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Shawn Ford

SLS 302

Summer I, 1999


Note: The following article was written as a project for SLS 302, instructed by Carsten Roever of the Department of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa. Please pardon any errors or omissions. Refer to the References section for additional information on the topic.


Paper #4: Interlanguage Observation


In this paper, I will analyze a conversation that I had with a test subject in order to observe specific characteristics of the subject's interlanguage. Interlanguage can be defined as a second-language learner's interpretation of a target language. Interlanguage is very individualistic and is the result of a person's knowledge of a target language as it is affected by interference from the person's native language and certain internal processes involved in forming and making utterances.


These internal processes include over-generalization of grammatical forms, simplification of sentence structures, fossilization, backsliding, and code switching. Fossilization is the state in which a learners does not seem to progress in development of the target language; the learner appears "stuck" at a certain level. Backsliding refers to temporary regression to a previous interlanguage. This occurs when the second-language learner's monitor is down due to either stress or relaxation and usually lasts for very brief periods of time. Code switching usually refers to the use of both a native language and a second language in an utterance or conversation.


It has been found that second-language learners pass through a series of developmental stages on their way towards language acquisition. These developmental stages seem to be systematic and predictable and are similar among learners from different language backgrounds. Developmental stages are concerned mainly with grammatical rules such as grammatical morphemes, and the formation of negative sentences, questions, and relative clauses. By observing a language learner's interlanguage and determining the internal processes involved in its formation, it is possible to place the language learner at specific levels of development (Lightbown & Spada,1993).


For my interlanguage observation, I interviewed an associate, Rie. She is Japanese who speaks English as her second language. She studied English in middle school and high school in Japan and has studied English intermittently for several years at various language schools here in Honolulu; however, I believe that most of her language skills have been acquired in the natural environment. After analyzing our conversation, I noticed several interesting features of Rie's interlanguage: simplification of structures, interference from her native language, phonology, code switching, and fossilization.


Perhaps the most notable aspect of Rie's interlanguage can be found in her simplification of structures. Most of her simplifications involve dropping grammatical morphemes, such as the articles 'the' and 'a' and the auxiliaries 'be' and 'to'. Throughout the entire conversation, Rie is very consistent in dropping her articles. In fact, she deletes them completely. The only time that the article 'the' is used, it is used incorrectly (line 18.) However, her use of auxiliary verbs is somewhat inconsistent. She uses 'is' correctly in line 69:


Yeah, but "cohee" is-eh Engrish, but Okaa-san (Mother) tole me de "koohi" (coffee) is cohee.


then partially correctly in lines 83-84:


Mamiko wa-is li’l blat when eh-she prlegnant.


then finally in line 88, Rie deletes 'is' completely:


She buh-horle sometime.


In line 23, Rie drops the auxiliary 'to', the article 'the', and the adjective 'this' in the same sentence:


... Yoko-san reekested (to) take (the) day off (this) Sataday and-a Sunday. Definitely, it can be observed in this short conversation that Rie's interlanguage is characterized by a good deal of simplification; however, the cause is somewhat difficult to generalize. Some of her simplification could be due to the lack of certain structures in her native language while other simplification could result from developmental sequences.


The next area of Rie's interlanguage that is noticeable seems to be the result of interference from her native language. In Japanese, a speaker typically uses the cause-result structure for forming sentences: because something has happened, something else will happen (ex: Atsui kara, oyogimasu- Because it's hot, I will swim.) On the other hand, in English, the common structure is the result-cause: something will happen because something else has happened (ex: I will swim because it's hot.) Rie seems to use this Japanese structure three separate times: in lines 8, 10-11, and 88. In line 8, the utterance:


... but it's slow I think...


seems to be the cause, followed by the result:


... they give me day off tomorlow.


This is in keeping with the Japanese cause-result structure. A more direct response would be, "Not s'posed to, but I think they give me day off tomorlow because it's slow." Her next utterance seems to follow the same pattern. Her utterance in line 11:


so that's why they like me.


seems to be the result of her going to work on Sundays when they ask her to (ex: They like me because I go to work Sundays when they ask me.") Finally, line 88 seems to be two separate ideas:


She buh-horle sometime.


followed by:


But, I cannot see her.


However, this utterance probably means, "I cannot see her because she is a butt hole sometimes."


In addition, lines 17-18 have a very interesting structure that seem to be interference as well. The utterance:


... can you go come to work the on uhm next Sunday?


contains two seemingly opposite English verbs used together: go and come. What makes it all the more interesting is the fact that Rie had talked to me a few days before this interview about the difficulty of knowing when to use these two words. In Japanese, the equivalents for go (iku) and come (kuru) are used very differently than in English. The English utterance, "Please come to work," would be, "Kaishya e itte kudasai (literally, Please go to work)." Kuru (come) is used in utterances such as, "Doko kara kimashita ka (Where do you come from)." It is very interesting that she first says the wrong word, go, then immediately changes it to come, perhaps due to her active monitor. Each of these examples from our conversation seems to show evidence of cause-result structure interference from Rie's native language.


Another area of Rie's interlanguage that could also be linked to transfer from her native language is phonology. Many Japanese who learn English as a second language seem to have difficulty pronouncing the English ‘r’. The Japanese language has an 'r' sound, but it is somewhat of a mix between the English 'r' and 'l' sounds. Thus, quite often Rie pronounces 'r' like 'rl' as in "tomorlow", "grleen", and "prlegnant". At other times, Rie drops the 'r' completely as in "Sataday", "paat-time", "Stah", "pooah", and "moning". Even so, there are a few instances where Rie utters the 'r' clearly as in "work", "grand", and "later". Although she regularly pronounces a word the same way throughout the conversation, Rie's use of the 'r' sound is very inconsistent, as shown in this example in line 47:


No hunn-ed (hundred) pasent (percent). Uhm, maybe Stah (Star) doesn't sell da poke gran, grand (ground) poke (pork).


therefore, it is difficult to find a pattern.

Another interesting phonological construction that Rie frequently uses, and seems to be common among many Japanese speakers of English, is an 'a' sound as a prefix or a suffix; sometimes the 'a' sounds like 'eh'. In line 65, she utters this sound two times as a suffix:


It's-a difrent, Shone. It's-a hakusai is hakusai.


In line 86, she utters the sound as a prefix:


Yeah. She has a-moning sick a lot.


In line 5 1, the added prefix sounds like 'eh':


Nira. Uhh ... looks like eh-grleen onion? Yeah.


These extra prefix and suffix sounds are most likely not meant to be articles. It seems that this is also transfer from Japanese. All Japanese syllables are composed of either a vowel or a consonant and a vowel. In addition, Japanese does not have full glottal stops that are found in English. On the contrary, words tend to get stretched and accentuated on the last vowel sound. It is possible that extra prefixes and suffixes are used to aid in the formation of English words.


The last phonological characteristic of Rie's interlanguage to mention comes from line 26:


That's why. A ... if we beezy, it depends of fhu's gonna, fhu can work.


In this utterance, she means to say, “…who's gonna, who can work." However, the English 'hu' sound comes out as the Japanese 'fu'. This is probably due to the fact that in the Japanese language, 'fu' is the closest sound to the English 'hu'. Each of these phonological characteristics of Rie's interlanguage could be explained as the result of interference from her native language.


Another area of Rie's interlanguage that deserves some attention is code switching. In this brief conversation, Rie code switches between English and Japanese 19 times. Of these language shifts, 16 of them are one-word changes, and only three of them are phrases. She appears to code switch for three separate reasons: automaticity, cannot find the English equivalent, and the Japanese word fits the situation better.


Some of Rie's code switches are probably due to the high frequency that certain words are used in everyday Japanese interaction. The most important of these is the honorific suffix 'san', used when speaking to or about people of higher status than the speaker. In line 23, when talking about her work, Rie refers to her supervisor as 'Yoko-san', which is proper Japanese form. Later in the conversation, Rie refers to her mother as 'okaa-san', which is also proper Japanese.


Lines 18 and 76 contain the Japanese utterances 'ara' and 'ari', both equivalent to English 'well' or 'oh'. In line 18, 'ara' is found embedded in the utterance, while in line 76, 'ari' ends the utterance. In addition, from line 72:


doo shio ka na?


is a Japanese phrase of exasperation uttered in response to a correction. The phrase is directed at oneself and requires no response from the interlocutor. However, in line 91 Rie asks, "Dooshite (Why)?" when she is in need of clarification of the previous response.


The most interesting code switch appears in line 78 after Rie sees a hapa Japanese/ Caucasian baby crying with his parents. She first says, "Oh, pooah ting (poor thing)," then immediately says, "Kawaii-so heem (He's a poor thing)." It is possible that this utterance is the result of Rie talking about a Japanese/ Caucasian family, with each half of the utterance directed at one of the parents.


There are a few occasions in this conversation when Rie struggles for the right English word to use, then settles for the Japanese equivalent. Interestingly, both words are food items: 'nira' (chives), and 'hakusai' (Chinese or Napa cabbage). However, there are a few times that she uses Japanese words for other food items, 'gyoza' and 'koohi’, when the Japanese words fit the situation better.


The last aspect of Rie's interlanguage to note is her fossilization. Although it is difficult to find this aspect in a brief conversation such as this, Rie certainly appears to be fossilized. For several years, she has been able to converse at a level high enough to make herself understood in most natural situations with friends, on the street, and at work. However, deep intellectual or academic conversations in English are just beyond her grasp. She has progressed very slowly in this area.


Occasionally, Rie will repeat forms that I use correctly, as in lines 1 and 2:


1 Me     So, you don't have to work tomorrow?


2 Rie   No, I don't have to.


At other times she will not use my form; rather, she will use the form that she is used to, as in lines 90 and 95:


90 Me                   You're lucky.


95 Rie                   Mmm, you lucky.


In addition, regardless of the number of times I have told her that 'nira' are 'chives', she does not seem to be able to remember. These examples seem to show fossilization in her interlanguage.


In conclusion, characteristics of Rie's interlanguage are readily observable even from this brief five minute conversation. Simplification of meaning, transfer from her native Japanese language, phonology, code switching between English and Japanese, and fossilization can all be found in her interlanguage. These characteristics seem to be in large part due to interference from her native language and her current developmental stages. While it is difficult to place her in a specific category, I would tentatively define her as an advanced BICS (basic interpersonal communication skills) with extensive knowledge of the terminology of a specialized field, the travel industry.


This interlanguage observation assignment has been very interesting. It helps me understand the amount of time needed and problems that may arise when conducting this type of research. However, it has only made me more determined to find my own little niche in this field and make a name for myself.





Lightbown, P.M., & Spada, N. (1993). How languages are learned. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.





* italicized words are Japanese

* translations appear in parentheses

1 Me        So, you don't have to work tomorrow?
2 Rie       No, I don't have to.
3 Me        Why don't you have to work tomorrow?
4 Rie       Cause-a, dey give me day off tomorlow.
5 Me        Why do you think they give you the day off?
6 Rie       Maybe...
7 Me        You were supposed to work tomorrow, right?
8 Rie       Not s'posed to, but it's slow I think that's why they give me day off tomorlow.
9 Me       Hmm...
10 Rie    'Cause I work hard th uhm when they ask me can ...go to works on Sundays I
11            go to work Sunday, too, so that's why they like me.
12 Me     Uhm that's true.
13 Rie    Yeah.
14 Me     D'd'you think there's another reason why you don't have to work tomorrow?
15 Rie    Yeah.
16 Me     What?
17 Rie    Maybe they gonna ask me next Sunday, "Uhm, Rie, uhm do me favor can you
18             go come to work the on uhm next Sunday?" Gonna say, "Uhm ara (well) OK."
19             I cannot say, "No," because I have to be nice. Humph!
20 Me     Yeah, that's a problem, ne (right)?
21 Rie    Yeah.
22 Me     Why they gonna ask you to come to work next Sunday, though?
23 Rie    'Cause, Yoko-san (honorific suffix for names) Yoko-sa-n reekested take day off
24             Sataday and-a Sunday.

25 Me     Hmm.

26 Rie    That's why. A if we beezy, it depends of fhu's gonna, fhu can work.
27 Me     Hmm.
28 Rie    Maybe another paat-time can work new guy can work so I don't have to go so 1
29             don't know.
30 Me     Hmm. So, what are you gonna do on your day off tomorrow?
31 Rie    Mmm making gyoza (Japanese dumplings).
32 Me     You gonna make gyoza?
33 Rie    Yeah.
34 Me     Wow, oishii so (sounds good)!
35 Rie    Yeah, gonna make gyoza and
36 Me     You haven't made gyoza in a long time.
37 Rie    Not long time. Only couple months.
38 Me     That's a long time!
39 Rie    No! Hahaha... 'ts not long time. Long time-ah is six months one yeah
40 Me     That's too long. I can't I can't take it.
41 Rie    Yeah, but uhum I k I gonna make gyoza
42 Me     OK.
43 Rie    Maybe, uhm..maybe, ok?
44 Me     What do you mean, maybe?
45 Rie    Maybe not. Maybe means w fifty plasent.
46 Me     No, I want gyoza
tomorrow. OK? Make it a hundred percent, ok?
47 Rie    No hunn-ed pasent. Uhm, maybe Stah doesn't sell da poke gran grand poke.
48 Me     That's just an excuse.
49 Rie    Uhm thea I have to buy, uhm, how say de,
50 Me     Nira?
51 Rie    Nira. Uhh ... looks like eh-grleen onion? Yeah...
52 Me     Oh, chives!
53 Rie    Huh?
54 Me     Chives.
55 Rie    Chives.
56 Me     Yeah.
57 Rie    Oh, something like that.
58 Me     Yeah, you have to buy chives. You can get them anywhere, though.
59 Rie    Mmm. ... .mmm. ... .mmm dis time-a I try put, uhm ... hakusai.
60 Me     Put hakusai inside?
61 Rie    Yeah. Not cabbage.
62 Me     Not cabbage ... Chinese cabbage.
63 Rie    Umm, not Chinese cabbage, hakusai.

64 Me     Hakusai is Chinese cabbage.
65 Rie    It's-a difrent, Shone. It's-a hakusai
is hakusai.
66 Me     Hakusai is Chinese.
67 Rie    My mom never tell me never tole me hakusai is
Chinese cabbage.
68 Me     I know, because "Chinese cabbage" is English. "Hakusai" is
69 Rie    Yeah, but "cohee" is-eh Engrish, but Okaa-san
(Mother) tole me de "koohi"
70             (coffee) is cohee.
71 Me     No, that's Nihongo
(Japanese language).
72 Rie    Uhmmm doo shio ka na
(what can I do)?
73 Me     What else are you gonna do tomorrow?
74 Rie    Uhm, maybe I gonna...
75 Me     You gonna make gyoza
all day long?
76 Rie    Yeah, all day long. Uhm, ari (well)...
77 ***     man walks by with baby crying...
78 Rie    Oh, pooah ting. Kawaii-so (poor thing) heem.
79 Me     Hapa baby.
80 Rie    Yeah. Oohh ... ee-doesn't wanna smirle.
81 Me     So, what else are you gonna do tomorrow?
82 Rie    Uhm, mehb I gonna see Mamiko. Mamiko, Mamiko feeling, uhm, good tomorlow
83             I can see Mamiko, but Mamiko is a-prlegnant, so, uhm, I donno. Mamiko wa-is
84             li'l blat when eh-she prlegnant.
85 Me     She's a brat?
86 Rie    Yeah. She she has a-moning sick a lot.

87 Me     Oh.
88 Rie    She buh-horle sometime. But, I cannot see her.
89 Me     Hahaha. Oh, she's not a butt hole just because she has morning sickness, Rie!
90             You're lucky.
91 Rie    Uhh? Dooshite
92 Me     'Cause you don't get morning sickness.
93 Rie    Mmm, but, it's gonna be changey, Shone.
94 Me     I hope not.
95 Rie    Mmm, you lucky.
96 Me     Yeah, I am lucky. I'm lucky that my wife isn't a big ole brat!

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contents (c) 2001 Shawn Ford/ Webb-Ed Press