A Concept of Concept-learning

Old man that I am, I finally became conscious of how to “memorize” the name of a concept: start with the concept first, the term second!  That is, when (say) reading a concept, stop to reflect on what it is your reading, digests its implications, and then apply the term.  This technique is the reverse of starting with the term and trying to retain its notions as though it were some bucket into which you can simply pour in unevaluated stuff.  The latter is a  attempt at rote memorization.

As it turns out, while I’m reading something, I can be understanding it just fine.  But it does not necessarily stay in memory for lack of repetition and application of other mechanisms for making information stick.  And I’ve found that passive comprehension does not give one the opportunity to own the information and be able to build upon it without merely accumulating more “stuff.”

By unevaluated I mean, while you might have understood the concept well enough to assent or deny the validity of the conclusions inherent in a proposition, that does not mean you have assimilated the bits of information that make up the concept and then are able to use them for your own purposes.


I’ve decided to pick up learning Estonian.  To start my process, I’m reading up on the Linguistic (scientific) descriptions of its components. That way, when I start delving into the study books, I’ll have the background information in the back of my mind available to help me process the “meat” of the language, if you will.

In the course of reading the Linguistic descriptions, I ran across the term “apocope.”  Well, the first thing I have to do right off the bat is understand where that word comes from so that I have more to rely on than just my memory of the isolated term to draw from when attempting recall it.  Apocope: from the Greek apokoptein “cutting off”, from apo- “away from” and koptein “to cut”) is the loss of one or more sounds from the end of a word, and especially the loss of an unstressed vowel. (I think the action that causes apocope is to elide.)

Then, as I read the examples from the different languages of this type of phonetic attrition, I mentally state the term, with its etymological foundation, and apply its intrinsic meaning to what I’m seeing.  For instance: in Spanish, the adjective bueno becomes ‘buen’ when preceeding a masculine noun. In my mind, I separate the particles involved: buen-o, and then repeat the term apo-cope, imagining my snipping off the -o.

It sounds like its work in and of itself, but if you relax while you’re doing it, it just seems like the most logical thing to do if you want to own the concept for yourself.

Then, as I’m studying Estonian, I can apply that klipping concept as a concept.  Oddly enough, the Wikipedia example uses an Estonian example (how fortuitous is that!):

In the Estonian language and Sami languages, apocopes help explain the forms of grammatical cases. For example, a nominative is described as having apocope of the final vowel, whereas the genitive does not. Throughout its history, however, the genitive case marker has also undergone apocope: linn (“a city”) vs. linna (“of a city”), is derived from linna and linnan, respectively. In the genitive form, final /n/, while being deleted, blocked the loss of /a/. In spoken Finnish, the final vowel is sometimes omitted from case markers.

I’d often marvelled about apocope in French — the bane of new students of the language: the non-pronunciation of seemingly every ending except in liaison. (See comment below.)  While we students are busy learning words whose ending we’re not supposed to pronounce but must somehow generate in liaison, we are unconscious of the fact that in the minds of native French speakers, what isn’t being pronounced is psycholinguistically there!  They don’t have to remember to put it in, as do those of us French-as-a-second-language speakers when attempting to learn to speak it correctly.

I’ve noticed in Spanish (at least in Mexico), apocope is extremely common, especially among the Chilangos (people from Mexico City/Federal District).  Sometimes their pronunciation of emphasized/accentuated vowels at the end of words is so light as to be non-existent! I first noticed that, when in MC, with a friend replying that something was “excelent’ ” (where the ‘ stands for a missing vowel).  But when you parrot the pronunciation back to them, leaving off the ‘e’ entirely, they will correct you: excelente.

Well now I have a word for it!


2 Responses

  1. Example of liaison:
    Ils sont bons. [They (male) are good.]
    …Pronounced: eel son [nasal] bon [nasal]
    Ils sont de bons amis. [The are good friends]
    …Pronounced: eel son [nasal] duh bonz ah-mee.

    The ‘s’ on bons is pronounced because the following word, amis, begins with a vowel, ‘a’.

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