Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Paraphrasing Techniques: Applied to Critical Period Hypothesis

Human Brain
Two Areas with Critical Role in Language
(Image from Wikipedia)

Again appearing on this blog are the paraphrasing techniques and strategies that I've been demonstrating to students and am planning to present this week on a new passage provided to me, but this time, I'll put even more emphasis upon excising words, phrases, and clauses. Let's therefore get started on reworking a passage on language acquisition:
The Critical Period Hypothesis: Original Passage:
Here is the passage prior to paraphrasing:
The age-related differences have been explained in terms of a biological mechanism known as the 'critical period.' This construct refers to a limited period of time in the development of an organism during which a particular behavior can be acquired. Psycholinguists have looked for evidence of the critical period in both first- and second-language acquisition. It has been argued that the optimum age for acquiring another language is in the first ten years of life because it is then that the brain retains its maximum plasticity or flexibility (Penfield & Roberts, 1959). It is suggested that, at around puberty, the brain loses its plasticity, the two hemispheres of the brain become much more independent of one another, and the language function is largely established in the left hemisphere. [128 words]
Note the long-quote (block-quote) form of the above quote, and in what follows, note the special indentation for "References" [Not reproducible on Blogspot]:

Nunan, D. (1999). Second language teaching and learning. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

Before we start paraphrasing this time, let's see if we can first delete anything, for we then will have less to paraphrase. If we read closely to understand the passage, we find that much can be cut:
[The] age-related differences have been explained in terms of a [biological mechanism known as the] 'critical period.' This [construct] refers to a limited period [of time] in [the] development [of an organism] during which a [particular] behavior can be acquired. Psycholinguists have looked for evidence [of the critical period] in [both first- and second-]language acquisition. It has been argued that the optimum age for acquiring another language is [in] the first ten years [of life] because [it is then that] the brain retains [its] maximum [plasticity or] flexibility (Penfield & Roberts, 1959). It is suggested that, [at] around puberty, the brain loses [its] plasticity, the two hemispheres [of the brain] become much more independent [of one another], and [the] language [function] is [largely] established in the left [hemisphere].
How did I do this? Let's look:
[The] age-related differences have been explained in terms of a [biological mechanism known as the] 'critical period.'
The definite article "The" can sometimes be deleted, and this is one of those times, perhaps because the noun "differences" is already made definite by "age-related." As for "biological mechanism," it is not necessary because the passage mentions the brain soon enough for us to understand that this concept of a "critical period" is biological.

What about the next sentence:
This [construct] refers to a limited period [of time] in [the] development [of an organism] during which a [particular] behavior can be acquired.
The term "construct" refers back to "critical period," but "This" refers back well enough. The phrase "of time" adds nothing to "period." The phrase "of an organism" can be assumed, and its deletion removes "the." The word "particular" does not make "a . . . behavior" any more specific.

And what of the next sentence:
Psycholinguists have looked for evidence [of the critical period] in [both first- and second-]language acquisition.
The phrase "of the critical period" can be assumed from the context. The expression "both first- and second-" is not necessary to specify.

And the next sentence:
It has been argued that the optimum age for acquiring another language is [in] the first ten years [of life] because [it is then that] the brain retains [its] maximum [plasticity or] flexibility (Penfield & Roberts, 1959).
The preposition "in" can sometimes be deleted, and this is one of those times, perhaps because "the first ten years" is identical with "the optimum age." The phrase "of life" is unnecessary because assumed. The clause "it is then that" adds no information and can be deleted. As for the pronoun "its," this possessive is close enough to "brain" to be deleted. Since "plasticity" means the same as "flexibility," the expression "plasticity or" can be deleted.

And the last sentence:
It is suggested that, [at] around puberty, the brain loses [its] plasticity, the two hemispheres [of the brain] become much more independent [of one another], and [the] language [function] is [largely] established in the left [hemisphere].
The extra preposition "at" adds nothing to "around." The pronoun "its" is unnecessary since "brain" is so close. The phrase "of the brain" can be assumed. The expression "of one another" can be assumed since the brain has two hemispheres. As for "the language function," why not just say "language"? The adverb "largely" can be dropped, for it is vague anyway. Finally, the word "hemisphere" can be dropped because it is understood from the context.

The result:
Age-related differences have been explained in terms of a . . . 'critical period.' This . . . refers to a limited period . . . in . . . development . . . during which a . . . behavior can be acquired. Psycholinguists have looked for evidence . . . in . . . language acquisition. It has been argued that the optimum age for acquiring another language is . . . the first ten years . . . because . . . the brain retains . . . maximum . . . flexibility (Penfield & Roberts, 1959). It is suggested that, . . . around puberty, the brain loses . . . plasticity, the two hemispheres . . . become much more independent . . . , and . . . language . . . is . . . established in the left . . . .
Note that this would still be a block quote, for we've changed no words, but merely deleted them. Note the ellipses (three dots). These indicate missing words. Note the one-time use of four dots. The extra dot indicates that the end of a sentence has been cut, one of the dots being the period.

Let's try some restructuring, beginning with the first two sentences:
Age-related differences have been explained in terms of a . . . 'critical period.' This . . . refers to a limited period . . . in . . . development . . . during which a . . . behavior can be acquired.
By moving "limited" and adding "of" (and eliminating the ellipses), we get this:
Age-related differences have been explained in terms of a limited 'critical period' of development during which a behavior can be acquired.
Let's look at the next sentence:
Psycholinguists have looked for evidence . . . in . . . language acquisition.
We see that we can join it to the previous sentence and thereby delete "in . . . language acquisition" since it is inherent in "acquired" and "psycholinguists":
Age-related differences have been explained in terms of a limited 'critical period' of development during which a behavior can be acquired, and psycholinguists have looked for evidence.
Now, consider the next sentence:
It has been argued that the optimum age for acquiring another language is . . . the first ten years . . . because . . . the brain retains . . . maximum . . . flexibility (Penfield & Roberts, 1959).
We can change the passive "has been argued" to active "have argued" by replacing "It" with "Penfield and Roberts (1959)":
Penfield and Roberts (1959) have argued that the optimum age for acquiring another language is the first ten years because the brain retains maximum flexibility.
Let's look at the last sentence:
It is suggested that, . . . around puberty, the brain loses . . . plasticity, the two hemispheres . . . become much more independent . . . , and . . . language . . . is . . . established in the left . . . .
A suggestion is a possibility, so we can drop "It is suggested that" and insert "Perhaps":
Perhaps around puberty, the brain loses plasticity, the two hemispheres become much more independent, and language is established in the left.
Let's see the result:
Age-related differences have been explained in terms of a limited 'critical period' of development during which a behavior can be acquired, and psycholinguists have looked for evidence. Penfield and Roberts (1959) have argued that the optimum age for acquiring another language is the first ten years because the brain retains maximum flexibility. Perhaps around puberty, the brain loses plasticity, the two hemispheres become much more independent, and language is established in the left.
We now notice that "limited" can be dropped, the clause "during which a behavior can be acquired" can be altered to the phrase "for behavior acquisition," the phrasal verb "looked for" can be replaced by the simple verb "sought," the present perfect "have argued" can be changed to "argue" since their publication still does "argue" their view, the word "that" introducing the noun clause can be deleted (as so often in English), the expression "ten years" can be replaced by "decade," the opening clause "Perhaps around puberty, the brain loses plasticity" can become "It perhaps loses plasticity around puberty," the "two" can be dropped because there are only two hemispheres, the expression "much more" can be replaced by "largely," and the clause "language is established in the left" can be altered to "the left controls language." Let's look:
Age-related differences have been explained in terms of a 'critical period' of development for behavior acquisition, and psycholinguists have sought evidence. Penfield and Roberts (1959) argue the optimum age for acquiring another language is the first decade because the brain retains maximum flexibility. It perhaps loses plasticity around puberty, the hemispheres become largely independent, and the left controls language.
We are now ready to find synonyms. For "difference": distinction, diversity, discrepancy, deviation, or peculiarity. If we check the dictionary, we see that the term "distinction" seems the closest in meaning. For "explain": describe, demonstrate, define, interpret, or elucidate. The word "describe" seems too loose, "demonstrate" seems too strong, "define" seems too arbitrary, and "elucidate" seems too clear, but "interpret" seems a nice synonym, for it suggests explanation while hinting at uncertainty, which is good because this really is uncertain. For "development": growth, maturation, increase, progress, expansion, or evolution. The words "growth," "increase," and "expansion" suggest getting larger, which is perhaps not quite what we're looking for. The term "progress" has the wrong connotation (too optimistic?), and "evolution" might be misunderstood. That leaves "maturation," which might work. For "evidence": proof, confirmation, verification, corroboration, or substantiation. In the context, any of these would work, but let's take "confirmation" for its sense of firmness without overcertainty. For other terms, see the changes in red font below:
Age-related distinctions have been interpreted in terms of a 'critical period' of maturation for behavior acquisition, and psycholinguists have sought confirmation. Penfield and Roberts (1959) argue the best age for learning another language is the first decade because the brain retains greatest flexibility. It perhaps loses this around puberty, the hemispheres become largely independent, and the left controls language.
Let's compare the original and the altered version:
The age-related differences have been explained in terms of a biological mechanism known as the 'critical period.' This construct refers to a limited period of time in the development of an organism during which a particular behavior can be acquired. Psycholinguists have looked for evidence of the critical period in both first- and second-language acquisition. It has been argued that the optimum age for acquiring another language is in the first ten years of life because it is then that the brain retains its maximum plasticity or flexibility (Penfield & Roberts, 1959). It is suggested that, at around puberty, the brain loses its plasticity, the two hemispheres of the brain become much more independent of one another, and the language function is largely established in the left hemisphere. [128 words]
The altered version:
Age-related distinctions have been interpreted in terms of a 'critical period' of maturation for behavior acquisition, and psycholinguists have sought confirmation. Penfield and Roberts (1959) argue the best age for learning another language is the first decade because the brain retains greatest flexibility. It perhaps loses this around puberty, the hemispheres become largely independent, and the left controls language (Nunan, 1999, p. ?). [59 words]
Fewer than half as many words. Not bad. The result is beginning to sound more like a summary, which is one stellar aim of paraphrase.

Note also the citation, and don't forget the "References" [though, as noted above, the special indentation is not reproducible on Blogspot]:

Nunan, D. (1999). Second language teaching and learning. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.

Penfield, W. and L. Roberts (1959). Speech and brain mechanisms. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

The Penfield and Roberts citation and reference could probably be paraphrased out of the passage. For example:
Some argue the best age for learning another language is the first decade because the brain retains greatest flexibility.
But let's leave them in for now.
And that, once again, is how it's done!

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8 Comments:

At 4:17 AM, Blogger dhr said...

btw, from your previous post:

teaching two groups of students how to paraphrase yesterday afternoon

well, it can be paraphrased as "24 hours ago."

.
.
.

[I didn't wrote it on that occasion, since the subject was Sept. 11, it would had been silly]

 
At 4:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That would be a paraphrase only if I put that part in quotation marks: teaching two groups of students how to paraphrase "yesterday afternoon".

But it does sound a bit awkward, so I'll think about rewriting it.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 
At 5:45 AM, Blogger dhr said...

... meanwhile, I will correct a sentence that is - not just awkward - but wrong: "it would HAVE been silly." That was silly, indeed.

 
At 6:26 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Jeffery, I am impressed by how thoroughly you treat this topic/procedure. This series of blogs will come in handy when I review research writing with my students.

 
At 6:50 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dario, I like "would had been" -- it's creative.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 
At 6:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Carter, I'm not doing this quite of my own free will. This study that I'm participating in requires me to explain paraphrasing, and all of this stuff gets put onto power point slides (abstracted from my details), which I then am beholden to stand up on my hind legs and explain.

That said, I've actually rather enjoyed the process, and the results will be useful for my future teaching as well.

I'll be doing two more of these before this study is over.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 
At 1:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last two sentences can be summarized: Let's leave, it's done.

Cran

 
At 5:13 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

An excellent point, Uncle Cran, but I had to return today -- Saturday, July 9, 2011 -- for the final entry on this paraphrasing method.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

 

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