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282 International w Guy Cook Journal of Applied Linguistics w Vol. 15 w No. 3 w 2005

Calm seas or troubled waters? Transitions, definitions and disagreements in applied linguistics

Guy Cook The Open University, England

This article advances the position that an apparent current consensus over the nature and scope of applied linguistics is illusory. It is achieved only when definitions of the discipline are couched in the most general terms. When the details of theories are specified, we find fundamental differences of opinion both within applied linguistics and with linguistics. In the first part, the article reflects upon the history of applied linguistics, characterising it as falling into three periods. The second part presents a view of radical ideas in the third of these periods, focusing upon recent applied linguistic work in three areas: describing languages and defining speakers; modularity, modality and relativity; science, authority and action. Some work in these areas challenges fundamental linguistic as well as more conservative applied linguistic orthodoxies such as: the comparability of languages, the centrality of the native speaker, linguistic modularity and universalism, description without prescription, and the unique authority of science.

Keywords: applied linguistics, English as a lingua franca, English language teaching, multimodality, science communication

В статье высказывается мнение о том, что сегодняшний предполагаемый консенсус относительно природы и области применения прикладной лингвистики обманчив. На деле о консенсусе можно говорить только при самом общем и широком толковании данной дисциплины. При более подробном рассмотрении различных теорий прикладной лингвистики становится очевидным существование фундаментальных различий как внутри самой прикладной лингвистики, так и между лингвистикой и прикладной лингвистикой. В первой части статьи автор делает краткий обзор истории прикладной лингвистики, которая, по его мнению, делится на три периода. Во второй части дана оценка ряда радикальных идей, относящихся к третьему периоду ее истории, с акцентом на самых последних исследованиях в трех сферах прикладной лингвистики: описание языков и определение носителей/говорящих, модульное строение языка, модальность и языковая относительность, отношения между наукой, властью и действием. Некоторые труды в перечисленных областях заставляют заново взглянуть не только на принципы и подходы фундаментальной лингвистики, но и на более ортодоксальные понятия в прикладной лингвистике, такие, как сравнительный характер языков, центральное положение носителя языка, языковая модулярность и универсализм, описание без предписания и наука как истина в последней инстанции.

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ключевые слова: прикладная лингвистика; английский язык как лингва франка; преподавание английского языка; многомодальность; передача научной информации

Introduction: between Scylla And Charybdis

Like Odysseus, applied linguistics has steered a difficult course between a rock and a whirlpool and been in constant danger of hitting one or disappearing down the other. Its Scylla has been theoretical and descriptive linguistics (of all schools) from which it must in some way be distinct. Its Charybdis is the general public and language professionals – from whom, though it addresses their problems, it must also remain independent. A third peril has been within the ship itself. At times, it has had an unruly and divided crew. In some traditions, there has been brawling over the nature of the discipline. Some have been for tacking closer to Scylla, others to Charybdis, and others still for keeping the two equidistant. Many of these combatants have published their views (Sridhar 1993; James 1993; Rampton 1997; Widdowson 1998, 2000; Brumfit 1999; Rajagopalan 1999a,b, inter alia). Others (e.g. Burns 2004) have dismissed the whole debate as self- indulgent and unnecessary bickering, or as local and unrepresentative 1 – though they, in keeping with their views, are less likely to publish them. This article is for encouraging noisy argument in all traditions. It regards debate and differences of opinion about identity as signs of vitality. So rather than hiding the arguments under hatches, it wants to keep them up on board. To this end, the first section considers some recent general definitions of the discipline but argues that they give a false impression of unity. Emerging apparent consensus around these definitions is only possible because they are so vague and general that they successfully disguise the depth of disagreement within applied linguistics and with linguistics. They thus prevent outsiders from appreciating the radical and distinctive approaches to language and communication which applied linguistics has developed. To provide examples, the second section summarises three areas of enquiry in which some applied linguists depart radically from linguistic and even applied linguistic orthodoxy in ways which provide a coherent and dynamic alternative to both. These developments hold out the possibility that – by building upon theoretical work begun in the 1980s – applied linguistics can become a fully grown discipline, independent of both academic and political control, with its own distinctive approach to the study of language and languages.

Phases and definitions

To understand what is new, one needs to understand how it differs from what is old. So although my aim is to focus upon contemporary controversy,

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I begin historically, suggesting that there have been three phases in applied linguistics’ history:

• 1950s – 1984

• 1984 – mid 1990s

• mid 1990s – present.

Such a schema is in part an artificial post hoc construct. There were no clear- cut boundaries. (The identifying features of any one of them are bound to occur anachronistically in another. A similar problem occurs in histories of language teaching when trying to identify different approaches with specific periods.) Nevertheless, I believe this is a valid generalisation – if no more than that.

It is also a historical characterisation which may retrospectively seem

localised in Anglo-American, and even more particularly British, applied linguistics. The first two stages in my schema belong to an era in which applied linguistics was still predominantly an Anglo-American affair, rather than the internationally distributed discipline that it is today, in which British

and American perspectives have become (insofar as one can characterise approaches regionally) only two among a number of different traditions (Gass and Makoni 2004). Extrapolating backwards from the current state of affairs, reference to the perspectives of the 1970s or the debates of the 1980s may seem to offer a limited Anglo-American perspective too. Arguably the philosophical concern with defining the discipline through agonistic debate has been more a British concern than a North American one, thus narrowing the scope even further. The view of this article, however, is that this is a historical mirage caused precisely by the widening nature of activity. Defining

the nature and scope of applied linguistics remains as crucial – if not more so – than ever before, precisely because of the diverse and global nature of activity, if the discipline is not to fragment, and to be able to present itself coherently to the outside world.

A consideration of how my three periods differ may help us to understand

where we are now. In the first phase, the period in which the term ‘applied linguistics’ first came into use, 2 matters were relatively straightforward. Thus we find in Corder’s Introducing Applied Linguistics:

The application of linguistic knowledge to some object – or applied

linguistics, as its name implies – is an activity. It is not a theoretical study.

It makes use of the findings of theoretical studies. The applied linguist is

a consumer, or user, not a producer, of theories. (Corder 1973: 10)

The ‘object’ Corder has in mind is language teaching:

Of all the areas of applied linguistics, none has shown the effects of linguistic findings, principles and techniques more than foreign-language

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teaching – so much so that the term ‘applied linguistics’ is often taken as being synonymous with that task. (Corder 1973: cover notes)

Here the direction of influence is one way. Applied linguistics is about

“the application of linguistic knowledge to some object”, “the effects of

.” [my italics]. This seminal book was, then, a statement

about both the nature and the content of the infant discipline of applied linguistics. Complications, however, come with maturity, or at least adolescence, and in 1984 (hence the starting date for my second period) this notion of applied linguistics as a one-way conduit from linguistics to language teaching was challenged in Widdowson’s (1984) seminal ‘Models and Fictions’ with its distinction between ‘applied linguistics’ (which he favoured) and ‘linguistics applied’ (which he did not). The former is an independent and dynamic discipline with an identity of its own and on equal terms with any other branch of linguistics, the latter a mere subordinate:

linguistic findings

applied linguistics can be understood as a kind of linguistics, like historical linguistics or folk linguistics. This presumably allows its practitioners to define an independent perspective on the general phenomena of language and to establish principles of enquiry without necessary reference to those

With linguistics applied we do not have this

which inform linguistics

option. Whatever we do with linguistics, however we apply it, the informing principles which define this area of enquiry, already pre- established, must remain intact. (Widdowson 1984: 21)

He clarifies the reason for the different ordering of noun and adjective by analogy with the phrases Lost Paradise and Paradise Lost. The first is a kind of paradise, one of many varieties; the other is a unique phenomenon to which something has happened. In effect Widdowson was issuing a manifesto, redefining applied linguistics rather than describing it. In one sense he was directly contradicting Corder (as quoted above); in another he can be seen as extending Corder’s views (undoubtedly a deep influence on his thinking 3 ). Where Corder had taken the first steps towards academic respectability by asserting a connection with linguistics, Widdowson went further by asserting parity. In doing so he set the discipline upon a new course – keeping an eye on Scylla, but from a safe distance. In this Widdowsonian paradigm, the direction of influence between linguistics and applied linguistics was envisaged as two-way, making the latter both independent and dynamic, capable of delivering ideas to linguistics as well as taking them from it. And the same principle was to apply to the relationship to professional practice and public concerns. Applied linguistics should mediate between linguistics and professional practice, listening carefully to both, but being a servant to neither. As an editorial in this journal was to express this stance twenty years later:

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Applied linguistics in this conception is essentially a process of mediated intervention which seeks a negotiated settlement of language pro- blems through the reconciliation of different and sometimes conflicting perspectives. (Seidlhofer and Breivik 2004)

In the years following Widdowson’s redefinition – the beginning of my second period – the scope of applied linguistics began to widen too, but only slowly, to the point now evident in the extraordinary range of content and approaches in AILA congresses. 4 Although Corder refers to “areas of applied

linguistics” other than “foreign language teaching”, it is clear in the content

of his work that he is himself one of those who in practice takes the term as

“synonymous” with its study (1973: 7). This pre-eminence of language teaching and learning remains to the present. Thus both the 1985 edition and the 2002 edition of the Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistics (Richards, Platt and Weber) define the scope of the discipline broadly and narrowly, significantly giving the narrow definition first:

1) the study of second and foreign language learning and teaching. 2) the study of language and linguistics in relation to practical problems such as lexicography, translation, speech pathology etc.

If we look at the list of “areas of current enquiry” on which the journal Applied Linguistics (founded in 1980) “welcomes contributions”, we find that “first and second language learning and teaching” remains at the head of the list (at least as of June 2005), with other areas listed after it in alphabetical order as follows:

first and second language learning and teaching, critical linguistics, discourse analysis, language in education, language planning, language testing, lexicography, multilingualism and multilingual education, stylistics and rhetoric, translation.

A similar range of interests is reflected in the self-descriptions, SIGs (Special

Interest Groups) and scientific commissions of the learned societies for applied linguistics, as well as in postgraduate programmes, and in survey books.

Yet neither Widdowson’s redefinition nor the growing scope of applied linguistics were accepted immediately or universally. Some have simply ignored the changes, continuing to work as though the mission of applied linguistics were still the one-way trans-mission of ideas from linguistics to language teachers and learners. The Widdowsonian notion of an independent discipline was fiercely contested by some. Meanwhile the widening scope, though embraced, evaporated into a vague notion of ‘interdisciplinarity’. The claim that this quality somehow distinguishes applied linguistics does not stand up to scrutiny, however. All disciplines, by their nature, both share ground with others and have their own distinct identity. (Linguistics

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itself has areas of overlap with psychology, sociology and neurology, among others.) As pointed out in the InJAL editorial already referred to above:

Since such problems do not fit neatly into the idealised categories of any particular discipline, dealing with them, it is said, must involve ranging across disciplines. The impression is sometimes given, indeed, that it is this very interdisciplinarity that distinguishes applied linguistics from linguistics itself, and, oddly enough, from explicitly interdisciplinary areas of what have been referred to as its hyphenated variants: sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, and so on. (Seidlhofer and Breivik 2004)

Yet this supposedly unusual indeterminacy of the discipline was linked by some (e.g. Rampton 1997) to a notion that applied linguistics should adapt chameleon-like to the needs of its sponsors and collaborators – thus making it subordinate again, though to new masters – a view which was naturally contested fiercely by those who had fought to establish both the independence and distinctiveness of the discipline. Consequently, this second period (1984– 1990s) is also the one in which there was most on-board fighting about the nature and scope of the discipline, one notable punch-up being in the pages of InJAL between Widdowson (1998) and Brumfit (1999) on one side, and Rampton (1997) and Rajagopalan (1999a,b) on the other. Yet even as these arguments were raging, the ship was entering calmer waters. The stormy disputes of the second period seem to have subsided and the discipline to have reached what Kuhn (1962) famously termed a period of “normal science”: one in which there is enough consensus for researchers to conduct detailed research, untroubled by doubts about the paradigm within which they are working. Based on the Widdowsonian notion of an independent discipline, broad definitions of applied linguistics emerged, apparently generally accepted without opposition. These mark the beginning of my third period, mid 1990s to the present. The apparent consensus has also made possible the re-appearance of books surveying the field after a long absence. To the best of my knowledge there are no general book-length surveys or anthologies of applied linguistics between the Edinburgh Course in Applied Linguistics (Allen, Corder and Davies 1973–1977) and Principle and Practice in Applied Linguistics (Cook and Seidlhofer 1995 – significantly a Festschrift for Widdowson). This is strange, especially when one considers the substantial and growing market among students studying the discipline during the same period. The explanation, perhaps, is that there simply was not enough agreement on the nature and scope of the discipline for this to be possible. Since 1998, however, new surveys have been coming thick and fast in the shape of introductions, encyclopaedias and anthologies (Johnson and Johnson 1998; Davies 1999; Kaplan 2002; Schmitt and Celce-Murcia 2002; Cook 2003; Gass and Makoni 2004; Antos and Knapp forthcoming). Writers advance definitions which make no mention of language teaching and which, notwithstanding some subtle differences, are

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fundamentally similar. Early on the scene, and most widely cited inter- nationally, is Brumfit for whom applied linguistics is:

the theoretical and empirical investigation of real-world problems in which language is a central issue. (Brumfit 1995: 27)

This is followed by, inter alia:

The purpose of applied linguistics is to solve or at least ameliorate social problems involving language. (Davies 1999: 1)

In a broad sense, applied linguistics is concerned with increasing understanding of the role of language in human affairs and thereby with providing the knowledge necessary for those who are taking language related decisions whether the need for these arises in the classroom, the workplace, the law court, or the laboratory. (Wilkins 1999: 7)

‘Applied linguistics’ is using what we know about (a) language, (b) how it is learned and (c) how it is used, in order to achieve some purpose or solve some problem in the real world. (Schmitt and Celce Murcia 2002: 1)

Applied Linguistics: The academic discipline concerned with the relation of knowledge about language to decision making in the practical world. (Cook 2003: 125)

The problem with such definitions, however, is that they buy consensus at the cost of being vague. Though they talk of theoretical and empirical enquiry, they say nothing about what the theories are, what kind of empirical enquiry is to be used, what counts as data or evidence, or what sort of problems might be tackled, what sort of solutions might be proposed or how. By and large, such general definitions and summaries of scope are uncontroversial, acceptable to all. Perhaps that is part of their function. Like vague national slogans (In God We Trust – but don’t ask which God), they hold the nation of applied linguistics together. It is when we get down to detail, and choices between rival theories and methodologies – as between different Gods or interpretations of God – that the trouble begins. And there has certainly been plenty of that. My commentary so far has dealt with matters internal to the discipline, as though it were a unitary entity that made up its own mind about itself, unaffected by outside forces. And to an extent this is valid. It was the right to self-regulation which was achieved by the discipline’s pioneers such as Corder, Widdowson, Brumfit and others. But in winning a place for applied linguistics in the academy, these writers also inevitably opened it up to the same influences as any other academic discipline. The current third phase of apparent tranquillity and unity may reflect, as does the state of any other

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discipline, some general trends in the academic climate worldwide. Under the shadow of government assessments and a consequent need to be published and funded, with employment and promotion dependent on both, many academics are motivated to avoid controversy, to produce formulaic work which takes few risks, taking refuge in safe empirical accounts which eschew theorising, make little reference to the history or traditions of their disciplines, and fail to relate the work in one paradigm or area to that taking place in others. This tendency is underwritten by the compartmentalisation

of sub-areas reflected in the fashion for SIGs, conference strands, and separate journals. All this makes it possible for those with opposed theoretical views or methods to avoid having to deal with each other in open debate. Despite

a strong measure of agreement over general definitions and lists of areas,

when otherwise separate groupings of scholars do come into contact there are bitter disagreements. To borrow two book titles, Issues in Applied Linguistics (McCarthy 2001) have rapidly become Controversies in Applied Linguistics (Seidlhofer 2003). In this climate, when someone does question the premises of a particular area of enquiry (e.g. Block 1996) and controversy does break out, the debate which follows is sometimes more vitriolic and less rational than it would have been before. 5 There are even those who argue that such critical assessments and crossing of boundaries should not be allowed at all (Gregg et al. 1997). In this climate, radical new ideas can often remain confined to one group of scholars. They are often not perceived for what they are, and their implications are not pursued in as wide a forum as they should be. This leads to the second and more controversial part of this article.

Three radical departures

From among the many controversies, I pick out three areas in which some applied linguists have advanced radical departures from existing orthodoxies. They are:

• describing languages and defining speakers

• modularity, modality and relativity

• science, authority and action.

I shall deal with each in turn. Before I do so, however, some further comment

is needed on what I mean by the terms ‘mainstream linguistics’ and linguistic

‘orthodoxies’, from which – I will argue – some applied linguistics work in these areas departs. In using these terms I am thinking mostly of Chomskyan linguistics and other cognitive approaches (and their structuralist forbears) concerned with uncovering what language and its acquisition and processing have in common across languages and speakers when considered as a biological feature of our species. In these approaches, language is treated as

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modular and universal, synonymous with the formal systems of speech. Much applied linguistic research, especially into second language acquisition, has inherited this focus and takes it as given. Other relevant mainstream schools of linguistics are functional linguistics and sociolinguistics (the two are not mutually exclusive). Here the issue of the relation to applied linguistics is more complicated. As functional linguistics, with its more social and holistic view of language, is favoured and adopted by many applied linguists, including many of the radical thinkers that will be referred to under my three headings, and as many applied linguists also describe themselves as sociolinguists, it is much harder to draw a clear distinction between the radical applied linguistics I go on to describe below and these two schools than between applied linguistics and cognitive linguistics. Nevertheless, important differences remain (perhaps all the more important for being subtle and easily overlooked) which make some of the ideas below as radical with respect to socio- and functional linguistics as they are to cognitive linguistics (Cook 2003: 9–11). In particular, neither socio- nor functional linguistics needs, as applied linguistics does, principles and theories of problem solving and intervention. They are, just as much as cognitive linguistics, concerned with description and theory, not with intervention. I now move to discussion of the first of my three areas.

Describing languages and defining speakers

Recent decades have seen dramatic changes in the international landscape of languages. The broad facts are not in dispute, but their interpretation is. 6 The growth of non-native English learning and use has been exponential. While English, at around 427 million native speakers, falls behind Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese) at around 726 million, the situation with regard to second and foreign language speakers is very different – however we define these elusive terms. Crystal (1997: 360–1), whose figures I am using, 7 estimates there to be around 350 million second-language speakers of English and 100 million highly competent foreign-language speakers. Even this conservative estimate puts English in the historically unprecedented position (save perhaps Latin) of having more non-native than native speakers. More significantly, if we define language competence in a broader way than has been usual in mainstream linguistics, then many of these so-called ‘foreign-language’ and ‘second-language’ English speakers are equally or more proficient in the language than many native speakers. Being a native speaker does not entail being literate, being comprehensible outside a regional variety, having a large vocabulary, or being adept at a range of styles. The preceding paragraph is relatively uncontroversial. One might argue over the definitions of ‘second’ or ‘foreign’ or the calculations of numbers of speakers – but something like this constitutes the broad picture. Equally

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uncontested is the fact that, in contrast to English, many languages are perishingly small. Thus, of the world’s 6000 or so languages, two “die” every month, meaning that half will disappear this century (Crystal 2000). Both of these phenomena – the emergence of a global lingua franca and the acceleration in language decline – are new phenomena which need to be assimilated into theories and descriptions of language and languages, and it is applied linguistics rather than mainstream linguistics which is trying to develop the new theories and descriptions to cope. Some applied linguists are beginning to see that the extent of the current imbalances must lead us to categorise languages and their speakers differently. The implications, both for the practice of language teaching and learning, and for linguistic theory and practice, are immense. Contrast, for example, two languages whose names sound similar but in other respects could not be more different: Ingush and English. The former, from the North East Caucasus, has around 180 thousand speakers (Hewitt 1992), the latter – according to the conservative estimates above – around a billion. We might regard the two as at opposite ends of a continuum from very small to very big languages. To some (and in this lies the controversy) the disparity is so great as to invalidate the notion that all languages can be described in the same way and that the same categories of speaker (‘native’, ‘second’, ‘foreign’) can be applied. For small languages like Ingush the old categories still hold good. There is a reasonably clear distinction between native and non-native speakers, and a strong correlation between a place, a people, a culture and a language. For English, these distinctions and this correlation have broken down – to the extent that some scholars (Seidlhofer 1999, 2001; Jenkins 2000) argue for the relegation of native Englishes to the status of a variety, quite distinct from International English or ELF (English as a Lingua Franca). This strikes hard at two key concepts in linguistics and conservative applied linguistics. The first is the notion that languages (however different in size or distribution) can be described and theorised in essentially the same way. The second is the concept of the native speaker which is at the very root of how linguists define both a language and language knowledge. For cognitive linguistics – whose proclaimed aim is to describe the mental representations of language in the native speaker and how they are acquired, and whose prime source of evidence remains native-speaker intuition – the undermining of this concept would cast doubts on its most fundamental starting point (Chomsky 1965: 1). But though Chomskyan and related schools might be most affected by this departure, there are implications for others, too. In much socio- and functional linguistics, the boundary between native and non-native speaker, and the privileged authority of the former’s language use and intuition, is also central. Many language corpora, for example, claim to provide descriptions of a language by amassing attested examples of native-speaker use. Although the concept of the native speaker has been often and effectively critiqued and deconstructed by socio- and applied

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linguists (Coulmas 1981; Rampton 1990; Widdowson 1994; Davies 2003), the impact of these studies has been confined to certain sectors, and their full implications across the whole of linguistic theory and description have not been pushed home. The impact of studies of English as an international language and lingua franca for English language pedagogy are now well understood, removing as they do the native speaker as necessarily the best model or teacher for the learner. Much less is said, though, about how they could lead to

fundamentally new conceptions of the object of linguistic enquiry: language, languages and speakers. If they ever were to have this revolutionary effect,

it would be a clear case of the direction of influence being from applied

linguistics to linguistics – the exact opposite of ‘linguistics applied’.

Modularity, modality and relativity

A second divergence from linguistics orthodoxy is implicit in the substantial

body of work on communication which has moved away from a view of language as a separate self-contained system towards description and analysis of language working together with other semiotic systems (e.g. Finnegan 2002; Kendon 2000, 2004; McNeil 2000). It embraces both those non-verbal systems which are as ancient as our species, such as the paralanguage of sound, gesture and expression which accompanies speech, and those which are markedly modern, such as the multimodality of film, TV, and computer- mediated communication (CMC). Simply to include these in the description and analysis of linguistic communication might be relatively uncontroversial. But to argue, as some have (Cook 2001; Kress and van Leeuwen 2001;

Finnegan 2002) that these paralinguistic modes are not just an extra peripheral dimension of description but inseparable from language, and thus essential

to linguistic analysis, is much more fundamental. There is support for such

claims in some psycholinguistic work which sees speech and other semiotic systems such as gesture as necessarily intertwined and interacting, perhaps even represented and developed together in the mind (e.g. Armstrong, Stokoe and Wilcox 1995). These views challenge the Chomskyan notion of language as modular. Though conducted by people who describe themselves as sociolinguists, conversation analysts or semioticians, they are highly relevant and potentially revolutionary for applied linguistics. At present, the larger part of work in

second language acquisition studies focuses upon language acquisition and use in isolation from accompanying paralanguage. Language teaching is almost exclusively about getting learners to use and understand language (whether spoken or written) without reference to the other modes of communication which are integrated with it, such as gesture and pictures. Recently, however, a number of applied linguists, influenced by the work described above, have begun to argue for a view of language learning which

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would include such other modes (see e.g. Lantolf 2000: 94; McCafferty 2002, 2004; Olsher 2004 on gesture; Warschauer 1999 on multimodality in CMC). But it is not only non-linguistic modes of communication which have been excluded from orthodox linguistics analysis in favour of a concentration on speech. Writing, too, has been excluded. Contemporary mainstream linguistics has inherited the traditional linguistic assumption of the primacy of speech 8 which goes back to Saussure and Bloomfield:

Language and writing are two distinct systems of signs; the second exists for the sole purpose of representing the first. (Saussure 1974: 23)

Writing is not language, but merely a way of recording language by means of visible marks. (Bloomfield 1935: 21)

This orthodoxy is also deeply embedded in language teaching – a relic perhaps of the one-way influence of ‘linguistics applied’. We talk about learning to “speak a language” not write it, about being a “native speaker” not a “native writer”. ‘Reading’ and ‘writing’ in the TESOL literature most often means high-level processing rather than the encoding or decoding of graphology. There is a dearth of attention paid to the learning of a new alphabet or writing system even though this is a major challenge for many of the world’s learners. All this despite the fact that, in the age of computer-mediated communication, there is good reason to shift attention from speech to writing. For the contemporary language learner is likely to use their new “tongue” on the keyboard, just as much, if not more, than in spoken interaction. CMC in a new language can no longer be seen merely as a possible means of learning; it has become an important end in itself. There is at the least a strong argument to be made that in contemporary language use, the balance between speech and writing has shifted enough for us to at least reconsider the doctrine of the primacy of speech. Related to these positions on modality 9 are the long-standing arguments over linguistic relativity: the view, often associated with Sapir and Whorf, that a language fundamentally affects the ways in which we perceive and interpret the world and is deeply intertwined with specific cultures. In recent years those who subscribe to the contrary universalist approach – found in both Chomskyan linguistics and evolutionary psychology (e.g. Barkow, Tooby and Cosmides 1992) – have often talked as though linguistic relativity were dead. Pinker (1994: 57–64), for example, feels so confident in his dismissal of Whorf that he proceeds by mockery rather than argument. And some branches of applied linguistics have implicitly concurred, notably mainstream second language acquisition (SLA), assuming that the learning of one language is much the same as another, and implicitly treating the acquisition of formal systems as independent of cultural knowledge and non-linguistic communication.

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But in other branches of applied linguistics, relativism is alive and well. Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), for example, an ascendant influence upon a great deal of applied linguistics research, makes the assumption that different grammatical and lexical representations of the same non-linguistic phenomena do fundamentally condition the ways in which people see the world. Though not usually concerned with differences between languages, as the original work on linguistic relativity was, CDA is concerned with how different encod- ings within one language may affect perceptions of reality. In this, it subscribes to a version of the Whorf hypothesis – as Stubbs (1997) has pointed out. For those many applied linguists who share this neo-Whorfian CDA standpoint, there are large implications for language planning, translation, interpreting, and language teaching. For if the relativist position is valid, even in part, it lends strength to the case for allowing people, wherever possible, to use and preserve their own language rather than to communicate through translation or a lingua franca. Translation into English takes away something essential from the message in the original language. The view is expressed eloquently in a best-selling book about of moving from one language to another, Eva Hoffman’s autobiographical account of learning English after emigrating to Canada in childhood:

But mostly the problem is that the signifier has become severed from the signified. The words I learn now don’t stand for things in the same unquestioned way they did in my native tongue. ‘River’ in Polish was a vital sound, energized with the essence of riverhood, of my rivers, of my being immersed in rivers. ‘River’ in English is cold – a word without an aura. It has no accumulated associations for me, and it does not give off the radiating haze of connotation. It does not evoke. (Hoffman 1998)

Some such belief is behind the popular case that people should be able to conduct business and educate their children in their own language, that learning English does not entail abandoning a first language, and that radical action is needed to combat both ‘Anglicism’ and language ‘death’. It is a case which some applied linguists have made very forcefully (Skutnabb-Kangas and Phillipson 1995; Skutnabb-Kangas 2000). If we recognise that the theoretical base of such campaigning work must be belief in a version of linguistic relativity, then we have here another fundamental challenge by some applied linguists both to mainstream linguistic orthodoxy and to those branches of applied linguistics which assume a universalist standpoint.

Science, expertise and action

The divisions of opinion described so far might seem simply to be those between linguistic formalists (notably Chomsky), who analyse language as

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an autonomous system, and functionalists (notably Halliday), who integrate language with the social and semiotic context. But the divisions are not entirely of this nature. While it may be true that radical applied linguists often subscribe to functionalist rather than formalist linguistic theory, this allegiance does not of itself make a linguist into an applied linguist – if we follow those widely accepted definitions of applied linguistics I quoted in the first section. Functionalist analysis does not constitute in itself an engagement with “language related decisions” or “real world problems”, although its built-in concern with the social context of language use may give the impression that it does. In principle, it is equally possible to be an applied linguist informed by Chomskyan as by Hallidayan ideas – and indeed, especially in SLA, there are many applied linguists who are. Thus in all of the definitions of applied linguistics I cited earlier, it is not the kind of theory and description used which is definitive but rather their use in engagement with real-world problems. And this entails, in addition to a particular view of language, some principled strategy for negotiation between language expert and language user. Like good medical doctors, good applied linguists need more than scientific knowledge of a reified object of study – they also need to know how to weigh personal and local factors, to engage tactfully with those affected by policy decisions, to be ethical, to know the practical and legal constraints on action, to respect the views and interests of the non-expert or those with a different but relevant expertise. The ethics of any applied science should be to negotiate a solution, not impose one. Perhaps it is easier to see this more clearly outside our own field. The situation of the applied linguist is not dissimilar from that of a scientist involved in the development of a new technology. 10 The contemporary world furnishes many examples – and also many disputes. A prominent one in recent years concerns the introduction of genetic modification (GM) technology in agriculture and food production. In many parts of the world, notably Europe, Mexico, Brazil, India, and some parts of southern Africa, the reaction of substantial sections of the public has been negative. Many scientists have responded to this by asserting that their knowledge gives them a privileged insight which should be imposed over any opposition (Cook 2004; Cook, Pieri and Robbins 2004). Here, for example, is the reaction of Professor Janet Bainbridge, Chair of the UK Government Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes:

Most people do not even know what a gene is. Sometimes my young son wants to cross the road when it’s dangerous – sometimes you have to tell people what’s best for them. 11

Here the scientist’s specialised knowledge of GM – itself open to dispute 12 – is considered sufficient for decision making. No stock is taken of other valid forms of expertise: that of farmers, naturalists, cooks, retailers, gardeners.

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No reference is made to the ethics of GM, or to its social and political consequences, or to the views of those the technology is supposed to be for! Many people feel outraged by such remarks. The treatment of the non- expert as an irresponsible child is understandably antagonising. Yet it is all too easy for applied linguists to voice the same sentiment as Professor Bainbridge, though with reference to some specialised area of language study. We can see this if we take out the term “gene” and substitute some specialist term of our own:

Most people do not even know what (genre/interlanguage/speech act theory/parameter setting/multimodality/collocation) is. Sometimes my young son wants to cross the road when it’s dangerous – sometimes you have to tell people what’s best for them.

Applied linguistics can avoid this trap of monolithic thinking by seeing that the best way to help “those who are taking language-related decisions” is to present its “specialised understanding” as a contribution to the solution of “real-world problems” – but it is not the whole story. In actual decision making, applied linguistic insight needs to be integrated with other kinds of expertise and knowledge. It is this engagement – itself a matter for academic theorising – which should distinguish applied linguistics most clearly not only from all other branches of linguistics, but also from other applied sciences when they act high-handedly. Applied linguistics is at its best when it understands and respects the interests of all involved, building into its models other factors than linguistic expertise, though without losing its integrity or the courage to state its opposition to particular courses of action where appropriate. This is one view of how applied linguistics should engage. It, too, is a major break from linguistic orthodoxy (though a long-standing one), for it is at odds with the traditional assertion that the business of any linguistics must only be with description (saying what does happen in language use) rather than prescription (saying what ought to happen). Applied linguistics, by definition, cannot do this. For it pursues description not as an end in itself but as a contribution to decision making. And decisions must inevitably involve evaluation and therefore prescription.

Conclusion

What I have tried to show in the second part of this article is the radical nature of some departures from linguistics orthodoxy which are current in applied linguistics today. These views have a good deal in common with each other, not only in the negative sense that they reject interconnected established linguistic orthodoxies but also in the positive sense that they present compatible theoretically sound new views of language and

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communication which are relevant to the contemporary world and well- suited to addressing its language-related problems in a principled manner (as eloquently advocated by Bygate 2004). Applied linguistics is deeply divided on many fronts. One would not guess

at this turmoil from reading those valiant attempts to define the discipline in

ways with which everyone can agree. They present a well-equipped ship with an orderly crew, pressing onwards alongside its parent discipline. So

do the proliferating summaries and surveys whose aim – unlike this article

– is to show how agreed is the purpose of the voyage. Indeed, the analogies

with which I began – depicting changes in the discipline as part of a ‘voyage’

or as ‘stages’ in maturity – imply a sense of direction and unity, a teleological grand narrative of progress, which is by no means the only way of conceptualising what has happened and with which many would disagree. What, then, of the future? Will there be a fourth stage in the history of

the discipline, and if so, what will it be? Nobody can say. But if the analysis

in this article is valid, then there would seem to be at least three possibilities.

A first is that the current dispensation will simply continue – there will be

no fourth stage. Differences will continue to be hidden under general definitions, and debate avoided by keeping incommensurate approaches separate. There will be the odd skirmish (at least in local contexts where skirmishing is the tradition), but nothing more substantial. A second

theoretical possibility is that one ‘side’ in each debate will convince the other

– but this is surely unlikely. All views, on all sides, are strongly held; people

have invested their careers and reputations in them and banded together to create institutional structures which are not easily overturned. A third possibility is that the deep divisions of opinion will surface, will be acknowledged, and will lead to divergence. Those whose work is essentially still ‘linguistics applied’ (whether formalist or functionalist), who do not espouse the radical views described above, and who do not seek principles for mediation and intervention, will go in one direction; those with radically new views of language, languages and communication will take another. No one owns the term ‘applied linguistics’, and there is no reason why any sector of the discipline should renounce it against their wishes. But there could be, as in other disciplines, divergent ‘schools’ of thought. If that more open difference leads to a re-examination and debate about first principles and beliefs, that would surely be to the intellectual benefit of all, and also to the credibility and standing of the discipline.

Notes

1. “A storm in a teacup” in the words of one reviewer of this article.

2. The first university department and postgraduate course in the subject was established at the University of Edinburgh in 1958. The first international conference was held in 1964 and saw the foundation of the discipline’s

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international association l’Association Internationale de la Linguistique Appliquée (AILA). The British Association for the discipline (BAAL) was founded in 1965 and the American Association (AAAL) ten years later.

3.

As witnessed by the dedication of the first volume of Explorations in Applied Linguistics (Widdowson 1979): “To S. Pit Corder”.

4.

With, at the time of writing, 1263 sessions scheduled for the joint 2005 AILA World Congress/AAAL conference.

5.

A rare incursion from linguistics into applied linguistics is Borsley and Ingham (2002) with the revealing title “Grow your own linguistics? On some applied linguists’ views of the subject”, answered by Stubbs (2002).

6.

Although these apparently bald facts contain a good deal of interpretation, including the definitions of languages, speakers and the controversial distinction between first-, second- and foreign-language speakers.

7.

These figures from 1997 are based on estimates published earlier and now about

15

years out of date, in particular the estimate that there are only 100 million

highly competent foreign-language speakers of English.

8.

A

post-modern deconstructionist critique of the linguistics doctrine of the primacy

of speech can be found in Derrida (1976).

9.

Linguistic universalism and belief in the primacy of speech are linked because,

inter alia, writing is not universal, and it is therefore impossible to include it in

a

universalist linguistic theory.

10.

Indeed, one definition of applied linguistics not cited earlier uses this term, describing applied linguistics as “a technology which makes abstract ideas and research findings accessible and relevant to the real world; it mediates between theory and practice” (Kaplan and Widdowson 1992: 76).

11.

Quoted by George Monbiot in ‘Beware the Appliance of Science’, The Guardian,

24

February 2000.

12.

For a summary of conflicting scientific opinion on GM, see Cook (2004: 132–8).

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Guy Cook Faculty of Education and Language Studies Briggs Building The Open University Milton Keynes MK7 6AA England e-mail: g.cook@open.ac.uk

[Received 15/3/05; revised 15/6/05]

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