Second Language Acquisition Research: Early Developments
 SLA Topics  Key Issues in SLA  Vivian Cook 

'facts' that SLA models need to explain


When you have to express an idea in your L2 do you:
a) think of the word first in your L1 and then turn it into the L2?
b) think of the word first in your L2?
c) neither?

Early concepts in Second Language Acquisition research
interference: Weinreich
compound/coordinate bilingualism: Weinreich
Contrastive Analysis, transfer: Lado
habit-formation: Lado, Bloomfield etc
phrase structure grammar: Bloomfield etc
independent grammars assumption: school of Chomsky
Language Acquisition Device: Chomsky 1964
hypothesis-testing: Corder
interlanguage: Nemser, Selinker
Error Analysis: Corder, 1971

What is wrong with the following sentences from students' essays? If you were their teacher, how would you correct them?

  • Anyone doesn't need any deposit in my country to rent an apartment. (Korean student)

  • I play squash so so and I wish in Sunday's morning arrange matches with a girl who plays like me. (Italian)

  • Everytimes I concentrate to speak out, don't know why always had Chinese in my mind. (Chinese)

  • Raelly I am so happy. I wold like to give you my best congratulate. and I wold like too to till you my real apologise, becuse my mother is very sik. (Arabic)

  • I please you very much you allow me to stay with you this Christmas. (Spanish)

Weinreich: Languages in Contact

interference: 'those instances of deviation from the norms of either language which occur in the speech of bilinguals as a result of their familiarity with more than one language' (Weinreich, 1953, 1)

types of bilingualism:
'book'  'kniga'   'book'='kniga'   'book'
   |          |                |                |
/buk/  /kniga/   /buk/   /kniga/  /buk/
coordinative    compound     subordinative
bilingualism    bilingualism      bilingualism

Lado: Contrastive Analysis
transfer;'individuals tend to transfer the forms and meanings, and the distribution of forms and meanings of their native language and culture to the foreign language and culture' (Lado, 1957, p.2)
; 'a system of habits' (Lado, 1957, p.57) based on 'laws of language learning' such as 'exercise', 'familiarity of response', etc (Lado, 1964, p.45).

First language acquisition ideas of the 1960s
- the independent grammars assumption
The LAD (Language Acquisition Device) model
primary linguistic data ---> LAD ---> generative  grammar (linguistic competence)

- hypothesis-testing: 'To acquire language, a child must devise a hypothesis compatible with presented data - he must select from the store of potential grammars a specific one that is appropriate to the data available to him' (Chomsky, 1965a, p.36)

Approximative systems, interlanguage and multi-competence

Nemser (1971) 'approximative system': 'Learner speech at a given time is the patterned product of a linguistic system, La [approximative language], distinct from Ls [source language] and Lt [target language] and internally structured'.

Selinker (1972) interlanguage: language transfer, overgeneralisation of L2 rules, transfer of training, strategies of L2 learning, communication strategies,

Corder (1971) Error Analysis: (i) recognition of idiosyncracy, (ii) accounting for the learner's idiosyncratic dialect, (iii) explanation.

Cook (1991) multi-competence 'the compound state of a mind with two grammars'

Much of this is covered in Chapter 1 of Cook (1993).

Chomsky, N. (1965), 'Formal discussion: the development of grammar in child language', in Bellugi, U., and Brown, R. (eds.), The Acquisition of Language, Indiana, Purdue University

Cook, V.J. (1969), 'The analogy between first and second language learning', IRAL, 7, 3, 207-216

Cook, V.J. (1991), 'The poverty-of-the-stimulus argument and multi-competence', Second Language Research, 7, 2, 103-117,

Corder, S.P. (1971), 'Idiosyncratic errors and Error Analysis', IRAL, 9, 2, 147-159. Reprinted in Richards (1974)

Corder, S.P. (1981), Error Analysis and Interlanguage, O.U.P.

Lado, R. (1957), Linguistics Across Cultures, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor

Lado, R. (1964), Language Teaching: A Scientific Approach, McGraw-Hill

Nemser, W. (1971), 'Approximative systems of foreign language learners', International Review of Applied Linguistics, 9, 115-123. Reprinted in Richards (1974).

Selinker, L. (1972), 'Interlanguage', IRAL, 10/3. Reprinted in Richards (1974)

Weinreich, U. (1953), Languages in Contact, The Hague, Mouton



Motivations for SLA research
A. To investigate L2 learning itself
B. To improve language teaching
C. To contribute to linguistics and the linguistic theory of acquisition
D. To contribute to general issues in psychology

(see 1981 paper)

Under which motivation heading would you place each of these quotations?

1. 'The ultimate goal of second language acquisition research is the development of a theory of second language acquisition.' Kevin Gregg in S. Gass & J. Schachter (eds.), Linguistic Perspectives on Second Language Acquisition, CUP

2. '... scientific progress is achieved as we come to illuminate progressively our knowledge by taking different perspectives and by utilising diverse methods of research. Good theories fit the data well, are consistent with related formulations, are clear in their predictions and are heuristically rich. Perhaps most important, they are capable of disconfirmation.' McLaughlin, B. (1987), Theories of Second-Language Learning, Edward Arnold, London p.18

3. 'in this book, the potential relationship between linguistic universals and second language acquisition will be explored. in particular, we shall be concerned with a principles and parameters approach to Universal Grammar (UG), as realised in Government and Binding (GB) (Chomsky, 1981 a). This theory assumes that principles and parameters of UG constitute an innately given body of knowledge which constrains first language (Li) acquisition.' White, L. (1989), Universal Grammar and Second Language Acquisition, John Benjamins p.xi

4. 'The goal of this book then is certainly not to propose a new method but rather to explore the requirements for a general theory of second language learning by examining the conditions under which languages are learnt, and to consider the relevance of such a theory for language teaching'. Spolsky, B. (1989), Conditions for Second Language Learning, OUP p.2

5. 'This book is about a major five-year research project conducted during the 1980s in the Modern Language Centre at the Ontario institute for Studies in Education. The purpose of the project, entitled the Development of Bilingual Proficiency (DBP), has been to examine a number of educationally relevant issues concerning the language development of school-age children who are learning a second language' Harley, B., Allen, P., Cummins, J. & Swain, M., (eds.) (1990), The Development of Second Language Proficiency, CUP

6. 'I have been interested for a long time now in how an understanding of second language acquisition can contribute to language pedagogy' Ellis, R. (1990), Instructed Second Language Acquisition, Blackwell, p. vii

7. 'Bilingualism is for me the fundamental problem of linguistics.' R. Jakobson (1953), 'Results of the conference of anthropologists and linguists', IJAL Supplement, Memoir 8, 19-22

Where do they come from?
A person who does not distinguish /ki:n/ and /kin/
A person who says Yesterday came he
A person who writes bepent (depend), descride (describe), cabable

Written sample of adult L2 learner of English

I ferom Israel. I em e merid woman I got one cheild 5 yeres oud I nov my eghit it na very good we live in egland about tou yers I live in Standford Hill London N16. The neme of my douther is Ruth I love ther very mach I gout i sister in Israel and al my famili I be in the harmy en it uous wunderfent last wik we went tu paris.

Some definitions
second language: 
 ‘A language acquired by a person in addition to his mother tongue’, UNESCO
L2 user:
Any person who uses another language than their first (L1), that is to say, the one they learnt first as a child.
native speaker
'a monolingual person who still speaks the language they learnt in childhood' (Cook 1999)
‘The first language a human being learns to speak is his native language; he is a native speaker of this language’ (Bloomfield, 1933, p.43)
'a native speaker of a language is someone who speaks that language as their first language rather than having learnt it as a foreign language' COBUILD English Dictionary, 1995
Characteristics of native speakers: (i) subconscious knowledge of rules, (ii) intuitive grasp of meanings, (iii) ability to communicate within social settings, (iv) range of language skills, (v) creativity of language use. (Stern, 1983).


- 'the practice of alternately using two languages' (Weinreich, 1953, p.1)
- 'native-like control of two languages' (Bloomfield, 1933, 55)
- 'the point where a speaker can first produce complete meaningful utterances in the other language' (Haugen, 1953, p.7)
- 'From whatever angle we look at it, bilingualism is a relative concept' (Hoffman, 1991, p.31)
- 'Bilingualism is not a phenomenon of language; it is a characteristic of its use' (Mackey, 1970)
- 'Paradoxical as it may seem, Second Language Acquisition researchers seem to have neglected the fact that the goal of SLA is bilingualism' (Sridhar and Sridhar, 1986)
- 'All too often imposing Bloomfield's criteria on bilinguals has led to their stigmatisation as being somehow deficient in their language capacities.' (Appel & Muysken, 1987, p.3)
- Bilingualism is the regular use of two (or more) languages, and bilinguals are those people who need and use (two or more) languages in their everyday lives' (Grosjean, 1992, p.51)