Linguistic Interpretations of Applied Linguistics

However linguistics may be or has been defined, not only for reasons relating to the etymology of the term “applied linguistics”, but also for historical ones, linguistic interpretations of the field of applied linguistics have always been extremely influential. It is not surprising, therefore, that Roulet (1975 : Introduction) remarked more than 30 years ago:

The explanation of the relationships which hold between linguistic theory, the description of a ... language and language teaching ... constitutes one of the central problems of applied linguistics.

Even though from very early in the history of the discipline there have been calls for an integrated, ‘macrolinguistic’ perspective as a unifying and comprehensive foundation for applied linguistics (cf. Richards 1975: 5ff.), we cannot today honestly claim to be anywhere nearer a systematic, foundational account for these relations.

The peculiarly linguistic explanation for the existence of applied linguistics - “this new branch ... of linguistics” as Malmberg (1967 : 1) called it many years ago - will be looked at in closer detail below. Many of the views discussed here will be of those who subscribe to the first and second definitions of linguistics discussed above (“Linguistics is the [scientific] study of language”), views that were found to be inadequate because in the argument articulated above they do not bring sharply into focus the lingual modality that defines the field of linguistic investigation. A good illustration of the adherence to the first two definitions discussed above can be found in Wilkins’s words (1975: 215):

Linguistics is the subject we are concerned with and because it has the same subject- matter as language teaching, we are entitled to assume that it has greater importance ... (emphases added).

These views date back to the time when applied linguistics was still in its infancy as a discipline, yet they are worthy of consideration because the expectations they set in motion have endured. Other ‘linguistic’ views of applied linguistics, particularly those related to the set of arguments mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, are more sophisticated than the foregoing, and some even try to take into account seriously the objections that have been raised against such an equation of the content of linguistics and language teaching.

fn what follows I therefore deal with the conceptions that applied linguistics (initially regarded by some as synonymous with second and foreign language teaching - cf. Van Els et al. 1984: 6) constitutes merely (a) a carry-over or reflection, in language teaching or related subfields, of linguistic theory and (b) the rather more refined notion, quoted above as definition (5), that applied linguistics is, as it were, the point of convergence and actualization of all language study (Kaplan 1980a: 10).

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