Sunday, September 28, 2008

Keywords for Prof. Alastair Pennycook's Critical Applied Linguistics #4

1.3 Linguistic / pedagogical terms

1.3.1 Structuralism

Structuralism in linguistics, anthropology, psychoanalysis or literary theory was a strong intellectual movement first in France and later in the western world in general, and it served as a kind of antidote to existentialism, taking the stance of antihumanism. Wikipedia defines the method of structuralism as follows:

As a method, the basics of structuralism consist of analyzing social events (speech, familial identity, and recounts of history, for example) to discover the synchronic structures that both underlie them and make them possible (language, kinship and narrative structure, respectively), which are then typically broken down into units, codes, rules of combination, etc. The essential theory underlying this method is that these structures are autonomous, and that their units are interdependent, because they are constituted through contrast with one another. So how we discursively conceive of ourselves, or anything, for that matter, is dependent on contexts found within historically contingent systems.

In the sense given above, Chomsky, for example, is a structuralist (but certainly more than that), although his name cannot be found in the section of "structuralism in linguistics" in Wikipedia

As someone in the generation which took structural linguistics for granted, I believe the idea of structuralism should be highly regarded even in these "post-" days.

1.3.2 Saussure

Saussure laid the foundation for many of the significant developments in linguistics in the 20th century. His terms like signifier (signifiant) and signified (signifie), langue and parole are common knowledge for linguists and applied linguists. He is also a very important figure in semiotics.

Wikipedia explains the legacy of Saussure as follows:

The impact of Saussure's ideas on the development of linguistic theory in the first half of the 20th century cannot be overstated. Two currents of thought emerged independently of each other, one in Europe, the other in America. The results of each incorporated the basic notions of Saussurian thought in forming the central tenets of structural linguistics. In Europe, the most important work was being done by the Prague School. ... In America, Saussure's ideas informed the distributionalism of Leonard Bloomfield and the post-Bloomfieldian Structuralism

Saussure's posthumous book, Course in General Linguistics, compiled by his students is a very important book in the history of linguistics and beyond.

The distinctions of "langue" and "parole," "signiant (signifier)" and "signifie' (signified)" or "synchronic" and "diachronic" and the concepts such as "arbitrariness" and "value" are now common knowledge in humanities.

Take a look at Wikipedia:

However, the rigid distinction of synchronic dimension and diachronic dimension and the complete separation (autonomy) of the system from the body/world may have become burdens rather than theoretical advantages later.

Cognitive linguistics, for example, takes a different approach from structural linguistics.Wikipedia explains the feature of cognitive linguistics as follows:

In linguistics and cognitive science, cognitive linguistics (CL) refers to the school of linguistics that understands language creation, learning, and usage as best explained by reference to human cognition in general. It is characterized by adherence to three central positions. First, it denies that there is an autonomous linguistic faculty in the mind; second, it understands grammar in terms of conceptualization; and third, it claims that knowledge of language arises out of language use.

Below is how Gilles Fauconnier explains about cognitive linguistics.

Cognitive linguistics recognizes that the study of language is the study of language use and that when we engage in any language activity, we draw unconsciously on vast cognitive and cultural resources, call up models and frames, set up multiple connections, coordinate large arrays of information, and engage in creative mappings, transfers, and elaborations. Language does not "represent" meaning; it prompts for the construction of meaning in particular contexts with particular cultural models and cognitive resources. Very sparse grammar guides us along the same rich mental paths, by prompting us to perform complex cognitive operations. Thus, a large part of cognitive linguistics centers on the creative on-line construction of meaning as discourse unfolds in context. The dividing line between semantics and pragmatics dissolves and truth-conditional compositionality disappears.

1.3.3 Chomsky

Chomsky is an intellectual better known as a political activist for general public(, but for applied linguists he is one of the most important linguists or cognitive scientists. His importance in linguistics and cognitive science in the 20th century. Personally, I'm more a non-Chomskyan than a Chomskyan, but it's hard for me to be an anti-Chomskyan, given the consistency of his framework.

Chomsky's review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior challenged the behaviorist approaches quite radically and contributed to the cognitive revolution.

Chomsky's generative grammar radically changed our way to see "language."

Chomsky's Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965) contains one of the most important statements in linguistics.

Linguistic theory is concerned primarily with an ideal speaker-listener, in a completely homogeneous speech-community, who knows its language perfectly and is unaffected by such grammatically irrelevant conditions as memory limitations, distractions, shifts of attention and interest, and errors (random or characteristic) in applying his knowledge of the language in actual performance. This seems to me to have been the position of the founders of modern general linguistics, and no cogent reason for modifying it has been offered. To study actual linguistic performance, we must consider the interaction of a variety of factors, of which the underlying competence of the speaker-hearer is only one. In this respect, study of language is no different from empirical investigation of other complex phenomena. (pp. 3-4)

Chomsky's research program is succinctly expressed in Knowledge of Language:

(i) What constitutes knowledge of language?

(ii) How is knowledge of language acquired?

(iii) How is knowledge of language put to use?

In the same book, Chomsky explains generative grammar as follows:

A generative grammar is not a set of statements about externalized objects constructed in some manner. Rather, it purports to depict exactly what one knows when one knows a language: that is, what has been learned, as supplemented by innate principles. UG is a characterization of these innate, biologically determined principles, which constitute one component of the human mind -- the language faculty. (p.24)

Later, in New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind (2000), he defends his scientific approach from common-sense understanding:

The concept human being is part of common-sense understanding, with properties of individuation, psychic persistence, and so on, reflecting particular human concerns,attitudes, and perspectives. The same is true of language speaking. Apart from improbable accident, such concepts will not fall within explanatory theories of the naturalistic variety; not just now, but ever. This is not because of cultural or even intrinsically human limitations (though these surely exist), but because of their nature. We may have a good deal to say about people, so conceived; even low-level accounts that provide weak explanation. But such accounts cannot be integrated into the natural sciences alongside of explanatory models or hydrogen atoms, cells, or other entities that we posit in seeking a coherent and intelligible explanatory model of the naturalistic variety. There is no reason to suppose that there is a "natural kind 'human being'"; at least if natural kinds are the kinds of nature, the categories discovered in naturalistic inquiry.

The question is not whether the concepts of common-sense understanding can themselves be studied in some branch of naturalistic inquiry; perhaps they can. Rather, it is whether in studying the natural world (for that matter, in studying these concepts, as part of the natural world), we view it from the standpoint provided by such concepts. Surely not. There may be scientific studies of some aspects of what people are and do, but they will not use the common-sense notions human being or language speaking -- with their special role in human life and thought -- in formulating their explanatory principles. (p. 20)

Chomsky is also an important figure in language acquisition and philosophy of mind.

Chomsky is regarded as a nativist.

Nativist theories hold that children are born with an innate propensity for language acquisition, and that this ability makes the task of learning a first language easier than it would otherwise be. These "hidden assumptions" allow children to quickly figure out what is and isn't possible in the grammar of their native language, and allow them to master that grammar by the age of three. Nativists view language as a fundamental part of the human genome, as the trait that makes humans human, and its acquisition as a natural part of maturation, no different from dolphins learning to swim or songbirds learning to sing.

Chomsky originally theorized that children were born with a hard-wired language acquisition device (LAD) in their brains [1]. He later expanded this idea into that of Universal Grammar, a set of innate principles and adjustable parameters that are common to all human languages. According to Chomsky, the presence of Universal Grammar in the brains of children allow them to deduce the structure of their native languages from "mere exposure".

As a Wittgensteinian myself, I'm appealed to a "dissolution," not a "solution" of the mind-body problem.

Each attempt to answer the mind-body problem encounters substantial problems. Some philosophers argue that this is because there is an underlying conceptual confusion.] These philosophers, such as Ludwig Wittgenstein and his followers in the tradition of linguistic criticism, therefore reject the problem as illusory.[50] They argue that it is an error to ask how mental and biological states fit together. Rather it should simply be accepted that human experience can be described in different ways - for instance, in a mental and in a biological vocabulary. Illusory problems arise if one tries to describe the one in terms of the other's vocabulary or if the mental vocabulary is used in the wrong contexts. This is the case, for instance, if one searches for mental states of the brain. The brain is simply the wrong context for the use of mental vocabulary - the search for mental states of the brain is therefore a category error or a sort of fallacy of reasoning.

As a Wittgensteinian, Donald Davidson proposes the idea of anomalous monism. According to Wikipedia, "The theory is twofold and states that mental events are identical with physical events, and that the mental is anomalous, i.e. under their mental descriptions these mental events are not regulated by strict physical laws."
See also

Critical views against Chomsky's idea of language acquisition are expressed.

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Harry Kreisler (Activism, Anachism, and Power) is an interesting reading. The excerpt:

I've read interviews where you have tried to separate your approach in science to your approach of politics. How does your approach to the world as a scientist affect and influence the way you approach politics?

I think studying science is a good way to get into fields like history. The reason is, you learn what an argument means, you learn what evidence is, you learn what makes sense to postulate and when, what's going to be convincing. You internalize the modes of rational inquiry, which happen to be much more advanced in the sciences than anywhere else. On the other hand, applying relativity theory to history isn't going to get you anywhere. So it's a mode of thinking. I try, at least -- with what success; others have to judge -- to [apply] the mode of thinking that you would use in the sciences to human affairs.

As to other connections, there may be some, but they're pretty remote. If you think about the core notions of what I was calling anarchism, which, as I say, is deeply rooted in popular traditions everywhere (for good reasons), if you try to take it apart, it's based on a conception of what Bakunin once called "an instinct for freedom," that people have an instinctive drive for freedom from domination and control. I can't prove it, but I think that's probably true.

The core of the work that I've been interested in, in language, is also interested in a kind of human freedom: the cognitive capacity to create indefinitely, and its roots in our nature. Historically, people have drawn a connection between these. If you look at, say, the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and the Romantic periods, this connection was explicitly drawn. If you read Rousseau or Wilhelm von Humboldt and others, the connection between human freedom in the social and political realm and human freedom in the creative use of cognitive capacity, in particular language, they did try to establish a connection.

Now, if you ask, can this be connected at the level of science, the answer is no. It's a parallel intuition, which doesn't link up empirically, but maybe could someday if we knew enough.

As a traditional rationalist Chomsky disagrees with poststructuralism and postmodernism:

I have spent a lot of my life working on questions such as these, using the only methods I know of; those condemned here as "science", "rationality", "logic" and so on. I therefore read the papers with some hope that they would help me "transcend" these limitations, or perhaps suggest an entirely different course. I'm afraid I was disappointed. Admittedly, that may be my own limitation. Quite regularly, "my eyes glaze over" when I read polysyllabic discourse on the themes of poststructuralism and postmodernism; what I understand is largely truism or error, but that is only a fraction of the total word count. True, there are lots of other things I don't understand: the articles in the current issues of math and physics journals, for example. But there is a difference. In the latter case, I know how to get to understand them, and have done so, in cases of particular interest to me; and I also know that people in these fields can explain the contents to me at my level, so that I can gain what (partial) understanding I may want. In contrast, no one seems to be able to explain to me why the latest post-this-and-that is (for the most part) other than truism, error, or gibberish, and I do not know how to proceed. Chomsky, Noam (November 22, 2002). Chomsky on Democracy & Education. Routledge, 93. ISBN 0415926319.

Whether you ultimately choose to be a poststructuralist or postmodernist or whatever, you cannot disregard the "cognitive revolution" in which Chomsky played an important role.

When you have time, watch this 90 minute lecture "Language and the Mind Revisited - The Biolinguistic Turn" by Chomsky kindly offered by University of California Television.

1.3.4 Constative / Performative

John Langshaw Austin opposed the view of language predominant in his time that sentences are to state facts, and argured that sentences have not only the function of stating facts (constative) which is either true or false, but also the function of performative, doing an action in words, which is either felicitous/happy or infelicitous/unhappy.

He later developed a theory of speech act in which he distinguished locutionary act, illocutionary act and perlocutionary act.

According to Wikipedia, Judith Butler, the philosopher and feminist theorist developed a new, more Continental (specifically, Foucauldian) reading of the notion of performativity and described performativity as “…that reiterative power of discourse to produce the phenomena that it regulates and constrains.” (Butler qtd. In Identity: A reader, 2000)

The concept places emphasis on the manners in which identity is passed or brought to life through discourse. Performative acts are types of authoritative speech. This can only happen and be enforced through the law or norms of the society though. These statements, just by speaking them, carry out a certain action and exhibit a certain level of power. Examples of these types of statements are declarations of ownership, baptisms, inaugurations, and legal sentences. Something that is key to performativity is repetition. The statements are not singular in nature or use and must be used consistently in order to exert power.
Learn about Judith Butler.

Read my short Japanese essay on Judith Butler's Excitable Speech.

1.3.5 Literacy / Oracy

According to Wikipedia, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has drafted the following definition: "'Literacy' is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society."

Currently, however, the concept of literacy has been expanded to include, for example, multimedia lietracy, computer literacy, information literacy, technacy, arts literacy, critical lteracy and health literacy.

The central concept of literacy is concerned with written language, though. To understand that, it is important to see the differences between written language/writing (literacy) and spoken language/speech (oracy).

A standard view regarding the differences between oral and written communication is provided by Vincent Ferrato and Kathryn C. Plamer (Mount Holyoke College)

The Gutenberg Galaxy by McLuhan, is an important book in media studies. Wikipedia summarizes the book as follows:

McLuhan studies the emergence of what he calls Gutenberg Man, the subject produced by the change of consciousness wrought by the advent of the printed book. Apropos of his axiom, "The medium is the message," McLuhan argues that technologies are not simply inventions which people employ but are the means by which people are re-invented. The invention of movable type was the decisive moment in the change from a culture in which all the senses partook of a common interplay to a tyranny of the visual. He also argued that the development of the printing press led to the creation of nationalism, dualism, domination of rationalism, automatisation of scientific research, uniformation and standardisation of culture and alienation of individuals.

The book may also be regarded as a way of describing 4 epochs of history:

1. Oral tribe culture
2. Manuscript culture
3. Gutenberg galaxy
4. Electronic age

See other entries of Wikipedia.
Print culture
Manuscript culture
Oral culture

If you read Japanese, read my essay on media ecology and social differentiation theory.

Dyslexia is becoming an increasingly important term for language teachers.

Dyslexia affects reading and spelling among others.

* Spelling errors ― Because of difficulty learning letter-sound correspondences, individuals with dyslexia might tend to misspell words, or leave vowels out of words.

* Letter order - Dyslexics may also reverse the order of two letters especially when the final, incorrect, word looks similar to the intended word (e.g., spelling "dose" instead of "does").

* Highly phoneticized spelling - Dyslexics also commonly spell words inconsistently, but in a highly phonetic form such as writing "shud" for "should". Dyslexic individuals also typically have difficulty distinguishing among homophones such as "their" and "there".

* Vocabulary - Having a small written vocabulary, even if they have a large spoken vocabulary.

There are several, not mutually competing, theories of dyslexia.

The following is some of the explanations taken from Wikipedia.

Evolutionary hypotheis "posits that reading is an unnatural act, and carried out by humans for an exceedingly brief period in our evolutionary history."

"The phonological hypothesis postulates that dyslexics have a specific impairment in the representation, storage and/or retrieval of speech sounds."

Visual theory considers dyslexia "as a visual impairment giving rise to difficulties with the processing of letters and words on a page of text. This may take the form of unstable binocular fixations, poor vergence, or increased visual crowding."

Cerebellar theory claims "that the dyslexic's cerebellum is mildly dysfunctional and that a number of cognitive difficulties ensue. "

Magnocellular theory "is a unifying theory that attempts to integrate all the findings mentioned above. A generalization of the visual theory, the magnocellular theory postulates that the magnocellular dysfunction is not restricted to the visual pathways but is generalized to all modalities (visual and auditory as well as tactile)."

Wikipedia summarizes the issue of managing dyslexia as follows:

There is no cure for dyslexia, but dyslexic individuals can learn to read and write with appropriate education or treatment. There is wide research evidence indicating that specialized phonics instruction can help remediate the reading deficits. The fundamental aim is to make children aware of correspondences between graphemes and phonemes, and to relate these to reading and spelling. It has been found that training, that is also focused towards visual language and orthographic issues, yields longer-lasting gains than mere oral phonological training.

Logocentrism, a Western tradition, regards speech as superior to writing (believing writing only represents or archives speech). In this line of thought, speech represents "presence", "identity", and "fullness", whereas writing represents "absense", "difference" and "emptiness".

In his early work, Of Grammatology, Jacques Derrida gave a new look at speech and writing. Derrida opposes the traditional idea of speech over writing (the original over the derivative) and instead argues that all that can be claimed of writing - eg. that it is derivative and merely refers to other signs - is equally true of speech. Derrida also explicates spatial differing and temporal deferring in writing.
See the following two sections of The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
(Japanese browsers may need encoding adjustment to read these pages. Use a West European encoding system).

Some portion of "Of Grammatology" is available here:,M1

Information of Of Grammatology is given by

The orbituary article of Derrida on The Guardian is a very good introduction to his philosophy and life.

The majority of language teachers may be more interested in specific issues of reading education than in philosophical issues above. Check the terms like "Whole Language" and "Phonics".

A well-known distinction between CALP and BICS in applied linguistics is related to, but different from the difference between written language and spoken language.

Oracy, in opposition to literacy, may require skills in body language.

1.3.6 Freire

Please read my short summary: Paulo Freire (1970) Pedagogy of the Opressed

A general introduction to Paulo Freire is offered by Smith, M. K. (1997, 2002) 'Paulo Freire and informal education', the encyclopaedia of informal education. [ Last update: July 02, 2008].

According to this article, there are five aspects that have particular significance.
(1) His emphasis on dialogue rather than curriculum.

(2) His emphasis on praxis -- action that is informed and linked to certain values) -- that is meant to make a difference in the world.

(3) Giving a voice to the oppressed.

(4) Situating educational activity in the lived experience of participants.

(5) Christian metaphor ('Easter experience' of the teacher).

See also the critique in the article.

As always, Wikipedia gives a reasonable introduction.

According to Wikipedia, Freire is also "known for his attack on what he called the "banking" concept of education, in which the student was viewed as an empty account to be filled by the teacher."

The two important works by Freire are
Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Pedagogy of Hope

Other related keywords are
Critical pedagogy

1.3.7 Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdies (1930 - 2002) is a French sociologist who is known for concepts such as cultural, social and symbolic capital, and habitus. To borrow a summary in Wikipedia, "he asserts the primacy of social origin and culture capital by claiming that social capital and economic capital, though acquired cumulatively over time, depend upon it. Bourdieu claims that 'one has to take account of all the characteristics of social condition which are (statistically) associated from earliest childhood with possession of high or low income and which tend to shape tastes adjusted to these conditions'”. His theory has a particular significance to contemporary Japan where social class and stratification is (re)emerging.


Cultural capital

Symbolic capital

Social capital


Economicl capital

Social class

Social stratification


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