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

Solemnly, 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. People who learn English after they’ve spoken a word of 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.


We do not really think about language, if we mean university lectures only. 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. Eduardo has always had a good awareness of American English in his environment, also via the media.


Let us think Eduardo becomes 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.


Let us think Ai-li grows up and writes 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.


It is owing to latent psychological structures in the brain that second language learners show simplification, circumlocution, and over-generalization, claims Mr. Selinker. 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. 


Medically, there are no “latent” brain areas in unimpeded humans, and injury cannot produce neural structures for language. Human brains do not have purely “functional”, “mathematical”, or “psychological” connectivities.


The Role of Feedback in Language Processing, a defended thesis in language psychology


Mr. Selinker claims that second language learners generally produce utterances different from those by native speakers. Let us compare.


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 many could hate it, yet anybody’s creating the exact same poem is not probable. Everyone has own idiolect. An idiolect is individual speech and writing. It can be talent. It is not idiosyncrasy. Feel welcome to my website translating her poetry.




Another author to have won 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. I do not imagine him saying, you do not speak as I do, therefore you are wrong.


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.


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.


I say, if you have good language advice, you would share it with people who speak the tongue. We do not have to think Harlem or Bronx, to worry how we persuade anyone to hold accomplishment and achievement apart.


The situation might be as hopeless with uptown young Americans:


(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 study was begun on children aged 8 years. For the developmental stage, kids can walk and shout. How could walking be “accomplishment” (7-34) and shouting “achievement” (7-36)?


I have been able to find the “punctual verbs” mostly in Japanese or Slingish contexts. The kids in the study 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 three years. It is longer than long enough to teach past tenses and more, 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 would encourage also an American-born learner:

Try Language Mapping :)

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