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Interlanguage in

9 Discussion
Marcela Oliva S.
Rubn Saavedra I.
Gass, S. M., & Selinker, L. (2008).
Second Language Acquisition: An
introductory course
(3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.

This chapter explores the issues of

variation in second language

beginning with a discussion of
systematic and non-systematic
variation. Those factors that
influence language variation are
This discussion is divided into three
sections: Linguistic factors, the social
context in relation to the first
language, and the social context

Interlanguage is the type of language
produced by second- and foreignlanguage learners who are in the
process of learning a language.
Errors include:
a) Borrowing patterns from the
mother tongue.
b) Extending patterns
the target
& Platt,
c) Expressing meanings using the

Variation refers to the use of two or
more forms to express the same
language function, during a phase of
the Interlanguage.
No look my card
Dont look my card

Systematic Variation: Variation
that depends on the context
(linguistic or sociolinguistic).
Nonsystematic Variation:
Variation that occurs free from

Systematic Variation
Linguistic context: Variation is
determined by elements that
precede and follow the variable
structure. It can occur at
morphological, phonological
and syntactic levels.
Sociolinguistic context:
Variation is determined by

Linguistic Context

Linguistic Context
Sato (1984) studied the reduction
of consonant clusters in 2
different Vietnamese boys learning
Discovered that the sounds
produced were different depending
on the position of the cluster (at the
beginning or at the end of the

Sato (1984)

Linguistic Context
Dickerson & Dickerson (1975,
1977) studied the production of
the English /r/ in 3 different
linguistic environments (before
The results showed 5 different
variations in the sound of the /r/
depending on the phonetic value

Dickerson & Dickerson


Linguistic Context
Young (1991) researched the use of
the plural /s/ marker in 12 Chinese
learners of English.
The results show that variation in
the use and nonuse of the plural /s/
was conditioned by the phonological
environment (before and after the

Young (1991)

Linguistic Context
Hyltenstam (1977) studied the
acquisition of the Swedish
negation (inte) in 35 native
speakers of different languages.
He found that the learner goes
through different stages in the
placement of the negative form
(before and after the verb) before

Linguistic Context



Schmidt (1977) investigated the

pronunciation of English // and // by
Cairene Arabic speakers.
He found that there is a prestige
variant associated with the educated
class (not present in the working
The formality/informality of the

Schmidt (1977)


Beebe (1980) researched the use of /r/

on initial and final position by Thai
learners of English in two different
tasks: a conversation (informal) and
reading a word list (formal).
He found that Thai learners showed
correct variants in the use of /r/ in final
position in formal situations, but initial
/r/ was more accurate in informal

Beebe (1980)

Social context
relating to
interlocutor, task
type, and
conversational topic

Social context
relating to

Speech Accommodation Theory

(Giles et al.)
* Convergence: speakers attempt to make
their speech like others through speech
rates, pause and utterance lengths,
pronunciation, etc.
* Divergence: speakers accentuate
difference in their speech and their


Convergence is intended to benefit the

speaker by gaining others approval,
identifying speaker as part of a group,
class or ethnic background.
IL investigations in this area find that L2
learners try to accommodate their speech
to be like that of their interlocutors.
Beebe & Zuengler (1983) examine ChineseThai children and find that the children
attempt to sound more like their
interviewer, Chinese or Thai.

Social context relating

task typevariability
Labov (1969, 1970) noted that different
forms are likely to occur depending on
speech situation.

Tarone (1979, 1983) extended Labov to

SLA, arguing that a learners IL will change
when the linguistic environment changes.
Vernacular style = more systematicity, less
variability (less invasion from other systems)
Superordinate style = less systematicity, more
These are determined by attention, which is
determined by the social setting of the speech event.

Data-elicitation variability
Dickerson & Dickerson (1977)
Accuracy differences seen as the
result of the type of task the learner
carries out, according to the
attention to speech in each:
Free speech less focus on form
Dialog reading moderate focus on
Word list reading most focus on
Except note that we have no independent evidence of
levels of attention in each of these kinds of tasks!

Data-elicitation variability
Further research in this area (i.e.,
Gass 1980, Sato 1985, Tarone
1985) indicates that different data
elicitation techniques may indeed
yield different findings.
Further, the hypothesized relation
between focus on form and
accuracy is not borne out.

Social context relating

Eisenstein & Starbuck (1989) examined ESL oral
data for accuracy measures and found that the
greater the emotional investment, the lower the
Zuengler (1989) found that conversational
dominance is not determined only by linguistic
proficiency but rather by subject knowledge.
Selinker & Douglas (1985) claim that learners
create discourse domains that relate to various
parts of their lives. IL forms are created within
particular contexts or domains. Different IL
strategies manifest themselves in different

Social context
Kormos (1999): error detection is
dependent on a social context (i.e.,
some contexts require greater accuracy)
Tarone & Liu (1995): new forms emerge
in particular contexts and then spread
to others

Interlanguage is a type of language that is
variable. This variability is both systematic
and nonsystematic. Systematic variability is
determined by linguistic and sociolinguistic
contexts, whereas nonsystematic is free
from context.
Variation evolves over time as the learner
goes through different stages until he is
able to succesfully identify the
correspondence between form and

Discussion questions:
1. Variation is more common in second language
learners than in first language learners. Why do
you think that happens?
2. What is the role of the context in the learner
production of variable structures?
3. Why do you think speakers accomodate their
speech to that of others?
4. Do you think social context is important to
anticipate errors in learner production?