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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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WEIDEMAN, Albert. Is applied linguistics part of linguistics?. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2017, vol.57, n.1, pp.137-153. ISSN 2224-7912.

In historical perspective applied linguistics is a fairly recent discipline, which may explain some of the contestation that still surrounds its definition. There is in fact a multiplicity ofways in which it is conceptualised: each of at least seven different traditions of working in the field defines applied linguistics differently. Today, multi-, inter- and even trans-disciplinarity are once again fashionable terms in applied linguistics. It is surprising, then, tofind views ofapplied linguistics that tie it closely and sometimes exclusively to linguistics, as at its inception 60 or more years ago. A discipline cannot claim to have both a singular and a multi-source base. In fact, viewing applied linguistics as part of linguistics or positing linguistics as its "mother discipline" has clearly modernist roots, as was acknowledged as far back as 1985, when it became evident that the exclusive link between linguistics and applied linguistics was untenable. In a recent (2015) volume of the journal Applied Linguistics (36[4]) seven specialists and their editor bring together a number of conceptualisations of the field under the theme of "Definitions for applied linguistics". In assessing these contributions, as well as other recent attempts to conceptualise the field, the paper employs a systematic argument that refutes the notion that there is a conceptual continuity between linguistics and applied linguistics. The argument utilises the philosophical idea that disciplines are best defined with reference not to concrete entities, such as "language ", but rather by referring to theoretically distinguishable modalities or aspects of experience that function as conceptual entry points or angles. These modalities may be identified respectively as the lingual or semiotic aspect, which circumscribes linguistic conceptualisation, and the technical dimension of experience, that is at the centre of applied linguistic concept formation. What reasons can then be found for the contradictory and sometimes self-contradictory current definitions of applied linguistics? One is that at its inception the name chosen for the field suggested, in keeping with its then modernist approach, that there were linguistic subdisciplines and insights that might readily be "applied" in the design of language teaching. This perspective did not endure, however, but the modernist pretence that "science" would show the way to the ultimate solution to language teaching design did. The current definition offered by the international applied linguistics organisation (AILA), for example, does nothing to dispel this pretence. There is a second historical reason for the continuing linkage of linguistics and applied linguistics. This is that some linguists, especially those working on sociolinguistic themes and interests, at one stage felt uncomfortable within the confines of linguistics, and so opted to work rather as "applied linguists". The historically dominant linguistic paradigm of the end of the 20th century, transformational-generative grammar (TGG), defined linguistics in such a way that their work was unwelcome in that discipline. However, while it may explain the organisational or institutional choice of another disciplinary locality, such discomfort does not warrant the suspension of conceptual clarity as to the character or the theoretical focus of both disciplines. A third reason for the lack of conceptual clarity about the disciplinary focus of applied linguistics lies in the vagueness that accompanies current callsfor multi- or inter-disciplinarity. In fact, one of the dissenting opinions among those being reviewed contains an observation that those who urge applied linguists to embrace an inter-disciplinary base are merely attempting to persuade them to use philosophically inspired postmodernist paradigms that are already operative in otherfields, such as anthropology and sociology. Embracing the same methodology or paradigm acrossfields is a trans-disciplinary rather than a multi-disciplinary endeavour. The fact is that inter- or multi-disciplinarity, when left undefined, gives no clear conceptual understanding or guide to how one should or might legitimately or even appropriately proceed as applied linguist. The question might be asked why one would in the first instance want to have a clear idea of the disciplinary boundaries of a field. Might working in an undefined manner not perhaps be more exciting, creative or productive? The renewed current attempts to define applied linguistics imply, however, that its practitioners do seek clarity, and do in fact value it. Moreover, if one s conceptualisation of a field is not clear, then naïve, unsophisticated or intuitive interpretations of what its work comprises may continue to flourish to the detriment of the quality ofwhat it can deliver. The paper will conclude with a consideration of why disciplinary definitions matter, and of how modernist and postmodernist conceptualisations of linguistics and of applied linguistics have effects on the work being done under their respective umbrellas. Paradigm choice and disciplinary awareness are central in avoiding becoming a victim of intellectual fashion, or of naïve interpretations of the nature of one's work.

Keywords : definition of applied linguistics; history of applied linguistics; paradigms; foundations; applied linguistic fundamentals; foundations of applied linguistics; modernism; postmodernism; transformational-generative grammar.

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