Interlanguage Theory: Why It Makes or Doesn’t Make Sense

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Name: Giménez, María Victoria
Subject: Ciencias del Lenguaje III
Instructor: Mulone, Virginia
Due Date: July, 2011
Paper # 2
Interlanguage theory: Why it makes or doesn’t make sense
It is a well-attested fact that learners commit errors when learning a second language. Errors are in fact considered inevitable in any learning process. For a very long time different authors (Corder, 1967; Richards, 1971; Dulay and Burt, 1972, as cited in Taylor, 1975;) see those errors not only as deviations of the rules but also as important sources for studying the process of learning a target language. The learner’s mental process and rules adopted by them at different stages are evidenced by those errors. (Fauziati, 2011). It is, therefore, the language of the learner that Larry Selinker (1972) would study and name interlanguage. He would consider interlanguage as follows:

L2 learners construct a linguistic system that draws, in part, on the learner’s L1 but is also different from it and also from the target language. A learner’s interlanguage is, therefore, a unique linguistic system (as cited in Ellis, 1997, pag. 33).

This system of the language is evolutional and dynamic, and its grammar is under construction and in constant development. It may have inconsistency errors but it will be changing and developing all the time. Selinker (1972, as cited in Taylor, 1975) claims that interlanguage is not merely the learner target language grammar that is filled with errors due to the learner’s L1 interference but, instead, it is a linguistic system that reflects the learner’s dealing with the deviations of the target language itself. Selinker also states that the perspective of Interlanguage considers the learning strategies which the learner employs in a task despite of their mother tongue or kind of training they receive.

According to Selinker (1972), there are a number of processes or strategies that the learner adopts in order to help them acquire the target language. The first one is L1 Transfer, which is a learning strategy where the learner uses their own L1 as a resource. “[T]he learner transfers their knowledge of their native language into their target language attempts” (Taylor, 1975, p. 393). The second process is L2 Transfer, in which the learner works out the rules of L2 and challenges them. The third process is Overgeneralization; the learner uses an L2 rule in situations in which a native speaker would not use them. This can occur at different levels, namely, at the phonetic level, at the grammatical level, at the lexical level and at the level of discourse. Taylor (1975) defines overgeneralization as “a process in which a language learner uses a syntactic rule of the target language inappropriately when he attempts to generate a novel target language utterance”. The fourth process or strategy is General Learning Principles; the learner acquires strategies for learning the language, such as association or grouping. However, these strategies are not exclusive to language learning; they can be applied to any other kind of knowledge. Finally, the fifth process is Communication Strategies, which are actions that the learner carries out in order to compensate their lack of knowledge and also to reinforce or optimize communication. Among these strategies are body language, circumlocution, using a general term, resorting to L1, asking for help (the teacher or the dictionary), coining (making up a word) and avoidance. All of these five processes contribute to the development of the L2.

Another important characteristic of Interlanguage is Fossilization, which is a term introduced also by Selinker in 1972. It refers to “the persistence of plateaus of non-target-like competence in the IL” (as cited in Fauziati, 2011, p. 25). Selinker (1972) provides a precise definition for fossilization:

[A] mechanism that underlies surface linguistic material which speakers will tend to keep in their IL productive performance, no...
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