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Applied Linguistics

Applied Linguistics

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Published by: Mery PeNu on Feb 08, 2011
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Applied Linguistics:Its Meaning and Use
1
WILLIAM F. MACKEY
Department of Linguistic*, Laval University, Quebec
AMONG THE POST-WAR remedies for the betterment offoreign-language teaching it
is
applied linguistics that has attractedthe greatest attention. In the training of language teachers this newdiscipline is gradually taking the place of philology. Every yearpractising language teachers are hearing more and more about'the science of applied linguistics'. In some quarters languageteaching is considered to be the exclusive province of this newscience. And in certain countries national agencies have beenconvinced that no one not trained in the techniques of appliedlinguistics can successfully teach a language.What is applied linguistics? What does one apply when oneapplies linguistics? How does it relate to language learning? Howdoes it concern language teaching
?
Of what use
is
it to the teacher ?What is new about it? These are some of the questions whichlanguage teachers have been asking ; it is the purpose of thisarticle to supply some of the answers, without necessarily trying,as many such efforts often do, to sell the product at the same time.Let us take the above questions in the order in which they appear.
1.
What is
applied linguistics?
The term 'applied linguistics' seems to have originated in theUnited States in the 1940's. It was first used by persons with anobvious desire to be identified as scientists rather than as human-ists ; the association with 'applied science' can hardly havebeen accidental. Yet, although linguistics is a science, 'appliedscience' does not necessarily include linguistics.The creation of applied linguistics as a discipline represents aneffort to find practical applications for 'modern scientific linguis-
tics'.
While assuming that linguistics can be an applied science, itbrings together such diverse activities as the making of alphabetsby missionaries and the making of translations by machines. Theuse of the term has now become crystallized in the names oflanguage centres, reviews, books, and articles.
'This is a modified version of an article which appeared in
Vuosikirja
4 :
Suomen Uusien Klelten
OpetlajlenJJitlo.
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IBS
William
F.
Mackay
2.
What
does one
apply?
What does one apply when one applies linguistics? What isapplied may be a theory of language and/or a description of
one.
If it is a theory of language, what is applied depends of courseon the sort of theory being used. If the theory is based on theexistence of units of meaning, for example, the results will bedifferent from what they would be if the theory ignored the exist-ence of such units.There are dozens of
ways
in which one theory may differ fromanother ; and there are dozens of different theories of language,several of which are mutually contradictory. Some of these con-stitute schools of language theory, like the Saussurian School, thePsychomechanic School, the Glossematic School, the Bloom-fieldian School, the Prague School, the Firthian School, andothers. When we examine the many theories of different schoolsand individuals we note that very few indeed have ever beenapplied to anything. We also notice that those which have beenapplied are not necessarily the most applicable. On the otherhand, the fact that a language theory has never been applied tolanguage teaching does not mean that it cannot be. Some of themore ambitious and inclusive theories, which seem to be the mostrelevant, have in fact never been applied.Secondly, if it
is
a description of a language that
is
being applied,it might include any or all of its phonetics, grammar, or vocabu-lary. And since descriptions based on the same theory often differ
there
are more varieties of description than
there are types
of theory.Descriptions differ in their purpose, extent, and presentation.Some descriptions aim at being concise ; others at being exten-
sive.
Some analyse the language by breaking it down ; others bybuilding it up. Some are made as if the language described is un-known to the linguist ; others as if it is already known to thereader. Some will present the language in two levels (grammar andphonology) ; others in as many as fourteen. Yet the number oflevels of a description is no indication of its linguistic range ; athree-level description may have a wider scope than an eight-level one which excludes vocabulary, meaning, or context. Somedescriptions are based on written works ; others on speech.Some may cover all areas in which the language is spoken ;others may be limited to a singlecity.Some may be compiled fromthe speech of a single person over a period of a few weeks ;others may be based on the writings of many authors covering afew centuries.It is obvious, therefore, that the problem of the languageteacher is not only whether or not to apply linguistics, but whoselinguistics to apply, and what sort.
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Applied Linguistics: Its Manning and Us* 1M
3.
How does it relate to language learning?
In order to exist, a language must have been learnt ; but inorder to be learnt a language does not have to have been analysed.For the process of learning a language is quite different from theprocess of analysing one. Persons who have never gone to schoolfind it difficult to divide their language into such classes as theparts of speech, despite the fact that they may speak their nativelanguage with a great deal of fluency and elegance. Foreignlanguages have also been successfully mastered throughout the
ages
without benefit of analysis.It is the production of methods of analysis that is the businessof the linguist. But if the linguist claims that such and such amethod is the best way to learn the language, he is speaking out-side his competence. For it is not learning, but language, that isthe object of linguistics. Language learning cannot therefore bethe purpose of linguistics—pure or applied. Applied linguistics isnot language learning.Therefore the units used for analysing a language are notnecessarily those needed for learning it. As an illustration, let ustake a sample of an analysis of English made by a representativeof one of the schools of linguistics which has done the mostapplied linguistics in language teaching. As a case in point, let ustake the description of the English -pronouns. The pronouns arearranged into seven sets, which include
23
units. To explain these,34 other units (called
morphs)
are brought into the picture,although they have no further function than to explain the
 first
 23.Rules are then given to 'convert the abstract forms into thoseactually found'. For example, after having learned that theabstract form for the first person plural object is
*
{w-i-m},
weget the form actually found, the form
us,
by applying the following
rule:
1.
we:
{w-i-y}
2.
us:
*
{w-i-m};
{-m} after {w-i-} becomes {-s};* {w-i-} before resulting {-s} becomes {-»-}, aportmanteau
3.
our
: *
{w-i-r} ; before {-r} and {r-z} , initial consonantand vowel are transposed, giving * {i- w-} ; initial* {i-} becomes {a-} before {-w-}
4.
ours
: *
{ w-i-r-z} (See rules given for 3.)
1
If this is to be applied linguistics, it should justify the definitionof philology sometimes attributed to Voltaire, 'la science ou les
'A.
A. Hill,
Introduction to Linguistic Structures : from sound to sentencein English.
New York: Harcourt, 1958, p. 150.
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