic analysis. He used to regale me with stories about Ken Hale. He told me how he had travelled around with Ken to a number of Warlpiri communities and to other Aboriginal settlements.

He loved to recount how, in one of these villages called Lajamanu (known as Hooker Creek in those days), old ladies who were coming away from the local store with their arms full of purchases saw him with this white man and then as they approached (George was one of their relatives) they heard the white man speaking Warlpiri fluently and correctly - such was their shock that they dropped their shopping and fled!

Another of George's Ken Hale stories was that they would typically arrive at a place around 10am, Ken would start recording the local language with someone or other, and then by lunchtime Ken was conversing fluently in the language with the locals. George never ceased to be amazed at how quickly this white man could learn a new language. Warlpiris, like most Aboriginal people in central Australia, tend to be multilingual but white people in their experience rarely are. They have great difficulty understanding or speaking an Aboriginal language. Missionaries who had lived among the Warlpiri for over 20 years only knew a few words. So in this context, Ken was indeed exceptional. But then he was a linguist!


In August of 1997, my father and I had stopped for breakfast at a restaurant outside of Tsaile, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation. It was a day typical of those I recall during my childhood here: windy, bright, with clouds moving across the broad expanse of sky, casting sharply demarcated shadows which sped across the contours of the beautiful and rugged landscape. As we walked across a dusty lot, passing cattle grazing on the median between the restaurant and the roadside, we were approached by a Navajo man. He asked if we had any change to spare. My father gave him several dollars and began conversing with the man in Navajo. In all of the many times that I have seen my father speak beautifully in diverse and indigenous languages, my amazement and wonder at his gift for language have never abated.

This unexpected fluency obviously surprised the Navajo man as well, whose face lit up with a smile and a look of comfort and familiarity. My father and the man continued with a short conversation, the meaning of which escaped me beyond the familiar Navaho salutations. As we walked into the restaurant, I asked: "What did you say, Dad?" He answered by saying only: "He used a word [in referring to us] reserved for those who are considered friends of the tribe, as close as a white man can be without being Navajo."
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Re: 2 Videos of Kenneth Hale Speaking at a Conference in Portuguese

Postby BOLIO » Sun May 22, 2016 12:43 pm

Thank you for posting this. I do not understand Portuguese but the links about him were fascinating. I had never heard of him but he was truly gifted and really cared about what he was doing.

Thanks again.
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Re: 2 Videos of Kenneth Hale Speaking at a Conference in Portuguese

Postby Finny » Sun May 22, 2016 6:28 pm

You're welcome BOLIO, and yes, he was an inspiration. I try to keep his mindset close to heart when thinking of issues of language and culture, and of humanity.

His studies contributed to the continuing quest for a general theory of the human capacity for language. But he was best known for his commitment to keep alive the unwritten speech of peoples at risk of extinction by assimilation or other means.

Dr. Hale learned some of the ancient languages of the American Indians and the Australian Aborigines, and he saw some of the languages and their speakers disappear after he had learned them.

Throughout his career he promoted linguistic training for speakers of languages of indigenous peoples so that they could preserve them and pass them on to another generation. According to M.I.T., two of his graduate students, a Hopi and a Navajo, were the first Native Americans to receive doctorates in linguistics.

''Ken viewed languages as if they were works of art,'' said Dr. Samuel Jay Keyser, a friend and M.I.T. colleague. ''Every person who spoke a language was a curator of a masterpiece.''

Another colleague, Dr. Philip Khoury, an M.I.T. dean, said he once asked Dr. Hale about his ability to speak languages by the dozen. ''The problem is,'' he quoted Dr. Hale's reply, ''that many of the languages I've learned are extinct, or close to extinction, and I have no one to speak them with.''


http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/19/us/ke ... uages.html (from where the above quotations come)

I remember reading an earlier NYT article from the 90s where he'd already estimated at least 8 of the 50 odd languages he knew were extinct. And he discussed his methods for acquisition with his classic modesty here and there:

Dr. Hale was modest about his polyglot accomplishment. ''It's more like a musical talent than anything else,'' he told The New York Times in 1997. ''When I found out I could speak Navajo at the age of 12, I used to go out every day and sit on a rock and talk Navajo to myself,'' he recalled.

He said he could never learn a language in a classroom, but only one on one with a person. He said he would start with parts of the body, common animals and objects, learn nouns, pick up sound systems and write it all down.

''If it's not a written language, like Nggoth, which is spoken in Australia,'' he said, ''I make up how to write it. I can learn that in one or two hours.

''Then I start making complex sentences because the complex sentences are more regular than the simple ones. Then pretty soon I can name anything in the world.''


or here: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/12/31/us/to ... toast.html

"When you lose a language," he told an interviewer, "it's like dropping a bomb on a museum."

Professor Hale said he could never learn a language in a classroom.

''For me, it's got to be done with another person on a one-to-one basis,'' he said. ''I start with parts of the body and common animals and objects. I learn nouns. Then I pick up the sound system. I write that down.

''If it's not a written language, like Nggoth, which is spoken in Australia, I make up how to write it. I can learn that in one or two hours. Then I start making complex sentences because the complex sentences are more regular than the simple ones. Then pretty soon I can name anything in the world.''


Regarding how many languages he knew...he claimed he could only "talk" English, Spanish, and Warlpiri, but his speaking knowledge was estimated in various places (e.g., here http://www.theguardian.com/news/2001/no ... obituaries) at 50. In attempting to put together a list of his languages, I come up with...

English, Spanish, Hopi, Hebrew, Navajo, Wampanoag, Warlpiri, Jemez, French, Polish, Papago, Ulwa, Miskitu, Aranda, Kaitish, Warramunga, Loritja, Lardil, Yiddish, Maori, Paiute, Winnebago, Igbo, Dagur, Japanese, Gaelic, Pachuco, Portuguese, German, Dutch, Nggoth, Sumu, Amazigh, Norwegian, Danish, Arabic, Turkish, Aranda, Kaitish, Basque, Cherokee.

That's 41, and there are still more.
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Re: 2 Videos of Kenneth Hale Speaking at a Conference in Portuguese

Postby reineke » Mon May 23, 2016 4:15 pm

"Maybe the myths about Ken as a language savant are true. After all, he did come back to the department suddenly speaking Japanese after watching the mini-series Shogun with subtitles."

Is this about the American television miniseries based on the novel of the same name by James Clavell? It reads like a joke. The author of the Economist article wasn't joking:

"Wherever he travelled he picked up a new tongue. ...in Ireland he spoke Gaelic so convincingly that an immigration officer asked if he knew English. He apologised to the Dutch for taking a whole week to master their somewhat complex language. He picked up the rudiments of Japanese after watching a Japanese film with subtitles."

Eh...may he rest in peace.
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Re: 2 Videos of Kenneth Hale Speaking at a Conference in Portuguese

Postby Saim » Mon May 23, 2016 5:01 pm

My syntax professor at the University of Barcelona said that when he came to speak at a conference there people were wondering whether he would speak in English or Spanish. In the end he did it in Catalan.
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Re: 2 Videos of Kenneth Hale Speaking at a Conference in Portuguese

Postby Finny » Tue May 24, 2016 2:47 am

Saim wrote:My syntax professor at the University of Barcelona said that when he came to speak at a conference there people were wondering whether he would speak in English or Spanish. In the end he did it in Catalan.


Ha...surprising, yet, fully in line with the other stories. Adding your story to the pile, that's a 42nd language.
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Re: 2 Videos of Kenneth Hale Speaking at a Conference in Portuguese

Postby nooj » Wed Oct 04, 2017 2:45 am

I've heard Ken Hale stories through the grapevine. A lot of the linguists at my university at least knew of the man, some even met him.

Never knew the man but he (in part) changed my life at a moment where I was a bit lost. I changed my studies from Classics to Linguistics.
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Re: 2 Videos of Kenneth Hale Speaking at a Conference in Portuguese

Postby Iversen » Thu Oct 05, 2017 7:59 am

It is a pity that the sound quality isn't better - it is especially hard to hear professor Hale (the other guy is clearer), but thanks for sharing. It is the first time I have heard Hale speak, and I'm happy that it was in a non-English language which I do understand. If he could do more or less the same thing in 42 languages then the man was amazing - and my first thought is of course what he had in his mental setup which others don't have. Maybe Mezzofanti had, maybe Krebs and a few others, and maybe us lesser mortals have some of it, but not quite as much, or we have different parts of it in differing quantities, but he just had all the ingredients it takes to make a true language genius.

I noticed (cfr. the quotes) that he always learnt directly from a person, not by studying in the ordinary sense. My own experience is that I can't use the direct input unless I already have prepared myself through formal study to grab the information emanating from my informant. Besides my memory needs every input item to be repeated again and again, and it is hard to find a human being who can deliver that in the same way as a wordlist or grammar book can - humans are simply too disorganized (and that also is true for paid mentors and teachers). One of the assets of Hale apparently was that he was able to pick up any piece of information the first time it occured in a conversation and KEEP it. Another could be that he had a linguistic sense (and savvy) that permitted him immediately to put all the information in the right place so that he could figure out the grammar of a new language. It is a shame that his way of learning wasn't scrutinized while he was alive - all we have got in this respect is a number of anecdotes and words of praise.
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Re: 2 Videos of Kenneth Hale Speaking at a Conference in Portuguese

Postby nooj » Sun Oct 08, 2017 2:42 am

I wonder what it would be like to have that kind of God-given ability to see, perceive, feel language in that way. Pardon me for being all mystical and stuff, but to be able to have the world at your fingertips in that kind of way is quite astonishing.

I ran into some of his work at the university library. He worked with the Warlpiri people for a Land title claim in court in 1980, he was the interpreter for the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, translating the arguments of the Warlpiri people and also giving the necessary kind of cultural background for the guy (an Anglo) to understand.

I've found this website made by Ken Hale's son, Ezra where you can hear Hale speak Warlpiri in depth. It is quite incredible. There's a funny bit where he switches from Warlpiri to Japanese in order to explain a concept better.

In 1994 Ken Hale (my father) made a recording of the Warlpiri language to send to his two sons Caleb and Ezra Hale (me). At the time Caleb and I were living away from our home town of Boston, MA in Atlanta, GA and Minneapolis, MN respectively. Dad spoke Warlpiri almost exclusively to us since we were infants so we understood Warlpiri (as he spoke it) in the same way that we understood our native English. He intended this tape as a reminder for us of various words and grammar particular to Warlpiri. In his classic form the entire tape is spoken in Warlpiri alone. Occasionally he will say an English word like "Sam Adams" his favorite beer, but other than that the entire tape is spoken in Warlpiri.

The original cassette tape is a full hour of Ken speaking about his favorite subjects in Warlpiri. I have broken the original tape into the segments he intended and have presented them in the chronological order of the original cassette tape. Below I provide a summary for each segment as well as a brief translation.

Warlpiri was only one of the many languages that my father spoke but he often said it was one of his favorite.For more information on my father Ken Hale you can read his wiki page here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_L._Hale

I should note that I am not Warlpiri or a native Warlpiri speaker, nor was my father. I only understand and speak Warlpiri as it was spoken to me by a single person, my father, over the 31 years that I knew him. My father learned Warlpiri during his time in central Australia in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Warlpiri language may have changed in the intervening half century since he learned it. I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies that might exist in these recordings or my translations.
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