Larry Selinker’s interlanguage

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. My Polish was a long way from fluent proficient, when I began learning American. I was about 4 years old. More and more people learn two or more languages, beginning early.



Let us reason. We can think about people without pointing at anyone in particular. Let us imagine Eduardo. He 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. Mr. Selinker would say Eduardo uses a second language to express feeling, and there must be another, third or interlanguage form in Eduardo’s head he relies on.




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


Ai-li was born 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.
  • A primary language that prevails in an aspect of personal experience may become “the learner”. For example, learning German began to work better for me, when I started referring it to American English, not Polish. The matter was the same when I learned French, therefore the matter is not 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 purely “functional”, “mathematical”, or “psychological” connectivities in human brains. There are no “latent” brain areas, in unimpeded humans. Injury does not produce neural structures for language.


“Selinker 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. Whether a person likes the poetry or not, who would there be to say that every American would write the same, were he or she to “convey the same meaning”?



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.


Emily Dickinson, source: Project Gutenberg, The brain is wider than the sky.


Idiolect is the way a person speaks or writes. The word comes from Greek idios, meaning one’s own, and lektikos, meaning 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).


All in all, Mr. Selinker would purport that second language learners “get the language differently”. Where would that be, however, Harlem, Bronx, countryside, or uptown, metropolis America, where people hold accomplishment and achievement for separate?


The book says the study began on children aged 8 years, French and Dutch. I have been able to find the “punctual verbs” mostly for Japanese or Singlish.


“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 have been sacked, if the student had not been able to use regular past morphology after three years of work.


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