Is a theory of applied linguistics necessary?

9783319417295Is a theory of applied linguistics desirable? And if so, is it possible? My new book, Responsible design in applied linguistics: theory and practice (2017; Springer) proceeds from the thesis that applied linguistics needs a theoretical foundation. It is indeed possible to delineate its work (and specifically distinguish it from linguistics). Providing it with a theoretical foundation might additionally yield new insight into the principles that underlie applied linguistic designs. Those designs we encounter as the interventions that we call language courses, language tests and language policies.

Probably the most important requirement for conceptualizing a theoretical framework for applied linguistics is to acknowledge that this conceptualization has both a historical and a systematic (philosophical) side. So the book is no mere history of applied linguistics, but a framework for interpreting the development of applied linguistics as a discipline. It offers a systematic account of how applied linguistics has developed, articulating the philosophical premises that have informed both its emergence and its subsequent growth. It asks questions that are seldom asked: Where does the discipline derive from? Where is it heading? What directions has it already taken? Which direction should it embrace in future? What is the relative worth of all of the variation in design and methods that have been developed by applied linguists? In defining applied linguistics as a discipline of design, it takes us beyond the diffuse and sometimes contradictory conventional definitions of the field. I would therefore like to think that the framework of design principles it proposes not only helps to explain the historical development of applied linguistics, but also provides a potential justification for solutions to language problems. It presents us, I hope, with nothing less than an emerging theory of applied linguistics.

I would love to hear from you and the applied linguistics community whether this perspective has the potential of taking us forward. If you’d like to review it, or know of anyone who might be interested either in the book or in reviewing it, there are details on the book webpage: http://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783319417295. Potential reviewers will be able to access the online copy for reviewing purposes by clicking on “Access an Online Book Review Copy” which is on the right-hand side of the screen. Once their review has been received by Springer the reviewer has the option to choose to receive a print copy of the book as a ‘thank you’. Full details of the Springer online book review service may be found at: http://www.springer.com/book+reviews?SGWID=0-108-0-0-0.

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13 thoughts on “Is a theory of applied linguistics necessary?

  1. Vahid Aryadoust

    Congratulations on your new publication Albert! The title of the book and the chapters are mesmerising! I will recommend the book our library. I look forward to reading it.
    Vahid
    National Institute of Education,
    Singapore

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    1. Albert Weideman Post author

      Thanks, Vahid! I should perhaps consider following this up with a systematic analysis that takes more examples from your and my subfield, language assessment. Take care, and best wishes for a productive stay at NIE.

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  2. Ward Peeters

    Congratulations Prof! We at the University of Antwerp are eagerly looking forward to reading your new publication. Looking at the different chapters, it will be an enriching experience which, we expect, will provide us with the necessary ammo for future exploration and practice.

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  3. Albert Weideman Post author

    I trust that it may be useful, Ward, and if it turns out to be anything more than that, I will be really pleased for everyone’s sake! And best wishes with your professional academic work, which (I hear from my sources) is going swimmingly.

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    1. Albert Weideman Post author

      Thanks, Dick. Much appreciated. The last chapter may specifically interest you… It deals, inter alia, with the analogical moments that are standard fare for physicists: the kinematic and physical; in this case their echoes in the technically qualified design, speaking to its reliability and validity.

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  4. Jodi Crandall

    Hi Albert,

    Thanks for sending this. It looks very interesting (and I love the cover design!) I’ve emailed Dick Tucker to ask about Christina and will let you know what I find out.

    Regards, Jodi >

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  5. Kabelo

    The last chapter of the book proposes design principles that should govern all applied linguistic artefacts. Not only does this make sense to me, it also shows, in my view, that there’s a need for a theory of applied linguistics. It appears to me, however, that the principles are more applicable to language courses and tests than they are to language policies. How do the constitutive requirements of applied linguistic designs that the book proposes apply to language policies, for example? How does one go about researching this?

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    1. Albert Weideman Post author

      You’re right, Kabelo. The applicability of the principles of (technically qualified) systematicity, range, consistency, validity, differentiation, and so on still needs to be investigated more fully for language policy and planning. I’m trying to persuade Theo du Plessis to undertake this with me, and I’m sure one of these days we’ll do it! But an early illustration of how at least one regulative technical idea applies to language policy design is that there is no disagreement anywhere that the lingual anticipation, that yields the requirement of technical transparency, applies equally to policy formulation. If institutional language policies are agreed or concocted behind closed doors and without proper (and honest) consultation, or are instituted for covert political reasons, that principle is abandoned.

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  6. Kabelo

    If applied linguistics allows freedom of innovation, creativity and imagination on the part of those designing solutions to language problems, exactly what role do its source disciplines play in this?

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  7. Albert Weideman Post author

    This is trickier to answer than you may think! Any (disciplinary-based) theory may well have a correcting effect on the designed solution. But theory may equally further stimulate the imagination of the designer of the solution, the applied linguist. I may, for example, be stimulated by a theory, and its accompanying experimental and empirical backup, to change the way I design a language development course. Why is the question tricky? Because the notion of “source discipline” itself must be questioned. It is an idea that has often been used to support modernist interpretations of our work as applied linguists: the notion that science will show the way, authoritatively. So we rather tread carefully, giving full acknowledgement to the leading role of imagination and pedagogical fantasy in making applied linguistic designs. Check the news item on the ICELDA website: Does applied linguistics have a source discipline? (http://icelda.sun.ac.za/index.php/news/entry/does-applied-linguistics-have-a-source-discipline).

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