The Linguistics of Second
Language Acquisition
Essential Questions
 How have theorists defined languages and
the language learning experience?
 What has their research shown?
 Do the theorists agree or disagree with each
 What are we learning when we are learning
a language?
The Nature of Language
 In your opinion, how would you describe
the nature of language?
Languages are…
What Linguists have said…
Languages are…
 Systematic.
 Symbolic.
 Social.
What do you think they mean?
Languages are systematic…
 Elements which occur in regular patterns of
 Unconscious rules or principles which
speakers are unaware of knowing or using
 Understand the principles by using the
language to express meaning.
Languages are symbolic…
 Sequences do not inherently possess
 The meanings of symbols come through the
agreement of speakers.
 It is meaningful for the speakers who use or
say that language.
Languages are social…
 Reflects the society that uses it.
 The only way to learn that language is to
use it with others.
 No standard to judge which language is
more effective for communication than
 Use language to communicate, to categorize
and catalogue the objects, events, and
What do these words mean? Can you give
some examples?
 Lexicon
 Phonology
 Morphology
 Syntax
 Discourse
Lexicon= Vocabulary
 Word meaning
 Pronunciation (and spelling for written
 Part of speech
 Word combinations and idioms
Phonology= Sound System
 Phonemes= speech sounds that make a
difference in meaning
 Syllable structure= sequences of consonants
and vowels
 Intonation patterns/tone
 Rhythmic patterns (pauses and stops)
Morphology= Word Structure
 Morphemes= parts of words that have
 Inflections= number or tense that carry
grammatical information
 Prefixes and suffixes
Syntax= Grammar
 Word order
 Subject/verb agreement
 Ways to form questions, to negate
assertions, and to focus or structure
information within sentences
 Ways to connect sentences
 How to structure stories and engage in
 Scripts for interacting and for events
Contrastive Analysis (1950’s1960’s)
 Robert Lado
 Involves predicting and explaining learner
problems based on comparing L1 and L2
with each other to determine similarities
and differences.
 Make learning and teaching more efficient.
Contrastive Analysis (continued)
 Believe that learning a language is like
learning a habit.
 Stimulus-Response-Reinforcement (S-R-R);
imitate and repeat the language and the
response is reinforced.
 “Practice makes perfect”
Contrastive Analysis (continued)
 Transfer in learning (positive and negative)
 We analyze the language in order to predict
the problems that are most likely to occur.
 We create language lessons based on those
“predicted difficulties” and we sequence our
lessons in order of difficulty.
Contrastive Analysis Practice
 Based on your practice, what do you think
of this method? Is it useful? Effective?
 What is good about this method?
 What are some problems with this method?
Problems with Contrastive
 Cannot explain how learners know more
than they have heard or have been taught
(“the logical problem of language
 The predictions were not accurate.
Sometimes different problems appeared.
 How can you do this approach when you
have multiple students with different
language backgrounds?
Error Analysis
 Internal focus on learners’ ability to
construct or create language.
 Based on actual learner errors in L2, not on
Assumptions of Error Analysis
 Inner forces (interaction with the
environment) push or promote learning.
 The learner is an active and creative
participant in the process rather than a
passive recipient.
 Examine the output in their own right
instead of how deficient the language is.
 Sources of insight into the learning process.
“Windows into the mind of the learner”. How
the learner is exploring the language.
Error Analysis Procedure
 Collect a sample of learner language
 Identify the errors
 Describe the errors (according to language
level, category, or specific language
 Explain the errors (interlingual “between
languages”, intralingual “within the
language” or developmental).
 Evaluate the errors
Error Analysis Practice
 Based on your experience, what do you
think of error analysis? Is it helpful?
 What are the good features of this method?
 What are some problems with this method?
Problems with Error Analysis
 Ambiguity in classification (Is the error
because of a L1 influence or is it part of the
developmental process?)
 Lack of positive data (does not explain what
the learner has acquired)
 Potential for avoidance (the learner may not
say it because the language structure is
 #1- “Interlanguage experts” (pages 40-42)
 #2- “Krashen experts” (pages 45-46)
 #3- “Chomsky experts” (pages 46-47)

The Linguistics of Second Language Acquisition