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Review of  The Oxford Handbook of Applied Linguistics

Reviewer: Tracey McHenry
Book Title: The Oxford Handbook of Applied Linguistics
Book Author: Robert B. Kaplan
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 13.1950

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Date: Wed, 17 Jul 2002 15:05:22 -0700
From: Tracey McHenry
Subject: Kaplan, ed. (2002) Oxford Handbook of Applied Linguistics

Kaplan, Robert, ed. (2002) The Oxford Handbook of Applied Linguistics. Oxford University Press, xxvii+ 641 pp, hardback ISBN 0-19-513267-X, $74.00.

Tracey McHenry, Eastern Washington University

As the editor notes on the dust-jacket, The Oxford Handbook of Applied Linguistics is the "first reference work of its kind." In other words, it is the first comprehensive survey of the past, present, and future of the relatively young field of applied linguistics. At 672 pages and 39 chapters, it has the satisfying heft and appearance of a book claiming to be comprehensive. From its engaging cover photo of silhouetted hands counting on fingers as if listing topics to be discussed to its 108-page list of references, this handbook proclaims its presence and quality in both contributions and production.

The volume is substantial, well organized, and user-friendly. It begins with an Editor's Preface (6 pp), A Table of Contents (5 pp), and a List of Contributors (11 pp) before the 39 chapters (515 pp). It ends with References (108 pp), and a thorough Index (15 pp). The contributors and chapter titles, arranged into larger groupings, are listed below.

Part I: Introduction
1 William Grabe: An Emerging Discipline for the 21st Century
2 Patricia Duff: Research Approaches in Applied Linguistics,

Part II: The Four Skills
3 Martin Bygate: Speaking
4 Tony Lynch: Listening: Questions of Level
5 William Grabe: Reading in a Second Language
6 Ilona Leki: Second Language Writing

Part III: Discourse Analysis
7 Deborah Poole: Discourse Analysis and Applied Linguistics

Part IV: The Study of Second Language Learning
8 Alan Juffs: Formal Linguistic Perspectives on Second Language Acquisition
9 James Lantolf: Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Acquisition
10 Bonny Norton and Kelleen Toohey: Identity and Language Learning
11 Michael Harrington: Cognitive Perspectives on Second Language Acquisition
12 Dennis Preston: A Variationist Perspective on Second Language Acquisition
13 Robert Gardner: Social Psychological Perspectives on Second Language Acquisition
14 Susan Gass: An Interactionist Perspective on Second Language Acquisition
15 Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig: Pragmatics and Second Language Acquisition

Part V: The Study of Second Language Teaching
16 Peter Medgyes and Marianne Nikolov: Curriculum Development: The Interface between Political and Professional Decisions
17 Marjorie Bingham Wesche and Peter Skehan: Communicative, Task-Based, and Content-Based Instruction
18 Colin Baker: Bilingual Education

Part VI: Variation in Language Use and Language Performance
19 Rebecca Oxford: Sources of Variation in Language Learning
20 Terence Odlin: Language Transfer and Cross Linguistic Studies: Relativism, Universalism, and the Native Language
21 Mary McGroarty: Language Uses in Professional Contexts

Part VII: Bilingualism and the Individual Learner
22 Christian Faltis: Contexts for Becoming Bilingual Learner in School Settings
23 Kees de Bot: Cognitive Processing in Bilinguals: Language Choice and Code-Switching
24 Judith Kroll and Ton Dijkstra: The Bilingual Lexicon

Part VIII: Multilingualism in Society
25 Peter Nelde: Language Contact
26 Jeff Siegel: Pidgins and Creoles
27 Ofelia Garcia: Language Spread and Its Study: Narrowing Its Spread as a Scholarly Field
28 Nancy Hornberger: Language Shift and Language Revitalization
29 Peter Muhlhausler: Ecology of Languages

Part IX: Language Policy and Planning
30 Richard B. Baldauf, Jr: Methodologies for Policy and Planning
31 William Eggington: Unplanned Language Planning
32 James W. Tollefson: Limitations of Language Policy and Planning

Part X: Translation and Interpretation
33 Roda Roberts: Translation
34 Nancy Schweda Nicholson: Interpretation

Part XI: Language Assessment and Program Evolution
35 Geoff Brindley: Issues in Language Assessment
36 Micheline Chalhoub-Deville: Technology in Standardized Language Assessments

Part XII: Technological Applications in Applied Linguistics
37 Jill Burstein and Martin Chodorow: Directions in Automated Essay Analysis
38 Carol Chapelle: Computer-Assisted Language Learning

Part XIII: Conclusion
39 Robert B. Kaplan: Conclusion: Where to from Here?

With 39 separate chapters covered in over 500 pages, this handbook does not encourage a chapter-by-chapter analysis. In this review, therefore, I assess the handbook as a collection of articles rather than providing thorough discussions of each chapter. I'll focus on the book's numerous strengths before I discuss its few weaknesses.

In his preface, Kaplan provides a thorough and clear introduction to the field of applied linguistics while reminding readers that, since the term "applied linguistics" is a difficult one to define, this handbook should not been seen as the "definitive definition" of the field. Its purpose is to provide an overview of the field as it exists today. He briefly chronicles the history of the field of applied linguistics while noting that several subfields (notably second language acquisition) have split off on their own.

He then moves to a thought-provoking list of field-defining questions that originated from the 1999 International Association of Applied Linguistics (AILA) conference in Tokyo. Of particular interest to anyone who, like me, teaches graduate students in applied linguistics is question six: "What does an aspiring applied linguist need to know? That is, what should be the content of graduate curricula in applied linguistics today?" Applied linguistics as a field is at a point in its history when introspection is called for. What is it that we expect new applied linguists to know? What areas are traditionally within the scope of applied linguistics? What other areas could enrich, and be enriched by, applied linguistics research? While not the final say, The Oxford Handbook of Applied Linguistics provides a timely, clear, and wide-ranging look at the present state of the field so that we can begin to consider the future with these questions in mind.

A groundbreaking book such as this will, of course, appear as a required or recommended text in many graduate-level linguistics courses. In fact, a cursory search of the Internet indicates that it is already on several syllabi pages, although it was published barely six months ago, in February 2002. As its title suggests, then, the book will be used as a comprehensive introduction to the key terms, people, and ideas of applied linguistics. That is a daunting responsibility for editors and contributors both, and I am happy to report that they have all risen to the challenge.

The dustjacket and information on the Oxford University Press website ( indicate that the audience for this book consists of "applied linguists; educators and other scholars working in language acquisition, language learning, language planning, teaching, and testing; and linguists concerned with applications of their work." To this list, I would add students of applied linguistics and perhaps especially students of Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). The handbook rightfully deserves its place on the bookshelves of this wide-ranging audience.

Production Values
While a book should not be judged by its cover, a good cover enhances the experience of a good book, as is the case with this handbook. From its glossy dustjacket to its virtually error-free typesetting, this book quietly indicates the time and care that went into its production. The contributions all conform well to the book's format. Set in easy-to-read font on thick, off-white, acid-free paper, the book will hold up well to repeated photocopying and years of grabbing off a reference desk.

Comprehensiveness, in the first handbook of its kind in the field, is a tricky subject. There must be enough breadth to represent the many environments in which applied linguists are working today, yet too much breadth would risk repetition of information and references as well as unmanageable page length and retail price. This handbook is quite broad, but not at the expense of depth. Chapters range from approximately ten to twenty-five pages, a length that keeps authors focused enough to fulfill the purpose of the chapter while allowing them freedom to explore some subtopics in depth. While not everyone will be happy with this book's table of contents, there will be few who can find more than one or two topics that they wish had been covered but weren't.

In his preface (Available as a PDF file at http://www.oup-, Kaplan acknowledges that there are "holes" in the book's design, in that chapters on work with the deaf, teacher education, and corpus development were never delivered to the editorial group. "Holes" of this nature seem to have been unavoidable and are thus understandable. However, other omissions are less acceptable. Kaplan explains that the editorial group decided not to include a chapter on critical linguistics because this cluster of research "rejects all theories of language, expresses 'skepticism towards all metanarratives' (Lyotard 1984), and rejects traditional applied linguistics as an enterprise because it has allegedly never been neutral and has, rather, been hegemonic" (vi). While this sentence makes clear the basis for the editors' rejection of critical linguistics -- its practitioners allegedly don't "believe" in what we're doing as (non- critical?) applied linguists -- such an important, if controversial, subfield of applied linguistics nonetheless deserves its own chapter. Coverage seems especially warranted in light of Kaplan's acknowledgement that the editorial group, while exceedingly experienced and well qualified to discuss the history and present state of the field, may be "less well qualified to discuss the future of applied linguistics. That is a task for younger scholars" (vi). If we assume that this handbook will be used as an introduction to the field, it seems shortsighted not to include a subfield that is sure to become increasingly important in the near future.

This is not the only such omission. The second chapter in the Introduction section, Duff's "Research Approaches in Applied Linguistics" refers (on p. 19) to the Inner and Outer Circles of World Englishes. However, this theoretical framework and sub-field is never mentioned by name again, nor is it defined, and there is no chapter focusing on World Englishes nor is there even a large sub-section of a chapter discussing this important and timely sub-area of applied linguistics. The handbook would benefit from an entry on World Englishes similar to the one by Ilona Leki on Second Language Writing. In her chapter, Leki provides a brief, clear, and powerful introduction to a relatively new sub-area of applied linguistics, but one that, like World Englishes, has its own journal and its own conference, as well as colloquia and panels at such large conferences as the American Association for Applied Linguistics, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, and the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Whereas World Englishes is a relatively new sub-area, its scholarly contributions are far too extensive to be overlooked. In his preface, Kaplan lists several journals that have expanded the scope of applied linguistics in the past forty years, and while he does not claim that his list is exhaustive, he does not mention the journal World Englishes (nor, for that matter, does he mention the Journal of Second Language Writing). While several works by World Englishes pioneer Braj Kachru appear in the references, they are cited parenthetically in Ofelia Garcia's chapter on language spread. While this volume does not even mention World Englishes as an area of study, World Englishes scholars have their own journal, their own conference, and panels at almost many linguistics conferences. This level of activity matches or even exceeds that of other, smaller subfields of applied linguistics, making the absence of World Englishes from the handbook all the more noticeable as a flaw.

Another omission concerns the lack of international representation in this handbook. Kachru himself, during his plenary address at the start of the 2002 American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) annual conference in Salt Lake City, mentioned another shortcoming of this volume when he discussed "constructs of knowledge and the margins" in reference to this volume and the Encyclopedia of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education (Baker & Prys Jones, 1998). While The Oxford Handbook's editor Kaplan claims that the "distribution of scholars represents diversity" (vi) because forty-three percent of the contributors are women and forty-five percent are from countries outside the US, the range of contributors does not represent true diversity. If we take "diverse" to mean "not based in the US," then perhaps the term is appropriate. However, these non-US contributors are based in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Hungary, the Netherlands, and the UK. This limited geographic range does not represent the diversity of scholars, especially younger scholars, working in applied linguistics today. I find it amazing that this handbook does not contain even one chapter by an author from Asia, Africa, India, or South America. This lack of true diversity does not reflect the field of applied linguistics that I, as a relatively recent Ph.D., consider myself a part of. One look at the AAAL conference booklet reveals far more diversity in the range of contributors than is seen in this handbook.

To conclude, while the Oxford Handbook of Applied Linguistics shows some regrettable omissions in terms of both diversity of contributors and diversity of topics included, these flaws detract only slightly from what is otherwise a solid, laudable piece of scholarship. With such a clearly articulated rationale, cogent and current chapters, and a well-polished appearance, it's a shame that the editorial group did not widen their scope to include some less canonical topics and contributors from the Outer and Expanding Circles.

Baker, C. & Prys Jones, S. (eds.) (1998). Encyclopedia of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Tracey McHenry is an assistant professor of English teaching in the MA-TESL program at Eastern Washington University. Her research focuses on language policy and planning in the US, Native American language issues, and World Englishes.

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