Language and mind

May 11, 2011

Larry Selinker’s interlanguage – Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain didn’t have it right?

Filed under: language, language processing, language use — Tags: , , — teresapelka @ 9:54 am

I do not and would not postulate error about the two authors.

Larry Selinker, a professor emeritus of linguistics, developed his theory  of  ‘interlanguage’ or ‘third language’ in 1972. He says that people who learn English after another tongue, learn English as a second language. A ‘latent psychological structure’ becomes woken in the brain, when a human learns a second language, says Mr. Selinker.

Thought about language should not be made merely serve lectures. Let us reason about language and life.

Eduardo was born in America, in an immigrant Hispanic family. He spoke mostly Spanish before he went to school: his parents spoke Spanish, and his little friends in the town area he lived were all Spanish. Mr. Selinker would say Spanish is Eduardo’s first tongue.

Now, Eduardo is 20. He never wanted to stay in the small town. He is doing an IT degree. He takes elliptic integrals easy, but he would need a dictionary to translate math from English to Spanish — he learned math at school, in English-speaking classes.

Love wouldn’t come Spanish-first to Eduardo, either. His girlfriend is an American. American English is the only language she has ever spoken. She is a real treasure and a natural for a good conversation. When Eduardo tells his sweetheart he loves her, he says it in English and he means it.

Ai-li also was born in America. Her grandparents were Chinese. She has always been for languages. Before she went to school, she learned American along with Chinese. She started to learn German and French, when she was about seven years old.

Ai-li is writing a thesis about spatial reference in German and French — her two ‘second languages’ or her ‘third-second languages’? Should American count as the second, German and French would make the third or fourth, but actually she has learned and worked with all her languages at the same time …

Both Eduardo and Ai-li are made up figures, but they are absolutely possible in modern America. Larry Selinker would imply abnormal mental and neural realities about both, whereas they could easily communicate with one another, as well as with other people.

Mr. Selinker built his theory on student error. He states that owing to latent psychological structures in the brain, second language learners show simplification, circumlocution, and over-generalization. Idiosyncrasy is a tag common to all the precedent. An idiosyncrasy may be

a structural or behavioral characteristic peculiar to an individual or group, a physiological or
temperamental peculiarity, or an unusual individual reaction to food or a drug
.  
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. 

Human brains do not have purely ‘functional’, ‘mathematical’, or ‘psychological’ connectivities. There are no ‘latent’ brain areas in unimpeded humans. Injury does not produce neural structures for language. Learning languages, obviously, does not injure brains.

Why call learners idiosyncratic? Mr. Selinker says generally that second language learners produce utterances different from those by other people. Let us compare, would this be different?

The brain is wider than the sky,

For, put them side by side,

The one the other will include

With ease, and you beside.

The brain is deeper than the sea,

For, hold them, blue to blue,

The one the other will absorb,

As sponges, buckets do.

The brain is just the weight of God,

For, lift them, pound for pound,

And they will differ, if they do,

As syllable from sound.

The Brain by Emily Dickinson. Source: Project Gutenberg; daguerreotype: Wikimedia Commons.

Emily Dickinson would never have come to existence in human awareness, without her talent and individuality. As many people might like her poetry as hate it, yet anybody’s producing the exact same poem is not probable. Everyone has own idiolect. An idiolect is individual speech and writing. It is not idiosyncrasy.

The author to have gained my innocent admiration is Mark Twain. He may be a natural association, when we speak about idiolects. He remains adorable — the celebrated author he was — in his attitude to himself. Let us mind he traveled much, and got to know language and life well.

And if I sell to the reader this volume of nonsense, and he, instead of seasoning his graver reading with a chapter of it now and then, when his mind demands such relaxation, unwisely overdoses himself with several chapters of it at a single sitting, he will deserve to be nauseated, and he will have nobody to blame but himself if he is. ;)

Mark Twain’s Speeches by Mark Twain, Project Gutenberg. Caricature by Leslie Ward ‘Spy’ for Vanity Fair, May 13 1908.

Mr. Selinker’s opinions do not endure, in the light of individuality and talent. We could not hold beliefs about language to concern a group of people only. Language is language.

Let us analyze Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course by Susan M. Gass and Larry Selinker.

Imperfective morphology emerges with durative and/or stative verbs (i.e. activities and states), then gradually spreads to achievement/accomplishment and punctual verbs.

As language is language, the natural question might be about the relevance of the highlighted categories to first language learning. Do we tell young Americans they have a special category of verbs to emerge, and that for accomplishment to be told apart from achievement?

Let imagine young Americans presented with following examples:

(7-33)      She dancing (activity)

(7-34)      And then a man coming … (accomplishment)

(7-35)      Well, I was knowing that. (state)

(7-36)      Other boys were shouting ‘watch out’! (achievement).

The link above shows page 208, with the examples. As I understand, they are purported to come from a study begun on children aged 8 years. For the developmental stage, kids can walk and shout. What is the natural difference between the ‘accomplishment’ (7-34) and ‘achievement’ (7-36)?

I think stative and dynamic verbs have imposed artificial dichotomy on grammars. Multiplying the categories is not the answer. Feel welcome to see Feelings.

I have been able to find the ‘punctual verbs’ mostly in contexts of Japanese or Slingish. The kids in the study above are reported as French and Dutch.

The French learners were overall less proficient than the Dutch learners and never reached the stage where they could use the regular past morphology productively. Transfer factors were also involved, in that learners appeared to be predisposed by basic distinctions in their L1 tense-aspect system to look for similar distinctions in the L2 input, specifically in the case of the past/non-past distinction, where Dutch is closer to English (page 209).

The study lasted for three years. It is longer than long enough to teach past tenses, in my ordinary experience.

It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, American President

I was not thinking about a particular group of people, as second language learners, working on my method. I worked on legally available materials about natural language acquisition, along with own learning, which began when I was a few years old. And I would encourage also an American:

Try the relativity :)

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