Mapping Applied Linguistics
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Mapping Applied Linguistics

A Guide for Students and Practitioners

Christopher J. Hall, Patrick H. Smith, Rachel Wicaksono

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eBook - ePub

Mapping Applied Linguistics

A Guide for Students and Practitioners

Christopher J. Hall, Patrick H. Smith, Rachel Wicaksono

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About This Book

Mapping Applied Linguistics: A guide for students and practitioners, second edition, provides a newly updated, wide-ranging introduction to the full scope of applied linguistics. This innovative book maps the diverse and constantly expanding range of theories, methods and issues faced by students and practitioners around the world, integrating both sociocultural and cognitive perspectives. Practically oriented and ideally suited to students new to the discipline, Mapping Applied Linguistic s provides in-depth coverage of:



  • multilingualism, language variation and Global Englishes
  • literacy, language teaching and bilingual education
  • discourse analysis
  • language policy and planning
  • lexicography and translation
  • language pathology and forensic linguistics

The new second edition features contemporary examples of global applied linguistics research and practice, and includes updated further reading and new fieldwork suggestions for each chapter. The companion website at cw.routledge.com/textbooks/hall provides a wealth of additional learning material, including activities, flashcards and links to the latest online resources.

Mapping Applied Linguistics is essential reading for students studying applied linguistics, TESOL, general linguistics and language and literacy education at the advanced undergraduate or master's degree level. It also provides a gateway for practitioners and specialists seeking to better understand the wider scope of their work.

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Information

Publisher
Routledge
Year
2017
ISBN
9781351849661
Edition
2

CHAPTER 1

Introduction

A book about applied linguistics is inevitably a book about language, its users and uses. Because the number of language users includes all 7.4 billion of us and language uses encompass almost all our myriad activities, from the most banal to the truly momentous, the subject we’re covering in this and the following thirteen chapters is remarkably wide-ranging. It’s a big topic to fit in a book made of paper and enclosed between covers of card, so it’s inevitably going to spill over onto the companion website, get expanded in the recommended readings, well up and multiply in classroom discussion or discussion boards, and it won’t be contained.
This first chapter is designed to provide some fixed points on our map of applied linguistics, describing points of departure, characteristic features of the terrain and ways not to go. In the chapter we do three things. First, we outline a broad perspective on human language that knits together its social and cognitive strands. The account, based on ideas from our sister discipline of general linguistics, informs all the other chapters in the book. Second, we identify ten fundamentally misguided ideas in everyday thinking about language, but argue that applied linguists need to acknowledge and respect them, because they are firmly embedded in most people’s world views and determine many of their language-related decisions and practices. In other words, they are part of the territory. Our third and last goal here is to characterize the discipline of applied linguistics as we map it in this book. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that ‘Truth is the summit of being; justice is the application of it to affairs’ (Emerson, 1987, p. 274). We won’t try to scale any one summit, of course, because applied linguistics is a mountain range of many truths. We do, however, hope to give an initial flavour of how the discipline is united in its ‘application to affairs’ and show that we all share the ultimate destination of social justice.

1.1 WHY DO WE USE DIFFERENT LANGUAGES?

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According to some estimates, people speak over 7,000 different languages on the planet today, belonging to more than a hundred distinct families (Lewis et al., 2016; see Figure 1.1). One of the central problems that applied linguists seek to address is how to meet the challenges and promote the opportunities of this diversity through education, policy-making, translation and activism at local and global levels. The existence of so many different languages means that most of us can’t communicate directly in any sustained and sophisticated way with most of our fellow human beings. As many as one-third of us are monolingual, and even though the majority of the world’s population know and use more than one language, no one, of course, speaks all the languages! There is, perhaps, a tiny number of people who are able to converse, read and write in the ten languages that have the largest number of native users, but even these polyglots can’t communicate with half the world’s population.
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Figure 1.1 Geographical distribution of some of the world’s major language families with each area of shading representing a distinct language family (source: Wikimedia Commons)
Here’s a question that may not have occurred to you before: why is it that we speak different languages, rather than having just one way to communicate our thoughts to all members of our species? After all, that’s more or less the way other animals do it, basically inheriting their ‘languages’ directly through the genes of their parents. Since modern homo sapiens is thought to have originated in sub-Saharan Africa around 200,000 years ago, why haven’t we all inherited, say, a primeval version of Zulu, in the same way that we inherit the heart, the ability to walk on two legs or the capacity to distinguish a certain range of frequencies of sound?
The answer is that, unlike the heart, language is both a biological and a social property of the species. It has evolved not just to serve the individual user, but also to serve the group. This means it must have a way to escape the confines of the human body, allowing us to connect with others around us. Since telepathy is impossible, language originally found its external medium principally through sound, giving rise to speech. Given that language is mediated by speech (and sign) in society, and not only through the genes in the biological system, infants don’t reproduce an identical copy of their parents’ system as they acquire their language. Thus language inevitably changes. After many generations, the system will be transformed into a completely different language, as Latin has developed into Spanish, French and the other Romance languages.
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We live in a multilingual world because people move, lose contact with their ancestral groups and encounter new language communities. When the first bands of homo sapiens migrated from sub-Saharan Africa around 100,000 years ago, generational changes must first have resulted in different dialects and then different languages. This scenario has been played out over and over again around the planet, resulting in a vast medley of different tongues, each one merging with the ones surrounding it. Current figures, of course, represent only a tiny fraction of the languages that have existed through the millennia; the globalizing forces of transport, trade, exploration and conquest over the last thousand years have caused the abrupt disappearance of many of them: currently at about two a month according to commonly accepted estimates (e.g. Krauss, 1992). More recently, these globalizing forces have been abetted by mass communication through radio, television and the internet. The result is language decline and death at unprecedented rates.
But human language is not just characterized by its astonishing (if dwindling) diversity. Although it is transmitted through speech (and sign) in social and cultural contexts, it is also a biological phenomenon, and many linguists believe that children are born with specialized brain systems that allow them to acquire languages (and maybe other cognitive abilities too). To this extent, language is like the heart and other physical properties: it develops in infancy, may be damaged through injury or inherited impairment and breaks down in old age, in ways that are very similar to other aspects of our biological endowment. Our common linguistic inheritance as members of the species homo sapiens is attested also in underlying similarities between the structures of all languages: universal patterns that defy the pressures of generational change because they are fixed by our brains, ultimately by the way human language has evolved in the species. For example, all phonological systems use at least the three vowels /i/, /a/ and /u/ (as in key, car and coo). And all grammars use pronouns (at least for first and second person).
So we have an apparent paradox: language is biological, a property of the species, but languages (and the dialects that constitute them) are social, associated with groups of individual users defined by culture rather than chromosomes. This paradox is not apparent to us in our everyday lives: most human beings are normally aware of only the social element of the equation, of language as a maker and marker of group identity and as a way of getting things done together. And this is surely a sensible arrangement. Language is not an end in itself, but rather a social tool, allowing us to influence and understand each other in sophisticated ways, and so enhance our survival through pooled resources and concerted actions. Our language mechanisms have evolved to operate in the background, to mimic as closely as possible the fiction of telepathy. While we get on with whatever it is we are doing (hanging out with friends, negotiating with a business partner, watching the TV news or whatever), the brain’s language circuits are hard at work, transforming sound into meaning and meaning into sound. The job description for language is a long one, involving an array of specialized linguistic tasks as well as teamwork with other cognitive systems dedicated to moving muscles, negotiating social contexts, etc. Tasks include:
choreographing complex arrays of muscle contractions for speaking, signing, writing and typing;
encoding and decoding tens of thousands of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs;
working out grammatical relations to encode and decode information on who’s doing what to whom, even when the actors are not physically present;
detecting non-literal meanings, including metaphor, sarcasm and humour;
encoding social variables like deference, courtesy or disrespect.
Most of the time these processes are happening at lightning speed and without us exercising any conscious control over them. It’s as natural as walking, eating and breathing. We tend to become aware of language use only under certain circumstances: when old age, an accident or illness begins to hamper our ability to communicate; when a misunderstanding occurs; or when we are confronted with individuals who speak differently from us (in a different dialect, a foreign accent or another language completely). The result of this general lack of awareness of language is twofold: we tend to equate language with thought itself, because we can’t see the join between them, and we identify languages with the groups who speak them, because that’s what’s mostly visible to us. It’s as though language has us under a spell, making its use almost invisible, like telepathy, and throwing to the fore its physical manifestations, the actual speech (and sign language) patterns that identify people as ‘one of us’ or ‘one of them’ (Hall, 2005).
This lack of awareness of the dual biological and social nature of language has important consequences for both ordinary language users and the applied linguists whose job it is to help them find solutions to language problems. Our inability to break the spell of language – to unwrap its social trappings at one end and unravel it from thought at the other – means that some language problems go unrecognized and others are rendered intractable. To understand why, we need to acknowledge a series of dead ends in the mapping of language and applied linguistics.

1.2 TEN WAYS WE’RE LED ASTRAY IN LANGUAGE AND APPLIED LINGUISTICS

A ‘folk’ theory of language, capturing ‘common sense’ beliefs, is a natural consequence of the ‘Language Spell’ we mentioned in the previous section. All communities and cultures have deeply held beliefs about the nature of language and languages, which applied linguists ignore at their peril. But research in linguistics and allied fields allows us to bring new perspectives on the practical problems facing language users, which we must also be aware of if we are not to be led astray by tempting, but misleading, courses of belief and practice. Sometimes the straightest-looking route doesn’t lead to new territory, but ultimately sends us round in circles or soon dries up altogether. Here are our top ten ‘dead ends’. Although you might have your doubts right now (especially if you’re new to linguistics), we’ll try to convince you, as we map applied linguistics in the chapters to come, that these dead ends are not the way to go.

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DEAD END 1: PEOPLE THINK IN LANGUAGE

Mentalese is the abstract ‘language of thought’ in the mind: what we are consciously or unconsciously thinking, independent of whether it is expressible or expressed using the ‘linguistic language’ of speech, writing and sign.
Inner speech is spoken (o...

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