LINGUIST List 11.2154

Fri Oct 6 2000

Disc: Book Reviews & Their Purpose/Last Posting

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Ronald Sheen, Re: 11.2101 and 11.2130, Disc: Book Reviews and Their Purpose

Message 1: Re: 11.2101 and 11.2130, Disc: Book Reviews and Their Purpose

Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2000 00:48:51 -0400
From: Ronald Sheen <Ronald_SheenUQTR.UQuebec.CA>
Subject: Re: 11.2101 and 11.2130, Disc: Book Reviews and Their Purpose


Having admired for many years the succinct and cogent arguments that have
characterized the writings of Geoffrey Sampson (GS), it is both surprising
and disappointing that he offers unconvincing reasons to justify his
rejection of my recent post. They appear to amount to, one, tradition in
Britain, and two, the hard work that authors have dedicated to their work
and their preoccupations preventing their emotions getting the better of
them in their responses. As to "one", as a Brit, myself, I'm all for the
traditions which constitute the fabric of British society but certainly not
for ones which are little more than a convenient means of avoiding
accountabiility on the part of academics. As to "two", the authors are not
being requested to respond extempore and have as much time as they wish to
reply, they should have ample time to measure their responses.


Jerry Packard (JP) writes:

"The problem cited by Sheen of the potential spreading of myth and
blight is addressed by the appearance of the critical review itself, the
validity of which enlightened readers are able to judge for themselves."

** They may be able to judge for themselves but that does not prevent the
perpetuation of a myth. Myths are first created by "findings" of
questionable reliability and then perpetuated by a variety of factors such
as the failure to hold the myths up to close scrutiny and the failure of
those who propose the myths of actually putting them into practice to show
that they do what they are purported to do.

Most myths in my field of applied linguistics first make their appearance
in books the authors of whom use them for advocating some new approach to
teaching foreign languages. According to JP, we should be content with the
publication of a critical review thereof and leave it at that. However,
there are number of good reasons to doubt the validity of his approach. In
the first place, there is no mechanism to ensure the publication of such a
critical review. In the case of Doughty and Williams, published in 1998,
mine own appeared only because I did all the leg-work to bring it to
fruition. Nobody made any request for it. I persevered because the
volume, though containing much to recommend it, fell prey to the
myth-making syndrome. In the second place, history shows that myths when
allowed to be perpetuated become the stuff of new bandwagons which lead to
yet one more new approach which will fail to bring about the promised
improvement. In the third place, (and this applies possibly more to the
past than the present) the putative contemporary wisdom tends to control
what is published. Thus at times when certain myths proscribe certain
types of teaching, work on the latter tends to be unwelcome.

There is, therefore, in my view, every reason to generate a climate in
which authors feel some obligation to defend what they advocate
particularly if it has been subjected to critical scrutiny. However, I
emphasise once again that this applies mainly in situations in which
published advocacies can lead to major changes in public policy and
particulary of the educational variety.

Ron Sheen U of Quebec in Trois Rivieres, Canada.

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