n   Also known as learner systems

n   First, we should keep in mind that the development of the concept of interlanguage was developed against the backdrop of behaviorist theory that was prevalent during the first half of the 20th Century


n   In this view, learning takes place when learners respond to stimuli in the environment

n   They subsequently have their responses reinforced so what they have learned is retained

n   Thus language learning is a habit-formation exercise, based on a stimulus-response connection


n   However, this theory fails to explain two phenomenon:

n   1) Children say things that they could never have possibly heard before

n   2) Children make grammatically incorrect utterances


n   The 1960’s witnessed a major shift in thinking in psychology and linguistics

n   The new paradigm was dubbed “mentalist” or “nativist”

n   (From Ellis) According to mentalist theory:

n   1) Only human beings are capable of learning language


n   2) The human mind is equipped with a faculty for learning language

n   This device is referred to as the Language Acquisition Device (LAD)

n   This is separate from the faculties responsible for other kinds of cognitive activities (such as logical reasoning)


n   3) The LAD is the primary determinant of language acquisition

n   4) Input is needed for language learning, but only to ‘trigger’ the operation of the LAD

n   The concept of interlanguage draws directly from this mentalist paradigm


n   A little history

n   1967: S. Pit Corder, head of the Department of Applied Linguistics at Edinburgh University in Scotland, publishes the field’s first article

n   “The Significance of Learner’s Errors”


n   In this paper, Corder argues that L2 research should follow the example of L1 research

n   Should view the learner’s development as a product of underlying linguistic competence (as Chomsky had argued)


n   That is to say, the learner should be seen as a creator of rules

n   These rules are the outcome of a process of hypothesizing

n   What this means: both systematic ‘errors’, as well as completely native-like phenomena, may be taken as evidence of a learner’s current transitional competence


n   Corder himself used the term “transitional dialect”

n   This was Corder’s term for the learner’s current mental rule-system or individual ‘grammar’

n   IOW, it is a reflection of the learner’s attempts to make sense of the input in their own particular way


n   That is, they are trying to internally organize the information provided by the language to which they have been exposed

n   Corder argued that the L2 learner may well have a ‘built-in syllabus’, that is an internally programmed sequence for learning various aspects of the target grammar


n   This sequence may or may not coincide with the syllabus imposed on him or her by the teacher

n   Hence, learners will follow a sequence of development (the built-in syllabus) because of, or in spite of, the sequence imposed upon them from the outside


n   The teacher, not understanding this built-in syllabus, may introduce a rule at a particular time

n   But, according to this view, that learner may not actually be able to learn this rule properly unless he or she is ‘ready’ for it (meaning being at the appropriate point in the built-in learning program)


n   Early teaching of a late-learnable form, then, would be a waste of time

n   Which may make the learner appear stupid or stubborn

n   This, in turn, leads to a distinction between input  and intake

n   Input is simply what the learner is presented with


n   Intake is what the learner is actually ready to process, that is, what they actually are able to internalize

n   Intake is determined by the supposed internal program

n   Hence, at any given time, the learner, like it or not, is ignoring certain aspects of the input


n   This input should, in principle, inform him or her about the target grammar, but the learner is not yet prepared to be informed

n   This, in turn, has another interesting prediction:

n   Correct, native-like behavior cannot necessarily be interpreted as genuine attainment of the native-speaker norm


n   For example, learners in a formal classroom environment may be induced to produce superficially correct behavior via some teaching technique, like repetition

n   Learners may even, at a later time, be able to reproduce the form verbatim

n   But may not yet have actually internalized the form


n   Thus, in Corder’s view, not only should (systematic) errors be regarded as something other than unwelcome deviations, what looks like “correct” performance should be regarded as potentially non-nativelike

n   IOW, the surface may not reflect what is going on underneath


n   After Corder, two other researchers published similar proposals concerning learner systems

n   William Nemser (1971): had been working on an English-Hungarian contrastive project

n   Proposed that second language development should be seen as a succession of evolving systems


n   These systems take the learner nearer and nearer to the target language

n   And farther and farther from the ‘source’ language

n   The ‘source language’ is defined as that which is creating ‘interference’ (usually the native language)


n   The idea here is that learners are not exposed to the complete target system in ‘one blinding flash’

n   Rather, they process the input that they receive in smaller digestible doses

n   On the basis of this limited input, they can be said to create their own systems to account for what has been processed to date


n   More properly, they create a series of systems that, ideally, get closer and closer to the target

n   That is, to native-speaker norms

n   Nemser calls these systems ‘approximative systems’


n   Larry Selinker (1972): proposed a very similar approach to Nemser

n   Uses the term ‘interlanguage’, which has since become the adopted term

n   The significance here is that at approximately the same time, three independent researchers proposed essentially the same thing


n   That second language errors should be perceived in quite a different way from the negative manner in which teachers (and indeed most learners) traditionally have perceived them

n   All three proposals have three propositions in common

n   They all assume:


n   a) the existence of a complex, creative learning device;

n   b) internal coherence in the learner’s language system; and

n   c) the independent character of the learner’s system


n   Another way to look at it: all three views are essentially anti-behaviorist

n   Learners are seen not simply as being at the mercy of mechanical mother-tongue ‘habits’

n   All three accounts involve the idea of complex mental processing whereby the linguistic input is organized by the learner into interlanguage systems


n   Learning was no longer viewed as the outcome of mechanical processes

n   Rather, the learner could be viewed as a creative selector and organizer of input

n   The learner is seen as filtering the information from the environment by largely subconscious and very complex methods


n  They then build up a linguistic system in ways that suggest a great deal of commonality with other learners whose experience might in many respects be different

n  This fit in well with the Chomskyan view of language


n   Helped explain why L2 learners also produced forms that they could not possible have heard from a native speaker

n   In this comprehensive view, interlanguage is seen as a series of ILs growing over time as the learner’s beliefs interact with the evidence supplied by experiences in the L2


n   This experience, then, is not seen as being absorbed in total

n   Rather, some is taken in and used as a basis for forming further hypotheses about the L2 structure

n   Therefore, by definition, an IL must be seen as an unstable and not completely consistent entity


n   Nevertheless, it is an autonomous learner system

n   This forces us away from the teacher perspective which saw the learner’s system as flawed or incomplete

n   Instead, ILs focus on the dynamic, developmental nature of language learning


n   Nemser highligths the notion of a journey with a destination – target language norms

n   Selinker emphasizes the autonomy of the system itself as “a language in its own right”

n   Others have emphasized the idea that interlanguage is not jumps from one stage to the next


n   Rather, it should be seen in terms of gradual progression

n   As growth on a continuum in which some new rule spreads slowly, and acquires a greater coverage within the grammar

n   Or, alternatively, becomes more narrow or limited in scope


n   In this view, then, an interlanguage is neither an L1 nor an L2

n   Rather, it draws in part on each to create a unique linguistic system

n   Selinker felt that we are compelled to hypothesize such systems, since the utterances of an L2 learner are not identical to an L1 speaker when trying to express the same meaning


n   It follows that the only observable data from meaningful performance situations that we can establish as relevant to interlanguage ID are:

n   1) utterances in the learner’s native language produced by the learner;

n   2) IL utterances produced by learner;

n   3) TL utterances produced by NSs


n   By setting up these three sets of utterances within one theoretical framework

n   And by gathering as data utterances related to specific linguistic structures in each of these three systems

n   The investigator in the psychology of L2 learning can begin the study of the psychological processes which underlie IL behavior


n   From Ellis: The concept of interlanguage involves the following premises about SLA:

n   1) The learner constructs a system of abstract linguistic rules which underlies comprehension and production of L2

n   This system of rules is viewed as a “mental grammar”


n   2) The learner’s grammar is permeable

n   That is, the grammar is open to influence from the outside, for example through input

n   It is also influenced from the inside, for example through omission, overgeneralization, and transfer errors


n   3) The learner’s grammar is transitional

n   Learners change their grammar from time to time by adding rules, deleting rules, and restructuring the whole system which results in an interlanguage continuum

n   That is, learners construct a series of mental grammars as they gradually increase the complexity of their L2 knowledge


n   For example, initially learners may begin with a very simple grammar where only one form of the verb is represented

n   But over time, they add other forms, gradually sorting out the functions that these verbs can be used to perform


n   4) Some researchers have claimed that the systems that learners construct contain variable rules

n   That is, they argue that learners are likely to have competing rules at any one stage of development


n   5) Learners employ various learning strategies to develop their interlanguages

n   The different kinds of errors learners produce reflect different learning strategies

n   For example, omission errors suggest that learners are in some way simplifying the learning task by ignoring certain features that they aren’t ready to process


n   6) The learner’s grammar is likely to fossilize

n   That is, learners stop learning while their internalized rule system contains rules different from those of the TL

n   Selinker estimates only five percent of learners go on to develop mental grammars equivalent to native speakers


n   The prevalence of backsliding (the production of errors representing an earlier stage of development) is typical of fossilized learners

n   Fossilization does not occur in L1 acquisition and is thus unique to L2 grammars


n   Thus, we study learner performance, which includes learner error

n   Some error can be seen as universal, reflecting learner’s attempts to make the task of learning and using an L2 simpler

n   Learners commit errors of omission

n   For example, they may leave out articles or leave the –s off plural nouns


n   Learners also overgeneralize forms that they find easy to learn and process

n   For example, using eated in the place of ate

n   Both errors of omission and overgeneralization are common in the speech of all L2 learners, regardless of their L1


n   Other errors reflect learner’s attempts to make use of their L1 knowledge

n   These errors are known as transfer errors, also known as interference

n   Irrespective of the type of error, learners are to be seen as actively involved in shaping the ‘grammars’ they are learning

n   IOW, learners create their own rules

For next time

n   We will look at specific models of the interlanguage process and how those models play out in actual language learning

n   We will also look at the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis