Applied Linguistics as Linguistics Applied

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Abstract

In a paper presented at the AILA congress in Montreal in 1978, I examined the notion of applied linguistics, reaching the following conclusions. In discussing the nature and status of applied linguistics, it is essential to distinguish between two levels, the pragmatic and the theoretical. Pragmatically, it is all right to talk of applied linguistics in the sense of a complex of various research activities of considerable social relevance, widely recognized and organized nationally and internationally, with its own associations, congresses, projects, publications, etc. Theoretically, however, the scope and content of the notion are open to dispute; indeed, on this level applied linguistics does not seem to exist as a distinct and coherent field of study. Few if any convincing criteria can be found which might justify the separation of “applied linguistics” from “linguistics” in terms of either subject matter or methodology, the study of language as a whole having of late become increasingly interdisciplinary and socially conscious. A distinction may perhaps be drawn only in terms of goals, the general aim of linguistics being to understand human language, and that of applied linguistics, to contribute to the solution of problems arising in the use of language in human societies—though even this appears questionable in light of contemporary developments. Applied linguistics is hence best regarded not as a branch of linguistics or a conglomeration of disciplines, still less as a set of practical problems, but rather as an external orientation within the study of language—that is, as the name of a motivation, not of a separate field of investigation.