Chapter 3: Interlanguage and the “natural” route of development

Book name; Understanding Second Language Acquisition

Writer: Rod Ellis

Professor: Dr. Haniye Davatgari

Saeed Mojarradi Ph.D. Candidate   T.3         

Friday, October 19, 2018

The second language learners acquire a knowledge of a L2 in a fixed order as a result of a predisposition to process language data in highly specific ways.These claims stand in stark contrast to behaviorist accounts of second language acquisition (SLA), which emphasized the importance of environmental factors and first language interference.The claims about a fixed order are based on a theory of learning that stresses the learner-internal factors which contribute to acquisition.This theory was first developed with regard to L1 acquisition, which also saw the first attempts to examine empirically how a learner builds up knowledge of a language.The mentalist account of 1.1 acquisition is put most strongly in the work of McNeill (1966; 1970). Chomsky’s (1959) attack on Skinner’s theory of language learning led to a reassertion of mentalist views of first language acquisition (FLA) in place of the empiricist approach of behaviorists.

Chomsky stressed the active contribution of the child and minimized the importance of imitation and reinforcement. He claimed that the child’s knowledge of his mother tongue was derived from a Universal Grammar which specified the essential form that any natural language could take. As McNeil (1970: 2) put it: The facts of language acquisition could not be as they are unless the concept of a sentence is available to children at the start of their learning.

The concept of a sentence is the main guiding principle in a child’s attempt to organize and interpret the linguistic evidence that fluent speakers make available to him, The Universal Grammar, then, existed as a set of innate linguistic principles which comprised the ‘initial state and which controlled the form which the sentences of any given language could take. Also part of the Universal Grammar was a set of discovery procedures for relating the universal principles to the data provided by exposure to a natural language.

Lenneberg (1967) emphasized the biological prerequisites of only homo sapiens was capable of learning language. Thus, whereas even severely retarded human beings were able to develop the rudiments, of language, even the most socially and intellectually advanced of the primates, chimpanzees, were incapable of mastering the creativity of language. Lenneberg argued that the child’s brain was specially adapted to the process of language acquisition, but that this innate was lost as maturation took place.

Lenneberg argued that there was an ‘age of resonance’, during which language acquisition took place as a genetic heritage.Lenneberg’s work provided empirical and theoretical support for the concept of a built-in capacity for language as part of every human being’s biological endowment. One further feature of mentalist accounts of SLA needs mentioning.The child built up his knowledge of his mother tongue by means of hypothesis testing. The child’s task was that of connecting his innate knowledge of basic grammatical relations to the surface structure of sentences in the language he was learning.

According to McNeill (1966), he did this by forming a series of hypotheses about the ‘transformations’ that were necessary to convert innate knowledge into the surface forms of his mother tongue. These hypotheses were then tested out against primary linguistic data and modified accordingly. The result was that the child appeared to build up his competence by ‘successive approximations, passing through several steps that are not yet English. .’ (McNeill 1966: 61).

In summary, therefore, mentalist views of L1 acquisition posited the following: 1 Language is a human-specific faculty. 2 Language exists as an independent faculty in the human mind i.e. although it is part of the [earner’s total cognitive apparatus, it is separate from the general cognitive mechanisms responsible for intellectual development. 3 The primary determinant of L1 acquisition is the child’s ‘acquisition device’, which is genetically endowed and provides the child with a set of principles about grammar. 4 The ‘acquisition device’ atrophies with age.The 1960s was also a period of intensive empirical research into L1 acquisition.

To begin with, these descriptions were based on the techniques of structuralism s linguists, but later they moved to consider the transformations required e to derive the grammar of the target language from the universal of grammar.From an early point onwards, then, the empirical research was closely tied to theoretical developments in syntax, initiated by Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures (1957) and also the mentalist views of a SLA described above.

By the end of the 1960s, however, studies of L1 acquisition began to query whether a syntactical framework was the most appropriate way of characterizing the child’s linguistic knowledge of in the early stages, and proposals were made for describing the child’s underlying semantic intentions. These studies were longitudinal. They involved collecting samples of actual speech data by tape-recording samples of mother–child discourse in play situations at regular intervals over several years.It could not be argued that L1 acquisition consisted of stimulus – response connections learnt through imitation and reinforcement,

If the child’s linguistic output does not match the input, the explanation must lie in the internal processing that has taken place. The incremental nature of L1 acquisition is evident in two ways. First, the length of children’s utterances gradually increases. Initially the utterances consist of one word. Later two word, then three- and four-word utterances follow. Second, knowledge of the grammatical system is built up in steps. Inflections such as the ing’ of the Present Continuous Tense or the auxiliary ‘do’ are not acquired at the same time, but in sequence.Similarly, complex grammatical systems such as negatives or interrogatives are learnt slowly in piecemeal fashion and involve rules quite unlike those in the target language.For example, early negatives typically consist of ‘no’ + statement (e.g. ‘No the sun shining’).As the child develops memory capacity and acquires grammatical information, so his mean length of utterance increases. Crystal (1976), for example, provides an account of first language acquisition in terms of six stages, each defined with reference to mean length of utterance.In this section I shall consider early interlanguage theory and shall not attempt to trace how interlanguage theory has evolved. Later developments require a consideration of the nature of variability in languages learner language and also a much fuller specification of the internal s strategic which are responsible for the learner’s output.

The term interlanguage was first used by Selinker (1972). Various s alternative terms have been used by different researchers to refer to the e same phenomenon; Nernser (1971) refers to approximate systems, and Corder (1971) to idiosyncratic dialects and transitional competence.These terms reflect two related but different concepts. First, inter language refers to the structured system which the learner constructs at any given stage in his development (i.e. an interlanguage). Second, the term refers to the series of interlocking systems which form what Corder (1967) called the learner’s ‘built-in syllabus’ (i.e. the interlanguage continuum).

The concept of ‘hypothesis-testing’ was used to explain how the L2 learner progressed along the interlanguage continuum, in much the same way as it was used to explain L1 acquisition. Corder (1967) made this comparison explicit by proposing that at least some of the strategies used by the L2 learner were the same as those by which 1.1 acquisition takes place. In particular, Corder suggested that both LI and 12 learners make errors in order to test out certain hypotheses about the nature of the language they are learning. Corder saw the making of errors as a strategy, evidence of learner-internal processing.

Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis. ‘Hypothesis-testing’ was a mentalist notion and had no place in behaviorist accounts of learning. However, the notion of L1 interference was not rejected entirely. As discussed in the previous chapter, it was reconstituted as one factor among many of the cognitive processes responsible for SLA.Selinker (1972) suggested that five principal processes operated in interlanguage. These were (I) language transfer (this was listed first, perhaps in deference to the contemporary importance attached to LI interference); (2) overgeneralization of target language rules; (3) transfer of training (i.e. a rule enters the learner’s system as a result of instruction); (4) strategies of L2 learning (i.e. ‘an identifiable approach by the learner to the material to be learned’ (1972:37); and (5) strategies of I.2 communication (Le. ‘an identifiable approach by the learner to communication with native speakers’ (1972: 37), Interference, then, was seen as one of several processes responsible for interlanguage.

The five processes together constitute the, ways in which the learner tries to internalize the L2 system. They are the means by which the learner tries to reduce the learning burden to manageable proportions and, as such, it has been suggested by Widdowson (1975b). They can be subsumed under the general process of ‘simplification’.The emphasis on hypothesis-testing and internal processes, together with the insistence on the notion of a continuum of learning involving successive restructuring of an internal system, are direct borrowings from L1acquisition theory.The successful adult L2 learner is able to transform the universal grammar into the structure of the grammar of the target language. This takes place by reactivating the `latent language structure’. However, as Selinker noted, relatively few adult L2 learners reach native-speaker competence. The vast majority fossilize some way short. It follows that for some reason they are unable to reactivate the ‘latent language structure’. Selinker explained this by suggesting that these adult L2 learners fall back on a more general cognitive mechanism, which he labelled latent Psychological structure,This is still genetically-determined, but does not involve recourse to universal grammar. It is responsible for the central processes described above. According to Selinker, therefore, SLA can proceed in two different ways. It can utilize the same mechanisms as Ll acquisition, or it can make use of alternative mechanisms, which arc presumably responsible for other types of learning apart from language. The term that eventually became popular to describe the mechanisms responsible for the second type of learning was cognitive organizer (Dulay and Burt 1977).Selinker’s 1972 paper was seminal. It provided the theoretical framework for interpreting SLA as a mentalistic process and for the empirical investigation of language-learner language. Subsequent discussions of interlanguage focused on its three principal features, all of which were raised by Selinker in one way or another. I shalt examine each feature separately as a way of focusing attention on the essential characteristics.

In a similar way some L2 learners of English (e.g. those with German or Norwegian as a Li) pass through a stage involving main verb negation before introducing an auxiliary into their interlanguage system. In this way the historical development of English resembles the SLA of English. All language systems are permeable. Interlanguage differs from other language systems only in the degree of permeability, and, if the idea of fossilization is accepted, in the loss of permeability that prevents native-speaker competence being achieved e by most learners (Adjemian 1976).Language-learner language is dynamk. The L.2 learner’s interlanguage is constantly changing. However, he does not jump from one stage to the next, but rather slowly revises the interim systems to accommodate new hypotheses about the target language system. This takes place by the introduction of a new rule, first in one context and then in another, and so on a new rule spreads in the sense that its coverage gradually extends over a range of linguistic contexts.Despite the variability of interlanguage, it is possible to detect the rule-1 based nature of the learner’s use of the L2. He does not select haphazardly from his store of interlanguage rules, but in predictable 11 ways. He bases his performance plans on his existing rule system in much the same way as the native speaker bases his plans on his internalized knowledge of the LI system. It has often been pointed out (e.g. Jakobovits 1970; Cook 1971) that evaluating L2 performance in terms of the target language grammar is unsatisfactory, because the learner behaves ‘grammatically’ in the sense that he draws systematically 1 on his interlanguage rules. The term ‘error itself is, therefore, doubtful. A learner utterance can be classified as erroneous only with reference to r the norms of the target language. For the L2 learner, however, the true

Language-learner language is systematic

Interlanguage theory was based on ‘behavioral events’. As Selinker s acknowledged, the behavioral events that have aroused the greatest interest in discussions of SLA have been ‘errors’. However, whereas the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis was devised to justify procedures for predicting errors, interlanguage theory constitutes an attempt to explain errors.Early interlanguage theory, then, was closely associated with Error Analysis. As this served as one of the main devices for examining the processes of interlanguage, the principles and methodology of Error Analysis will be considered briefly.Error Analysis Sridhar (1981) points out that Error Analysis has a long tradition. Prior to the early 1970s, however, Error Analysis consisted of little more than impressionistic collections of ‘common’ errors and their linguistic classification (e.g. French 1949). The goals of traditional Error Analysis were pedagogic—errors provided information which could be used to sequence items for teaching or to devise remedial lessons.The absence of any theoretical framework for explaining the role played by errors in the process of SLA led to no serious attempt to define ‘error’ or to account for it in psychological terms.Also as the enthusiasm for Contrastive Analysis grew, so the interest in Error Analysis declined. In accordance with Behaviorist learning theory, the prevention of errors (the goal of Contrastive Analysis) was more important than the identification of errors. It was not until the late 1960s that there was a resurgence of interest in Error Analysis.

(2) The errors in the corpus are identified. Corder (1971) points out the need to distinguish ‘lapses (i.e. deviant sentences that are the result of processing limitations rather than lack of competence) from ‘errors’ (i.e. deviant sentences that are the result of lack of competence).He also points out that sentences can be `overtly idiosyncratic’ (i.e. they are ill formed in terms of target language rules) and ‘covertly idiosyncratic’ (i.e. sentences that are superficially well formed but when their context of use is examined are clearly ungrammatical). (3) The errors are classified. This involves assigning a grammatical description to each error. (4) The errors are explained. In this stage of the procedure an attempt is made to identify the psycholinguistic cause of the errors. For example, an attempt could be made to establish which of the five processes described by Selinker (1972) (as discussed earlier in this chapter) is responsible for each error. (5) The errors arc evaluated. This stage involves assessing the serious-ness of each error in order to take principled teaching decisions.Error evaluation is necessary only if the purpose of the Error Analysis is pedagogic. It is redundant if the Error Analysis is carried out in order to research SLA. The context for the new interest in errors was the recognition that they provided information about the process of acquisition.

This term has two meanings. Two questions can be asked, therefore. What light can the study of learner errors throw on the sequence of development—the interlanguage continuum—through which learners pass? What light can errors shed on the strategies that the learner uses to assimilate the rules of L2?

Both of these questions are of central importance to the main theme of this chapter—the ‘natural’ order of development. Error Analysis provides two kinds of information about interlanguage. The first—which is relevant to the first of the two questions posed above—concerns the linguistic type of errors produced by L2 learners. Richards (1974), for instance, provides a list of the different types of errors involving verbs (e.g. be + verb stem instead of verb stem alone—`They are speak French’}. However, this type of information is not very helpful when it comes to understanding the learner’s developmental sequence.Error Analysis provides a synchronic description of learner errors, but this can be misleading. A sentence may appear to be non-idiosyncratic (even in context), but may have been derived by means of an ‘interim’ rule in the interlanguage. An example might be a sentence like what’s be doing?’ which is well formed but may have been learnt as A ready-made chunk. Later, the learner might start producing sentences of the kind `what he is doing?’ which is overtly idiosyncratic but may represent a step along the interlanguage continuum.As a result of interlanguage theory and the evidence accumulated from Error Analysis, errors were no longer seen as ‘unwanted forms’ (George 1972), but as evidence of the learner’s active contribution to SLA.. This contribution appeared to be broadly the same irrespective of differences in learners’ backgrounds, suggesting that the human faculty for language may structure and define the learning task in such a way that SLA, like L1 acquisition, was universal in nature.

Empirical evidence for the interlanguage hypothesis

So far the case for an interlanguage continuum has been largely theoretical. There were questions, however, that could only really be settled by empirical research. In particular, empirical research was required to decide on the nature of the interlanguage continuum. Was the continuum to be conceived as stretching from the learner’s mother tongue to the target language? Corder (1978a) refers to this view of the continuum as a restructuring continuum. Alternatively, was the continuum to be conceived as the gradual complexification of interlanguage knowledge? Corder refers to this as the recreation continuum.

Cross-sectional research

A number of studies, commonly referred to as the morpheme studies, were carried out to investigate the order of acquisition of a range of grammatical functions in the speech of L2 learners. They were motivated by the hypothesis that there was an invariant order in SLA which was the result of universal processing strategies similar to those observed in L1 acquisition. These studies were conducted according to a more or less fixed procedure.Data (oral and later written) were elicited from a sample of L2 learners, using some kind of elicitation device such as the Bilingual Syntax Measure (Burt et al. 1973). This consisted of a series of pictures which the learners were asked to describe. The authors claimed that the corpus they collected in this way reflected natural speech. The next step was to identify the grammatical items which were the target of the investigation. The procedure followed here involved identifying the obligatory occasions for each item in the speech corpus. An ‘obligatory occasion’ was defined as a context in which use of the item under consideration was obligatory in correct native-speaker speech.Two early studies (Dulay and Burt 1973, 1974b) claimed that the vast majority of errors produced by child L2 learners were developmental (i.e. not subject to Li interference) and that the ‘acquisition orders’ of child learners remained the same, irrespective of their Lis or of the methods used to score the accuracy of use of the morphemes. These studies were replicated with adult subjects by N.The main hypothesis of interlanguage theory, therefore, was supported. Even the difference between L1 and 1.2 orders was interpretable in terms of the hypothesized differences in the psychological basis of the two types of acquisition.

Longitudinal studies

Although longitudinal studies have examined the acquisition of grammatical morphemes, in general they have also focused on other aspects of development. They have tried to account for the gradual growth of competence in terms of the strategies used by a Learner at different developmental points. Examples of such studies are hob and Hatch (1978), who emphasize the extensive use their child learner makes of ready-made chunks or patterns in the early stages, and Wagner-Gough (1975), who illustrates how her learner builds utterances by imitating parts of the previous discourse. Perhaps the fullest account of the developmental nature of the learner’s strategies, however, can be found in Fillmore (1976; 1979), in her account of the SLA of English of five Spanish-speaking children.

Two types of interrogatives—yes/no questions and Wh-questions —have been considered. There appears to be an early ‘non-communicative’ stage during which the learner is not able to produce any spontaneous interrogatives, but just repeats a question someone has asked him. This is more common with children than with adults. The first productive questions are intonation questions, i.e. utterances with declarative word order but spoken with a rising intonation.

The next development sees the appearance of productive WH—questions. There is no subject—verb inversion to start off with, and the auxiliary verb is often omitted. E.g. what you are doing? What ‘tub’ mean? What the rime? Where you work? Somewhat later, inversion occurs in yes/no questions and in Wh-questions. Inversion with ‘be’ tends to occur before inversion with ‘do’. E.g. are you a nurse? Where is the girl? Do you work in the television? What is she’s doing here? Embedded questions arc the last to develop. When they first appear, they have a subject—verb inversion, as in ordinary Wh-questions: .g. I tell you what did happen. I don’t know where you live. And only later does the learner successfully differentiate the word order of ordinary and embedded Wh-questions: e.g. I don’t know what he had.As with negatives, development of the rules of interrogation is gradual, involving overlapping stages and the slow replacement of transitional forms. There are also differences which can be attributed to the learner’s language background (e.g. German speakers pass through a stage where they invert the main verb—`Like you ice-cream?’)And individual preferences (e.g. some learners make much more extensive early use of formulaic Wh-questions than others).

Relative clauses

Interest in the SLA of relative clauses is more recent. Apart from a number of early experimental studies (e.g. Cook 1973), some of the major studies to date are Schumann (1980) and Gass (1980). Only Schumann’s study, however, is truly longitudinal. Schumann examined the development of relative clauses in five Spanish-speaking learners of English. They were of different ages. He found that relative clauses used to modify the object of a sentence were acquired first.

A composite longitudinal picture In addition to the study of how specific grammatical sub-systems evolve, there have been attempts to paint a composite picture of the interlanguage continuum based on longitudinal research.Schumann (1978a) and Andersen (1981) have suggested that the developmental continuum closely resembles that of the pidginizationt-depidginization continuum. That is, in the early stages SLA is characterized by interlanguage forms which arc the same as those observed in pidgin languages, while in the later stages interlanguage rules become more complex in much the same way as pidgin languages do when they are required to serve a wider range of functions.This analogy between interlanguage and pidgins has been presented as a theory of SLA which is considered in detail in Chapter 10. Ellis (1984a) attempts to summarize the developmental progression which has been observed in longitudinal studies. He identifies four broad stages of development.

The first stage is characterized by a standard word order, irrespective of whether or not this is the word order of the target language structure. Thus, for instance, learners first operate with rules that lead to external negation and to non-inverted interrogatives.The longitudinal research has provided strong evidence in favor of a natural developmental route in SLA. There is evidence to show – considerable similarity in the way that negation and interrogatives develop in learners with different Lis, including those that belong to different language types (e.g. German and Japanese).

There is some evidence to show that advanced grammatical structures such as relative clauses may also follow a universal course. Attempts have also been made to describe the overall course of development in SLA as a series of overlapping stages, and so create a composite picture. However, the _universality of the interlanguage continuum needs to be tempered by the recognition that there are differences traceable both to the learner’s L1 and also to individual preferences.

Interpreting the empirical evidence

It is easy to overstate the case for a natural route of development. The sequence is not universal in the sense that all learners acquire every item in exactly the same order. There are differences which can be attributed i to factors such as the Li. Also there can be broad differences in the approach that learners adopt. Hatch (1974) distinguishes data gatherers, and ‘rule formers’.The first type of learner is not bothered very much with formal accuracy and concentrates instead on fluency.One way is to make a distinction between the sequence of development and the order of development.This is universal, the product of the process of creative construction. All learners pass through the four stages, and this will be reflected in a basic sequence for such transitional structures as negatives and interrogatives. Thus, for instance, external negation will always precede internal negation, and intonation questions will precede inverted questions. However, learners will still vary in when and if specific grammatical features appear in their interlanguage.

The morpheme studies do not provide a reliable basis for comparison. A sounder basis for examining the L2 = L1 acquisition hypothesis exists in the longitudinal studies. The evidence from studies of negatives and interrogatives in L1 Acquisition and SLA suggests that where transitional constructions are concerned, there is a high level of similarity.Cazden’s (1972) summary of the order of development for interrogatives in L1 acquisition is strikingly similar to that in SLA. Here are the main stages Cazden identifies: 1 One-word utterances are used as questions. 2 Intonation questions appear on a regular basis and there are some Wh-questions learnt as ready-made chunks.3 Intonation questions become more complicated, and productive Wh-questions without inversion occur. 4 Inversion involving auxiliary verbs occurs in yesino questions, but not in Wh-questions. 5 Inversion occurs in 1h-questions. 6 Embedded Wh-questions develop. However, although in general the features of I.1 interrogatives are the same as in SLA (in particular, the fact that productive interrogatives without subject—verb inversion appear first in both), there are also differences.

In conclusion, then, the evidence from the comparisons of the L 1 and L2 acquisition routes is mixed. There is some evidence 1 to suggest that SLA proceeds in more or less the same way as L1 acquisition, but there is also evidence that points to differences. It is not clear whether these differences are the result of L1 transfer or of other factors to do with the learner’s more advanced cognitive development. Most likely they are the result of both. When it comes to examining the kinds of strategies used in the two types of acquisition, the similarity is more evident.

Slobin (1973) suggested that the way children process language in L1acquisition can be explained in terms of a series of Operating Principles: A. Pay attention to the ends of words. B. The phonological forms of words can be systematically modified. C. Pay attention to the order of words and morphemes. D. Avoid interruption and rearrangement of linguistic units. E. Underlying semantic relations should be marked overtly and clearly. F, Avoid exceptions. G.

The use of grammatical markers should make semantic sense. It is not difficult to find evidence of these Operating Principles in 51.A. Operating Principle U. for instance, is evident in external negation, where interruption of the standard declarative word order is prevented by attaching the negative particle to the utterance nucleus. it is also evident in non-inverted Wh-questions. Operating Principle B can be observed in the free variation of alternative negative particles—-‘no’, ‘not’, `don’t’—early on.

The mentalist view of the language learner’s knowledge of language as an internal system which is gradually revised in the direction of the target language system underlies both the notions of `Acquisition Device’ and ‘interlanguage’.

SLA and L1 acquisition both involve transitional competence and, as might be expected, this is reflected in similarities, which are not total but nevertheless are strong, between both the acquisition routes and the strategies that are responsible for them. It is this aspect of language learning which the notion of creative construction has been used to describe.

The nature of the rules that learners construct is determined by the mental mechanisms responsible for language acquisition and use. In so far as these mechanisms are innate, Ll acquisition and SLA will proceed in the same way. It is now time to consider in greater detail some of the caveats about this mentalist interpretation of language learning.

Some outstanding issues

In this final section of the chapter, 1 wish to consider a number of methodological and theoretical difficulties of the interlanguage construct and the claims for a natural sequence of development.

Methodological problems

The empirical research of the 1970s was of Three types–Error Analysis, cross-sectional studies (e.g., the morpheme studies), and longitudinal case studies. The evidence supplied by this research has been used to make claims about a natural sequence of development which is the result of innate internal processes. However, there are problems with each type of research, which must necessarily detract from the strength of the claims.

Error Analysis

Error Analysis is a limited tool for investigating SLA. It can provide only a partial picture, because it focuses on only part of the language that LI learners produce, i.e. the idiosyncratic forms.

The case studies have shown that learners may begin by using a grammatical form correctly, only to regress at a later stage, which makes a mockery of attempts to equate accuracy and acquisition. Other doubts about the studies include the suspicion that the orders obtained are an artefact of the Bilingual Syntax Measure; and criticisms concerning the choice of morphemes for investigation and the methods used to ‘score’ each morpheme.Also Rosansky (1975) has argued that the rank correlation statistics used to compare the orders achieved in different studies disguise much of the variability in the data. Hatch (1978b; 1983a) provides an excellent account of the main objections. Longitudinal studies the most convincing evidence comes from the longitudinal studies, but there are problems here, too. The major one is that it has not proved possible to build a profile of development for L2 learners in the same way as in Li research.L1 researchers have been able to use mean length of utterance as a reliable index of development, but as Larsen-Freeman ‘1978) notes, mean length of utterance cannot be used in SLA because so many of the L2 learner’s earliest utterances consist of rote-learnt chunks which lack internal structure. Various alternative indices have been suggested, but none has become widely accepted. The result is that it is difficult to make reliable comparisons between learners. Each study has chosen its own method for analyzing the data. Another limitation of the case studies is that relatively few areas of grammar have been investigated—negatives, interrogatives, and basic sentence types are the favorites, and complex structures have begun to receive attention only recently (e.g. Loup 1983).

The focus on grammar

It was pointed out in Chapter 1 that probably the major limiting factor in the empirical research in SLA to date has been its preoccupation with grammar. This can be seen as a direct result of the close links between mentalist accounts of language acquisition and the theories of syntax associated with Chomsky. Acquiring a language was understood as the construction of linguistic competence. 4owever, whereas research into first language acquisition rapidly broadened the scope of its enquiry to consider how the child’s ability to communicate developed, SLA research has continued to neglect the study of how communicative competence is acquired and how it contributes to grammatical development.

Origins of interlanguage

The starting point of interlanguage becomes a major issue when SLA is seen as a recreation continuum rather than a restructuring continuum. If the learner builds up his interlanguage by gradually increasing the complexity of the system, what is his starting point? Corder (1981) considers two possibilities.One is that the learner starts from scratch in the same way as the infant acquiring his mother tongue. But Corder considers this possibility unlikely, as it is highly implausible that entire processes of language acquisition will be replicated. The second possibility is that the learner starts from ‘some basic simple grammar’ (Corder 1981: 150). Corder suggests that language learners regress to an earlier.

Summary and conclusion

This chapter has explored the case for a mentalist interpretation of SLA. In order to do so, it has considered mentalist accounts of Ll acquisition, the interlanguage construct in SLA, the empirical evidence for a natural developmental route, and the extent to which this route is the same in.1.1. Acquisition and SLA.

As a result of theoretical attacks on the behaviorist view of language acquisition as habit-formation, it was hypothesized that 1.1 acquisition was the product of an ‘acquisition device’ by which means the child related a set of universal grammatical rules to the surface structure of the language he was learning. The counterpart of the ‘acquisition device’ in SLA was ‘creative construction’. That is, SLA was seen as a series of evoking systems which comprised the interlanguage continuum. Each system was considered to be internally consistent, in the sense that it was rule-governed. It was, however, also permeable to new rules, and, therefore, dynamic. The continuum was initially viewed primarily as a restructuring continuum stretching from the learner’s Li to the target language. Later it was viewed as a recreation continuum in which the learner gradually added to the complexity of interim systems. Most learners never reached the final stage of the continuum; their interlanguage fossilized some way short of target language competence. Interlanguage theory both generated and fed off empirical research into SLA.

SLA is characterized by a natural sequence of development {i.e. there are certain broad stages that they pass through), but the order of development varies in details (i.e. some steps are left out, or specific morphological features are learnt in a different order). It may well be that the sequence of development is common to both LI acquisition and SLA, whereas the order of development is different. Certainly the L2 = LI acquisition hypothesis has not been proven in its strong form, although similar processes appear to operate in both types of acquisition.

In SLA both the Ll and also maturational factors, which affect the use of at least some cognitive processes, play a part. Both interlanguage theory and the empirical studies that supported it have had a major impact on our thinking about the nature of SLA. The switch from a behaviorist to a mentalist framework proved a source a great insight into both Ll acquisition and SLA. It has become generally accepted that the human language faculty is a potent force in language acquisition. But internal processing and innate mechanisms are not the full story. It is also necessary to consider how the linguistic input contributes to the process of acquisition. This has been one of the chief ways in which more recent research has redirected its attention. Chapter 6 looks in detail at the role of the linguistic environment. In other respects, interlanguage theory has been able to accommodate to new thinking, in particular by attending to the inherent variability of language-learner language (see Chapter 4).

The End

Summarized: Saeed Mojarradi    October 19, 2018

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