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, and still had some kindergarten to do. Nowadays more people begin early, but let us reason without pointing at anyone in particular. We 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, and American English is her only language. 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 must be holding on to another, third or interlanguage, that is only in Eduardo’s head.
Insight from experience
Regardless of origin 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 works to Polish, though I was born and grew up in Poland; both my parents spoke Polish, and I went to Polish schools. Only my English study was not in Polish.
Let us now imagine Ai-li. Her grandparents were Chinese. She has always been for languages. She learned American along with Chinese, before she went to school. 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 she has worked with all her languages, for some 14 years now.
Insight from experience
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 may become “the learner”. Learning German began to work better for me, when I started referring to American English, rather than Polish. Matters were the same when I learned French, so it is not about language groups or “families”.
Great reads and exclusives, over 1 million titles and thousands of audiobooks, available also on other devices:
Kindle Unlimited, $9.99 a month→
(+tax, if applicable)
It is owing to latent psychological structures in the brain that second language learners show simplification, circumlocution, and over-generalization, stated Mr. Selinker.
Human brains yet do not make “latent” or “psychological” synapses that could be activated with words of foreign tongues. Latencies may occur with injury, but trauma is incapable of supporting brain language structures.
(The word latency is here to refer to time of response, or the “time span since stimulus”. Please compare visual evoked potentials, Wikipedia.)
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.
Mark Twain was a speaker of American English “since birth”. Importantly, his Speeches show a sense of humor.
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.
It is impossible to imagine Mark Twain saying, you do not speak as I do, therefore you are wrong. More, to set a linguistic requirement, we have to be able to provide guidance. How do we “convey the same meaning” as in the speech by Mark Twain?
Let us analyze a book by Larry Selinker and Susan M. Gass, Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course.
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).
Pragmatically, what place in the USA — countryside, town, or metropolis — do people believe that accomplishment needs to be grammatically different from achievement? For the “punctual verbs”, I have been able to find them mostly for Japanese or Singlish.
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, claims the book. The study lasted three years.
Lack of progress also happens if the method is: Keep on trying.
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, The Brain is Wider than the Sky.
Feel welcome to read:
Grammatical Aspects or cognitive variables?