Complex Linguistic Ideas and Applied Linguistics

In addition to the dynamic progression within linguistics referred to in the previous section, there is a further explanation for the temptation to make the development of linguistics into a rationale for a linguistic conceptualization of applied linguistics. We see this when we turn from a consideration of the regulative sociolinguistic ideas, which are elementary limiting concepts in linguistic inquiry, to three complex linguistic ideas. The first complex idea concerns the relation that holds between lingual norm and lingual fact - a distinction that, like the langue/parole distinction, or that between competence and performance, is a pivotal idea in modern linguistics. The second complex linguistic idea deals with the relation between the human lingual subject and the objective lingual product (language), and the third with the complex ideas that seek to clarify the process of language acquisition, development, maturity and loss. When these ideas are examined and articulated, one immediately notices that to a greater or lesser extent they all come to a head in applied linguistic concept-formation. We may only note some of the lists of possible problems that have been proposed for applied linguistic scrutiny and study (e.g. in Wilkins 1975: 210, also 218; Davies 2007: chapter 1; see also the list of research networks of the international association, AILA 2012) to convince ourselves of this complexity and the multiplicity of factors involved.

Regarding the importance to applied linguistics of the relationship between lingual norm and lingual fact, one may remind oneself only of the ongoing debate on, and search for, pedagogical grammars to see how crucial this complex linguistic concept is. When it comes to the actual teaching design, moreover, there is the whole set of problems regarding what language learners should be taught (standard dialect or other regional dialect, or, in the case of English, which of the many “World Englishes”; cf. Davies 2012). As Wilkins (1975: 218) has remarked, the language teacher

will find it informative to look at the linguists’ discussion of the langue/parole distinction

... He ... has to decide how far the language he teaches should replicate the speech of actual

utterances and how far it should be an idealized or standardized form of language ...

The same importance holds for the complex linguistic concepts of lingual subject and object, specifically as regards the new interest that there is in the actual process of the production of language (as objective lingual fact) by lingual subjects, as this is being articulated in dynamic systems theory (DST) (Ellis and Larsen- Freeman 2006; De Bot et al. 2007; Larsen-Freeman and Cameron 2008; Kramsch

2008; Beckner et al. 2009; Weideman 2009a, 2013a), as well as the way that the interaction between different lingual subjects (mother-child, foreigner-native, child- child, teacher-pupil, pupil-pupil, and so forth) affects the process of language development and acquisition. Also, there is the crucial concern with the attitudes, motivation, learning strategies and age of the lingual subject that all demand applied linguistic attention (Ellis and Larsen-Freeman 2006: 562-563). The treatment within DST of these complex linguistic ideas will be discussed again below, in Chap. 8 (in the section A challenger emerges: Dynamic systems theory), as well as how they relate to ecological and semiotic views on language issues (Van Lier 2008; Hornberger and Hult 2008).

The third complex linguistic idea mentioned above, which deals with the development and acquisition of language, has always been important to applied linguistics (cf., e.g., Cook 1981) , and the last 40 years have seen increasingly more sophisticated work being done also in second language acquisition research, a point we shall return to subsequently (Chaps. 3,4 and 8).

Very often in applied linguistic work these complex linguistic concepts are treated in conjunction with each other, complicating the matter still further. Though Brumfit, for example, in an early comment on this, views applied linguistics as a multi-disciplinary activity, he assigns a crucial position to the ‘linguistics’ part of the label on these very grounds. In outlining the possible future directions for applied linguistics at that time, he looked forward to the emergence of an account of language and language teaching that does justice to their social and emotional aspects, and remarks (1980: 163):

When such an account is fully developed ... it will be an applied linguistic account ... for at every point the emphasis will have to be on the interaction between language use ... and language development ...

Here Brumfit sees the task of applied linguistics as one that will relate the complex linguistic concepts of factual lingual process (use) and language development. In systematic terms, both are complex concepts, and approachable only in terms of a multiplicity of elementary linguistic concepts, but, being complex, are not exhaustively explained by these. In much the same way Corder (1972: 5) at that time saw the task of applied linguistics as addressing “the practical problem of developing, maintaining or re-establishing language” while at the same time, however, limiting the field to “the utilization of the knowledge about the nature of language achieved by linguistic research” (emphases mine). More recently, claims persist that “linguistics remains the foundational discipline for our field” (Hornberger 2010: v).

From a linguistic point of view applied linguistics is evidently part of linguistics, hence the early call also for “a rapid breaking down of the divisions which generally separate the areas of general or theoretical linguistics from ... applied linguistics” (Roulet 1975: 84). Hence, too, the idea of mutual inclusiveness and complementarity between the various linguistic sub-disciplines (Brown 1977: 4; Wardhaugh and Brown 1977), and of an integrative conceptualization of linguistic thought (Ingram 1980: 46). This notion of intra-disciplinary movement and recognition is captured by the idea of a dynamic theoretical shift from a consideration of elementary concepts and ideas to the study of complex linguistic concepts. As an idea it solves at least some of the vague, conflicting and circular definitions - even though some may perhaps have been made somewhat tongue in cheek - of the field, such as

  • (11) ... what is applied linguistics? - it ‘is’ everything that has been discussed in its name by the 1975 gathering of world specialists in Stuttgart (Strevens 1980a: 18);
  • (12) ... because it is everything, it is nothing (Buckingham 1980: 6; Kaplan 1980c);
  • (13) ... “applied linguistics” is what applied linguists do; “applied linguists” are those recognized as such by other applied linguists (Strevens 1980b: 29).

The linguistic conceptions of applied linguistics reviewed in this chapter are different from those that will be discussed below, in that they emphasize a complex account of language over the practical concerns that for many define the field (Brumfit 1980: 163), yet they encapsulate a definition of applied linguistics that is certainly still widespread, especially in academic departments of linguistics that have taken up such concerns.

This intra-disciplinary recognition of applied linguistics is what most of the views of applied linguistics discussed in this chapter aim to achieve. Applied linguistics is seen as part of linguistics, in some more or less refined perspective. In that view we find an explanation for many of the ongoing debates about how the field should be defined, and much of the explanation for the hesitant acceptance of the awkward and contested term “applied linguistics” (for a similar discussion, see Hult 2008: 11; also Hult 2010a, b). As a name for the field, however, it now has an institutional strength that is almost beyond challenge. Yet already in the early idea of applied linguistics as a mediating discipline, discussed in this chapter as an intradisciplinary view, we observe in embryonic form an alternative, multi-disciplinary perspective. We turn to that, as well as to a discussion of its adequacy, in the next chapter, with one final observation. This is that the sophistication and institutionally warranted strength of the view of the field as having a basis in linguistics is what will prevent many from seriously considering that linguistics and applied linguistics are today indeed two discernible disciplines. Yet they are distinct, both historically and systematically, in that the one is circumscribed by the theoretical investigation of the lingual modality, and the other by the mode of shaping, planning and designing that is the lodestar of imagining and conceiving of interventions to solve large- scale language problems. It should be noted, too, that the linguistic view of applied linguistics will persist where conflicting professional pressures come into play. Such is the politics of work that it also affects our judgement of what we are about. Where researchers see their work as applied linguistics, but are actually investigating complex linguistic ideas such as those discussed above, and are doing so as a result of too narrow a definition of linguistics, as evinced by the institutionally powerful generative linguistics movement that may have negatively shaped and inhibited their own scholarly careers, they may out of self-interest be resisting an alternative view of applied linguistics as a discipline of design. Having found a disciplinary home where they can safely practice their scholarship, they may well be loath to consider that it was perhaps the narrow definition of linguistics that has prevented them from being recognised as linguists, or that their actual disciplinary abode is indeed within linguistics, but one that is more appropriately and generously defined.

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