Chapter 3 Interlanguage and the 'natural' route of development.



the goal of this chapter:

to examine the claims that second language(L 2) learners acquire a knowledge of a L2 in a fixed order (in stark contrast to behaviorist accounts of SLA)


I the background theory and research in L1 acquisition

II the notion of interlanguage a discussion of the L2 = L1 hypothesis

III the caveats regarding the centrality of learner internal process in accounts of SLA


I. Mentalist accounts of first language acquisition


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 learners total cognitive apparatus , it is separate from the general cognitive mechanisms responsible for intellectual development.

3. The primary determinant of L1 acquisition is the childs 'acquisition device', which is genetically endowed and provides the child with a set of principles about grammar.

4. The acquisition device atrophies with age.

5. The process of acquisition consists of hypothesis-testing, by which means the grammar of the learners mother tongue is related to the principles of the universal grammar.

- The 1960s was also a period of intensive empirical research into L1 acquisition.

empirical research ---- theoretical developments in syntax


two major aspects: Many of the childrens early utterances were unique.

Development was continuous and incremental, but could be characterized as a series of stages. I

A. The length of childrens utterances gradually increases Mean Length of Utterance

B. Knowledge of the grammatical system is built up in steps.

- According to mentalist accounts of L1 acquisition, language acquisition is a universal process.

The term 'process' is used with two related meanings.

1. the stages of development that characterize the route the child follows (descriptive term)

2. how the child constructs internal rules and how he adjusts them from stage to stage. (explanatory term)


II. Interlanguage

- The term interlanguage was as first used by Selinker (1972)

Nemser (1971): approximative systems

Corder (1971): idiosyncratic dialects / transitional competence

- the assumptions underlying interlanguage theory (Nemser 1971)

1. at any given time the approximative system is distinct from the L1 and L2

2. at approximative systems form an evolving series

3. the approximative systems of learners at the same stage of proficiency roughly coincide.

- The concept of hypothesis-testing was used to explain how the L2 learner progressed along the interlanguage continuum. Corder (1967)

- The notion of L1 interference was not rejected entirely. Selinker (1972)

five principal processes operated in interlanguage

1. Language transfer

2. over generalization of target language rules

3. ransfer of training

4. strategies of L2 learning

5. strategies of L2 communication

- FOSSILIZATION (Selinker): L2 learners stop learning when their interlanguage contains at least some rules different from those of the target language system.

Fossilized structures can be realized as errors or as correct target language forms.

Fossilized structures may not be persistent.

The causes of fossilization are both internal and external. (Selinker and Lamendella)


- The emphasis on hypothesis-testing and internal processes are direct borrowings from L1 acquisition theory. However mentalist theorizing cannot be easily carried over into SLA research.

Question for SLA: How did adults succeed in learning a L2 at all if recourse to the

acquisition device responsible for L1 acquisition was not possible?

SLA can proceed in two ways.

0 It can utilize the same mechanisms as L1 acquisition.

It can make use of alternative mechanisms.

*Lenneberg : latent language structure

*Selinker: latent psychological structure

~Dulay and Burt 1977: cognitive organizer creative construction


- three principal features of interlanguage (Selinker)

0 Language-learner language is permeable

Language-learner language is dynamic

Æ Language-learner language is systematic


- Interlanguage theory was based on behavioral events.




Error Analysis


- the procedure for Error Analysis (Corder 1974)

0 A corpus of language is selected.

The errors in the corpus are identified. Lapses/Errors

Overtly idiosyncratic

Covertly idiosyncratic


Æ The errors are classified.

0 The errors are explained.

~9 The errors are evaluated.

- Errors provided information about the process of acquisition.

- Error Analysis provides two kinds of information about interlanguage.

0 the linguistic type of errors produced by L2 learners

the psycholinguistic type of errors produced by L2 learners


- The most significant contribution of Error Analysis lies in its success in elevating the status of errors from undesirability to that of a guide to the inner workings of the language learning process.


Empirical evidence for the interlanguage hypothesis


- Empirical research was required to decide on the nature of the interlanguage continuum.

0 restructuring continuum

~ recreation continuum (Corder 1978a)


A. Cross-sectional research


- The morpheme studies were carried out to investigate the order of acquisition of a range of grammatical functions in the speech of L2 learners.

* These studies were conducted according to a fixed procedure. Data were elicited from a sample of L2 learners.


accuracy order

(acquisition order)




- The acquisition order for various grammatical functions is more or less same.

- The only time that a different order occurs is when the elicitation instrument required the subjects to focus specifically on the form rather than the meaning of their utterances. ~ Krashen(1977: 148)

- The standard order that was reported was different from the order of morpheme acquisition reported for L1 acquisition.






C> longitudinal studies have tried to account for the gradual growth of competence in terms of the strategies used by a learner at different development points.

- The longitudinal studies discussed here are those that focus on the acquisition of particular grammatical subsystemsnegatives, interrogatives, and relative clauses.

- It is from these studies that the strongest evidence for natural route of development comes.

- longitudinal studies of SLA provide data from different points of time and therefore enable a reliable profile of the SLA of individual learners to be constructed.

- The disadvantage lies in the difficulty of making generalizations based on the profiles of one or two learners.

- A composite longitudinal picture


Interpreting the empirical evidence


- L2 learners follow a standard sequence but vary in the order in which specific features are acquired.


- The L2=L1 hypothesis -


- The L2=L1 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 L1 and also maturational factors play a part.



-. Some outstanding issues


[Methodological problems]

(2) Error Analysis

Morpheme studies

Æ longitudinal studies

~ The focus of grammar

Æ Origins of interlanguage

Æ Neglect of external factors

The problem of variability

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