And it hit me that it may have been this article (about the differences and similarities between AI and cybernetics) by a guy called Paul Pangaro that got me thinking in the direction of lazy kanji. For curiosity’s sake, here are a couple of interesting quotes:
“information (or intelligence for that matter) is an attribute of an interaction rather than a commodity stored in a computer”
This quote in particular (from Humberto Maturana’s Biology of Cognition and Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living) really got me thinking [emphasis added]:
“Learning is not a process of accumulation of representations of the environment; it is a continuous process of transformation of behavior through continuous change in the capacity of the nervous system to synthesize it. Recall does not depend on the indefinite retention of a structural invariant that represents an entity (an idea, image or symbol), but on the functional ability of the system to create, when certain recurrent demands are given, a behavior that satisfies the recurrent demands or that the observer would class as a reenacting of a previous one.”
What does it mean to “know” a language? What does it mean to “know” a kanji? It’s a question of worldview, I guess. To put it a little simplistically, it’s a question of whether one sees things statically or dynamically. And it’s important that each of us gets somewhat clear on an answer to these questions, because that answer will decide whether life is tingly and fun, or toadly sucky.
If one defaults to one of the certification-seller-approved answers and decides that: “knowing” a language means being able to take boring, arbitrary, authority-presuming tests on it, administered by people you neither know nor like, then that’s fine, too — it’ll just…suck.
If one defaults to one of the school-approved answers and decides that: “knowing” a language means doing insomnia-curing textbook assignments on it and avoiding FUNBUN (for-native by-native media) like the plague (or rationing out FUNBUN as a “reward” for “real learning”, as if FUNBUN were some kind of fattening dessert instead of the nutritious vegetable dish that it is), then that, too, is fine…it just kind of sucks.
Translated specifically into language-acquisition terms, Maturana seems to me to be saying: you don’t get good at a language, you get used to it — it’s a habit; it’s a relationship. It’s as if the language were a person. You don’t learn to “read”, you get used to text; you develop text reflexes. Not only is the language itself in flux, but we are in flux with respect to the language.
In the late 1970s, James Heisig freed us from stifling and ineffective ideas of what it means to know a kanji. To the extent that unquestioned, unfettered attachment to the RTK method threatens to itself become a new orthodoxy, the Lazy Kanji/SRS combination could be a new “mini-shift” in kanji perception: you don’t “know” kanji, you get used to them — just like your phone number. (So used to them, in fact, that you can read and write them in any situation you want or need to).
Having said that, Lazy Kanji is actually built on the core RTK insights, namely that:
- the component logic of kanji should be exploited to learn each character bottom-up, and each “family” of characters in order of increasing structural complexity.
- each kanji represents a concept that transcends any one language, and this concept can be represented using a word or words in your native language or L1.
So, to me, it just represents a natural progression rather than a “revolution” or anything drastic like that. Heisig’s always going to be top dog in my book. He brought us so far. He broke the mold.
In any case, I think the ultimate lesson is this: screw doing things “the” right way. Your way doesn’t have to be “right” — it just has to work. Maybe we’ll add that to the “Three Laws of Language Acquisition” 😀