Larry Selinker, a Professor of Linguistics and a former Director of the English Language Institute at the University of Michigan, proposed a theory about second language learning as distinct from language acquisition. The theory states that second language learners actually develop an ‘interlanguage’ or ‘third language’.
Language theories should not be made merely to give lectures. Pragmatically then, let us think about living persons in whose life Larry Selinker’s theory would be to hold.
Adriano was born in America, in an immigrant Hispanic family. He spoke mostly Spanish before he went to school: his parents spoke it and his little friends in the town area he lived were all Spanish. Spanish would be considered his first tongue.
Now Adriano is 20. He never wanted to stay in the small town. He has worked and learned hard. He wants to do an IT degree. Adriano 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 Adriano 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 Adriano 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 PhD 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 Adriano 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.
What would Larry Selinker’s ‘interlanguage’ or ‘third language’ be? The interlanguage would be a ‘linguistic system’ in a second language learner. Second language learners would have their first and second tongues make a ‘third’ language. The learners would show simplification, circumlocution, and overgeneralization — quite a heavy criticism on humans who happen to be talented and hard-working.
Where in the brain would this separate language system be? There would be ‘latent psychological structures’ in the brain to become activated once you try to speak more than one tongue.
Well, the brain is a physical structure and there are no purely ‘functional’, ‘mathematical’ or, ‘psychological’ brain structures. There are no ‘latent’ brain areas in unimpeded humans. If you want to have ‘latent’ brain areas, you have to get yourself hit on the head and mind to have it done real hard: you don’t get the so-called latency potentials another way.
Naturally, do not take this for my advice; no such latencies could be advantageous in language learning and use. Larry Selinker would say that his mythical areas manifest in second language learners producing utterances different from those by native speakers. However, would there be Americans saying, ‘Everyone should speak exactly like me’, it probably would not be school you’d go to learn.
Obviously, language use is individual in all languages. Emily Dickinson and Mark Twain sure ‘had it different’ from many speakers of English. There is certainly no ground to say they didn’t ‘have it right’. The pick below
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(‘Babel come again’ )