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University Of Baghdad
College Of Arts
MA Linguistics/Applied Linguistics
History of the Term
Applied linguistics does not lend itself to an easy definition, perhaps because, as
Vivian Cook remarks: „Applied Linguistics means many things to many people‟
(Cook 2006). This absence of certainty is much bemoaned by those who practise
applied linguistics but the lack of consensus can be found in other academic
enterprises, especially those in the humanities and social sciences, where frag -
mentation is rife, sometimes acting as an escape from disagreement and entrenched
epistemological disputes as to the nature of the enterprise. Applied linguistics has a
further definitional problem because, if the nature of the enterprise is disputed,what
agreement can there be as to what it is that is being applied?
A mediation betweentheory and practice (Kaplan and Widdowson 1992: 76); a
synthesis of research froma variety of disciplines, including linguistics (Hudson
1999); „it presupposeslinguistics … one cannot apply what one does not know‟
(Corder 1973: 7); it is„understood as an open field, in which those inhabiting or
passing through simplyshow a common commitment to the potential value of
dialogue with people who are different‟ (Rampton 1997: 14). And taking up what
some will regard as an extremeposition: „critical applied linguistics … opens up a
whole new array of questions andconcerns, issues such as identity, sexuality,
access, ethics, disparity, difference, desire,or the reproduction of Otherness that
have hitherto not been considered as concernsrelated to applied linguistics‟
(Pennycook 2004: 803–4).
History of the term:
Back (1970:34 ff.) gives some examples from the nineteenth and the early
twentieth century which indicates that applications of linguistics were though of
before the term „‟applied linguistics‟ came to be used. For it is a recent term, and
the first used specifically in connection with FLT, at least in West Europe, and ,
the U.Sapparently, it first came to be widely used in the U.S, some 20 or 30 years
ago. Back (1970:50) quotes it from the title of Kandler (1952) in this interpretation,
one also finds the term in e.g. Haas (1953), Cardenas (1961), Lado (1957), and
Politcr(1960). Mackey(1966:197) claims that it originated in around 1940.
Engels(1968:5) tells us that applied linguistics was recognized as an independent
subject in the university of Michigan as early as 1946. It is, therefore, likely that
the term originated three and then; it certainly the case that its use was propagated
from there. The English language institute ofthis university, under the guidance of
Charles C.Fris and Robert Lado, equippeditself with teaching English to
foreigners. From this institutesoriginates the well-known journal language learning
subtitled journal of applied linguistics from its first (1948) issue. It was the first
journal in the world to have the term „applied linguistics‟ and its title, which the
editors themselves point out in volume 17 (1967). Incidentally, they also point out
a very early use of the term in the subtitle of Lockhart (1931).
The fact that the term itself seemed to confer some sort of status has certainly
contributed to its popularity.
According to Mackey (1966:197) people who clearly wanted to be known as
scientist and not as humanist propagated its use: by applying linguistics, it was
thought that the scientific status of the natural science, which had brought such
great technologies progress, would be conferred upon linguistics as well. Back
(1970:42) and Van Eke (1971:332) also point out that a lot of status was attached
to the term itself. Besides the argument mentioned by Mackey. That fact that
within FLT it was especially the linguist who had contributed so greatly to the
language courses the American Council of Learned Societies‟ had designed that for
the US Army during World War II also played a role. Linguistics came very much
into vogue, people started using the term „linguistics method‟, and it was almost
inevitable that „appliedlinguistics‟ became popular as a near-synonym for FLT.
People have not only tried to restrict the use of the term specifically to FLT. In a
number of countries, especially Russia, applied linguistics exclusively meant
automatic translation; a use which now seems to have vanished completely. The
fact that the greatexpectations people has of this particular branch of applied
linguistics have largely failed to materialize will certainly have contributed to its
From a historical point of view it is interesting that he initiators of the Association
International De Linguistique Applique(AILA) considered these two areas, FLT
and automatic translation, to be the main interest of applied linguistics when AILA
was founded in Nancy in 1964. Until AILA started publishing its own AILA
bulletin in 1970, they used the two journals T.(ranslation) A.(utomattique)
information and IRAL. The latter journal first appeared in 1963, and it is
sometimes forgotten that its full title has always been: international review of
applied linguistics in language teaching. AILA, however, interprets the term
„applied linguistics‟ in a broad sense in the world conferences it organizes every
three years, and this broad interpretation also shows in the approximately 25
international societies for applied linguistics which are affiliated to AILA. It has
been noticeable, however that certainly during the last few AILAconferences
(Stuttgart 1975, Montreal 1978 and Lund 1981) the emphasis has been mostly on
the learning and teaching of foreign languages and on related areas such as L1 and
One important source of that enrichment has been the journal Language Learning,
published from the University of Michigan, providing a chronicle ofthe
development of applied linguistics over the past 50 years (Catford, 1998).
In a 1993 editorial the journal gave late recognition to the range of coverage
beyond linguistics which applied linguistics embraced. Such recognition is
significant. Coming out of the tradition of Charles Fries and Robert Lado at the
University of Michigan, Language Learning, founded in 1948, was “the
first journal in the world to carry the term „applied linguistics‟ in its title”
(Language Learning, 1967, pp. 2–3).
But by “applied linguistics” what was meantwas the “linguistics applied” version.
In the 1990s, the journal seems to have finally accepted the broader church that
represents an Applied-Linguistics (A-L) as distinct from a Linguistics Applied
approach to language problems. The 1993 editors acknowledge “the wide range of
foundation theories and research methodologies now used to study language
issues.” And they state that they intend to:
encourage the submission of more manuscripts from
(a) diverse disciplines, including applications of methods and theories from
linguistics, psycholinguistics, cognitive science, ethnography,
ethnomethodology.sociolinguistics, sociology, semiotics, educational inquiry, and
cultural or historical studies, to address:
(b) fundamental issues in language learning, such as bilingualism, language
acquisition, second and foreign language education, literacy, culture, cognition,
pragmatics, and intergroup relations.
However, the official recognition of the “wide range of foundation theories
and research methodologies now used to study language issues” comes at
a price. That price is the abandoning of the term “Applied Linguistics” as a
sub-heading in the journal‟s title. The explanation for this removal is that its
replacement title, Language Learning: A journal of research in language studies,
isnow seen to be wider.
In order to avoid the objection that can be raised against narrowing the use of the
term „appliedlinguistics‟ to learning and teaching foreign languages. Alternative
terms have been suggested by some; others, in want of a decent
Alternative prefer to speak simply of the „scientific study of foreign language
teaching „. Like Wilkins (1972 b: 197).
The first example of such alternative term can be found e.g. in the work of William
In 1966 Mackey published an article entitles:‟ applied linguistics: its meaning and
the use‟, of which a slightly revised version was published in 1973 under the title
of:„language didactics and applied linguistics‟. The change in the title relates to the
two short paragraphs, whichhave been addedtoward the end. In these two
paragraphs Mackey argues that since the problem of FLT are not central to either
linguistics or psychology, a ‟science of language didactics‟ should be developed of
this science, he says the following:
Language didactics make use of suchdisciples as phonetics, descriptive linguistics,
semantics, pedagogy, comparative stylistics, psycholinguistics, mathematical
linguistics, psychometric, and any other sciences or technology, which may help to
solve this basic problem (Mackey 1973:13).
Girard (1972:14) also prefers the term „language didactics and in some languages
one finds variants of the Greekversion thereof, for instance in many Italian
publication and also in the polish journal glottodidactica, which first appeared in
1966 and has the English subtitle : an international journal of applied linguistics.
One objection to „ language didactics‟ may be that the term is not specifically
enough, because it could incorporate both FLT and L1 teaching, especially in
German-speaking countries one find advocates of the term „foreign language
Dissatisfaction with the term „ applied linguistics „ for the study of FLT has led in
the federalrepublic of Germany to popular if somewhat lengthy term‟ language
teaching and learning research‟(„sprachlehr and lernforschung Bausch 1974 uses as
an argument in favor of this term the fact that it mentions the subject or research
itself noy just one of the disciplines on which the research is based, against it, the
same objection could be raised as has been raised against „ language didactics,
namely that it could include both FLTand L1 teaching.
This very same objection holds again for the new tern introduced by spolsky
(1978)‟ educational linguistics‟. A far more serious objection on that these terms
like„appliedlinguistics‟. Suggest that it is based on one discipline only, namely
linguistics. Spolsky recognizes that objection, but never the less fair to conclude
from this that this suggestion therefore, superfluous.
Conclusions of the History of the term:
A symposium held at the American Association of Applied Linguistics (AAAL) in
St Louis in 2001 considered the history of applied linguistics in four different
countries. Angelis, discussing the USA, proposed a four-fold division of time over
the period since the 1920s. What this division indicates is a gradual move away
from the central focus on linguistics until post 1990 we have what he terms “the
proliferation of language activities with minimal direct ties to linguistics”. He
summarizes this history as follows:
1 Applied Linguistics in North America does have identifiable roots in linguistics.
2 While North American applied linguistics has evolved over time, in its
orientation and scope, so has North American linguistics.
3 A significant amount of work directed to real-world issues involving language
can be attributed to leading North American linguists, although not characterized
as applied linguistics.
4 Much of what can now be seen as groundbreaking applied linguistics typeactivity
was carried out prior to the formal appearance of applied linguistics or of
linguistics as recognized fields of endeavor. (Angelis, 2001).
Davies (2001) argued that the British tradition represented a deliberate attemptto
establish a distinctive applied linguistics which was not linguistics (andtherefore,
by implication, not Linguistics-Applied). The British Association ofApplied
Linguistics (BAAL) was formally established in 1967, with the following
aims: “the advancement of education by fostering and promoting, by any lawful
charitable means, the study of language use, language acquisition and language
teaching and the fostering of inter-disciplinary collaboration in this study”(BAAL,
Over the subsequent 30 years it gradually became more likely that those entering
(English) language teaching had already studied aspects of linguistics. They no
longer needed post-experience knowledge about language. Linguistics had become
mainstream. That was its success. At the same time appliedlinguistics had also
been successful. Its dedication to language teaching had been remarked in other
areas of language use, especially institutional language use, leading to an explosion
of applied linguistics training, and methodology. Thus in the anniversary issue of
the Applied Linguistics Association of Australia (ALAA) newsletter, we read of
developments over the past 20 years which “draw on a greater range of disciplines
in our research” (Lewis, 2001, p. 19); that “applied linguistics is trying to resolve
language-based problems that
people encounter in the real world” (Grabe, 2001, p. 25); and that “Applied
Linguistics . . . has undergone a significant broadening of its scope and now
contributes its theoretical perspectives to a range of areas” (Baynham, 2001, p. 26).
At the same time, a leading publisher in the field, Mouton de Gruyter, devotes a
45-page brochure to its applied linguistics list. Applied linguistics, according to
this grouping, encompasses: language acquisition (L1 and L2),
psycho/neurolinguistics, language teaching, sociolinguistics, humor studies,
pragmatics, discourse analysis/rhetorics, text/processing/translation, computational
linguistics – machine translation, corpus linguistics, language control/dialectology.
Other surveys of the field:
When we devote some space to the ways in which other researchers have provided
surveys of applied linguistics, and then of course we do not mean surveys relating
to the entire field that could be taken to constitute applied linguistics, not to any
random selection from it, such as ebneter (1976) and bouton (1973)
Among survey which have been restrictedthemselves to FLT, there is a group of
publication which should not be compared to this book, and those are guides
containing practical suggestions which can be applied in classroom practice such
as hunfeld and Schroder (1979).
Of course there are voices suggesting that applied linguistics can fulfill a
role wider than language teaching
(for example Kaplan, 1980; Davies, 1999).
This is an attractive view, but it is tenable only if it allows for a clear overall
limitation to either the input or the output. Otherwise it slips all too easily into
claiming that the whole world is its oyster, that the area of concern is everywhere,
the science of everything position, destabilizing the applied linguist
who is left both site-less and sightless.
In this paper, recent attempts to define applied linguistics has been considered,
emphasising the importance of various ostensive methods of definition and
comparing the lack of clarity about applied linguistics to that of other applied
disciplines. it ends with the unorthodox suggestion that all linguistic study is
basically applied linguistics, with applied linguistics seeking out and working on
language problems which linguistics responds to by idealising and then analysing
in terms of current linguistic theory.
Back, o.1970.wasbedeyuet und was bezeichnet der
ausdruck‟angewandtesprachwissenschaft‟,die sprach ,16,1970,21-53.
Catford, J. I. C. (1998).Language learning and applied linguistics: a
historical sketch. Language Learning, 48(4), 465–96.
Corder, S. 1973. Introducing applied linguistics. Harmondsworth.
Davis, A and Elder, C.(eds).2005. the handbook of applied linguistics.
Els, Theo van etal.1984. Applied linguistics and the teaching and learning
of foreign languages.london:Edward Arnold (publishers)Ltd.
Engles, L.1968. appliedlinguitcs, ITL review of applied linguistics.
Girard, D. (1972). Linguistics and foreign language teaching.London:
Grabe, M., &Grabe, C. (2001). Integrating technology for meaningful
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Pennycook, A. (2001) Critical applied linguistics: a (critical) introduction.
Mahwah NJ/London: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Rampton, B. (1997) Retuning in applied linguistics. International Journal of
Applied Linguistics, 7(1), 3–25.
Van Ek,J.1971.linguitcs and language teaching.international review of
applied linguitcs in language teaching 9,1971,319, 319-37.
Wilkins, D. A. (1972). Linguistics in language teaching. Cambridge: MIT