Analogical Concept-Formation Yields Insight into Design Principles

The kinds of analogical technical concepts that are discoverable from a systematic foundational analysis of the sort described above may be categorized either as constitutive technical concepts or as regulative technical ideas (Weideman 2009b; Van Dyk 2010; Rambiritch 2012). These elementary concepts and ideas emanate from the connections among the technical aspect and every other dimension of reality. The connection between each of the constitutive concepts expresses the analogical conceptual link between each of the preceding aspects with the technical, as in the diagram (Fig. 11.2) and table (Table 11.2) below.

In this manner, we may identify the numerical analogy within the technical as a constitutive technical concept. The connection allows us to articulate the concept as a technical unity within a multiplicity of norms for the design of an applied linguis?tic artefact. We may call this concept technical systematicity, since a system (in the original numerical sense of the term) is a unity within a multiplicity of components. The technical norm or condition for making a design in this case is that the design must be systematic. That means it must unify and integrate the various components or technical facts that are conditioned by the design, be they language tests, courses or plans. In the validation process to which applied linguistic designs may be subjected, this systematicity plays a prominent role: evidence for the adequacy of a test may be varied and disparate, yet must be systematically unified in a single argument to demonstrate its effectiveness.

The spatial analogy within the technical sphere similarly allows us to conceptualize our design as an artefact with boundaries and limitations. We know (and it is a condition for responsible design) that we must not make overly optimistic claims about the potential results of a language course (as is sometimes done in the promotion of commercially available language courses), or overstretch the limitations of a language test by employing it for purposes outside of the technical range that it was designed to measure. A test designed for one purpose, say assessing academic literacy, cannot measure proficiency in lingually negotiating a successful business transaction, for example. Each artefact has technical boundaries and limits, and our conceptualization of these is made possible by the link between the technical and spatial dimensions of our experience.

The technical consistency or reliability of an applied linguistic entity is a design condition that has been widely applied to tests of language ability, but it is clearly a requirement for language courses and policies as well. It derives from a constitutive technical concept that is discoverable when we link the technical and the kinematic dimensions of reality. In the same manner, the constitutive notion of technical validity derives from the link between the technical sphere and the physical (Weideman 2012; Van Dyk 2010). In addition, there are connections between the technical and the biotic, sensitive, and logical aspects of experience, and these respectively yield the concepts of technical differentiation, appeal and rationality. Tests, for example, must not only be differentiated (the organic analogy) in content and internally, as we have noted above, but must also have an intuitive appeal (the sensitive dimension of the design), or what has been called face validity. In conformance to the norm of face validity, the instrument must appear, at first sight, to be a worthy test of what it purports to test. The same would apply to a language course: its technical appeal and attractiveness need to be beyond question. The design rationale of a test, generated by the link between the technical and the analytical dimensions of experience, has already been referred to above as the test construct, the theoretical justification of the definition of what is being assessed. Once more, the same principle would apply to course design: without that justification being patent and acceptable, one of the most important design principles for these applied linguistic designs would not be adequately met (Weideman 2011b).

The design principles deriving from these elementary applied linguistic concepts discussed above all relate to links of the leading technical function with preceding aspects, as set out in the figure and table (11.2). They are, hence, constitutive, founding principles, in that they emanate from constitutive technical concepts. However, when the technical design function is disclosed, it anticipates those dimensions following, and the kinds of links involved can in this case be grasped only in terms of limiting concepts or ideas. Within the philosophical framework being employed here, these disclosing, anticipating links of the technical with succeeding dimensions yield what are known as regulative ideas (Weideman 2009b).

The first disclosing connection we encounter in this analogical analysis is the link between the technical dimension and the lingual. This elementary technical idea can be conceptualized as the articulation or expression of the design in the form of a blueprint or set of specifications. That concept (technical articulation) expresses the way in which the technical analogically anticipates the lingual mode, and is disclosed by it. When a design is articulated, therefore, it finds expression in a blueprint or specification. In a similar fashion, the implementation of the design involving end-users (the social anticipation), discloses it further. In addition, the technical utility of the design, expressed as the analogical link of the technical with the economic dimension of experience, yields not only a new regulative technical idea, but also a normative moment. That moment is a conditioning appeal fo the designer of an applied linguistic artefact to ensure the usefulness of their effort. In language testing in particular, the technical utility of the instrument has been foregrounded by commentators as an alternative to the emphasis on construct and test validity (Bachman and Palmer 1996), though both of course need to be taken into account: design principles apply simultaneously.

The connection of the technical qualifying function of the design with the aesthetic is evident in the elementary idea of the technical alignment of the design with a number of components. Language courses, for example, must bring together and harmonize the components of instruction, learning, and assessment. If these are not aligned, the course itself will fail. If the instruction fails to make the language learning possible, since it is neither aligned with the needs of the language learners, nor with the curriculum, or if there are contradictions within the instructional styles adopted or prescribed (Weideman 2002), there is a designed misalignment that will be detrimental to the technical validity or force of the intervention. There could also be misalignment (there often is) between instruction and assessment (Weideman 2013a). Instead of disclosing it, misalignment inhibits the power of the design.

We encounter some further principles for the design of applied linguistic artefacts when the regulative technical ideas are examined that connect the technical design function to the furidical sphere. In this case, the call is for a design to be transparent and accountable. Transparency and technical accountability of designs are ideas that we take from our experience of juridical life. With the notion of fairness, on the other hand, we take that juridical connection a step further, since here we observe how the leading technical design function connects with the ethical (Rambiritch 2012). Figure 11.2 (adapted from Weideman 2006: 241) shows how, on the basis of constitutive technical concepts, the design is disclosed through the way that the technical sphere anticipates other dimensions of experience in regulative ideas.

The same analysis can also be summarized in table form (Table 11.2).

The disclosure of the leading technical function of an applied linguistic design

Fig. 11.2 The disclosure of the leading technical function of an applied linguistic design

Table 11.2 Constitutive and regulative moments in applied linguistic designs




Aspect/function/ dimension/mode of experience

Kind of function

Retrocipatory/anticipatory analogical moment

Is founded upon





Limits, range


Internal consistency (technical reliability)


Internal effect/force (validity)




Intuitive appeal (face validity)



Design rationale

Is qualified by


Qualifying/leading function (of the design)

Is disclosed by



Articulation of design in a blueprint/ curriculum/plan




Technical utility, frugality


Harmonization of conflicts, resolving misalignment


Transparency, defensibility, fairness, legitimacy


Accountability, care, service


Reputability and trust

Each of the analogical technical concepts or ideas (in the final column of the table) derives from a link between the leading technical function of the applied linguistic design and another dimension of reality. Moreover, from each can be derived a normative appeal to the designers of applied linguistic artefacts to imagine, conceive of, shape and develop these solutions responsibly: in each analogical concept can be discovered a normative condition that constitutes a requirement for responsible design. Elsewhere, I have proposed that these design requirements can be articulated “as a set of technically stamped design principles for language tests and language courses, [which] ... with the necessary changes, [may] also be applicable to language management policies and plans” (Weideman 2013b). In this view, the conditions for responsible applied linguistic design can therefore be formulated as follows:

  • • Systematically integrate multiple sets of evidence in arguing for the validity of the language plan, language test or language course design.
  • • Specify clearly and to the users of the design, and where possible to the public, the appropriately limited scope of the language policy, the assessment instrument or the intervention, and exercise humility in doing so. Avoid overestimating, or making inappropriate claims about what the solution proposed can in fact accomplish.
  • • Ensure that the policies set out, the measurements obtained or the instructional opportunities envisaged are consistent, and obtain, if possible, empirical evidence for the reliability of the solution designed.
  • • Ensure effective language strategy, measurement or instruction by using defensi- bly adequate policies, instruments or material.
  • • Have an appropriately and adequately differentiated plan, course or test.
  • • Make the plan, course or test intuitively appealing and acceptable.
  • • Mount a theoretical defense of what is adopted as policy, or what is taught and tested, in the most current terms, or at least in terms of clearly articulated alternative theoretical paradigms or perspectives.
  • • Make sure that the policy is well-articulated, and intelligible; that the test yields interpretable and meaningful results; or that the course is intelligible and clear in all respects.
  • • Make accessible to as many as are affected by them not only the plan, course or test, but also additional information about them, through as many and diverse media as are appropriate and feasible.
  • • Ensure utility; make the policy an efficient measure, or present the course and obtain the test results efficiently and ensure that all are useful.
  • • Mutually align the policy with the test or language development that it prescribes; the test with the instruction that will either follow or precede it, and both policy, test and instruction as closely as possible with the learning or language development foreseen in their design.
  • • Be prepared to give account to the users as well as to the public of how policy has been arrived at, the test has been or will be used, or what the course is likely to accomplish.
  • • Value the integrity of the policy, test or course; make no compromises of quality that will undermine their status as instruments that are fair to everyone, and that have been designed with care and l ove, with the interests of the end-users in mind.
  • • Spare no effort to make the policy, course or test appropriately trustworthy and reputable .

In addition to what this conceptual framework requires from those who wish to design language policies, assessments and instructional interventions responsibly, we need to recognize that all applied linguistic designs originate in the guiding technical fantasy and imagination of the applied linguist, rather than in the founding analytical function of those artefacts . The founding analytical function remains important for subsequently providing a theoretical, rational basis and justification for the imaginative design of the applied linguistic solution that is proposed (Weideman 2006). Where that justification is given too much prominence, as in the rational defense of audiolingualism, it is indicative of a modernist bias, and all of the contention that that design prejudice carries with it. And where the justification delivers a blind spot in the actual designs of applied linguistic artefacts, as in the case of the postmodernist contestation of modernist directions in our field, there is a comparable deficiency. Responsible design needs to overcome both biases, and it can do so through imaginatively conceived solutions that can be theoretically defended and refined.

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