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 of linguistics, developed his theory  of  interlanguage” or “third language”, in 1972. A “latent psychological structure” becomes woken in the brain, when a human learns a second language, said Mr. Selinker.


We learn English as a second language, if we have spoken a few words of another tongue before.


Let us reason on language and life. I could say I spoke a few words of Polish, when I began learning American. I was about 4 years old. My Polish definitely was not a grown or even shaped language faculty. More and more people learn two or more languages, beginning early.


To reason, we can talk examples. Many differences do not hold for language acquisition, with regard to sex or social background.


Feel welcome to chapter two, The role of feedback in language learning


Let us think 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 friends in the town area he lived were all Spanish. However, Eduardo has always had a good awareness of American English in his environment, also via the media.


Let us think Eduardo becomes 20. 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 has learned math and spoken about it in English. Mr. Selinker would say Spanish is Eduardo’s first tongue.


Love yet wouldn’t come Spanish-first. Eduardo’s 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.


  •  Regardless of social background or gender, people have primary languages, rather than first or second. My primary language for linguistics is American English. I would need a dictionary, to translate my own thesis to Polish, though Polish is my native tongue.

Ai-li was born same as Eduardo, 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 …


  • The primary language is not a fixed option. Multilingual speakers will prioritize the relevant tongue, dependent on the environment and context. Language interference, that is, influence of one language over another while speaking or writing, usually happens along distracting factors. Speaking Chinese, A-li does not have to think in any other tongue. 
  • A primary language may become “the learner”. For example, my learning German began to work better when I referred it to American English, not Polish. The matter was the same when I learned French, therefore it is not merely about language groups or families.


Larry Selinker would imply abnormal mental and neural realities about “second language learners”.


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


We could say Mr. Selinker holds second language learners for idiosyncratic. An idiosyncrasy can 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. Injury cannot produce neural structures for language. Further, human brains do not have purely “functional”, “mathematical”, or “psychological” connectivities.


Selinker (1972) noted that in a given situation, the utterances produced by a learner are different from those native speakers would produce, had they attempted to convey the same meaning, says Wikipedia.


Emily Dickinson was an American poet. Her works remain widely recognized, and favorably appreciated as well.


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.


However to value Emily Dickinson’s writing, nobody could claim that every American would tell the same, were he or she to “convey the same meaning”.


Idiolect is the way a person speaks or writes. The word comes from Greek idios, one’s own, and lektikos, able to speak or good at speaking.

Everyone has own idiolect. Mark Twain may be a natural association, when there is talk about idiolects. It is difficult or even impossible to imagine this proficient author 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, Project Gutenberg.


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.



The book gives 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).


Harlem, Bronx, countryside or uptown America, we might be infeasible, trying to persuade people to hold accomplishment and achievement for separate. “Second language learners” may not follow ideas infeasible to “first language learners”.


The study was begun on children aged 8 years, reportedly French and Dutch. I have been able to find the “punctual verbs” mostly in Japanese or Slingish contexts. Indeed, the kids did not follow.


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. A private teacher, I would have never been able to take that long, and more, without effect. I would have been sacked.


I would like to encourage also an American-born learner:

Try Language Mapping. Brains do not take different ways for language dependent on birth or residence.🙂

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