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Means, Ends and Processes of Design

The characterization of applied linguistic processes as the interplay between two terminal modes, the founding function (hat theoretical analysis has in an applied linguistic design and the leading technical function of such design, has consequences for the kind of research that can legitimately be called applied linguistic research:

When we design something we are concerned with two closely related matters: the end-

product and the process of producing that end-product. The improvement in efficiency ...

may apply to both ... (Corder 1972: 7).

As Corder (1972: 8) goes on to point out, there remain, since we are dealing with designs and plans for improving human, social processes, quite a few imponderables, and the relation between the actually executed process and its result in a human being who has participated in it is much more complex than can be predicted by the applied sciences.

How does the idea of applied linguistics as a discipline of design account for other, apparently dissimilar definitions of the field? A good illustration of an alternative characterization is one articulated by Corder (1978), in which of applied linguistic activity is viewed as either ‘innovation’ (i.e. as linguistic information looking for application) or ‘consultation’ (i.e. as problem-solving activity). In both cases, there would have been no question of applied linguistic intervention, however, if either innovation or consultation had not taken place with a view to changing the existing design of teaching materials or processes. Both the aspects of analytical intervention (the process of technical-scientific analysis) and the relationship of means to an end must be present for studies to qualify as applied procedures.

Of the examples that Corder (1978: 80) mentions of applied linguistic research that initiates solutions of a general (and therefore uniquely analytically qualified) kind, at least error analysis and contrastive linguistics originated in response to the very particular problem of what to teach a specific group of students, and so do not, as he indicates, qualify as studies that are “not an immediate response to some specific problem”. In both cases there is present the motivation to intervene, and intervene by theoretical means, in order to change or improve the then existing designs of teaching courses.

In one sense, however, Corder’s argument that there is a range of “applied activities or techniques extending from those most closely related to ... theory at the one end to those most closely related to ... practice at the other” (1978: 80) does hold, at least in respect of the “theoretical end” (cf. too Malmberg 1967). That is evident in those cases where a crucially important element in the design process, the productive fantasy of applied linguists or language educators, has been stimulated by developments in linguistics or other source disciplines. In these cases the results of linguistic or other analyses may well prompt a call for a renewal of language teaching designs and methodologies. This is clearly what Roulet (1975: 78) has in mind when he remarks how much the preoccupations of researchers in the area of ethnography of communication are in agreement with teachers’ needs, or when Larsen- Freeman and Cameron (2008: 212), in an exposition and analysis of a language teaching activity from the perspective of complex systems theory, comment on how language learning activities might be designed to challenge learners.

Yet it should be borne in mind that when such a situation occurs where linguistic information awaits application, as it were, and the application is, in Corder’s terms, closer to theory, such analyses must still be reinterpreted with a view to meeting the objectives of educational design before ‘application’ is completed. Moreover, where, as Roulet (1975:79; emphases added) remarks, the theoretical information is still sketchy and programmatic, “applied linguists and teachers need not necessarily wait for theoretical research results before beginning their own work along these lines.” One may also refer in this regard to Rosen’s remarks (1982: 57) regarding co-operation between sociolinguists and teachers: “... if sociolinguists and teachers were to work together ... decisions about what to do at this minute would not wait upon the results of research.” One recent example of the ‘application’ or reinterpretation of theory to further the employment of new linguistic insight in language teaching is Hong (2013). Here, dynamic systems theory (DST) , combined with a usage-based theory of language, is re-interpreted for use in language classrooms in Vietnam. Another example can be found in Davison (2014), whose employment of DST in order to analyze the development of writing in neo-literate Bambara- speaking women in Mali leads her to draw conclusions that would potentially enhance similar future interventions.

In the general understanding, there appear to be several successive phases (Schuurman 1972: 404) in the design process: (a) the identification of the language problem; (b) the bringing together of both the technical imagination of the designer and the theoretical insight that has a bearing on the problem; (c) the beginning of the formulation of an imaginative solution to the problem; (d) the justification in terms of theoretical knowledge of the solution designed; and finally (e) the potential modification of the final blueprint in terms of the theoretical or empirical analyses that have been used to provide a rationale for the design.

What happens subsequently is, in a differentiated technology of design, not strictly speaking the task of the designer. This differentiation will be discussed in the next section .

 
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