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

Naturally, I do not postulate error about the two authors. Should there have been misconduct somewhere on the way — the reader may individually judge. ;)

Larry Selinker, a professor emeritus of linguistics, developed his theory  of  ‘interlanguage’ or ‘third language’ in 1972. The hypothesis is 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.

Language theories should not be made merely to give lectures. Pragmatically, let us think how Larry Selinker’s theory could hold in real 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. Spanish would be considered his first tongue.

Mr. Selinker’s hypothesis is built on study of student errors. His interlanguage theory says people idiosyncratically make rules from language experience.

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. 

The final reference invites a humorous quote from Mark Twain: 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 over Project Gutenberg

 

Mark Twain caricature,  published in Vanity Fair, 13 May 1908.

Author: Leslie Ward

Caption: “Below the Mark”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Now, Eduardo is 20. He never wanted to stay in the small town. He has worked and  learned hard. He wants to do an IT degree. Eduardo does not do mathematics in Spanish. He does integers and elliptic integrals real easy, but he would need a dictionary to translate math from English — he learned math at school, in English-speaking classes.

It is not only math that Eduardo does not comprehend in Spanish. 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 that he loves her, he says it in English and he means it. Still, Spanish would be considered his first language …

Ai-li also was born in America, in a family of second-generation Chinese immigrants. 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.

Now Ai-li is writing her doctoral 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 could count as the third or fourth, but actually she has learned them at the same time … ;)

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

Mr. Selinker says second language learners show simplification, circumlocution, and overgeneralization, and that owing to latent psychological structures in the brain. Well, let us get to the facts. ‘Second skin’ is just a way of saying things. It is always the skin to be the skin.

The brain is a physical structure to have no purely ‘functional’, ‘mathematical’ or, ‘psychological’ connectivities. There are no ‘latent’ brain areas in unimpeded humans. If you want to have ‘latent’ brain areas, you have to ask someone to hit you on the head and do it real hard: you don’t get the so-called latency potentials any other way. ;)

Seriously speaking, the human language faculty is neural. The way we internalize language knowledge depends on the way we conceptualize language facts, whatever the language or languages we learn.

View this document on Scribd

Second language learners produce utterances different from those by other people, says Mr. Selinker. Let us think, is this different? ;)

 THE BRAIN.

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.

Source: Project Gutenberg

Emily Dickinson daguerreotype; source: Wikimedia Commons

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