Wednesday, September 7, 2011

'Feeling' of language as a sign of autopoiesis

1 I was a speech synthesizer of English with good deciphering functions

English, my foreign language, was only a code for me for many years. Even after I became a university student, it wasn't really "felt" by me. Before I enter university, I had little experience of using English in real communication. More than that, I rarely heard a voice of a native speaker of English. English texts were read aloud by teachers or students, both Japanese, but usually what we heard was 'sounds' (that were to be recognized, more or less, as English) rather than human voices with real feelings. In fact, when a teacher brought a tape recorder to class one day in my high school days, I just didn't see why he brought such a gadget in an English class. The teacher played a recorded voice of a native speaker of English for one minute or so, saying that it should be a 'good experience' for us. It was the only time I heard a voice of a native speaker of English in my high school days. It is not that we had no tape recorders in Japan in those days, though (I was born in 1963). It was just that teachers and students believed that English classes were only for developing deciphering skills for college entrance examinations.

By the time I went to university, I was able to read English texts to the extent I was able to correctly answer questions in tests (texts we read included those by Bertrand Russell or Somerset Maugham, for example). But when I was reading a text, I only heard in my mind sounds of the words decoded by me for processing. I was a good decoder of English, both for sounds and meaning. I produced sounds of the words like a speech synthesizer so that I could process them for meaning.

So when I was assigned a role in an English play (The Deep Blue Sea, as it was) in a language learning group (English Speaking Society: ESS), I really didn't know what to do. The director asked me to say the lines with emotions, but I never knew how I could express emotions in English. Fortunately, one kind English gentleman (Professor of philosophy, in fact) recorded his vocal reading of the entire play and I just tried to imitate his voice from a tape recorder.

As university and ESS gave me opportunities to use English for communicative purposes, I gradually began to 'feel' English. One episode I recall clearly was when I had a dream in English for the first time. In the dream, I was reading aloud a book written in English. I didn't exactly remember the meaning, but I recall the emotions and passions that I felt as I found I was reading the book in the dream.

Another episode was the realization, a gradual one, that I was beginning to hear a human voice as I read an English text by myself. What I heard was not the artificially synthesized sounds as it had been, but a voice of the writer or narrator of the text as I imagined. From the text, a voice 'emerged' with (what I regarded as) real feelings. The voice that I heard (i.e. I produced in my mind) had natural expressions. I can't recall the exact moment when I heard such a voice for the first time, but it was indeed impressive, and if I'm to name an interesting experience in my language learning history, I wouldn't fail to mention this episode.

2 Six stages of development of an L2 learner

After I read Damasio's Self Comes to Mind recently, some concepts are clearer for me. The concepts include those of emotions, feelings, mind and self. (Please refer to my previous article: A summary of Damasio’s “Self Comes to Mind”). In this current article, I use these concepts and argue that feeling of language is an important sign of autopoietic foreign language learning, and hence an L2 self creation.

Let's review the concepts briefly.

Emotions are automatic actions (or reactions) initiated by the body when it is affected by some stimulus or perturbation from its environment (there are, though, also emotions that arise from earlier emotions within the same body system -- internal emotions triggered by internal emotions). The body initiates them with its physiological structure it inherited from evolution before its birth and constructed from collective culture and from personal learning after birth. The structure is best fit for the survival of the body (the most important value for any living system), and more emotions (both in terms of volumes and kinds) arise from the stimulus or perturbation that is more important for the survival. Yet, there are varieties of emotions, some of which may not seem to be not directly related to the survival in the literal sense.

Feelings are the perception of the emotions (We see a self-referential relation here). When emotions in the body are particularly felt by (or within) itself, they become feelings. So, expressions like emotional feelings or feeling of emotions are used interchangeably with feeling. (Feeling is ambiguous because it can be either a noun or a gerund; A feeling as a noun is a perception of a particular emotion, whereas feeling as a gerund is perception of various emotions in general.)

A mind can be a completely nonconscious cognitive mechanism, as in the case of a simple life system. In humans, some cognition is mapped on the neural networks to become images, self-referential representations of the cognition. Images are sensed in consciousness, and in it, become usable for recalling the past and simulating the future.

The conscious mind possesses not just primordial feeling, the very basic sense of its own being, but also some sense of subjectivity and agency: the awareness of objects in the world, of the material me that are affected by the objects, and of the self-referential I that senses them.

The conscious mind is a self; protoself when it only has the primordial feeling, and core self when it senses subjectivity and agency as well. An extended mind with the use of language is called autobiographical self, as it has the sense of its own identity that extends from the past to the future imaginable.

With these concepts, we may formulate developmental stages of an L2 learner ('L2' here is a general term that both refers to a foreign language and a second language in the strict sense. However, my arguments are mostly based upon foreign language learners, as my primary interest is Japanese learners of English as a foreign language.)

(1) Protoself as a newborn

(2) Core self as a pre-linguistic child

(3) L1 autobiographical self (= L1 self)

(4) L1 self with L2 protoself

(5) L1 self with L2 core self

(6) L1 self with L2 autobiographical self

A baby will quickly develop from (1) (a protoself) to (2) (a core self) and begins to acquire L1 to become (3) (an L1 autobiographical self), where she finds (or rather constructs) her identity with L1.

Our interest lies in later stages from (4) to (6). (4) (an L1 self with L2 protoself) emerges probably in the first few hours (or even minutes) of foreign language learning, when a learner just listens to and, if possible, try to imitate foreign sounds without really understanding what she is doing.

As learning progresses, the learner, being mostly an L1 self with only a protoself for L2, begins to have a sense of subjectivity and agency in L2 as well. She begins to feel herself in or under her use of L2. She is not just a parrot to reproduce or echo what she hears. Although very clumsily, she somehow tries to control her L2, and she is here on the stage of L1 self with L2 core self. She also begins to feel that she possesses her L2 self as one of her own resources (ownership, another feature of core self.) She feels her L2 self, still not full-fledged, possessing the sense of subjectivity, agency and ownership.

As a learner further learns and uses a foreign language, English in our argument, she becomes more capable of expressing about persons or things around her from her perspective. What she says in English is an expression of the relationship between persons or things around herself and herself. 'Self-expression' is a term that is usually used for describing oneself, but in a sense, all you say is a self-expression, for any utterance in communication is always related to yourself (A sentence in syntax is not). Using L2 for communicative purposes is to express a view from your standpoint with an L2 as the medium for that expression. She may of course choose to relate to nothing but herself. She can describe what she recalls as her past or what she foresees as her future. She is now on the stage of (6): L1 self with L2 autobiographical self. She is now capable of expressing her world in two languages, not to the equal degree or in the same manner, but she has a dual self, two language selves in unity. (Please read my essay "Where is Self, and what is it?" No, it's rather "How is Self?": Luhmann's theory of autopoiesis.)

3 'Feeling' in autopoiesis

In the development from (4) to (5), and then (6), I believe a learner often senses feelings in L2. I argue that feeling is an important index that indicates the transformation of herself: autopoiesis. (Autopoiesis is a self-referential self-reproduction. A self produces a new self using (only) itself as resources. )

On stage (4) (L1 self with L2 protoself), a learner has only a weak L2 self (protoself) because she typically finds herself only listening to or tying to reproduce foreign sounds that are not clearly meaningful to her. As these sounds are not substantially related to herself, she may not initiate much emotion with that language use. Her sense of self mainly derives from her L1 self.

As she develops into stage (5) (L1 self with L2 core self), a learner finds herself firmly in L2 use; her sense of subjectivity in L2 is a sign that she feels her being in or under her use of L2; her sense of agency is an indication that she feels doing something on her own in L2; her sense of ownership is a recognition that she feels possessing herself as an L2 self. All these things she feels -- being, doing something, and possessing herself, all in L2 -- must be based on emotions, (re)actions of the body, because after all these are what she feels: feeling is the perception of nothing but emotions, according to our understanding along with Damasio.

When a learner feels something in L2 use, some emotions must be there in her, which are an index of her being involved in the L2 use. If it is not a matter or life or death, something vital must happen in order for emotions to arise, and then for feelings to be perceived. So if nothing is felt in language use, it suggests that a learner's self is not really involved. If something is felt, on the other hand, it is an index that reveals that a learner's self, a new L2 self, is emerging in autopoiesis. Something in herself is expressed in emotions and she feels the emotions. That feeling is a sign of creating a new self, for something new is found in herself. With the use of L2 she transforms her old self into a new self. Feeling is a sign of autopoiesis. (We're deeply committed in radical constructivism here.)

You cannot feel anything unless some part of yourself is involved. If, on the other hand, you ever feel something, it means that you're relating to yourself that is related to whatever is around you -- and this relation manifests itself as emotions. If you're relating to yourself related with something else, you, as conscious mind, find that you're relating to yourself related with something else -- and that finding takes the form of feelings. This finding, or awareness, is a second-order observation, which is a creation of a new you, autopoiesis

In my early days of learning English as a foreign language, I found English as a code rather than a language. I was able to process it, but didn't feel much in it. I argue now that not much of myself was involved in the use then. That is probably why I did not hear a human voice with proper expressions coming from the text I was reading. In the text, I didn't really find much of myself, which should be the basis of any feeling of emotions. As I didn't find myself, the text in front of me had nothing to strike itself against to produce emotions in me. There was not much emotion, hence I didn't feel much as I read the text. Without much emotional feeling in me, the text in front of me had no way to produce an expressive voice from itself in relation to me. (The same text, if it is related to a native speaker, would have produced a very personal voice).

Of course, as I understood the cognitive meaning of the text, cognitive part of myself must have been involved. And cognitive part of myself and affective part are not really distinguishable clearly (in fact, all cognition must be based on emotions as the basis of our being). So, it's not that I did not feel anything whatsoever; If so, I wouldn't have started to use English communicatively in those or later days.

Language learning as learning to use a language for communication is a construction of L2 self. One definite sign of the construction is feeling something in language use, for, in the autopoietic construction of L2 self, feeling shows that some part of yourself (related to something else) is being related to you -- with emotions--, and also that you find the you (as yourself) with that relation -- with feelings--. The you that finds the yourself with the relation is the new you. And if the new you is constructed and found through L2, the new you is an L2 self. You are creating a new L2 self, and that is language learning.

Next time you learn or teach a language, see if you or your students are feeling anything. If not, you may be dealing with a code, not a human language.


I'm still in the process of learning (to use) English as a foreign language. What I write in this medium, a much less satisfactory one than my first language, Japanese, is always, seen from the standpoint of myself as L1 self, a failure. But this failure, or to be more exact, finding this failure with emotional feelings is a sign of my development as an L2 user. As I feel something while I write in English, some part of me must be being transformed and I must be feeling this transformation (or some result of this transformation). This feeling of emotions may not be expressible in language, either in English or in Japanese, as the emotions are related to myself (related to something else) at a deep level. The emotions are implicit, although the feeling of them are somewhat less implicit, or explicit in comparison. Feeling the sense of failure, as well as feeling the sense of success or whatever, is a sign of my transformation as a language learner. I'd better feel something, if I ever want to learn to use a language for communicative purposes.

After all, all is said by Bruce Lee: Don't think; Feel.


Related posts:
A summary of Damasio’s “Self Comes to Mind”

Damasio (2000) The Feeling of What Happens 

Another short summary of Damasio's argument on consciousness and self


Anonymous said...

このエッセイを拝読させていただいた後に、柳瀬先生のシンポジウムでのご発表を聞き、なるほどと納得しました。「身体化」という概念(日本語の「身につける」に似ていると思います」)は、ことばの学びを考える上で大切だと思います。デカルト以来、西洋科学は「知」と「身体」とを切り離して扱ってきましたが、ことばの学習はmind-body-world circuitの中で行われるものと私は考えています。SLAの用語automatizationはcognition focusですが、「身体化」はもっと広い視野でことばの発達をとらえていると理解しました(間違っているかもしれませんが、、、)。

Yosuke YANASE said...

お優しい言葉をありがとうございます(感涙w)。大学院時代にWittgensteinを援用して以来、「わけがわからない」「論点を不必要に難しくばかりしている」などの温かい励ましwに支えられながらやってまいった私ではありまするが(←オイ、文体おかしくなってるぞ)、やっぱりご理解いただけると嬉しいです。the-mind/brain-embodied-in-the-body-embedded-in-the-worldの関係、およびSLAなどでのautomatizationはcognition focusであるということなど、まさにその通りです。コメントありがとうございました。