An Alternative Set of Perspectives

There are, however, alternative views to those discussed above that deserve an airing, and that have the potential to do justice not only to the independent disciplinary nature of linguistics and applied linguistics, but also to their historical evolution. That perspective, as this book has argued, and as will be further elaborated below, is to be found in a philosophical view of the field that emphasizes systematic or foundational distinctions rather than only historical explanation, or an empirical survey of what is on offer. In the case of applied linguistics, that view would accept, for example, that it is no coincidence that the ‘viability’ of applied linguistics has been its relationship to language teaching (McNamara 2015: 467), or, for that matter, to language assessment and language policy formulation. Having accepted that, rather than attempt to stretch and expand applied linguistics to incorporate every other kind of enquiry that arrives on its threshold, the systematic question to ask would be: what kind of focus does applied linguistics have, or has it had in the past, in bringing these core artefacts (language courses, language tests and language policies) into being? Then one might subsequently proceed to consider what fits into its disciplinary range, and what not. One might also then get a clearer idea of the robustness of the focus thus identified for the field, and whether it makes sense both historically and foundationally.

If one utilizes the philosophical idea (Strauss 2009) that disciplines are best defined not by referring to concrete entities or objects, such as, in our case, the objective forms and instances of language, but by the modalities that make up their points of conceptual entry into the analysis of the entities within their purview, one has a potentially productive distinction to work with. For example, as I have extensively argued elsewhere (Weideman 2009a, 2011,2013a), by viewing linguistics as the study and analysis of the lingual or semiotic mode of experience (Van Lier 2008; cf. too Kramsch 2008), one gains conceptually in having a criterion of what it is that characterizes one’s disciplinary analyses. In the case of linguistics, one may then further distinguish how, historically, it has interested itself in linguistic concepts and ideas that derive from the analogical relations that this dimension of experience, the lingual mode, has with other dimensions of experience. That is the ground for the linguistic analysis of lingual systems and lingual facts (as in work from De Saussure to Chomsky), conceptualized as a unity within a multiplicity of lingual conditions that apply to a unity within a multiplicity of lingual objects, and deriving conceptually from the analogical link between the lingual and the numerical modalities. It is also the basis for the analysis of the relations between lingual wholes and their constitutive parts, as was done by early structuralism, an analysis that finds its basis in the relation between the lingual modality and the spatial mode. When viewing transformation and movement of such lingual parts into other positions at different levels of structure, the linguistic analysis finds its conceptual foundation in the link between the lingual and the kinematic. Finally, when one distinguishes between different types of discourse, and socially relevant units of analysis such as speech acts, texts, turns at talk, registers, genre and so forth, we know that those analyses are made possible by the conceptual links created when the lingual dimension of our experience anticipates the social.

Claiming that linguistics is defined by the conceptual point of entry of the lingual mode of reality does not mean that it deals only in this kind of abstraction. Within the lingual modality, we see operating not only a multiplicity of lingual objects (phonemes, morphemes, phrases, clauses, utterances, speech acts, turns at talk, texts, registers, discourses and other factual, objective lingual forms), but also the lingual subjects (or ‘agents’) that produce them. In fact, if we take a broader (‘semiotic’) perspective, we may also survey and analyse subjective and objective lingual facts, for example our (subjective) gesturing and (objective) gestures that are the outcome of the gesturing, the symbolic meaning of which need to be interpreted as much as our concrete lingual utterances (our ‘words’). But conceptually and systematically, we have gained by defining our conceptualization of these concrete, everyday objects, phenomena, shapes, states and events as linguistic concepts and ideas, not as physical, organic, or psychological phenomena, or as social, economic, juridical or ethical ones.

Such a view of linguistics, it should be noted, would quite comfortably accommodate the investigation of the three complex linguistic concepts (of norm and fact; of subject and object; of the beginning and termination of language) that scholars have been tempted to bring across to applied linguistics. In a linguistics less narrowly defined than in the TGG conceptualization, this is philosophically more than feasible.

If it is possible to circumscribe linguistics in this manner, what then of applied linguistics? Remarkably, in that case, and as we have already noted in Chap. 5, the alternative view is one that is shared by applied linguists of both modernist (Corder 1972: 6f.; Qvistgaard et al. 1972) and postmodernist persuasions (e.g. Janks 2000: 177; for a discussion, see Weideman 2007b). This view is that applied linguistics may be defined a discipline of design (Schuurman 1972; and before him Van Riessen 1949). In this perspective, what characterizes applied linguistics is its focus on developing, planning , shaping, and preparing interventions that will serve as solutions to potentially large-scale, or at least to pervasive, language problems. The mode of experience, the sought-after angle of approach that makes applied linguistic work unique, is the technical dimension of design (Weideman 2013c). In the next chapter, the implications of this view are more fully worked out, both as regards the kind of conceptualization possible in applied linguistics, and as regards the future of the discipline.

In presenting these arguments, I have been challenged on the basis of such a view of applied linguistics being too narrow. The reasons for that kind of criticism may be either that it goes back to the certainly popular, “broad church” view of applied linguistics that anything goes, or that the label ‘applied’ is given a wider meaning than is warranted, or even conventional. Surely, however, if one goes about deliberately seeking to define a discipline, that would be a limiting action? Definitions include some ideas, but of necessity exclude others, otherwise they would be not only uninterpretable, but also lack utility. What is more, if one not only seeks to define a discipline, but attempts to define it with a view to working responsibly within it, such definition would preferably have a sharper focus rather than a diffuse view. Disciplinary definitions circumscribe scholarly and professional action; that is a first reason why they matter. In the final section below, I summarize the further reasons for making theoretically defensible distinctions between linguistics and applied linguistics, and why it is important to conceptualize the latter as a separate and independent discipline.

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