Design Principles and The Future of Applied Linguistics
A Foundational Framework for the Discipline
How we orient ourselves to working within our discipline springs from deep-seated commitments to how we define the role and goals of applied linguistics. At times, those commitments take on an i deological character that, in a manner typical of ideologically inspired belief, excludes other perspectives, assuming that only its own assumptions are valid. It has been the argument of this book that how to approach applied linguistic design work is an area of contestation. The disagreements surface not only when we are attempting to define or redefine the field, as in the contributions discussed in the previous chapter. They also surface when applied linguists propose interventions in the shape of language policies, language courses and language assessments. These contestations can be historically plotted and understood. As long as it can be backed up by systematic, philosophical analyses, such historical understanding has the potential to enlighten us about the biases in our designs and the distortions embedded in our assumptions. They can also serve to make us more fully aware of the positive contributions that these artefacts, and the design choices that inform them, may have made, or might still be able to make, to solving sometimes large-scale language problems. Any design commitment we make can potentially affect the mastery and use of language by substantial numbers of people. That in itself places a great deal of responsibility on the designers of language interventions .
The sum of this argument, then, has been that applied linguistics needs a foundational perspective. Such a deliberately chosen starting point needs to be further articulated in a philosophically informed theoretical framework. The views expressed as part of a comprehensive symposium on this, published in TESOL Quarterly (42, 2008), and that are referred to below make it clear, however, that we are still a long way from a theory of applied linguistics (see also De Bot 2015: 61). There is no identifiable theoretical framework for the whole of the discipline, which is not surprising in light of the discussion in the previous chapters. In one of © Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017
A. Weideman, Responsible Design in Applied Linguistics: Theory and Practice, Educational Linguistics 28, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-41731-8_11
the contributions to this TESOL Quarterly discussion, McNamara (2008: 303) remarks that even the surveys that we do have (such as those of Rajagopalan 2004; Kaplan 2002; or Hinkel 2005) are more descriptive, synchronic or methodological than backed up by a coherent theoretical framework. So we have partial and limited descriptions of different traditions or styles of doing applied linguistic work (cf. also Cumming 2008: 287), but little (foundational) understanding and sense of what makes applied linguistics the disciplinary endeavor that it is. What is more, the firmer the grip on applied linguists of paradigmatic claims of either modernist or postmodernist orientations, the more we are likely to remain uninformed about what makes the discipline cohere across its different paradigms, interpretations and approaches, or to have an integrated view of the variety of artefacts it produces. The narrower, less tolerant or more parochial our conceptualization is of what constitutes the discipline, the less likely we are to expose those whom we train in the discipline to ask and respond to the difficult questions. Such questions concern our points of orientation. Though less frequently asked, and more difficult to answer, they are questions such as: What guarantees the continuity of applied linguistics? What makes it endure despite the shifts in paradigm it undergoes? Where we do observe and point out trends and shifts in orientation, do we ask how we can theoretically and systematically account for the discontinuities in the discipline? Do such observations of new trends and shifts not perhaps remain bland and devoid of further interpretation? How does one explain the philosophical differences between the first (‘scientific’ approach) and fourth traditions of doing applied linguistics on the one hand and, on the other, the fifth one, postmodernism (cf. Kumaravadivelu 2006; Moita Lopes 2006)? How do we make responsible choices of direction and approach when we have to design language interventions? Do our points of orientation, our ways of working in the discipline, matter? How do they influence innovation and incremental advances? Are there responsible ways of uncovering and employing design principles in order to make improvements to our designs?
We may approach the answers to these questions from two angles: first, by looking at the concrete shapes and the results of our designs for teaching and for assessment, and asking what we can learn from them about the direction of the discipline and how it may advance; second, by enquiring into the structure of these artefacts, and the dimensions of experience that play a critical role in their formation. What principles do the guiding technical function yield, a dimension, as has been demonstrated above, that is so important to the responsible design of language courses and language tests ?
To begin an examination of applied linguistic design principles, we therefore turn first to a consideration of the concrete, individual designs resulting from work in the discipline. They will provide us with several cues about how we may discover not only typical applied linguistic design norms, but also the general design principles that apply across the typically designed entities (language policies, language tests, and language courses) that our field conceives of and shapes in order to overcome language problems .