Larry Selinker’s interlanguage

Larry Selinker 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 a second language, if we have spoken a few words of another tongue before. My Polish was far from proficient, when I began learning American. I remember the cognitive moment when pears made quite some difference against gruszki.


I was about 5 years old, with some kindergarten still to do. More and more people learn two or more languages, beginning early.



Let us reason about people without pointing at anyone in particular. We can imagine Eduardo.


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 Hispanic.


However, Eduardo has always had a good awareness of American English in his environment, also via the media.


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 has not 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 in Eduardo’s head, that Eduardo depends on.



Regardless of social background and 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. She learned American along with Chinese, before she went to school.


When she was about ten years old, she started learning German and French.


Ai-li is graduating from university now. She is writing 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 worked with all her languages, for some 14 years now.



The primary language is not a fixed option. A multilingual speaker will prioritize the relevant tongue, dependent on the environment and context.


A primary language that prevails for an aspect of experience may become “the learner”. 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 it is not about language groups or “families”.


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


We could say Mr. Selinker holds “second language learners” for idiosyncratic.


The thing has to be about Mr. Selinker’s personal feel for language, as the tissue does not make “latent” areas, and there are no purely “functional” or “psychological” neural connections that could be activated with words of foreign tongues. Injury is incapable of producing brain language structures.


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; SEE ONLINE).


I get something I call a natural association, here.


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.
Mark Twain’s Speeches.


It is difficult or even impossible to imagine Mark Twain, a proficient author, saying, you do not speak as I do, therefore you are wrong.


Everyone has own idiolect. The word comes from the Greek idios, meaning one’s own, and lektikos, meaning able to speak, or good at speaking.

Perseus search: idios
Perseus search: lektikos
Wikipedia, Idiolect


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, expands Wikipedia.


Emily Dickinson is another natural association. Whether you like the poetry or not, who is there to tell what every American would say or write, 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.


Let us analyze a book by Susan M. Gass and Larry Selinker,
Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course.


We keep language pragmatics in view, that is, we think what at least many Americans could have for good sense, with language.


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).


I cannot quite think up a place in the USA — countryside or uptown, or metropolis America? — where people believe that accomplishment needs grammatical differentiation from achievement (they are separate speech samples, here).


Maybe the matter is in the “punctual verbs”, yet I have been able to find those mostly for Japanese or Singlish. I do not know Japanese or Singlish, but I do not believe English would need “punctual verbs”.


The book says the study began on children aged 8 years, 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, says the book.


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).


My last natural association here comes with a picture, captioned:
The method is: Keep on trying.



The study lasted three years. A private teacher, I would have been sacked, had the student been unable to use past tenses after a school year of work.


For an idea to manage the grammatical time, which needs to come first, if the human person is to learn grammatical tenses, feel welcome to my grammar web log.
You do not need an entire school year.




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