The redefinition of applied linguistics: modernist and postmodernist views

Abstract

The lack of debate about what constitutes applied linguistics brings with it an uncritical acceptance of views that deserve to be contested. Moreover, it leads to an ignorance of the historical influence of such views, which directly affects the basis of applied linguistics research and the training of professionals in the field. Since attempts to use more inclusive and desirable terms have been unsuccessful, Young (2005: 43) has now suggested that we revisit the idea of characterising applied linguistics as a discipline of design (Weideman 1983, 1987, 1999, 2003). This characterisation of applied linguistics is itself not wholly uncontroversial, however, and calls up valid points of critique. The paper will discuss the reasons why such criticism is valid with reference to the various traditional (modernist) definitions of applied linguistics, and the variety of postmodernist definitions that have emerged. The paper will argue, finally, that, while modernist definitions of the field have emphasised the theoretical, scientific basis of the discipline, and postmodernist definitions identify (social and political) accountability as the critical feature of the endeavour, the discipline of applied linguistics finds its characteristic feature in the moment of design. The paper concludes with how one might give a systematic explanation of this characterisation, in terms of a foundational, philosophical perspective. It finds that the contributions of both modernist and postmodernist approaches to applied linguistics can be honoured, and that this will allow us both to train professional applied linguists responsibly, and to do research that takes each of the various emphases into account. Why definitions are important The lack of debate about what constitutes applied linguistics brings with it an uncritical acceptance of views that deserve to be contested. Moreover, it leads to an ignorance of the historical influence of such views, which directly affects the basis of applied linguistics research and the training of professionals in the field. As will be noted below, it is not so much the nature of applied linguistic work as the expectations of what such an endeavour might accomplish that has historically bedevilled the actual outcomes of applied linguistic designs. Such expectations are often embodied in the definitions of applied linguistics that the researcher subscribes to. So, where new entrants into the discipline remain unaware of what has preceded their work, they may either uncritically accept current (usually

5 Figures and Tables

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Weideman2007TheRO, title={The redefinition of applied linguistics: modernist and postmodernist views}, author={Albert Weideman}, year={2007} }