Linguistics and Applied Linguistics: What’s the difference after all?

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Andréa Machado de Almeida Mattos

Applied Linguistics, conceived as an independent area of human knowledge, is a recent field of discussion and research, especially in Brazil. It started as a branch of general Linguistics but nowadays it is safe to say that few people would question its position as an independent discipline. It seems to me that both Linguistics and Applied Linguistics draw their subject matters from the same central focus: human language - the difference being that Applied Linguistics is worried about human problems and general Linguistics is worried about linguistic problems. In other words, the subject of general Linguistics is related to “one of the language subsystems, which can be turned static, that is, can be dissociated from the complex variables that affect human behavior” (Celani, 1992:21) while the subject of Applied Linguistics is dynamic by nature because it is related to “solving human problems affected by language use”(ibid). Applied Linguistics is, therefore, a complex field of knowledge, both from the point of view of the origin of its resources and from the point of view of the range of its repercussions. The former refers to the fact that Applied Linguistics derives its knowledge from several related sciences, such as sociology, psychology, pedagogy, anthropology and also from Linguistics and Applied Linguistics themselves (Stern, 1983). The latter refers to the influence of Applied Linguistics in a whole range of other humanistic areas such as pedagogy, speech therapy, language teaching, translation, stylistics and literary criticism (Celani, 1992). These two points together examplify the interdisciplinary nature of Applied Linguistics. Exactly because of its influence on language teaching, Applied Linguistics has been confused with the study of teaching methods and techniques. Although in the past research in Applied Linguistics has devoted itself to this kind of investigation, nowadays it is not so common anymore. However, language teaching is an area where Applied Linguistics has been especially fruitful. Research in Applied Linguistics is currently being carried out more frequently in areas such as foreign/second language learning/acquisition, language teaching and mother tongue literacy, and qualitative methods of investigation are now being used with the objective of obtaining insights and answers to questions related to the process of learning and teaching rather than to its product. In the long run, perhaps more important than discussing the differences between Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, it is to realize that at the same time that Applied Linguistics has succeeded in conquering a place for itself independent from general Linguistics, it has also established itself as the area which can be more profitable for both the practitioner (the user of its theories of language and language use) and the final beneficiary (the subject with whom the practitioners are in contact). In other words, it is inside the scope of Applied Linguistics that we, foreign language teachers (the practitioners) can find a way to search for solutions for our own daily problems and for the problems of our students (the beneficiaries). It is certainly through the paths of Applied Linguistics that the emerging field of teacher-initiated research is tracing its way towards the development of a better “world” for both teachers and students inside the classroom, hopefully influencing the transformation of all that gets in contact with us. References STERN, H.H. Fundamental Concepts of Language Teaching. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1983. CELANI, M.A.A. Afinal, o que é Lingüística Aplicada? In: PASCHOAL, M.S.Z. & CELANI, M.A.A. (eds). Lingüística Aplicada: da aplicação da lingüística à lingüística transdisciplinar. São Paulo: EDUC, 1992.

vol.1. n° 4.1 Publicado na APLIEMGE Newsletter. 2. p. . dezembro/1997.

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