Studies in Second Language Acquisition


Linguistic Systems and Linguistic Change in an Interlanguage

Thom Huebnera1

a1 University of Pennsylvania


The question central to interlanguage research, and all language acquisition research, is ‘How do acquirers internalize linguistic patterns of the target language?’ Much research addressing this question is based on the hypothesis that the language of the second language acquirers represents a systematic linguistic continuum. The interlanguage hypothesis suggests two questions which are prerequisite to answering the central question cited above: 1) What are the form-function relationships of the interlanguage? and 2) How do those form-function relationships change as the acquirer revises the interlanguage?

The current paper reports on a one-year longitudinal analysis of the interlanguage of an adult acquiring English without formal instruction (Huebner 1983). It presents observations of the form-function relationships in the early interlanguage and of the ways these relationships change over the twelve months of the study.

It describes features of the early interlanguage related to presupposed-asserted information, topic-comment organization of information, and referentiality, which express both pragmatic/discourse functions and semantico-grammatical case functions (Pfaff 1982) in the interlanguage, and examines the changing functions of these forms with attention to the role of set phrases, quasi-spontaneous speech, and processes of neutralization in the changing interlanguage system. The paper concludes by proposing two ways in which hypotheses may be neutralized and speculates that these two processes are reciprocally linked.