Rekte al la artikolo

Stimulating the whole mind

<<  [942]  >>

Claude Piron

From Le Défi des Langues, translated by Girvan McKay

Two forms of intelligence

Esperanto represents a unique subject for study in that it activates both the convergent intelligence and the divergent intelligence. These concepts, which I borrow from Professor Massarenti, deserve a few words of explanation.

We use our divergent intelligence when we are asked a question and our mind tries to find a wide range of answers from which we may choose. Thoughts gush forth like an exploding firework, spreading out fanwise from the single point where the touch-paper is lit. We apply this kind of thinking when, for example, we write a letter, when we decide what we are going to eat at the next meal, or when we consider various possible marketing strategies. All kinds of situations may present themselves and it would be absurd to rule that only one is right.

We use our convergent intelligence when, starting from a set of data, our thoughts converge towards the sole correct solution to the problem with which we are confronted. One typical example of this method of reasoning is the classical mathematical problem which we have only one correct solution arrived at by deduction after correctly processing the information given at the beginning. A question such as, 'At what time will the Edinburgh to Glasgow train pass the Glasgow to Edinburgh one, bearing in mind the following data…' admits of only one right answer. It therefore brings the convergent intelligence into play. On the other hand, the question: 'Shall I paper the walls of my room or shall I repaint it? If I paper it, what design would be best? If I repaint it, what colour should I choose?' — could have any number of equally valid answers. Here it is the divergent intelligence that is put to work. It may be mentioned in passing that in conformity with current ideas, the most widespread tendency in schools is to favour the convergent procedure, yet in everyday life the other form of intelligence is every bit as essential.

In Esperanto one resorts to divergent thinking when setting out to express the same idea by the widest range of forms. Once, during a course given during the summer holidays, my students found a total of 70 different ways of expressing in Esperanto the idea, 'I think he's stupid'. Maybe this sentence was not particularly stimulating because, consciously or not, they were applying it to their teacher. Nevertheless, they were calling upon their resources of divergent thinking or, if you prefer, of their creativity. Divergent intelligence plays more of a part in Esperanto than in other languages, because in it the alternatives for combination and variation are unlimited. In order to say that an object 'burns', one can use brulas, but also fajras or flamas, which represent, respectively, the verbal use of the concepts 'fire' and 'flame'. The ending -as is sufficient to convert the concept into a verb in the present indicative. In order to say, 'I'll go to the hotel by taxi', we can certainly translate literally and say, mi iros al la hotelo per (or en) taksio, but this is only one possibility among a wide range of forms, such as: mi taksios hotelen, mi alhotelos taksie, mi pertaksie iros hotelen, etc.

As for convergent intelligence, this is often applied when learning Esperanto, since once is constantly led to express an idea by deducing the desired word from elements already learnt. Thus, the word recovery (in the sense of healing) represents the putting together of four elements: 'the fact/act of' (o), 'to cause to be', 'make' (ig), 'health(y)' (san), 'again' (re) > resanigo. It is thanks to this form of intelligence that the student finds out how to say 'never', neniam, by causing his thinking to converge towards the point where the neni- series (nenio, 'nothing'; nenie, 'nowhere'; neniu, 'nobody'…) intersects with the -am series (kiam, 'when'; ĉiam, 'always'; iam, 'once'…). It is in this way that he is led to form an adverb like entuziasmige, 'enthusiastically'.

Horizontal axis, vertical axis

Left hemisphere, right hemisphere

To form words like those just mentioned, the English speaker makes use of neither convergent thinking nor divergent thinking. Instead of using his intelligence, he resorts to memory and compliance. The derivation brilliant > brilliantly gives no authorisation for such a formation as enthusiasmant > enthusiasmantly. I use the word authorisation (rather than precedent) advisedly. We are dealing with authorisation, in a language in which decisions are made by an authority (whether it is the Greater Oxford Dictionary, Webster's, or whatever). (This is even more the case in French. It is the Académie française which decides whether nénufar is as correct as nénuphar.)

This view of language originally served as an instrument of social discrimination, in very much the same way as the 'received English' of the public schools. At one time the Académie française debated the question of whether French should conserve its scholarly spelling system or follow the example of Italian or Spanish. Where the French burden their words with the extraneous letters y and h, their cousins the other Romance languages have, in fact, adopted a spelling which is much more functional and — although this is a matter of personal taste — one which, in my humble opinion, is aesthetically more satisfying. (I like things to be plain and simple.) Compare the Italian fisica, Spanish fisica, to the French physique and the English physics (also, in another sense, physique), Italian and Spanish ritmo to the philologically incorrect French form rythme. The correct form would be rhythme, cf. English rhythm.) At the end of the debate on the two possible spelling systems, the Académie opted for the scholarly one, 'with a view to distinguishing the educated from the common people and from simple women'.

This function of social distinction has no doubt been lost sight of*, and it is probable that the entire French-speaking world simply continues to drift along without clearly understanding why spelling is the way it is. This is a well-known psychological mechanism. One continues to behave in a certain way long after one has forgotten why this conduct was ever adopted. Decisions taken in the past are still followed, even although the justification for them is no longer remembered, and therefore probably obsolete. Thus a people may become democratic in its ideas, and proclaim an ideal of liberty, fraternity and equality, yet have an 'ancien régime' language, in which there is no liberty, where equality is replaced by a kind of obstacle race, and fraternity is all but abandoned. The way French speakers view language follows a vertical axis. It is a father-son, teacher-pupil, academy-people relationship. A similar outlook no doubt played a major part when the question of Esperanto was debated at the League of Nations. The fact is that it is difficult for such a mentality to imagine that a language could serve purely and simply as a bridge between peoples and consequently be the outcome of a convention between equal contemporaries. Like all bridges, Esperanto is situated on a horizontal plane: it corresponds to a friend-to-friend, brother-to-brother, partner-to-partner relationship.

But not apparently in England! — Translator's Note.

But let us return to our two forms of intelligence. Just as convergent thinking brings into play the left hemisphere of the brain (in the case of the right-handed), Esperanto has the peculiarity of stimulating the coordinated action of both hemispheres of the brain. Few subjects taught in schools before adolescence can do this to anything like the same extent.

Another way of expressing the same idea would be to say that Esperanto integrates the 'strictness' pole and the 'liberty' pole. The relationship between strictness and freedom is often poorly understood. Many people think that the terms are mutually exclusive. In fact, if anything is in its right place, it is strictness that makes freedom possible. How is it that men have been able to walk on the moon? How have they managed to achieve such freedom in relation to the limitations of earth's gravity? — Precisely by strictness in observing laws which are severe to the point of being implacable: laws of physics, chemistry, mathematics, astronomy… By taking due account of these laws and of their implacable nature, men have been able to overcome them with impunity. 'Implacable' may mean 'terrible' in the sense that it leaves no way out, but by the same token, it also means 'absolutely reliable'. If the laws of astronomy had been mere fantasy, it would never have been possible to walk on the earth's satellite.

Every Esperanto sentence is a model of good coordination of strictness and liberty. This is because the meanings of the elements of the language are implacable. They allow of no exceptions, yet you are free to express your thoughts as you think fit. If, when I wish to say that a house 'is burning', I can say not only brulas, but also flamas or fajras, it is because the meaning of the ending -as is 100% reliable; the freedom results from this absolute strictness or rigidity. As soon as I add -as to a root, I use the concept as a verb in the present indicative. Fortunately, there is no need for the constraints to be many, since their validity is general. Strictness is implacable, but in the exact dosage that allows immense freedom, in complete assurance, and therefore it stimulates creativity in expression.

Because strictness depends on the left hemisphere of the brain (in the case of a right-handed person), and creativity on the right hemisphere, a course in Esperanto is an exercise in the correct functioning of the human being, to an extent which goes far beyond anything one could suppose at first sight. This is particularly true in the case of children. Where adults are concerned, everything is determined by their mental agility. For certain persons, such a course would be real therapy, leading them to freedom from an irrational super-ego, for others, the 'deconditioning' in relation to the mother-tongue could prove to be a painful experience. But as regards children, the predominant result would be a positive gain in the great majority of cases. This is not to say that it is to be regarded as a panacea for all ills. However, one can say that teaching Esperanto to children of ten or eleven years of age could make a modest, but real, contribution to the mental well-being of the generations who would benefit from it.

When all these facts come to be known, there will no doubt be a great deal to be done in persuading teachers to accept the necessary re-orientation. We should add that the problem of text-books would soon be solved. Methods for learning Esperanto are not lacking. The national education authorities would have no difficulty in making an intelligent choice among existing works.

Ĉi tiu artikolo aperis en La Brita Esperantisto de majo-junio 1998.

<<  [942]  >>