LINGUIST List 12.811

Fri Mar 23 2001

Review: Trappes-Lomax, Change and continuity

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  1. Joseph Tomei, Trappes-Lomax ed, Change and Continuity in Applied

Message 1: Trappes-Lomax ed, Change and Continuity in Applied

Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2001 16:16:23 +0900
From: Joseph Tomei <jtomeikumagaku.ac.jp>
Subject: Trappes-Lomax ed, Change and Continuity in Applied

Linguistics

Trappes-Lomax, Hugh ed. (2000) Change and Continuity in
Applied Linguistics: Selected papers from the Annual
Meeting of the British Association of Applied Linguistics
held at the University of Edinburgh, Sept 1999, British
Association of Applied Linguistics in association with
Multilingual Matters. paper 207 pp.

reviewed by Joseph Tomei, Kumamoto Gakuen University

Contents
Introduction-Hugh Trappes-Lomax

Changing Views of language in Applied Linguistics -Gillian
Brown

Society, Education and Language: The last 200 (and the next
20?) years of language teaching-Michael Stubbs

The Secret Life of Grammar Translation- Malcolm Benson

Changing Views of Language Learning-Susan Gass

Change and Continuity in SLA Research- Florence Myles

Rethinking Interactive Models of Reading -Martin Gill

Continuity and Change in Views of Society-Ben Rampton

Talking Disability: The quiet revolution in language
change- Marian Corker

Critical Discourse of Field: Tracking the ideological shift
in Australian Governments 1983-1986-Bernard McKenna

"Risk is the Mobilising Dynamic of a Society Bent on
Change": How metaphors help to stabilise the developing
discourse, and how they don't-Alison Piper and Charmian
Kenner

Role of Idioms in Negotiating Workplace Encounters-Almut
Josepha Koestler

Looking at Changes from the Learner's Point of View: An
analysis of group interaction patterns in cross-cultural
settings-Tan Bee Tin

If a colleague presented you with copies of these papers
with no notation as to where the papers were presented, you
might wonder how he or she was able to travel to so many
different conferences. But the fact is that all of these
papers arose out of a single conference and how such a wide
range of topics can fit under one conference is the subject
of Trappes-Lomax excellent introduction.

T-L makes a basic distinction in trying to gain a measure
of the field of Applied Linguistics. On one side is that
the historical source for Applied Linguistics was the
application of linguistics to the teaching of language and
this remains one locus of Applied Linguistics, which I will
term 'traditional Applied Linguistics'. However, that locus
has been expanded to historical narratives of language
learning, an emphasis of the effect of 'local conditions'
on language learning, and the impact of power and
'situatedness'. Interestingly enough, only one of these
papers, and very little else in traditional Applied
Linguistics, ever deal with administration and management,
though these would arguably have a huge impact on
institutional language learning.

The other locus of Applied Linguistics is 'Discursive,
Social and Applied Linguistic Analysis'. I was a bit taken
aback by this. Do all sociolinguists feel they are doing
applied linguistics rather than linguistics? What about
discourse analysts? I suspect that this is a difference
between the UK and the US, but that's only a feeling, and
it is easy to see how things begin to get fuzzy. I term
this locus as 'new Applied Linguistics', though the choice
of terms is not meant to disparage.

Brown's paper, along with Gass, Rampton and Stubbs' papers,
originate as plenary speechs and aim to present a 'state of
the discipline' overviews. Brown, citing Brumfit (1995/6),
points out that beginning in the 60's, there has been an
urge to define Applied Linguistics as anything that where
language is the central issue.

Brown suggests that the initial widening of the field stems
from the realization that learning pronunciation and basic
vocabulary and sentence patterns was nowhere near adequate
to develop communicative ability. One point that is
interesting to contemplate is what forced these changes in
perception. Brown writes that 'the advent of mass tourism
in the 1960's exposed with brutal clarity the failure of
traditional academic courses to prepare the majority of
their students to communicate at a quite basic level...'. I
don't think that she is suggesting that it was the failure
of language teaching as a discipline that created a vacuum
for other approaches to enter into Applied Linguistics, but
the notion bears some thought. Received wisdom in
linguistics is that Chomsky's attack on the adequacy of
behaviorism to explain language behavior exposed this
fallacy. Some have pointed out in passing that changes in
university access created an expansion of faculty rosters
and it could be argued that this expansion allowed people
not interested in language teaching to enter into applied
linguistics.

While Brown discusses views of language from the
perspective of applied linguistics, Stubbs attempts to
place applied linguistics on three supporting pillars, the
social/political context, the curricular/administrative,
and on language description. One point of note is that
Stubbs, as do arguably the majority of the other writers,
seem acknowledge only corpus approaches to description,
leaving the impression that conclusions can only be made
with the backing of a corpus.

Gass is one exception to this and her discussion is
presenting Second Language Acquisition (SLA). The presence
of SLA in traditional Applied Linguistics is an interesting
anomaly, in that it does not necessarily relate to language
learning and teaching, and Gass addresses this to some
extent, noting that SLA, though it historically emerges
from pedagogy, has also aimed to be a separate field of
inquiry in its own right. In this sense, perhaps SLA
represents the beginning of the breaking up of Applied
Linguistics, a field that, as Brown notes, quoting Alan
Davies, possibly considers itself a 'super-discipline' and
may have a large number of people who 'do' applied
linguistics but would never call themselves applied
linguists.

Gass also writes something that I find revealing. She
discusses a debate that began with Firth and Wagner (1997)
in the Modern Languages Journal, where they take issue with
the focus of SLA research, criticisms which Gass feels are
misfounded and she writes 'What I want to do is thing about
why what I see as a basic misunderstanding has come about.
Why do we have to continually justify our field and explain
its goals?' She then goes on to give examples of educated
people with severe misconceptions about SLA. What I find
interesting is that, though Gass does not seem to note it,
this sort of complaint is voiced by almost every linguist
about the way linguistics is discussed. This suggests that
SLA researchers have more in common with linguistics and
less in common with what I have termed traditional applied
linguistics. One could argue that SLA does not represent a
branching off from applied linguistics, but a grafting of
linguistics (specifically formal linguistics) onto the
field of applied linguistics.

Gass, along with Myles, speaks of a topic that animates
quite a lot of linguistics debate, which is the divide
between formalism and functionalism. Both authors suggest
that there is a rapproachment within SLA, though I remained
unconvinced, in that the characterization of functionalism
that both use is not very clear. For example Myles, when
contrasting a Universal Grammar approach with a functional
approach, presents it as a division on opposite sides of
the Atlantic. To be fair, Myles notes that this is an
oversimplification, but I find that it obscures more than
it illuminates.

Rampton's paper represents a challenge to my way of
thinking about applied linguistics and as such, was the
most interesting. He begins from working from
sociolinguistics, which I earlier suggested would fall
under 'new applied linguistics', and invokes post/late-
modernity as presented by Bauman (1992) as presenting us
with a breakdown in the 'idealisations' that govern much of
our thinking. Because language teaching and learning have
always involved a form of idealisations, applied
linguistics can then be seen as the application of
principles of power and hegemony in the sphere of language
teaching. In discussing the effects of post/late-modernity,
he approvingly quotes Bauman, who says that 'Statistically
insignificant phenomenon may prove to be decisive' and
notes that if this is true (or perhaps more accurately,
'accepted' as true, since I don't think that Rampton would
accept that truth is a universal quantity) 'regularity,
consistency and system lose their primacy'. Rampton
sanguinely accepts that this means that we need a new
conceptualiszation of linguistics, though one could argue
that he does not have as much invested as a linguistic in
such conceptualisations.

Rampton references Hymes (1977), but it doesn't appear in
the bibliography. Obviously, Hymes' conception of
communicative competence placed in contrast to Chomsky
represents a drawing of a distinction between
sociolinguistics and formal linguistics. What I find
interesting to note is that Hymes, growing out of the
structuralist Sapir-Boas tradition of linguistics, can be
seen as an early figure in American functionalism, a school
of thought that could inform applied linguistics but
doesn't seem to, at least in this collection.

The other papers are of more specific topics and are all
interesting reading, and I will attempt to briefly
summarize them

Benson's paper entitled 'The Secret Life of Grammar
Translation' charts the history of this approach to
language teaching and is complementary to Stubbs' paper, in
that Grammar-translation has been the norm since Roman
times or roughly the past 2 millennia. The subtext of his
paper is to attempt to explain the persistence of this
method, despite its obvious shortcomings, and, in
attributing this persistence to desires for social control
and maintenance of the status quo, it reflects many of the
concerns expressed in Rampton's piece.

Myles' 'Change and Continuity in SLA Research' was
mentioned earlier. It is basically a contrasting of SLA as
a program based on a notion of Universal Grammar (presented
as the predominant American viewpoint) with the European
Science Foundation's project on 'Second Language
Acquisition by adult immigrants'. The latter program was a
longitudinal study of relatively uneducated immigrants
acquisition of Western European languages, with the goal to
set up a database of acquisition data for a number of
target languages by learners of different, typologically
unrelated L1's. Myles' presents this as coming from a
European functionalist perspective, but I see this as more
based on a theory of contrastive analysis, where it was
argued that the features of a learner's L1 could help or
hinder their acquisition of their L2, depending on the
features difference or similarity. This has been rejected
by most as being simplistic, but it was based on the
verifiable observation that languages that are similar
require less time to acquire while languages that are
different require more time. Myles' suggests that 'Basic
Variety', a result of European work with SLA is compatible
with SLA notions of 'initial state'. I think that 'initial
state' is understood by most on the list, but a quick
summary is that it describes the aspects of Universal
Grammar that are available to the L2 learner. 'Basic
Variety' might be less know and is based on the finding
that learners, no matter what their source or target
language, go through three stages Pre-basic: Nominal
Utterance Organisation (no verbs; NPs pasted together)
Basic: Infinite Utterance Organisation (untensed verbs; no
functional morphology) Post-basic: Finite Utterance
Organisation (verbal morphology appears) Myles' argues that
this attraction to formal properties, which occurred in
spite of rather than because of the research agenda, is
striking. My own feeling is that this is less an expression
of formal properties and more a function of discourse
organization and vocabulary acquisition.

In Gill's 'Rethinking Interactive Models of Reading',
arguing from ordinary language philosophy, claims that
interactive theories of reading lack explanatory value
because they seek to set up a series of discrete steps.
This, he suggests, is 'machine processing' and stands in
opposition to goal oriented human behavior. This again
suggests the sort of divides that criss-cross applied
linguistics. The theories of interactive reading, which
emphasize the use of schemata, derive in large part from
language teaching practice, which seeks to provide
pedagogical support to second language learners. Gill's
proposed alternative, that the mental processing aspect
emphasized by an interactive approach, be integrated with
an realization that meaning is negotiated in the community,
certainly represents a philosophical possibility, but
doesn't seem to represent a pedagogical alternative, in
that learners must attempt to 'extract' the meaning that
would occur to native speakers reading a text. That this
changes as the community changes is undoubtedly true (is it
possible to read Ulysses and believe that it is obscene
today?) but is that change is one that we need to sensitize
students to, unless it is at the highest levels of
proficiency?

In 'Talking Disability: The quiet revolution in language
change', Corker, using discourse analysis, examines the
conversations of disabled children to see how notions of
disability mesh with power. I was struck by one comment,
which was 'In transcript A, the teacher reinforces the
majority consensus that 'disability' is a no-go topic
through her collusion with the 'silence' of the deaf
children. The only overt challenge lay in the reflexive
commentary by the researchers, but this too was forced to
remain silent as we were expected to 'observe' only.' I
think that Corker is right to note the problematic aspects
of the first transcript, which she discusses at length.
However, there is clearly a sense (to me at least) that
this goes beyond 'observation' and moves into 'advocacy'.

This blurring of lines is also seen in the next paper,
McKenna's 'Critical Discourse of Field: Tracking the
ideological shift in Australian Governments 1983-1986'.
Using post-structural theory, and combining it with text
analysis based on Systemic Functional Linguistics, McKenna
maps the ideological change in successive Australian
governments. This is certainly a topic that deserves
attention, but it's clear that McKenna (whose political
sympathies probably mirror my own) wishes to show what he
feels is Labour's co-opting of conservative ideas. As I
said, I probably agree with this, but at what point does
the observational aspect stop and the partisan begin?

In the next paper, '"Risk is the Mobilising Dynamic of a
Society Bent on Change": How metaphors help to stabilise
the developing discourse, and how they don't', Piper and
Kenner use Lakoff and Johnson's notions of metaphor along
with the analysis of a corpus of government documents to
chart how a set of metaphors for change and the initiation
of that change can both provide a continuing motif and
create what seem to be logical flaws in the discourse. It
is similar to the previous paper, but I feel it adopts a
less overtly political stance with regards to the
information.

Koestler's 'Role of Idioms in Negotiating Workplace
Encounters' follows and attempts to delineate the role of
idioms in a defined subset of spoken encounters. I'm not
sure if I can agree with the definition used for idioms,
which is 'items that are figurative and non-literal'.
Unfortunately, there is no list of the metaphors that are
found in the data, but K notes that metaphors were
included, 'even if they were only one word'. In one
dialogue, examples of one word idioms from a dialogue about
computer orders include 'jammed' and 'clogged'. I suppose
that part of the reason these are defined as idioms is that
the interlocutors note that the image of 'clogged orders'
to be humorous, but at what point would these words not be
idiomatic? Would the use of 'traffic jam' or 'clogged
drain' be flagged as idiomatic?

The final paper, 'Looking at Changes from the Learner's
Point of View: An analysis of group interaction patterns in
cross- cultural settings' by Tan Bee Tin, takes a notion
that is currently quite popular in English Language
Teaching, that of group interaction and student
empowerment, and analyzes how it works on in a cross
cultural setting, noting that it is necessary to understand
how learners perceive pedagogical activities' function and
value in order to successfully implement them in the
classroom. I find it interesting that this final paper,
while dealing with the traditional applied linguistic
subject of classroom teaching, argues that issues of power
have a large effect on the classroom, a notion that is
'new' applied linguistics.

When I requested this book, the subtitle was not listed, so
I thought that it would be one person's view of the field
of applied linguistics, but what I got was much more than
that, with the multiple authors staking a claim that they
feel should be incorporated into the field of applied
linguistics. I would strongly recommend this book to those
teaching and studying applied linguistics to get an idea of
how big the sea they are wading in actually is.

Joseph Tomei is an assistant professor in the Department
of Foreign Languages at Kumamoto Gakuen University, in
Kyushu, Southern Japan. He is a National Officer in the
Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) His
interests include ELT classroom management, Cognitive
Grammar, and endangered language revitalization.


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