Interlanguage Development: Some Evidence

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As a follow-up to my two previous posts, here’s some information about interlanguage development.

Doughty and Long (2003) say

There is strong evidence for various kinds of developmental sequences and stages in interlanguage development, such as the well known four-stage sequence for ESL negation (Pica, 1983; Schumann, 1979), the six-stage sequence for English relative clauses (Doughty, 1991; Eckman, Bell, & Nelson, 1988; Gass, 1982), and sequences in many other grammatical domains in a variety of L2s (Johnston, 1985, 1997). The sequences are impervious to instruction, in the sense that it is impossible to alter stage order or to make learners skip stages altogether (e.g., R. Ellis, 1989; Lightbown, 1983). Acquisition sequences do not reflect instructional sequences, and teachability is constrained by learnability (Pienemann, 1984).

Let’s take a look at the “strong evidence” referred to, beginning with Pit Corder and error analysis.

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Pit Corder: Error Analysis

Corder (1967) argued that errors were neither random nor systematic results of L1 transfer; rather, they were indications of learners’ attempts to figure out an underlying rule-governed system. Corder distinguished between errors and mistakes: mistakes are slips of the tongue, whereas errors are indications of an as yet non-native-like, but nevertheless, systematic, rule-based grammar. Interesting and provocative as this was, error analysis failed to capture the full picture of a learner’s linguistic behaviour. Schachter (1974) compared the compositions of Persian, Arabic, Chinese and Japanese learners of English, focusing on their use of relative clauses. She found that the Persian and Arabic speakers had a far greater number of errors, but she went on to look at the total production of relative clauses and found that the Chinese and Japanese students produced only half as many relative clauses as did the Persian and Arabic students. Schachter then looked at the students’ L1 and found that Persian and Arabic relative clauses are similar to English in that the relative clause is placed after the noun it modifies, whereas in Chinese and Japanese the relative clause comes before the noun. She concluded that Chinese and Japanese speakers of English use relative clauses cautiously but accurately because of the distance between the way their L1 and the L2 (English) form relative clauses. So, it seems, things are not so straightforward: one needs to look at what learners get right as well as what they get wrong.

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The Morpheme Studies

Next came the morpheme order studies. Dulay and Burt (1974a, 1974b) claimed that fewer than 5% of errors were due to native language interference, and that errors were, as Corder suggested, in some sense systematic, that there was something akin to a Language Acquisition Device at work not just in first language acquisition, but also in SLA.

The morpheme studies of Brown in 1973 resulted in his claim that the morphemes below were acquired by L1 learners in the following order:

1 Present progressive (-ing)

2/3 in, on

4 Plural (-s)

5 Past irregular

6 Possessive (-’s)

7 Uncontractible copula (is, am, are)

8 Articles (a, the)

9 Past regular (-ed)

10 Third person singular (-s)

11 Third person irregular

12 Uncontractible auxiliary (is, am, are)

13 Contractible copula

14 Contractible auxiliary

This led to studies in L2 by Dulay & Burt (1973, 1974a, 1974b, 1975), and Bailey, Madden & Krashen (1974), all of which suggested that there was a natural order in the acquisition of English morphemes, regardless of L1. This became known as the L1 = L2 Hypothesis, and further studies (by Ravem (1974), Cazden, Cancino, Rosansky & Schumann (1975), Hakuta (1976), and Wode (1978) all pointed to systematic staged development in SLA.

Some of these studies, particularly those of Dulay and Burt, and of Bailey, Madden and Krashen, were soon challenged, but over fifty L2 morpheme studies have since been carried out using more sophisticated data collection and analysis procedures, and the results of these studies have gone some way to restoring confidence in the earlier findings.

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Selinker’s Interlanguage.

The third big step was Selinker’s (1972) paper, which argues that the L2 learners have their own autonomous mental grammar (which came to be known as interlanguage grammar), a grammatical system with its own internal organising principles. One of the first stages of this interlanguage to be identified was that for ESL questions. In a study of six Spanish students over a 10-month period, Cazden, Cancino, Rosansky and Schumann (1975) found that the subjects produced interrogative forms in a predictable sequence:

  1. Rising intonation (e.g., He works today?),
  2. Uninverted WH (e.g., What he (is) saying?),
  3. “Overinversion” (e.g., “Do you know where is it?),
  4. Differentiation (e.g., “Does she like where she lives?).

Then there was Pica’s study of 1983 which suggested that learners from a variety of different L1 backgrounds go through the same four stages in acquiring English negation:

  1. External (e.g., No this one./No you playing here),
  2. Internal, pre-verbal (e.g., Juana no/don’t have job),
  3. Auxiliary + negative (e.g., I can’t play the guitar),
  4. Analysed don’t (e.g., She doesn’t drink alcohol.)

Apart from these two examples, we may cite the six-stage sequence for English relative clauses (see Doughty, 1991 for a summary) and sequences in many other grammatical domains in a variety of L2s (see Johnston, 1997).

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 Pienemann’s 5-stage Sequence.

Perhaps the most extensive and best-known work in this area has been done by Pienemann whose work on a Processability Theory started out as the Multidimensional Model, formulated by the ZISA group mainly at the University of Hamburg in the late seventies. One of the first findings of the group was that all the children and adult learners of German as a second language in the study adhered to the five-stage developmental sequence shown below:

Stage X – Canonical order (SVO)

die kinder spielen mim bait //// the children play with the ball

(Romance learners’ initial SVO hypothesis for GSL WO is correct in most German sentences with simple verbs.)

Stage X + I – Adverb preposing (ADV)

da kinder spielen //// there children play

(Since German has a verb-second rule, requiring subject—verb inversion following a preposed adverb {there play children), all sentences of this form are deviant. The verb-second (or ‘inversion’) rule is only acquired at stage X + 3, however. The adverb-preposing rule itself is optional.)

Stage X + 2 – Verb separation (SEP)

alle kinder muss die pause machen //// all children must the break have

(Verb separation is obligatory in standard German.)

Stage X+3 – Inversion (INV)

dam hat sie wieder die knock gebringt //// then has she again the bone brought

(Subject and inflected verb forms must be inverted after preposing of elements.)

Stage X+4 – Verb-end (V-END)

er sagte, dass er nach house kommt //// he said that he home comes

(In subordinate clauses, the finite verb moves to final position.)

Learners did not abandon one interlanguage rule for the next as they progressed; they added new ones while retaining the old, and thus the presence of one rule implies the presence of earlier rules.

A few words about the evidence. There is the issue of what it means to say that a structure has been acquired, and I’ll just mention three objections that have been raised. In the L1 acquisition of morphemes, a structure was assumed to be acquired when it occurred three times in a row in an obligatory context at a rate of 90%. The problem with such a measurement is, first, how one defines an “obligatory” context, and second, that by only dealing with obligatory contexts, it fails to look at how the morphemes might occur in incorrect contexts. The second example is that Pienemann takes acquisition of a structure as the point at which it emerges in the interlanguage, its first “non-imitative use”, which many say is hard to operationalise. A third example is this: in work reported by Johnson, statistical measures using an experimental group of L2 learners and a control group of native speakers have been used where the performance of both groups are measured, and if the L2 group performance is not significantly different from the control group, then the L2 group can be said to have acquired the structure under examination. Again, one might well question this measure.

To return to developmental sequences, by the end of the 1990s, there was evidence of stages of development of an interlanguage system from studies in the following areas:

  • morphemes,
  • negation,
  • questions,
  • word order,
  • embedded clauses
  • pronouns
  • references to the past

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Discussion

Together these studies lend very persuasive support to the view that L2 learners follow a fairly rigid developmental route. Moreover, it was seen that this developmental route sometimes bore little resemblance to either the L1 of the learner, or the L2 being learnt. For example, Hernández-Chávez (1972) showed that although the plural is realised in almost exactly the same way in Spanish and in English, Spanish children learning English still went through a phase of omitting plural marking. It had been assumed prior to this that second language learners’ productions were a mixture of both L1 and L2, with the L1 either helping or hindering the process depending on whether structures are similar or different in the two languages. This was clearly shown not to be the case. All of which was taken to suggest that SLA involves the development of interlanguages in learners, and that these interlanguages are linguistic systems in their own right, with their own sets of rules.

There are lots of interesting questions and issues that I haven’t even mentioned here about interlanguage development in general and about orders of acquisition in SLA in particular. It’s worth pointing out that Corder’s and Selinker’s initial proposal of interlanguage as a construct was an attempt to explain the phenomenon of fossilisation. As Tarone (2006) says:

Second language learners who begin their study of the second language after puberty do not succeed in developing a linguistic system that approaches that developed by children acquiring that language natively. This observation led Selinker to hypothesize that adults use a latent psychological structure (instead of a LAD) to acquire second languages.  

The five psycholinguistic processes of this latent psychological structure that shape interlanguage  were hypothesized (Selinker, 1972) to be (a) native language transfer, (b) overgeneralization of target language rules, (c) transfer of training, (d) strategies  of communication, and (e) strategies of learning.

It wasn’t long before Krashen’s Monitor Model claimed that there was no evidence of L1 transfer in the morpheme studies, denied the central role of L1 transfer which the original Interlanguage Hypothesis gave it, and also denied that there were sensitive (critical) periods in SLA. Generativist studies of SLA also minimised the role of L1 transfer. And there have been some important updates on the interlanguage hypothesis since the 1980s, too (see Tarone (2006) and Hong and Tarone (2016) for example).

My main concern in discussing interlanguage development, as you must be all too well aware by now, is to draw attention to the false assumptions on which coursebook-based ELT are based. Coursebooks assume that structures can be learned on demand. If this were the case, then acquisition sequences would reflect the sequences in which coursebooks present them, but they do not. On the contrary, the acquisition order is remarkably resilient to coursebook presentation sequences. Long (2015, p. 21) gives some examples to demonstrate this:

…. Pica (1983) for English morphology by Spanish-speaking adults, by Lightbown (1983) for the present continuous -ing form by French-speaking children in Quebec being taught English as a second language (ESL) using the Lado English series, by Pavesi (1986) for relative clauses by children learning English as a foreign language (EFL) in Italy and Italian adults learning English naturalistically in Scotland, and by R. Ellis (1989) for English college students learning word order in German as a foreign language.

Long goes on to point out that accuracy orders and developmental sequences found in instructed settings match those obtained for the same features in studies of naturalistic acquisition, and that the striking commonalities observed suggest powerful universal learning processes are at work. He concludes (Long, 2015, p.23):

… instruction cannot make learners skip a stage or stages and move straight to the full native version of a construction, even if it is exclusively the full native version that is modelled and practiced. Yet that is what should happen all the time if adult SLA were a process of explicit learning of declarative knowledge of full native models, their comprehension and production first proceduralized and then made fluent, i.e., automatized, through intensive practice. One might predict utterances with occasional missing grammatical features during such a process, but not the same sequences of what are often completely new, never-modelled interlingual constructions, and from all learners.

While practice has a role in automatizing what has been learned, i.e., in improving control of an acquired form or structure, the data show that L2 acquisition is not simply a process of forming new habits to override the effects of L1 transfer; powerful creative processes are at work. In fact, despite the presentation and practice of full native norms in focus-on-forms instruction, interlanguages often stabilize far short of the target variety, with learners persistently communicating with non-target-like forms and structures they were never taught, and target-like forms and structures with non-target-like functions (Sato 1990).

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Conclusion

That’s a taste of the evidence. We can’t conclude from it, as a few insist, that there’s no point in any kind of explicit teaching, but it does mean that, in Doughty and Long’s words (2003):

The idea that what you teach is what they learn, and when you teach it is when they learn it, is not just simplistic, but wrong.

The dynamic nature of SLA means that differentiating between different stages of interlanguage development is difficult – the stages overlap, and there are variations within stages – and so the simplistic view of a “Natural Order”, where a learner starts from Structure 1 and reaches, let’s say, Structure 549, is absurd. Imagine trying to organise stages such as those identified by Pienemann into ordered sets! As Gregg (1984) points out:

If the structures of English are divided into varying numbers of ordered sets, the number of sets varying according to the individual, then it makes little sense to talk about a ‘natural order’. If the number of sets varies from individual to individual; then the membership of any given set will also vary, which makes it very difficult to compare individuals, especially since the content of these sets is virtually completely unknown.

So the evidence of interlanguage development doesn’t mean that we can design a syllabus which coincides with any “natural order”, but it does suggest that we should respect the learners’ internal syllabuses and their developmental sequences, which most coursebooks fail to do. Doughty and Long (2003) argue that the only way to respect the learner’s internal syllabus is

by employing an analytic, not synthetic, syllabus, thereby avoiding futile attempts to impose an external linguistic syllabus on learners (e.g., the third conditional because it is the third Wednesday in November), and instead, providing input that is at least roughly tuned to learners’ current processing capacity by virtue of having been negotiated by them during collaborative work on pedagogic tasks.

Long has since (Long, 2015) given a full account of his own version of task-based language teaching, and whether or not we are in a position to implement a similar methodology in our own teaching situations, at least we can agree that we’d be well-advised to concentrate more on facilitating implicit learning than on explicit teaching, to give more carefully-tuned input, and to abandon the type of synthetic syllabus used in coursebooks in favour of an analytic one.

 

Bibliography

Sorry, can’t give all references. Here are a few of “key” texts. Tarone (2006) free to download (see below) is a good place to start.

Adjemian , C. (1976) On the nature of interlanguage systems. Language Learning 26, 297–320.

Bailey,N., Madden, C., Krashen, S. (1974) Is there a “natural sequence” in adult second language learning? Language Learning 24, 235-243.

Corder, S. P.  (1967) The  significance  of  learners’ errors. International Review of

Applied Linguistics (IRAL) 5, 161-9.

Corder, S. P. (1981) Error analysis and interlanguage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dulay, H. and Burt, M. (1974a) Errors and strategies in child second language acquisition. TESOL Quarterly 8, 12-36.

Dulay, H. and Burt, M. (1974b) Maturational sequences in child second language acquisition. Language Learning 24, 37-53.

Doughty, C. and Long, M.H. (2003) Optimal Psycholinguistic Environments for Distance Foreign Language Learning. Downloadable here: http://llt.msu.edu/vol7num3/doughty/default.html

Gregg, K. R. (1984) Krashen’s monitor and Occam’s razor. Applied Linguistics 5, 79-100.

Hong, Z. and Tarone, E. (Eds.) (2016) Interlanguage Forty years later. Amsterdam, Benjamins.

Krashen S (1981) Second language acquisition and second language learning.  Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Long, M. H. (2015) SLA and TBLT. Oxford, Wiley Blackwell.

Nemser W (1971) Approximative systems of foreign language learners.’ IRAL 9, 115–23.

Selinker L (1972). ‘Interlanguage.’ IRAL 10, 209–231.

Selinker L  (1992).  Rediscovering interlanguage.   London: Longman.

Schachter, J. (1974) An error in error analysis. Language Learning 24, 3-17.

Tarone E (1988) Variation in interlanguage. London: Edward Arnold.

Tarone, E. (2006) Interlanguage. Downloadable here: http://socling.genlingnw.ru/files/ya/interlanguage%20Tarone.PDF

 

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18 thoughts on “Interlanguage Development: Some Evidence

  1. Thank you for this, it’s very timely. I’m struggling with condensing “how do students acquire grammar” into about 500 words for an MA assignment. I notice you haven’t included Van Patten and input processing , is that because it doesn’t really add anything new and different or for another reason? I feel I should say something about focus on forms versus focus on form too, and noticing.

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    • Hi Chas,

      To explain how students acquire grammar in 500 words is a very challenging assignment! Interlanguage development is part of the story, but there’s lots more, of course, including the various more recent psycholinguistic theories of SLA that take a processing approach. Schmidt made an important contribution, though Van Patten’s stuff is, I think, less influential. If you’re looking at how “students” acquire grammar, then maybe you have to include various views on the role of instruction, in which case focus on formS versus focus on form is also important. Good luck!

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  2. Hi Geoff, this was one of the questions I wanted to ask: develop the concept of interlanguage…Some further questions:
    1- I assume that whatever it is we describe with the term interlanguage, it is a psychological phenomenon and not a linguistic. That is, interlanguage capacity is a universal quality of the brain, and is universally the same across languages. Should we expect similar routes across different languages? if not, why are they different?

    2- What drives on interlanguage development? What is the relationship of input and interlanguage? Can input be fine-tuned to interlanguage stages? What steering mechanism impact the route, is it difficulty, saliency, frequency, need, or internal readiness, and what would that readiness be, etc?

    3- Can we conceptualize interlanguage as a string of prerequisites that chainlike add up one to another? Are the links in any cause and effect relationship? On the other hand, how can researchers be sure they describe a linear path? Are stages incapable of simultaneous development? What if we just look at statistical distribution without innate connections.

    4- Does interlanguage experience setbacks? What about forgetting? Does forgetting produce gaps in the route?

    5- How solid are the no skipping boundaries?

    6- How far does interlanguage parallel or mirror other developmental growth curves, as in fine motor skill development, driving a car, doing calisthenics?

    7- Does the route describe the path to communicative competence? Do the two concepts inform each other? Or are they parallel and separate? If so, could I teach towards communicative competence, while letting interlanguage development take care of itself?

    (Yes, I know, I need to read the literature. I try to get to the free stuff to stay in budget.)

    Regards,
    Thom

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  3. Hi Thom,

    Not very well-considered answers come after the ***s

    1. I assume that whatever it is we describe with the term interlanguage, it is a psychological phenomenon and not a linguistic. That is, interlanguage capacity is a universal quality of the brain, and is universally the same across languages. Should we expect similar routes across different languages? if not, why are they different?
    *** Interlanguage describes the linguistic knowledge a learner has.

    2- What drives on interlanguage development? What is the relationship of input and interlanguage? Can input be fine-tuned to interlanguage stages? What steering mechanism impact the route, is it difficulty, saliency, frequency, need, or internal readiness, and what would that readiness be, etc?
    **** There are various explanations of the SLA process, none of them is complete or generally accepted. One approach sees it as a process of input -> noticing -> intake -> adjustment of the interlanguage.

    3- Can we conceptualize interlanguage as a string of prerequisites that chainlike add up one to another? Are the links in any cause and effect relationship?
    *** I don’t think so.

    On the other hand, how can researchers be sure they describe a linear path? Are stages incapable of simultaneous development? What if we just look at statistical distribution without innate connections.
    *** The path isn’t described as or seen as linear. There’s evidence of overlap and back-sliding. I don’t get the last question.

    4- Does interlanguage experience setbacks? What about forgetting? Does forgetting produce gaps in the route?
    *** U-shaped learning is commonly observed. Of course there’s forgetting, but it’s not seen as altering the route.

    5- How solid are the no skipping boundaries?
    *** It’s generally accepted that stages are not skipped.

    6- How far does interlanguage parallel or mirror other developmental growth curves, as in fine motor skill development, driving a car, doing calisthenics?
    *** There’s some disagreement among SLA researchers on this. A skills-based approach to SLA has some support, but the thrust of interlanguage development research is that SLA has fundamental differences to the process of learning to drive a car, if learning to drive involves starting with declarative knowledge and then converting this to procedural knowledge through practice.

    7- Does the route describe the path to communicative competence? Do the two concepts inform each other? Or are they parallel and separate? If so, could I teach towards communicative competence, while letting interlanguage development take care of itself?
    *** “The term interlanguage was defined by Selinker (1972) as the separate linguistic system evidenced when adult second-language learners attempt to express meaning in a language they are in the process of learning. The system encompasses not just phonology, morphology, and syntax, but also the lexical, pragmatic, and discourse levels of the interlanguage” (Tarone, 2006).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Geoff;
      I’m replying here because I can’t find a way to reply to your original posting. Anyway, reading it suggested a couple of comments:
      1) What is the Interlanguage Hypothesis? If it’s merely that an L2 learner has a mental grammar that is neither that of the L1 or of the L2, I can’t see what use it is. That may be the reason one seldom sees the term these days.
      2) I’ve always been impressed by the seriousness with which SLA people took the morpheme studies, and the lack of anything like thought about what an acquisition order would show. As Wode et al., cited by Gregg 1984, note, there’s no reason whatever to think that, say, the preposition ‘in’ and the progressive -ing are members of any natural class. (And what in God’s name is the ‘morpheme’ ‘irregular past’? Brown chose the 14 morphemes he chose, not on any theoretical basis whatever, but because they were available and susceptible to the kind of measurement he wanted to employ. He at least was aware of what he was doing.
      I tend to think that the evidence for learning sequences and constraints in SLA is less persuasive than you seem to think; I’d like to see data on a few more L2s besides English and a couple of other European languages, for one thing. Mind you, I’m perfectly happy to accept your position on coursebooks; but that’s a subject for another day.

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      • Hi Kevin,

        1. Quite a few scholars, including Tarone, refer to the Interlanguage Hypothesis, as I’m sure you’re aware. I take the claim to be that there are learning sequences and constraints in SLA such that L2 learners pass through recognisable stages of development in a fixed order which is not affected by instruction. I wonder if you think that this claim is too vague, or not supported by much evidence, or refuted by evidence?

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    • Thanks for replying.
      Some further thoughts:
      1. So Interlanguage is not really about acquisition. I.e. it does not tell us how the route assembles, what its causes might be.
      3 and 5. If there is no chaining or causation, one should suspect a gatekeeper “function” that sets up the condition of no skipping. I am asking these questions because I have a hard time to think of language as a single string of knowledge. I cannot quite see how language can run along a pre-set (biologically determined?) track where “knowledge” is acquired from stage to stage. There seems to be a much less defined growth process on several fronts. Much like an expanding soap bubble.
      6. I think any complex skill development runs along a track. The nature of the track, however, is not set by an innate necessity. The track does not own independent substance. Rather, like animals treading out a track in the hills, development tracks own their existence to probability, the environment, and any sort of “causes” (the goats just want to get over that impossible cliff for grazing)*. So with driving a car, apart from declarative knowledge transfer, novice drivers have similar driving flaws, over-correcting, under-estimation of speed and distance, etc. They seem to do the same things in a wrong way. Multiplying the samples, a track is sure to emerge. But there is no connection between the track and the actual learning of how to drive.
      7. The claim of interlanguage seems rather dramatic when it comes to vocabulary acquisition. Assuming a previous debate on the question of where to draw the line between grammar and lexis, or whether such a line can actually be drawn, I wonder how interlanguage studies could ever cope with the multitude of lexical acquisition. It seems to me that if the concept interlanguage responds to anything innate, something that actually powers or determines language development, it would have to do so for ALL of language. Or does the interlanguage route fade out at the borders of grammar? When would it fade out?

      Regards,

      Thom

      *just came back from a trip to the Peruvian Andes where I saw this a lot.

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      • Hi Thom,

        My answers come after the ***s

        1. So Interlanguage is not really about acquisition. I.e. it does not tell us how the route assembles, what its causes might be.
        *** It’s about acquisition, clearly, but it’s not an explanation of SLA.

        3 and 5. If there is no chaining or causation, one should suspect a gatekeeper “function” that sets up the condition of no skipping. I am asking these questions because I have a hard time to think of language as a single string of knowledge. I cannot quite see how language can run along a pre-set (biologically determined?) track where “knowledge” is acquired from stage to stage. There seems to be a much less defined growth process on several fronts. Much like an expanding soap bubble.
        *** It’s not that there is “no chaining or causation”, just that there’s no agreed explanation. In order to understand the stages that have been observed, we need a good, complete theory of SLA, and we haven’t got one.

        6. I think any complex skill development runs along a track.
        *** SLA is, in my opinion, not best understood as complex skill development. Other bits of this comment seem to suggest an emergentist approach to SLA.

        7. The claim of interlanguage seems rather dramatic when it comes to vocabulary acquisition. Assuming a previous debate on the question of where to draw the line between grammar and lexis, or whether such a line can actually be drawn, I wonder how interlanguage studies could ever cope with the multitude of lexical acquisition. It seems to me that if the concept interlanguage responds to anything innate, something that actually powers or determines language development, it would have to do so for ALL of language. Or does the interlanguage route fade out at the borders of grammar? When would it fade out?
        *** I’m not sure what you mean by “the claim of Interlanguage”. Anyway, I don’t assume that “the concept interlanguage responds to anything innate, something that actually powers or determines language development”. I restrict my claims about interlanguage development to the facts, which suggest that coursebook-driven ELT is based on false assumptions about SLA.

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  4. I am indeed aware that some people refer to a putative ‘Interlanguage Hypothesis’, but I don’t recall any of them saying what they thought that hypothesis claimed. (Rather like the [far more numerous, alas] references to the putative ‘Innateness Hypothesis’, none of which gives the hypothesis any content.) On the other hand, there is the claim of developmental stages; as I said, I’d like to see the claim tested against other L2s. And I’d like to see proponents of the claim go beyond the idea of acquisition as involving learning ‘structures’. And I’d like to see some suggestions about what it is that’s going on in the head of a learner such that he has to go through such-and-such a sequence of stages; after all, the input is not ever given in corresponding stages.

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    • Hi Kevin,

      I agree about not calling it a hypothesis – I’ve quoted Henderson(1985) below.

      I agree too about more studies in other L2s (though there’s Pienemann).

      As for the claim being limited to the learning of ‘structures’ only, Tarone (2012) says that Interlanguage is a linguistic system “encompasses not just phonology, morphology, and syntax, but also the lexical, pragmatic, and discourse levels of the interlanguage”. I know you have little time for Tarone’s attempts to explain SLA (Gregg, 1984) so I don’t expect you be impressed.

      But can I press you a bit on whether you think it’s wrong to suggest, as I’ve done, that the evidence from SLA studies, whether they mention the term “interlanguage” or not, clearly indicates that in SLA there’s a fixed order in the acquisition of certain parts of the L2, and that instruction can influence the rate but not the route of SLA.

      Here’s the last para. of Henderson (1985)

      “There is nothing, therefore, that we can ever hope to observe which would disconfirm the Interlanguage hypothesis. It therefore tells us nothing about second language acquisition. It makes no prediction which could ever turn out not to be the case. What good is it, then? Is the emperor really wearing no clothes? I think that the notion of IL has been very useful in stimulating us to look beyond errors made by L2 users, and to try to look at the whole of whatever linguistic systems they appear to be using. I believe that we are far more likely to be able to find a way to account for L2 competence (or incompetence) by looking for systems, and that in getting us away from our preoccupation with errors, IL has done the field a service. If professionals in language teaching now want to use the term to mean 􀂳communicating in a foreign language􀂴, that􀂶s fine. But let􀂶s stop calling it a hypothesis and waiting for it to explain something.”

      Gregg, K.R. (1984) The Variable Competence Model of Second Language Acquisition, and Why It Isn’t. Applied Linguistics, 11 (4) 364-383.

      Henderson, M. (1985). The Interlanguage notion. Journal of Modern Language Learning 21, 23-27.

      Tarone, E. 2012. Interlanguage. The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. Downloadable here: http://socling.genlingnw.ru/files/ya/interlanguage%20Tarone.PDF

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      • Yo;
        1) You say “in SLA there’s a fixed order in the acquisition of certain parts of the L2”. Well, as I said I’d like to see a broader range of L1s and L2s. Are we to believe that for each L2, and regardless of L1, there’s a fixed order etc.?
        2) My remark about ‘structures’ was addressed to the developmental-stage claim, which has some content; Tarone’s comment about ‘interlanguage’ is orthogonal to that (and is pretty thin on the content). (By the way, thanks for the plug, but it’s Gregg 1990.) The developmental-stage research seems to take knowledge of an L2 (or L1, for that matter) to be knowledge of a set of structures, rather than, say, knowledge of a set of principles or rules for constructing and interpreting sentences. This leads to such silliness as the Natural Order Hypothesis.
        3) By the way, I imagine that all the studies supporting the fixed-order position come up with statistics that show variation across subjects; a statistically significant percentage of the subjects show ‘acquisition’ of the structure in question. Can you think of a study where NO subject had A unless he also had B? That would indicate a fixed order.
        4) There is no (4), really; I’ve got to go. But maybe you could give me a reference or two to what you consider a good piece of research supporting the stage claim.

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      • Hi Kevin,

        First, sorry for putting the wrong year on the reference to your article about Tarone’s SLA theory. It should read

        Gregg, K.R. (1990) The Variable Competence Model of Second Language Acquisition, and Why It Isn’t. Applied Linguistics, 11 (4) 364-383.

        In reply to your comments, our mutual friend Mike Long has helped me with this reply. I should point out to other readers that I had (and have) no intention of setting up any “Let’s you and he fight” scenario, but this is surely an issue worth discussing as thoroughly as possible, and I’m very lucky to have the two of you as contributors.

        1) You say “in SLA there’s a fixed order in the acquisition of certain parts of the L2”. Well, as I said I’d like to see a broader range of L1s and L2s. Are we to believe that for each L2, and regardless of L1, there’s a fixed order etc.?

        Here’s a quote from Long’s 2016 ARAL paper (see reference at the end):

        The sequences are usually held to reflect underlying hierarchically related processing constraints (Johnston, 1985, 1997; Lenzing, 2015; Pienemann & Kessler, 2012). Evidence for the existence of developmental sequences is long-standing and robust (for review, see Ortega, 2009). They have been documented in a variety of typologically different L2s (e.g., Bettoni & Di Biase, 2015; Bonilla, 2015; Johnston, 1997; Pienemann, 2005), as has the failure of instruction to alter them (R. Ellis, 1989; Håkansson & Norrby, 2010; Mackey, 1999; Pienemann, 1984).

        Furthermore,
        1. many morpheme studies were conducted with Spanish speakers doing ESL.
        2. Johnston (1997) describes work on interlanguage for different L1s – Polish and Vietnamese learning English in Australia. Bettoni & Di Biase (2015) and Pienemann (2005) discuss other L2s.

        Mike assures me that there are “loads of other references”.

        2) My remark about ‘structures’ was addressed to the developmental-stage claim, which has some content; Tarone’s comment about ‘interlanguage’ is orthogonal to that (and is pretty thin on the content). (By the way, thanks for the plug, but it’s Gregg 1990.) The developmental-stage research seems to take knowledge of an L2 (or L1, for that matter) to be knowledge of a set of structures, rather than, say, knowledge of a set of principles or rules for constructing and interpreting sentences. This leads to such silliness as the Natural Order Hypothesis.

        The accuracy orders and well-attested developmental sequences are the surface manifestations/results/products of underlying mechanisms and processes. Your ‘set of principles or rules . . .’ are clearly your (UG) way of asserting what those are, but that’s a different issue. You might well say that it’s a more important issue, since, quite understandably, you want a theory of SLA, an explanation of the phenomenon in question, and you’re right to say that interlanguage studies in themselves don’t offer explanations. As you’ve pointed out (Gregg 1984??), the Natural Order Hypothesis is an example of Krashen confounding and equating explanans and explanandum , just as Selinker did with ‘fossilization’, but this doesn’t make the empirical evidence for orders and sequences go away. So we’re dealing with putative facts about orders and sequences here, not explanations, and my question is: Do you accept these “facts” and do you think they warrant the deductions I’ve made from them?

        3) By the way, I imagine that all the studies supporting the fixed-order position come up with statistics that show variation across subjects; a statistically significant percentage of the subjects show ‘acquisition’ of the structure in question. Can you think of a study where NO subject had A unless he also had B? That would indicate a fixed order.

        Mike tells me that several of the early morpheme studies, e.g. Andersen (1979) used implicational scaling to address precisely that question. Coefficients of Reproducibility of .90 or better were (and are) found and accepted as evidence of a valid scale. Andersen found them. Mike suggests that anyone really interested could consult any of the early SLA textbooks, where those studies were reviewed.

        4) ….maybe you could give me a reference or two to what you consider a good piece of research supporting the stage claim.

        Mike recommends Malcolm Johnston’s work, which he describes as “methodologically rigorous and first-rate”:

        Johnston,M. (1985). Syntactic and morphological progressions in learner English. Canberra, Australia: Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs.

        Johnston, M. (1997). Development and variation in learner language (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.

        …………………………………………………………….

        Long, M.H. (2016) In Defense of Tasks and TBLT: Nonissues and Real Issues Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 36 (2016), pp. 5–33.

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  5. Hi, Geoff;
    I’m afraid I don’t have Johnston’s stuff; I’ll try to look at some of the research Mike mentions in his book; if I have the book. In the meantime, you say

    So we’re dealing with putative facts about orders and sequences here, not explanations, and my question is: Do you accept these “facts” and do you think they warrant the deductions I’ve made from them?

    I’m certainly not disputing any findings; I’m wondering about the conclusions drawn from the findings. I’m not sure what the deductions are that you’ve made from them, other than that coursebook-style presentation of structures is not going to result in the learning of what’s presented, which strikes me as an eminently reasonable deduction. Sorry, it’s grocery-shopping time.

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