Monday, April 30, 2012

Movement of Budo (martial arts) and Luhmann's systems theory

1 Introduction

I participated in the 3 day seminar (April 20-22, 2012) by Akira HINO, a master of Budo (=Japanese martial arts), who has been collaborating with William Forsythe, the choreographer of The Forsythe Company.

Below is part of what I thought I learned in the seminar, which I hope is not so mistaken. Or it is rather an attempt to interpret one Budo movement that was taught through the framework of Niklas Luhmann's systems theory. I don't pretend that I have mastered the movement to the level that Hino sensei requires, nor do I claim that my view below represents Hino sensei's Budo sufficiently.

Yet, I contend that a Budo movement can be understood as communication between two persons mediated by the body, that is usually considered two separate and independent bodies but rather should be considered integrated as one body communication system. I further argue that this communication between two persons mediated by one integrated body system is rather like linguistic communication, that is usually regarded as information transmission between two persons but rather should be regarded as one integrated communication system mediated by language.

The point where two bodies (in Budo) or two persons (in linguistic communication) becomes one body communication system or one linguistic communication system depends upon the condition of the interface between the two bodies or persons. As long as the interface is free of surface resistance (in Budo) or sense of irrelevance (in linguistic communication), two bodies or persons that are usually regarded as separate and independent becomes one communication system, which cannot be fully accountable by the sum of the two entities. I believe that the operation of communications systems are well explained among others by Luhmann's systems theory

2 How is Budo movement different from the standard movement?

What is Budo movement? In this section, I give a general account of Budo movement from the viewpoints of the antagonist and the protagonist, before I introduce a specific Budo movement that I analyze in the following section.

2.1 From the antagonist

Unlike standard movements performed by ordinary people, Budo movements are irresistible or unpredictable for the antagonist (=attacker). A big antagonist who overpowers a standard movement of the protagonist (=your Non-Budo movement) cannot even resist the power produced by a Budo movement; the power is different in quality and overwhelming for the antagonist. A quick antagonist who can move faster than the protagonist cannot predict a Budo movement; the protagonist moves earlier, if not faster, before the antagonist notices it, or even when a Budo movement is slow and clearly visible (as in the case of the Budo movement I'll introduce later), the antagonist loses the sense of control and cannot counteract, for the movement is different in quality and the antagonist cannot conceptualize how it will develop.

2.2 From the protagonist

Budo movements are also felt differently in quality for the protagonist (=you as a Budo practitioner). Although you have a master plan of conquring the attack of the antagonist to protect yourself, you don't yourself plan or know the specific moves of a Budo movement. A Budo movement is not conscious use of muscle powers (as is the case in a standard movement) but an autopoietic movement of the whole body, with or without your reflective awareness. Although a Budo movement is achieved, at least partially, by your body that is integrated as one body communication system with the body of the antagonist through the interface, a Budo movement is not your action in the usual sense that you have used your free will to consciously move the parts of your body. A Budo movement is not produced by your planned action, but by the internal logic of the whole integrated body. The body (of the two persons) moves in integration on its own with or without your clear awareness (the antagonist can only have confused awareness of being moved against his will).

3. How do you embody the Budo movement of an untwisting arm?

Now that I have described Budo movements in general, I'll introduce one Budo movement that was taught in the seminar (and which I can somehow manage to perform myself). The Budo movement is for a situation where you have your right arm, for example, twisted to the limit by the antagonist (attacker). In the seminar, you are supposed to keep other parts of the body unmoved for the sake of the exercise (i.e., your right arm is twisted and your right shoulder is put upward and forward, but otherwise you keep your stature unmoved and do not bend your knees or other parts).

If you try to untwist your right arm to escape from the holding in a standard way of conscious use of your muscle power, you cannot escape usually. Even if you're much bigger than the antagonist, you feel a lot of tension and friction, as does the antagonist.

However, if you do the Budo movement, you just untwist the arm effortlessly (you don't feel any tension and friction, and you're very calm in mind and body), and the attacker cannot resist, loses the sense of control and had to be turned around as long as he holds your arm firmly.

But how is it possible? Here are five points that I believe I learned.

3.1 Feel the line

As the Budo movement involves no conscious, intentional use of the muscles, you must not use your consciousness to plan or intend anything. Use your consciousness only to feel (Yes, Bruce Lee was right when he said "Don't think. Feel"). First, feel the line of the sensation of being twisted, between the gripped point of your right arm (or wrist) and the left shoulder (or near it) where the sensation ends. If you're tense, you can't feel the line; you only feel the friction at the gripped point and tension in various parts of your body. You need to be relaxed to accept the twist to feel the line.

3.2 Leave (or keep) the interface as it is

As you feel the line, you also have to feel the arm (or wrist) as is gripped and twisted. Feel just as it is. Feel the pressures, tensions, heat, moisture and all sorts of information from the antagonist and do nothing against them. Just feel.

Do not resist or try to change the situation. If you do, you change the state of the interface (the gripped part), and the change is immediately detected by the antagonist who will adjust the grip and hold you all the more firmly. Keep the interface as it is. As the Budo movement develops later, leave it as it is -- for me "To keep the interface as it is" is a better instruction when I first feel the sensation, and "To leave the interface as it is" is better when I let the Budo development develop.

The change of the interface is a sign that you've used your consciousness to resist intentionally. As the Budo movement is never achieved if you use consciousness in a conventionally, keeping the interface as it is is a very important indicator of the Budo movement. You may use your consciousness to feel, but never use it to think or plan.

Here I should probably introduce two different types of consciousness according to neuroscientists. Antonio Damasio, for example, distinguishes the core consciousness and the extended consciousness (See my articles on Self comes to mind and The feeling of what happens). These two types of consciousness roughly(*) correspond with the primary consciousness and the higher-order consciousness (See my articles Wider than the sky and 'Consciousness as a process that is entailed by molecular interactions').

(*)In this article, I disregard the minor difference between Damasion's terms and Edelman's for the sake of the argument.

Core consciousness (or primary consciousness) is conscious awareness of the change of the body state. Extended consciousness (or higher-order consciousness) is extended from core consciousness in that it goes beyond 'here and now' of core consciousness and recalls backwards or plan heads, and it is higher than primary consciousness of simple awareness in that it describes its status by symbols (usually language).

 In ordinary expressions, 'feeling the sensation of the body' is probably for core consciousness (primary consciousness) and 'thinking with words on the basis of the sensation of the body' is for extended consciousness (or higher-order consciousness). So, when Bruce Lee says "Don't think. Feel," for example, he means that you should not use extended consciousness/higher-order consciousness, but just use core consciousness/primary consciousness. In other words, you should not neglect, but focus on your 'here and now' with the antagonist. Thinking about what to do with words is too slow and limited in information (words can only capture an extremely tiny part of the phenomenon). If you feel and are are true to the changes of the body, your movement is immediate and you respond to all sorts of changes your body (not your extended/higher-order consciousness) detects.


Figure 1: Damasio's theory of consciousness and self

Back to the Budo movement in Hino sensei's seminar, when you keep (or leave) the interface as it is, you only use core consciousness/primary consciousness just to feel. You should not, however, use extended consciousness/higher-order consciousness to think what you should to resist and how. If you do, your movement departs from Budo and becomes just conventional, which can be outpowered by the antagonist.

3.3 Let the line untwist itself from the furthest end

Now that you feel the line and the interface, you begin to let the line you feel untwist itself gradually from the furthest end (your left shoulder) and keep the interface unchanged. Again, you have to focus on the sensation of the point of the line as it gradually untwist itself.

The line is the image of your twisted body. As your body is twisted by the antagonist and transformed into a very unnatural state, the body tries to restore itself to regain the natural position. Because what constitutes your body is complex connections of multitudes of units (muscles, fascia, bones, cells and all sorts of things), untwisting movements are very diverse. Each movement may be not very powerful, but the combination of all movements are. In addition, because the power is not uni-directional (think of a robot-like movement of your body with your conscious plan), but ever-changing, multi-directional beyond the recognition of you and the antagonist, you don't know how your body will move as it untwist itself, nor does the antagonist consciously think how he can resist.

So, you just let your body do its job. You use your core consciousness/primary consciousness to feel the line and the interface so as not to let your extended consciousness/higher-order consciousness do other counter-effective things (for example, recalling your past conventional movement and thinking to apply it to this situation). You just observe the body (the integrated body communication system of your body and the antagonist's) and keep the interface as it is, for it is the sign that your extended consciousness/higher-order consciousness is not doing a wrong thing.

3.4 No intentional moves

As the twisted body untwist itself, your elbow drops and bends, and your palm turns upwards. You may think it is advantageous to drop your elbow or turn rotate your arm deliberately, but don't, as it is a conventional, conscious use of muscles. If you've been training Aikido, you may think that it is advantageous , which it is, to step forward and turn to the antagonist to use the weight of your body for resistance, but you're advised not to do so, because this is an exercise to learn a Budo movement, a non-conscious move of the body with your conscious monitor, not just to untwist the arm. If you haven't learnt Budo at all, do not ever try to move intentionally, for it will be outpowered by the antagonist who are in a better position (i.e. he's twisted your arm already).

3.5 No intentional power

This point is the other side of the previous point, which is a confirmation of the first three points of this Budo movement. Do not try to use your intentional power (which you want to turn to your intentional move). "Keep the interface as it is" is important here as well, for as soon as you try to use your intentional power, the state of the interface changes and the antagonist will notice it immediately.

One further exercise of this Budo movement, is you have your right arm twisted by a first antagonist and have your left arm held by a second antagonist. The job of the first antagonist is to stop the untwisting (the same as the original exercise), but the job of the second antagonist is to detect the change of the interface. If he notices any change in the interface of your left arm and his hand, he slaps your left arm with the other hand. The change of the interface is a sign that you're beginning to use your intentional power, and he let you know that by the slap.

If you keep these five points, you may probably be able to do this Budo movement in some way or other within 10 minutes or so. (But remember: this is only one elementary movements. You cannot of course be a master of Budo in 10 minutes!)

As you learn to do this Budo movement yourself, you may wonder: Who's the agent of this Budo movement? In this Budo movement, you don't have the usual sense of your agency, for you don't (and can't) use your conscious, free will to move your body. Rather, your body moves. But it's not that your body moves alone; your body moves only in relation to the body of the antagonist, and you have to keep (not disconnect) the relation by observing the interface. So, it's not that your body moves against the body of the antagonist, either. Rather your body moves with the body of the antagonist.

So if there's anything like the center of this movement , it's not your free will or your body. It is not the free will or the body of the antagonist, either. It is rather the integration of the two bodies (to constitute one body communication system). It is the maintenance of the body communication system (as is known by the same interface state) that makes further communication of the Budo movement. Bodies per se do not communicate in a Budo movement (nor does two conscious minds). It is communication of the bodies that makes communication of the Budo movements: communication between two persons mediated by one integrated body system.

 Here, we're reminded of Luhmann's provocative words: people do not communicate; communication communicates. I'll briefly introduce Luhmann's systems theory below in the belief that the theory is a good framework to understand Budo movements as body communication (and also to understand linguistic communication, as well)(**).

 (**) With the limit of my academic competency, I cannot claim with absolute confidence that I'm offering here the 'correct' understanding of Luhmann's systems theory, although Luhmann himself might probably laugh at the suggestion of the 'correct' understanding. Those who are interested in Luhmann's theory are advised to read his own works. (Original German worksand English translations).

4 Luhmann's systems theory

4.1 The standard ideas of linguistic communication and the individual

In order to explain Luhmann's systems theory as a framework to understand communication, let's confirm our conventional view of linguistic communication, a proto-type of communication.

Our conventional view is influenced much by the code model of communication by Shannon and Weaver. Communication is regarded as the transmission of information from the sender (encoder) to the receiver (decoder). The sender and the receiver are two separate individuals that are only connected through the channel of transmission. The information is a neutral code, used in all sorts of context in the same way. In linguistic communication, the sender and the receiver are two separate and independent persons as the individual. The information is encoded by the sender into a language and is decoded by the receiver. Communication is deemed successful when the identical information is transmitted, unaffected by encoding,  channel, or decoding. Communicative competence is mostly attributed to individual psychological ability, and communication is considered the result of the simple sum of individual psychological abilities of the two individuals. A study of communication, it is further assumed, is to be a study of the mind of an independent person.

4.2 The three systems that are involved in linguistic communication

Luhmann's systems theory does not regard an individual person as the basic unit of linguistic communication. Linguistic communication is dependent upon individual persons, but it is not the simple sum of performance or psychological ability of each person, and therefore, an individual person is not considered the basic unit of linguistic communication.

An individual person is to be further analyzed, according to Luhmann. What we usually regard as a 'person' has two aspects: biological and psychological.

Natural scientists are mostly concerned with the biological aspect of a person. They regard a person as a biological or physiological system, and now even psychiatrist may prefer pharmacological treatments to existential therapy. (Personally I'm interested in Harry Stack Sullivan whose theory of psychiatry is based on interpersonal relationship. But I'm not sure whether his theory is cherished by the majority of psychiatrists now when The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) seems to rule psychiatry.

The other aspect of a person, the psychological aspect, is kept mostly for non-scientific scholars of humanities, or simply ordinary people. Although naturalism is quite strong, complete reduction of consciousness to physical phenomena is not shared by all researchers, and the nature of consciousness remains as a hard problem.

In his systems theory, Luhmann distinguishes three types of system: Life systems (organisms), psychic systems, and social systems. For the sake of argument, I'll paraphrase the three systems as biological systems, consciousness systems, and communication systems respectively, without, I hope, distorting Luhmann's theory. I'll take the issue of linguistic communication by humans, and use a human body as an example of biological systems, a conscious mind (both core/primary consciousness and extended/higher-order consciousness) as that of psychic systems, and linguistic communication as that of social systems.

One reason why Luhmann distinguishes these systems is that the three systems are autopoietic (self-organizing; only a self can create itself) respectively. For example, although linguistic communication depends upon human bodies and human consciousnesses, communication cannot be reduced, as I'll explain later, to the sum of the individual conscious states or the states of the individual human bodies. It is only communication that creates further communication; human consciousnesses or human bodies alone cannot create communication -- only communication can create communication, and in this sense, communication is autopoietic.

Likewise, only your consciousness can create your new consciousness; your biological states must be translated into your conscious state to form new consciousness; development in linguistic communication must also be translated into your conscious state. Consciousness depends upon and gets affected by a human body, and it also gets affected by and may even need linguistic communication (at least as far as the development of extended/higher-order consciousness is concerned). But consciousness is not neither the state of the body nor the state of linguistic communication. In order to form consciousness, you simply need a state of consciousness. A state of consciousness may be a translation from the body state or the communication state, but it needs to be a conscious state itself. A consciousness system is autopoietic in itself.

Also, only your body can make your body. You cannot obtain the strong muscles of a lion by eating its meat. You must digest it (i.e., transform the meat into the units that can interact within your body system. You have to make the meat of the lion part of yourself if you want to obtain strong muscles like a lion's (of course, you need to exercise as well). So our human body as a biological system is also autopoietic in its own way.

4.2.1 Biological system (life system or organism)

Our biological system is our human body. It is a physiological system that the mainstream Western medical science deals with. It is a basis of a consciousness system, which is a basis of a linguistic communication system. It may be affected by a consciousness system or a linguistic communication system, but it is only a biological system itself that makes itself.

4.2.2 Consciousness system (psychic system)

Our consciousness system is our human consciousness (some non-human animals have core/primary consciouseness and even (non-linguistic) extended/higher-order consciousness, but we don't deal with them here). Consciousness requires our body, as Damasio, for example, explains, but consciousness is not just an expression of the current body state. When you find and read a writing and changes your mind, your consciousness was affected not just by the body state but also by the paper outside your body. As media ecology (Wikipedia and my blog articles) explains, media influence our being, and we are beings with the extended mind and the world now contains so many technologies that enables advance use of extended/higher-order consciousness.

So I believe it is quite reasonable to assume that humans are not just biological systems; humans are consciousness systems as well that self-organize new consciousness from the past consciousness. In order to understand humans, you need at least both biological and psychological aspects (you also need communication aspect, as I hope will be clear later). Humans are not just a consciousness system, either; consciousness needs the functions of the biological system where it is embodied. You need to understand the functions of our body to understand consciousness.

4.2.3 Communication system (social system)

A linguistic communication, as an example of a communication system, requires (at least) two conscious minds, which further require two human bodies. Figure 2 below summarizes the interaction of the three autopoietic systems.

Figure 2: The interaction between biological, consciousness, and communication systems.

I'll explain more about the communication system in the next section by introducing theories of pragmatics.

5 Linguistic communication explained by pragmatics and Relevance Theory

Let's review theories of pragmatics and see how Luhmann's theory is compatible with them.

5.1 Speaker's meaning may not be known to the speaker herself

The theory of pragmatics tells that 'meaning' contains literal meaning (conventional dictionary meaning) and speaker's meaning (the meaning that the speaker intended besides what the literal meaning is assumed to convey). One of the examples most often used is an utterance "It's hot", with its literal meaning 'THE TEMPERATURE IS HIGH' and its speaker's meaning 'PLEASE OPEN THE WINDOW', and we assume that the literal meaning and the speaker's meaning are shared between the speaker and the listener.

But situations are more complicated in the real world communication. The speaker's meaning is often interpreted in a way that the speaker did not intend. Even the literal meaning is often not shared completely, and the listener may focus on different aspects of the denotation and connotation of the word that the speaker did not exactly mean.

Communication does not always work as you intend. You may have your own logic that you believe should be applied in linguistic communication, but your logic is not necessarily the logic of the communication. Neither you nor your interlocutor controls communication completely. Communication may work and develop beyond the anticipation of the participants (This is a reason why humans should not be regarded as the basic unit of linguistic communication). Linguistic communication, as it were, has its own life and logic and it creates itself in its own way, beyond the control of the participants; it is an autopoietic system. (As I write this essay with my conscious mind and my biological body, both extended by Information Communication Technology, I never know what communication this essay will bring).

To take a simpler example of interactive communication between the two persons in the same time-space, neither participants knows or controls the development of linguistic communication, although, in a sense, the linguistic communication is constituted by the utterances of the two as the results of their biological and conscious systems. Like your interlocutor, you are quite aware of what you're saying, but consciousness is not sufficient, either yours or your interlocutor's, or even both of them, to make linguistic communication. The words and phrases you use may have denotations, connotations or associations that you're not currently aware of, and they may influence the development of communication.

The linguistic communication is now a new autopoietic system. You are not the agent of the linguistic communication system in the way you are the agent of your consciousness system (even in the consciousness system, you may not be a complete agent in the sense the term "free will" suggests, but let's not talk about this here). 'You', either as a consciousness system, a biological system or whatever it may mean, are involved in linguistic communication, but you're never the master of it. In fact, no human beings, either alone or combined, are the master of linguistic communication. If there's a master of linguistic communication -- a debatable proposition --, it is linguistic communication itself that is the master of linguistic communication.

5.2 The sense of relevance as the interface condition of linguistic communication

But if linguistic communication is an autopoietic system on its own, beyond its participants (human beings), when does the utterances from two separate persons becomes a linguistic communication system as an autopoieteic system? How do we know when some sentences are not just a random collection of linguistic productions but an instance of linguistic communication? In other words, what makes communication communication?

My answer now is that the sense of relevance is the interface condition of linguistic communication. That is, as long as either side of participants (preferably, both sides) believes that relevance is kept in their linguistic interaction, the linguistic interaction makes communication.

The term 'relevance' is of course from the Relevance Theory. All participants expect (often unknowingly) that utterances that they process must be worthy of processing (must be 'relevant'), and that other participants must be behaving according to this principle. When you listen to an ambiguous utterance, you're motivated to choose the meaning that seems the most relevant to you. When your interlocutor looks you in the eye and says something that is not very clear in meaning, you're motivated to seek for whatever relevance it may have. (For further information on Relevance Theory, see Dan Sperber's online resource (

6 Communication mediated by language and communication mediated by the body

So keeping the sense of relevance unbroken and ceasing to believe that you're the agent of linguistic communication are the conditions to make and keep linguistic communication. But doesn't this sound like the Budo movement as a communication system?

I certainly believe it does. More than that, I believe both linguistic communication and body communication of Budo can be generalized and categorized as instances of the communication system in general.

If you want to work on other person through the body (as in the case of a self-defense in Budo), you should not just move your body as you wish. Rather, you should make your body integrated with the body of the other person. You can do so if you focus on the interface of the two bodies, and keep it unaffected by your plan or thought (the use of extended/higher-order consciousness); you just let your body respond, not your free will (another use of extended/higher-order consciousness). Then it works. (Really, it is "it", not you, that works and I claim this "it" is a communication system of two persons mediated by the body).

Likewise, if you want to work on other person through language, you should not just say what you want to say. Rather you should integrate your utterances with the utterances of the other person. You can do so if you focus on the sense of relevance and keep that interface undestroyed by not imposing your own logic or not refusing to find relevance in the utterances of the other. Let the words, both the other's and yours, be the master of linguistic communication, not your own wishes. Let the words mean what they mean both in the senses of literal meaning and speaker's meaning.  Don't resist with words by imposing your own wishes.  Do nothing against the words, do everything with the words.

 When you listen, don't impose and stick to your version of the literal meaning and your own interpretation of the speaker's meaning. Hear the words as they develop in communication. When you speak, don't just assume that your utterances will always understood as you intended, not just in the speaker's meaning but also in the literal meaning. As you speak, take a good look at the facial expression and other body expressions of your interlocutor to see the sense of relevance is kept between him and you. Always make your best efforts to keep the sense of relevance, and just use words only as long as the sense of relevance is not destroyed. And then, I'd argue, it works; a communication system mediated by the body, 'linguistic communciation' as we call it, works.

Luhmann's systems theory explains both body communication (Budo movements) and linguistic communication by distinguishing the consciousness system and the communication system. Budo movements and linguistic communication work best when the participants use their consciousness only to observe the interface of their communication and avoid much use of their own free will. The point is let the body or the words do their own job, not your wishes, for sometimes their job is beyond the imagination of your wishes. The body and the words have more capacity than you think.

As I'm about to finish this essay, I now begin to wonder whether I've imposed my own wishes too much as I wrote. Did I respond to the words I wrote as I kept writing? Or rather, did I just humbly observe how my words responded to each other to develop writing while keeping relevance? Did I try sufficiently to suppress my ego so that it didn't distort communication?

Pat Metheny says that you have to be a good listener of your own music as you play. You may have to be a good reader of your words when you write. I now wonder if I was a good reader of my words in this essay.

Related post:
Comparing Foreign Language Communication to Budo (Martial Arts)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Three MLJ articles by Firth and Wagner (1997, 1998, and 2007)


Firth and Wagner (1997) has developed into a seminal paper in applied linguistics to produce many repercussions. Firth and Wagner have also written their own responses in 1998 and 2007.

On Discourse, Communication, and (Some) Fundamental Concepts in SLA Research
The Modern Language Journal
Volume 81, Issue 3, pages 285-300, Autumn 1997
DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4781.1997.tb05480.x

SLA Property: No Trespassing!
The Modern Language Journal
Volume 82, Issue 1, pages 91-94, Spring 1998
DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4781.1998.tb02598.x

Second/Foreign Language Learning as a Social Accomplishment: Elaborations on a Reconceptualized SLA
The Modern Language Journal
Volume 91, Issue Supplement s1, pages 800-819, December 2007
DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4781.2007.00670.x

The 1997 paper by Firth and Wagner was written (at least partly) as one of the responses to claims by "mainstream" SLA researchers such as Long (1990), for example, who called for "theory culling" on the basis of "established" and "normal" scientific standards. (Firth and Wagner, 1997, pp. 285-286). Firth and Wagner argued that what is more necessary for SLA was a "more critical discussion of its own presuppositions, methods, and fundamental (and implicitly accepted) concepts (Firth and Wagner, 1997, p. 286). In this sense, the paper was a philosophical examination on the fundamental issues of SLA, which pointed out, among others, that "the centripetal forces of the individual-cognitive remain irresistible for SLA" and that SLA adopted "Chomsky's programmatic statements on the cognitive, autonomic nature of the mind as its research agenda." (Firth and Wagner, 1997, p. 288)

Their argument was rather modest because it did not call for demolition of what they criticized but only wanted to redress bias and imbalance in SLA studies.

We do not argue that such theoretical predilections or methodological practices are in and of themselves erroneous or flawed, and that, as such, they should be eschewed. Rather, we point out their striking predominance within the field, leading to a general methodological bias and theoretical imbalance in SLA studies that investigate acquisition through interactive discourse. (Firth and Wagner, 1997, p. 288)

Firth and Wagner wanted to question the binary assumption like "social or individual/cognitive," "use or learning" or "native or nonnative."

In essence, we call for work within SLA that endeavours to adopt what we have referred to as a holistic approach to and outlook on language and language acquisition, an approach that problematizes and explores the conventional binary distinction between "social" and "individual" (or cognitive) approaches to language use and language learning, that attends to the dynamics as well as the summation of language acquisition, that is more emically and interactionally attuned, and that is critically sensitive towards the theoretical status of fundamental concepts (particularly "learner," "native," "nonnative," and "interlanguage"). (Firth and Wagner, 1997, p. 296)

Their paper was, as I claimed, a philosophical analysis.

It is surely time to take seriously the possibility of deconstructing such dichotomies as use versus acquisition, sociolinguistics versus psycholinguistics, and language use versus communicative act. (Firth and Wagner, 1998, p. 93)

But nothing irritates people more than philosophy does (particularly, deconstruction!); The reaction of Firth and Wagner (1997) was like opening Pandora's Box. An the responses were more or less divided into supportive comments and flat dismissals. The latter claimed that Firth and Wagner (1997) was not even talking about SLA, from which mainstream critics excluded language use.

The consensus of our critics seems to be that our arguments have been staged from "outside" SLA proper; that is, that our position is related to research in second language use, but not to acquisition per se. (Firth and Wagner, 1998, p. 91)

Given the modesty of their claims, as far as I can see in hindsight, in Firth and Wagner (1997), it is rather surprising that the paper "touched a proverbial raw nerve within as well as around the periphery of the second language acquisition (SLA) community" (Firth and Wagner, 2007, p. 800).

As I said, philosophical analysis sometimes irritates people for it questions something they take just for granted. (A philosopher is always a gadfly). But considering the impact that the paper produced, I suspect that the mainstream researchers were not just annoyed by philosophical enqury but felt uneasy because they thought they might lose the vested interests they had earned. With the ontological and epistemological enrichment that Firth and Wagner wanted to bring into SLA studies, the mainstream researchers, I imagine, felt that they would lose their special legitimacy as an independent academic discipline, free from other learning sciences and practical concerns.

In fact, in the early 1970s, when the umbrella term language was replaced by the technical term acquisition, SLA accomplished three things rather elegantly: (a) it defined itself as a discipline that produces knowledge about this special phenomenon called acquisition; (b) it cemented its identity as a distinct discipline and secured a foothold in the world of scientific research; and (c) it all but cut off possible links to learning theories residing outside its own (self-constructed) disciplinary boundaries (Rampton, 1997a). (Firth and Wagner, 2007, p. 806)

But this is only a guess about academic politics, and we should focus more on theoretical issues. So below I pick up two aspects from the three MLJ papers written by Firth and Wagner: ontology and epistemology.


As Firth and Wagner themselves say, Firth and Wagner (1997) was an attempt to reconceptualize SLA studies "that would enlarge the ontological and empirical parameters of the field." (Firth and Wagner, 1997, p. 285).

Ontological reconceptualization includes the nature of communication. The cognitivism typically holds "individual psychology" and "code-model" and regards communication as a product of two internal cognitive mechanisms (i.e. speaker and listener).

The term "individual psychology" is used, for example, by Chomsky. On the page where he introduces the three basic questions of generative grammar ((i) What constitutes knowledge of language?; (ii) How is knowledge of language acquired?; (iii) How is knowledge of language put to use?), Chomsky states that the standpoint of generative grammar is that of individual psychology (Chomsky 1986, p. 3).

The notion of individual psychology is a modern conception, and certainly not the only one. We have to ask once again whether the conception is best for a study of communication, even if it is best for generative grammar. Code-model, also known as Shannon-Weaver model is another modern conception, but it was seriously challenged by Relevance Theory by Sperber and Willson (1986), and it is now generally agreed that the code-model is not a satisfactory explanatory framework for linguistic communication.

So we should rather see communication as conjoint interaction, something that happens between persons, not in persons.

Because interaction and communication are per definition conjointly and publicly produced, structured, and made meaningful, communicative "problems," we suggest, are likely to be recognized as problems in interaction. In this sense, it may be more useful to view problems in communication as contingent social phenomena, as intersubjective entities, and not invariably as "things" possessed by individuals. (Firth and Wagner, 1997, p. 291)

This reconceptualization involves an ontological reflection. People generally take a noun (or what a noun represents) as "substantive", ie., something substantial that must have its physical extensions in the physical world. So communication, we assume, also must have its physical basis. It must be either the airwaves (the sound) in the space between the speakers, or the brain activities in the speakers. As the airwaves can be regarded as a mere manifestation of cognition in the brain, people may believe that the brain activities must be the physical basis of communication.

If this sort of physical ontology is all we have, it must be not easy at all to accept intersubjective entities, as Firth and Wagner state above ("Subjectivity" must be another problem for physicalists, but this is another story. See my article:"Where is Self, and what is it?" No, it's rather "How is Self?": Luhmann's theory of autopoiesis, if you're interested.)

However, other ontological frameworks must be possible, and I'd like to present Niklas Luhmann's systems theory here briefly.

Communication, according to Systems theory, 'operates' not on the level of human beings, but on the level of communication itself.

It is, empirically speaking (from an observer’s perspective), communication that constitutes communication, and not human beings as individuals. Of course, human beings are necessary for communication to take place - but it is not they who are “operating” within communication. They are, rather, the external condition sine qua non of communication, but not an internal element of communication and society.

Moeller, Hans-Georg (2011, pp. 7-8).

Linguistic communication requires human beings with conscious minds (or consciousness). Consciousness in turn requires biological activities of the body (the brain, in particular). But Luhmann argues that neither consciousness nor the biological activities as such communicates. It is the operation of communication itself that constitutes communication. Communication, like other autopoietic systems, is self-referential and self-organizing.

Communication (a social or communication system), Luhmann says, is 'structurally coupled' with conscious mind (a psychic system); Communication and conscious mind are connected in a very unique way. It is through consciousness that communication (linguistic communication, in our case) starts. But as communication starts, it begins to have its own life, as it were, as is obvious in cases where development of communication betrays a speaker's intention.

Consciousness, in turn, is in structural coupling with the biological brain activities. It is through the brain activities that conscious mind starts. Yet, as conscious mind began to operate on its own, it gains a special ontological status; consciousness can only be experienced by the owner of the neurons; the observers of the neural activities, however objective they may be, cannot experience the consciousness produced by the neurons. In this sense, we are not to equate consciousness with physiology of neurons per se.

So, in a strict sense at least, communication cannot be sufficiently explained on the level of conscious mind or on that of brain activities. We need to examine communication by and of itself to explain communication. Cognitive science of the mind or neuroscience of the brain may be a great help to a study of communication, but neither of them constitutes a study of communication. A study of communication must examine communication as it appears in the public space. So, cognitivism, though it may have been the most powerful explanatory theory, should not be the only explanatory framework for communication; it can only be subsidiary.

The structural coupling between the brain as a living system, the mind as a psychic system, and society as a communication system seems to be of a specific structure with the mind somehow “in-between” the other two systems. Whatever “happens” within our brains seems to be first somehow “translated” into conscious information (feelings, thoughts) before it can, in turn, irritate communication and be processed by communication as social information. It seems that the mind is some kind of filter between the brain, on the one hand, and communication on the other.

Moeller, Hans-Georg (2011, p. 20).

Other ontological issues include the concept of the native speaker (NS) (and its counterpart: the nonnative speaker (NNS)). NS and NNS are certainly idealizations of identity, but not the only possible ones. Rather we should ask whether they are specific enough or too monolithic for our study, that is, learning and use of English as a lingua franca in these diverse and changing global settings.

NS and NNS are blanket terms, implying homogeneity throughout each group, and clear-cut distinctions between them. (Firth and Wagner, 1997, p. 291)

We may also have to examine the ontology of 'competence'. As we have questioned the concept of the native speaker, we should also examine the concept of the 'native-like competence' and that of 'interlanguage,' whose end-point is the language of the 'native speaker'.

Implicit here is the (at least disputable) assumption that target or NS competence is constant, fully developed and complete. (Firth and Wagner, 1997, p. 292)

There is more to say about 'competence.' Firth and Wagner argue that language competence is transitional, situational, and dynamic and are reluctant to give it a static, fixed ontological status.

If, as we argue, language competence is a fundamentally transitional, situational, and dynamic entity, then any language users will always be "learners" in some respects. New or partly known registers, styles, language-related tasks, lexical items, terminologies and structures, routinely confront language users, calling for the contingent adaptation and transformation of existing knowledge and competence, and the acquisition of new knowledge. (Firth and Wagner, 1998, p. 288)

Implications of this argument include, as stated above, diffusion (or deconstruction) of the distinction between language learning and language use.

After all, we may still be in the agenda set by Hymes in 1972.

Here the performance of a person is not identical with a behavioral record, or with the imperfect or partial realization of individual competence. It takes into account the interaction between competence (knowledge, ability for use), the competence of others, and the cybernetic and emergent properties of events themselves. A performance, as an event, may have properties (patterns and dynamics) not reducible to terms of individual or standardized competence. (Hymes, 1972, p.283)


The other aspect I'd like to pick out from Firth and Wagner's papers is epistemology: what counts as knowledge, scientific knowledge in particular, which is supposed to lead, ultimately, to truth.

Of the criticism given to Firth and Wagner (and which they cite in their 2007 paper), I found Poulisse's worthy of attention, for he raises the issue of the criterion of a research.

Poulisse (1997) also offered a defense of the psycholinguistic approach in response to our arguments, maintaining that "the task of all researchers [is] to not only describe, but also explain and predict phenomena" (p. 325) and "it would definitely not do to just look at particular and local phenomena and find specific explanations for each of them" (p. 325). (Firth and Wagner, 2007, p. 802)

I believe this notion is the modern view of science (including of course Chomskyan scheme). Researches require more than description of particulars; they need explanatory theories of the general (or universal) which enable prediction and falsification.

In many areas of enquiry, though, this modern view of science has been seriously challenged by Chaos theory (Complexity theory), and its impact is evident in applied linguistics, too (Larsen-Freeman, 1997, 2007).

Actually, Chomsky himself says that science only works for simple, non-complex problems.

Science is a very strange activity. It only works for simple problems. Even in the hard sciences, when you move beyond the simplest structures, it becomes very descriptive. By the time you get to big molecules, for example, you are mostly describing things. The idea that deep scientific analysis tells you something about problems of human beings and our lives and our inter-relations with one another and so on is mostly pretence in my opinion -- self-serving pretence which is itself a technique of domination and exploitation and should be avoided. (Chomsky, 2000, p. 2)

If this is the case, which I think it is, when the rigorous mainstream cognitivism (or whatever that claims to be exact science) attempts to instruct teachers and learners what to do, they may be using their authority as a 'technique of domination and exploitation.'

In addition, the nature of communication, as opposed to the linguistically idealized notion of language, may contradict the spirit of universal explanation and call for particular description.

in situated social practices, use and learning are inseparable parts of the interaction. They appear to be afforded by topics and tasks, and they seem to be related to specific people, with particularized identities, with whom new ways of behaving occur as the unfolding talk demands.

Studying learning as a social accomplishment shifts our understanding of learning from the construct of a linguistic system or a competence that serves all the speaker's purposes. Instead, the development of social relations, the mutual consistency of linguistic resources and tasks, and the specific biography of the language learners come to the foreground. This strand of research has gained momentum over the last 10 years, and quite clearly, much more research into the specifics of social interactions in L2 environments is clearly necessary in the years to come. (Firth and Wagner, 2007, p. 812)

All in all, papers by Firth and Wagner have certainly expanded the horizons of SLA and applied linguistics, despite persistent resistance or flat dismissal by some cognitivists. Many applied linguists now uses terms like "ecological approaches to SLA" (Kramsch, 2002)," "chaos and complexity" (Larsen-Freeman, 1997, 2007), "multimodality," "contingency," or "fluidity" . We're certainly richer in conceptions.

However, mere plurality of conceptions may just lead to confusion and the need for "theory culling" again. Different perspectives of SLA must compete and complement with each other.

We are, then, witness to a natural progression, an intellectual evolution, if one will, where successful paradigm evolve (and sometimes fracture) through both support and critique. (Firth and Wagner, 2007, p. 813)

If we leave our theories to the evolutional selection pressures, we must make it certain that the pressures are not biased and that the selections are open. If there's one thing we learn (or should learn) from debates initiated by Firth and Wagner (1997), it should be, I think, the virtue of open-mindedness.


Chomsky (1986). Knowledge of Language. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.

Chomsky, N. (2000). The architecture of language. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Hymes, D. (1972). On Communicative Competence. In J. Pride and J. Holmes (eds.), Sociolinguistics: Selected readings (pp. 269-93). Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Kramsch, C. (Ed.). (2002). Language acquisition and language socialization: Ecological perspectives. London: Continuum.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (1997). Chaos/complexity science and second language acquisition. Applied Linguistics, 18, 141-165.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2007). On the complementarity of chaos/complexity theory and dynamic systems theory in understanding the second language ac- quisition process. Bilingualism: Language and cognition, 10, 35-37

Long, M. H. (1990). The least a second language acqui- sition theory needs to explain. TESOL Quarterly, 24, 649-666.

Moeller, Hans-Georg (2011). Luhmann Explained: From Souls to Systems. Open Court. Kindle Edition.

Sperber, D and Willson, D. (1986) Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Wiley-Blackwell

Saturday, April 14, 2012

David Block (2003) "The Social Turn in Second Language Acquisition"

[This post is to help students in my Intensive Course "Language and Society" (Aug 27 - 30, 2012) who will read the following book. As I believe that Abstracts of academic papers belong to the public domain of the web, I paste abstracts of the papers that are cited in or related to the arguments in the book. I always try to seek a good balance between copyright and copyleft.]


David Block (2003)

The Social Turn in Second Language Acquisition

Georgetown University Press


The aim of the book: to explore the prospect of a social turn in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and to have a less partial view is what SLA is.

Chapter 1: Introduction


"Applied linguistics" according to Rampton (1997)

Returning in applied linguistics
International Journal of Applied Linguistics
Volume 7, Issue 1, pages 3-25, June 1997


What do we now mean by the term ‘applied linguistics’? Can we provide a coherent characterisation that says it's more than simply all and anything that isn't ‘autonomous’/‘core’? Should we even try? Nik Coupland's paper, “Language, ageing and ageism: a project for applied linguistics?”, provides a focus for reflection on this issue, and the present paper serves as an introduction, setting up some of the context for the subsequent discussion. As its point of departure, the paper cites the Widdowson-Brumfit view that AL should serve as a point of interdisciplinary synthesis where theories with their own integrity are developed in close interaction with users and professionals. There are, however, reasons for doubting how far this has succeeded in the area that is sometimes regarded as most typically AL (SLA research and L2 teacher education), and so it ‘s important to look to other fields of AL. In fact, a good model can be found in Hymes’ 1972 vision of a linguistics that is ‘socially constituted’, and the relevance and force of this has now been enhanced by much wider developments in social science. A serious commitment to dialogue outside the academy is now characteristic of a great many programmes of basic, specialist research, and while there is still great value in Strevens' view of AL as a relatively open space where a large variety of practical interest groups, researchers and development projects can meet, there are no longer any grounds for assuming that the generalist in applied linguistics should hold the central place.

Widdowson's reply (1998)

Retuning, calling the tune, and paying the piper: a reaction to Rampton

International Journal of Applied Linguistics
Volume 8, Issue 1, pages 131-140, June 1998


Examine the general division of opinion between "those who see SLA primarily in psycholinguistics terms (e.g. Beretta, Gass, Gregg, Long) and those who see it as both psycholinguistic and social in nature (Block, Lantolf, van Lier)". (p. 3).

Addtional question: Do you think this division is only about the addition of the social dimension? What can (or should) we learn from this division?

“As God said, and I think, rightly...”' Perspectives on Theory Construction in SLA: An Introduction
Applied Linguistics (1993) 14(3): 221-224 doi:10.1093/applin/14.3.221

This is a good time for a special issue on theory construction in SLA, because by now there is uncertainty as to whether there are many theories of SLA or none.Not only that, there are divisions in the field regarding the nature and purpose of SLA inquiry: some seek explanatory principles and posit sophisticated theories which yield testable predictions; others collect 'facts' and deliver endlessly renewable promissory notes to the effect that, atop a mountain of facts, a theoretical citadel will one day be constructed. Some assume the purpose of SLA theorizing is better theory; others, to ameliorate real-world problems (reducing discrimination, improving pedagogy, etc.). (p. 211)

Leo van Lier
Forks and Hope: Pursuing Understanding in Different Ways
Applied Linguistics (1994) 15 (3): 328-346.

This paper comments on an earlier issue of Applied Linguistics (14/3, September 1993) on the theme of theory construction in SLA. The points made here are intended to apply to general assumptions common in our field and reflected at various points in the contributions to that issue. A perspective on theory construction is introduced that is different from those addressed there, but that needs to be included for the sake of balance. In this perspective, some common views are examined critically: the natural sciences as a success story worthy of emulation; the merits of diversity and homogeneity; the relationships between theory and practice; the nature of explanation (and the role of experimentation and causality in this); and the evaluation of theories. Ways and purposes of theorizing are addressed that complement the views expressed in Volume 14/3. It is a critical perspective, characterized by the ethical foundations of theory construction (and scientific activity in general) and the grounding of theory in practical activity, and it requires a different approach to judging the quality of work in our field.

Not so Fast: Some Thoughts on Theory Culling, Relativism, Accepted Findings and the Heart and Soul of SLA
Applied Linguistics (1996) 17(1): 63-83 doi:10.1093/applin/17.1.63

This paper is meant to be a response to claims made by several prominent applied linguists in recent articles about second language acquisition (SLA) research These claims are as follows (1) The existence of multiple theories in SLA research is problematic (Beretta 1991), and the field should be united around a single theory or a few theories (Long 1993), (2) The alternative to such a concerted effort is a relativistic stance where ‘anything goes’ (Long 1990a, 1993, Beretta 1991), (3) There is now an ample body of ‘accepted findings’ which a good theory of SLA will have to account for (Long 1990a, Larsen Freeman and Long 1991), (4) The existence of ‘accepted findings’ means that SLA researchers should get on with the task of putting the findings to the test, attempting to falsify them through replication studies I begin by disagreeing with each of these suggestions and then go on to elaborate my own view of SLA research This view sees SLA as a process of exploration (Schumann 1993) and speculation (Davies 1991) rather than one of discovery and proof In addition, I suggest that SLA is multi-dimensional in nature, including not only cognitive mechanisms (Long 1990a), but also the social psychology of the classroom (Allwright 1989) I end by considering how SLA research carried out according to the principles I outline might be evaluated

Taking Explanation Seriously; or, Let a Couple of Flowers Bloom
Applied Linguistics (1993) 14 (3): 276-294.
doi: 10.1093/applin/14.3.276

It is usually thought that one goal of a theory is to explain the phenomena within the theory's domain. Hence one criterion for assessing a putative theory of second language acquisition (SLA), for instance, or for assessing SLA research conducted within a given theoretical perspective, is the degree to which it can be seen as a successful contribution to such an explanation.

Unfortunately, a good deal of SLA research has been less than thoroughgoing in its commitment to explanatory goals, making it harder to judge the value of the research in question. This paper discusses some of the issues and problems involved in scientific explanation in general, and their relevance to SLA theory in particular. The relation between SLA and the property theory/ transition theory distinction (Cummins 1983) is examined, the inadequacies of the deductive-nomological (D-N) model (Hempel 1965) are detailed, and an approach is outlined toward using Upton's (1991) account of inference to the best explanation as a guide to evaluating SLA theoretical frameworks.

James P. Lantolf (1996)
SLA Theory Building: “Letting All the Flowers Bloom!”
Language Learning
Volume 46, Issue 4, pages 713-749, December 1996
DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-1770.1996.tb01357.x

This article presents a postmodernist critical analysis of the SLA theory building-literature as primarily represented in the writings of Beretta, Crookes, Eubank, Gregg, Long, and to some extent Schumann. I argue that there is no foundational reason to grant privileged status to the modernist view of SLA theory these scholars espouse. Scientific theories are metaphorical constructs that are elevated to theoretical status because they are “taken seriously” by their developers. All of which argues against cutting off any would-be SLA theory before it has the opportunity to be taken seriously (i.e., to bloom).

Kevin R. Gregg
A theory for every occasion: postmodernism and SLA
Second Language Research October 2000 16: 383-399,

Below is "an exception to the pattern of relatively unproductive debate about the nature of SLA" (p. 4)

On Discourse, Communication, and (Some) Fundamental Concepts in SLA Research
The Modern Language Journal
Volume 81, Issue 3, pages 285-300, Autumn 1997

This article argues for a reconceptualization of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research that would enlarge the ontological and empirical parameters of the field. We claim that methodologies, theories, and foci within SLA reflect an imbalance between cognitive and mentalistic orientations, and social and contextual orientations to language, the former orientation being unquestionably in the ascendancy. This has resulted in a skewed perspective on discourse and communication, which conceives of the foreign language speaker as a deficient communicator struggling to overcome an underdeveloped L2 competence, striving to reach the “target” competence of an idealized native speaker (NS). We contend that SLA research requires a significantly enhanced awareness of the contextual and interactional dimensions of language use, an increased “emic” (i.e., participant-relevant) sensitivity towards fundamental concepts, and the broadening of the traditional SLA data base. With such changes in place, the field of SLA has the capacity to become a theoretically and methodologically richer, more robust enterprise, better able to explicate the processes of second or foreign language (S/FL) acquisition, and better situated to engage with and contribute to research commonly perceived to reside outside its boundaries.

Ten years later after the publication of the above article, MLJ published a special issue.

The Modern Language Journal
December 2007
Volume 91, Issue Supplement s1
Pages 733-942

Among the papers in the issue is one by Firth and Wagner.

Second/Foreign Language Learning as a Social Accomplishment: Elaborations on a Reconceptualized SLA
The Modern Language Journal
Volume 91, Issue Supplement s1, pages 800-819, December 2007

In this article, we begin by delineating the background to and motivations behind Firth and Wagner (1997), wherein we called for a reconceptualization of second language acquisition (SLA) research. We then outline and comment upon some of our critics' reactions to the article. Next we review and discuss the conceptual, theoretical, and methodological impact the article has had on the SLA field. Thereafter, we reengage and develop some of the themes raised but left undeveloped in the 1997 article. These themes cluster around the notions of and interrelationships between language use, language learning, and language acquisition. Although we devote space to forwarding the position that the dichotomy of language use and acquisition cannot defensibly be maintained (and in this we take up a contrary position to that held in mainstream SLA), our treatment of the issues is essentially methodological. We focus on describing a variety of aspects of learning-in-action, captured in transcripts of recordings of naturally occurring foreign, second, or other language interactions. Through transcript analyses, we explore the possibilities of describing learning-in-action devoid of cognitivistic notions of language and learning. In so doing, we advance moves to formulate and establish a reconceptualized SLA.

For my summary of Firth and Wagner's papers, go to

Chapter 2: A short history of second language acquisition


The Input-Interaction-Output (IIO) model, and models that are not treated in this book (Non-English publications and researches whose starting and ending points are Universal Grammar). p. 9


SLA since the late 1960s (Long 1998) or the 1940s?


Margaret Thomas
Studies in Second Language Acquisition (1998), 20 : pp 387-405
1998 Cambridge University Press
Second language acquisition theory conventionally represents itself as having been invented ex nihilo in the last decades of the twentieth century. This article investigates the nature of this largely unexamined disciplinary self-concept and questions its validity. I dispute arguments that might be formulated to support the notion that SLA theory has no relevant earlier history, enumerate some of the unfortunate consequences of maintaining this belief, and speculate about benefits to the field that might accrue from abandoning it. Instead of presenting SLA theory as having its origin in the last 20 or 30 years, I suggest that we need to look for ways to identify, investigate, and eventually reconceptualize its true history.


The 1940s and 1950s: (1) Interest in foreign language teaching and learning during and after World War II; (2) American structralist linguistics; (3) Behaviourism.

Charles Fries (1945)
Teaching and Learning English as a Foreign Language.
University of Michigan Press

This volume sets forth in a nontechnical manner the linguistic approach employed in writing instructional materials used in English-as-a-second-language programs at the English Language Institute of the University of Michigan during the 1940's and 1950's. Each section of this volume presents the principles or the assumptions underlying the choice, sequence, and handling of the materials of the "Intensive Course in English for Latin-American Students." Chapters include: (1) "On Learning a Foreign Language as an Adult," (2) "The Sounds: Understanding and Producing the 'Stream of Speech'," (3) "The Structure: Making Automatic the Use of the Devices of Arrangement and Form," (4) "The Words: Mastering Vocabulary Content," and (5) "Contextual Orientation." Appendixes contain"Step-by-Step Procedure in Marking Limited Intonation,""Lessons in Pronunciation, Structure, and Vocabulary from 'Ingles por Practica'," and "Outline of Materials of 'An Intensive Course in English for Latin Americans'." (RL)

Uriel Weinreich's Language in contact (1953) and "transfer" and "interference". (Wikipedia: Language transfer)

Robert Lado's Linguistics across cultures (1957) and behaviourist psychology and contrastive analysis. (Wikipedia: Contrastive analysis)

B.F. Skinner and "operant conditioning" as the modification of "voluntary behavior", different from "classical conditioning". His book Verbal Behavior was the benchmark.

Chomsky's "A Review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior" in Language, 35, No. 1 (1959), 26-58."

Below is the review with preface added in 1967.

I had intended this review not specifically as a criticism of Skinner's speculations regarding language, but rather as a more general critique of behaviorist (I would now prefer to say "empiricist") speculation as to the nature of higher mental processes. My reason for discussing Skinner's book in such detail was that it was the most careful and thoroughgoing presentation of such speculations, an evaluation that I feel is still accurate. Therefore, if the conclusions I attempted to substantiate in the review are correct, as I believe they are, then Skinner's work can be regarded as, in effect, a reductio ad absurdum of behaviorist assumptions. My personal view is that it is a definite merit, not a defect, of Skinner's work that it can be used for this purpose, and it was for this reason that I tried to deal with it fairly exhaustively. I do not see how his proposals can be improved upon, aside from occasional details and oversights, within the framework of the general assumptions that he accepts. I do not, in other words, see any way in which his proposals can be substantially improved within the general framework of behaviorist or neobehaviorist, or, more generally, empiricist ideas that has dominated much of modern linguistics, psychology, and philosophy. The conclusion that I hoped to establish in the review, by discussing these speculations in their most explicit and detailed form, was that the general point of view was largely mythology, and that its widespread acceptance is not the result of empirical support, persuasive reasoning, or the absence of a plausible alternative.

George Miller's "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two" (1956)

George Miller
The cognitive revolution: a historical perspective
Volume 7, Issue 3, March 2003, Pages 141-144
Trends in Cognitive Sciences

The cognitive revolution in psychology was a counter-revolution. The first revolution occurred much earlier when a group of experimental psychologists, influenced by Pavlov and other physiologists, proposed to redefine psychology as the science of behavior. They argued that mental events are not publicly observable. The only objective evidence available is, and must be, behavioral. By changing the subject to the study of behavior, psychology could become an objective science based on scientific laws of behavior.

The behavioral revolution transformed experimental psychology in the US. Perception became discrimination, memory became learning, language became verbal behavior, intelligence became what intelligence tests test. By the time I went to graduate school at Harvard in the early 1940s the transformation was complete. I was educated to study behavior and I learned to translate my ideas into the new jargon of behaviorism. As I was most interested in speech and hearing, the translation sometimes became tricky. But one's reputation as a scientist could depend on how well the trick was played.

2.5 THE 1960s AND 1970s

2.5.1 Interlanguage

S.P. Corder (1967)
International Review of Applied Linguistics, 5: 161-9.


Corder introduced the notions of 'inbuildt syllabus', 'transitional competence', 'idiolect' and the distinction between 'input' and 'intake' and the one between 'error' and 'mistake'.

Selinker later coined the term 'interlanguage'.

2.5.2 Creative construction

Heidi C. Dulay, Marina K. Burt
Language Learning
Volume 23, Issue 2, pages 245-258, December 1973

Two research studies on child L2 acquisition were conducted sequentially over the last year. The first study used comparative error analysis to determine whether the actual L2 errors children make can be accounted for by “creative construction” or “habit formation.” The findings provided the impetus for the second study which compared the sequence of acquisition of certain grammatical morphemes in three different groups of children, using a cross-sectional technique. The combined findings of the two studies suggest that, given a natural communication situation, children's innate ability to organize structure accounts in a major way for their acquisition of L2 syntax. Although we believe that an L2 teacher should continue to diagnose children's L2 speech, our findings suggest that we should leave the learning of syntax to the children and redirect our teaching efforts. Practical suggestions are offered to help create speech environments in the classroom that capitalize on the child's natural language learning processes.

Stephen D. Krashen
Formal and Informal Linguistic Environments in Language Acquisition and Language Learning
TESOL Quarterly
Vol. 10, No. 2 (Jun., 1976) (pp. 157-168)

While some studies indicate that adults can efficiently utilize informal linguistic environments for second language acquisition, other studies suggest that the classroom is of greater benefit. This conflict is resolved in three ways. Evidence is presented to support the hypothesis that informal and formal environments contribute to different aspects of second language competence, the former affecting acquired competence and the latter affecting learned competence. Second, a distinction must be made between informal environments in which active language use occurs regularly and those in which language use is irregular. Finally, data is presented that suggests that the classroom can be used simultaneously as a formal and informal linguistic environment, a result that is consistent with reports of success with language teaching systems that emphasize active language use.

The following books by Krashen are now publicly available.

Krashen, S.D. (1981).
Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning.
Oxford: Pergamon.

Krashen, S.D. (1982).
Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition.
Oxford: Pergamon.

Wikipedia: Input Hypothesis

Controlled and automatic human information processing: I. Detection, search, and attention.
Schneider, Walter; Shiffrin, Richard M.
Psychological Review, Vol 84(1), Jan 1977, 1-66.
doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.84.1.1

A 2-process theory of human information processing is proposed and applied to detection, search, and attention phenomena. Automatic processing is activation of a learned sequence of elements in long-term memory that is initiated by appropriate inputs and then proceeds automatically--without S control, without stressing the capacity limitations of the system, and without necessarily demanding attention. Controlled processing is a temporary activation of a sequence of elements that can be set up quickly and easily but requires attention, is capacity-limited (usually serial in nature), and is controlled by the S. A series of studies, with approximately 8 Ss, using both reaction time and accuracy measures is presented, which traces these concepts in the form of automatic detection and controlled search through the areas of detection, search, and attention. Results in these areas are shown to arise from common mechanisms. Automatic detection is shown to develop following consistent mapping of stimuli to responses over trials. Controlled search was utilized in varied-mapping paradigms, and in the present studies, it took the form of serial, terminating search.

Controlled and automatic human information processing: II. Perceptual learning, automatic attending and a general theory.
Shiffrin, Richard M.; Schneider, Walter
Psychological Review, Vol 84(2), Mar 1977, 127-190.
doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.84.2.127

Tested the 2-process theory of detection, search, and attention presented by the current authors (1977) in a series of experiments. The studies (a) demonstrate the qualitative difference between 2 modes of information processing: automatic detection and controlled search; (b) trace the course of the learning of automatic detection, of categories, and of automatic-attention responses; and (c) show the dependence of automatic detection on attending responses and demonstrate how such responses interrupt controlled processing and interfere with the focusing of attention. The learning of categories is shown to improve controlled search performance. A general framework for human information processing is proposed. The framework emphasizes the roles of automatic and controlled processing. The theory is compared to and contrasted with extant models of search and attention.

Block states:

Stated succinctly, these researchers and just about anyone calling him/herself a cognitive psychologist at the time, took as axiomatic that learning proceeded from conscious, attention-focused activity to subconscious, automatic processing. (p. 20)


Assessment Strategies for Second Language Acquisition Theories
Applied Linguistics (1993) 14 (3): 225-249.
doi: 10.1093/applin/14.3.225

There are numerous theories of second language acquisition (SLA), many of them oppositional. Whether or not this is inevitable now, culling will eventually be necessary if researchers are to meet their social responsibilities or if SLA is to be explained and a stage of normal science achieved. For the culling to be principled, a rational approach to theory assessment is needed, and the difficulty of identifying universally valid evaluation criteria makes this problematic. Assessment strategies used in other fields can be useful in SLA, but choice among them will depend on the researcher's (implicit or explicit) philosophy of science.


See Figure 2.1 on p. 28 and explain the IIO model.

Chapter 3: What does the 'S' in SLA stand for?

In this chapter, Block attempts to show how the uses of the term 'second' in current SLA literature is 'problematic because they essentialise knowledge of language and the contexts where such knowledge is acquired' (p. 56).

What is 'essentialism'? (Wikipedia: Essentialism)


What do you think of Mitchell and Myles's definition of 'second languages' that includes 'foreign' languages? (p. 32)

Do you believe that there's any problem in the monolingual bias? If so, why?
Monolingual bias: (1) there is a single L1; and (2) the L1 remains intact.

Find one or two examples in Figure 3.1 which is divided by the two axes: +/- classroom and +/- language in the community. (p. 34)


3.2.1 The monolingual bias

Are you a 'complete monolingual'? Ask if you're not 'multi-dialectal'.

3.2.2 Cook's multi-competence model

Go to my blog article below and discuss the implications of multi-competence for ELT in Japan.

Some excerpts from the Website "multi-competence" by Vivian Cook

3.2.3 Sociolinguistic views of multilingualism

'Romantic Bilingualism' is defined by Harris (1997: 14) as 'the widespread practice, in British schools and other educational contexts, based on little or no analysis or enquiry, of attributing to pupils drawn from visible ethnic minority groups an expertise in and allegiance to any community languages with which they have some acquaintance.' (p. 39) Do you, or someone you know, share this?

Read the abstract of the article below and think whether you know some example in which the uses of 'language, in both intra- and inter-ethnic contexts, to negotiate identity and resist ascription to totalizing phenotype-racial categories.'

Language in Society
Volume 29 / Issue 04 / October 2000 , pp 555-582
DOI: , Published online: 04 May 2001
Benjamin Bailey

The ethnolinguistic terms in which the children of Dominican immigrants in Rhode Island think of themselves, i.e. as “Spanish” or “Hispanic,” are frequently at odds with the phenotype-based racial terms “Black” or “African American,” applied to them by others in the United States. Spanish language is central to resisting such phenotype-racial categorization, which denies Dominican Americans their Hispanic ethnicity. Through discourse analysis of naturally occurring peer interaction at a high school, this article shows how a Dominican American who is phenotypically indistinguishable from African Americans uses language, in both intra- and inter-ethnic contexts, to negotiate identity and resist ascription to totalizing phenotype-racial categories. In using language to resist such hegemonic social categorization, the Dominican second generation is contributing to the transformation of existing social categories and the constitution of new ones in the US.

3.2.4 Multilingualism as multi-experiential

Do you believe that the more languages you learn, the easier it becomes to learn one, as Cohen says in Reflections On Multiliterate Lives?

Block argues that 'IIO researchers generally discuss individual learners in terms of their L1s and the target language, L2, framing both as homogeneous entities'. Providing that this is true (it is, as is evident in Table 3.1 on pp. 46-47), do you think it is inevitable? If so, why? Or do you take a critical stance? If so, what would be your alternative description of individual learners?


3.3.1 Foreign language context

Do you believe that there can be substantial difference between two EFL contexts, for example Germany's and Japan's, as indicated by Berns (1990) (pp. 48-49)? If you know other EFL context(s), compare it/them with Japan's. (Come to think of it, do you believe Japan's EFL context is homogeneous?)

3.3.2 Second language context

What is common between the foreign language context and the second language context? What is the difference, then?

Is staying in a second language environment a guarantee of abundant input that will bring about language acquisition? If not, why?

English is used as a working language in some international companies. Do you think this is to be considered as a second language context? Or do you think this is to be recognized as a distinct category?

3.3.3 The naturalistic context

Define the naturalistic context by contrasting it with the foreign language context.

What is the point of Norton in Identity and Language Learning when she interprets the apparent discrepancy between Schumann's Acculturation Model interpretation and Schmidt's example of Wess regarding little morphological development? (p. 52)

Explain the meaning of 'those who speak regard those who listen as worthy to listen, and that those who listen regard those who speak as worthy to speak' (Norton 2000: 8)

Learn further about Bourdieu's  concept of 'symbolic capital'.
Symbolic capital and symbolic violence

For Marx, "capital is not a simple relation, but a process, in whose various movements it is always capital". For Bourdieu, "social capital is the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition."

Bourdieu sees symbolic capital (e.g., prestige, honor, attention) as a crucial source of power. Symbolic capital is any species of capital that is perceived through socially inculcated classificatory schemes. When a holder of symbolic capital uses the power this confers against an agent who holds less, and seeks thereby to alter their actions, they exercise symbolic violence. We might see this when a daughter brings home a boyfriend considered unsuitable by her parents. She is met with disapproving looks and gestures, symbols which serve to convey the message that she will not be permitted to continue this relationship, but which never make this coercive fact explicit. People come to experience symbolic power and systems of meaning (culture) as legitimate. Hence, the daughter will often feel a duty to obey her parents' unspoken demand, regardless of her suitor's merits.

Symbolic violence is fundamentally the imposition of categories of thought and perception upon dominated social agents who then take the social order to be just. It is the incorporation of unconscious structures that tend to perpetuate the structures of action of the dominant. The dominated then take their position to be "right." Symbolic violence is in some senses much more powerful than physical violence in that it is embedded in the very modes of action and structures of cognition of individuals, and imposes the specter of legitimacy of the social order.

In his theoretical writings, Bourdieu employs some terminology of economics to analyze the processes of social and cultural reproduction, of how the various forms of capital tend to transfer from one generation to the next. For Bourdieu, formal education represents the key example of this process. Educational success, according to Bourdieu, entails a whole range of cultural behaviour, extending to ostensibly non-academic features like gait, dress, or accent. Privileged children have learned this behaviour, as have their teachers. Children of unprivileged backgrounds have not. The children of privilege therefore fit the pattern of their teachers' expectations with apparent 'ease'; they are 'docile'. The unprivileged are found to be 'difficult', to present 'challenges'. Yet both behave as their upbringing dictates. Bourdieu regards this 'ease', or 'natural' ability - distinction - as in fact the product of a great social labour, largely on the part of the parents. It equips their children with the dispositions of manner as well as thought which ensure they are able to succeed within the educational system and can then reproduce their parents' class position in the wider social system.

From on August 16, 2012.


A very big question: Can we ever hope to elaborate a general theory of SLA which would cover both the foreign language context and the second language context? (Note that Block mostly excludes Chomskyan SLA studies from the discussion of this book.)

Chapter 4: What does the 'L' in SLA stand for?

In this chapter, Block argues that 'SLA researchers have, for the most part, fallen short of taking on the entirety of the sociolinguistics that Hymes envisioned and the result has been a limited view of language." He believes that this shortcoming is evident in the notions of 'task' and 'negotiation for meaning' (NfM).


Compare the two definitions of language in Ellis (1985) and (1994).


Do you also believe that IIO researchers 'adopted a fundamentally instrumental view of conversational interaction where the key was the exchange of information', exemplified, for example, by 'referential communication'? (p. 62)

Do you believe IIO researchers successfully took from conversational analysis the most basic assumptions about conversation such as turn-taking, relevance, speech event, speech act and cooperative principle?

4.3 TASK

Researchers like Breen (1987) and Candlin (1987) defined 'task' with parameters of educational principles like input,  roles, settings, monitoring, and feedback. (p. 66)

IIO researchers, on the other hand, developed a framework for 'task' that is only acceptable 'if we take the work-like and mechanical view of what we do with talk on a moment-to-moment basis', according to Block. (p. 67). Would you agree with this view?


Some IIO researchers claimed that negotiation for meaning (NfM) 'facilitates acquisition because it connects input, internal learner capacities, particularly selective attention, and output in productive ways (Long, 1996: 451-452), and proposed concepts of 'negotiation devices' like recasts, repetitions, confirmations, reformulations, paraphrasing, comprehension checks, confirmation checks, clarification requests, and lexical substitutions. (p. 68) Do you think students are to learn to use these negotiation devices explicitly?


The 'tripartite view of language as a narrow and partial version of communicative competence, task as what people do when speaking to one another and conversational interaction as NfM' is criticized by Rampton (1987: 49) as it runs 'the risk of remaining restrictively preoccupied with the space between the speaker and his grammar, rather than with the relationship between speakers and the world around them'. Do you think this criticism is fair?

4.5.1 A critique of task Ludic talk

Cook argues in Language Play, Language Learning (2000: 150) as follows:
[F]or both the first and the second language learner, language play is much more than a potential means. As a widespread, highly valued use of language, of social and cognitive importance, it is also an end. Knowing a language, and being able to function in communities which use that language, entails being able to understand and produce play with it, making this ability a necessary part of advanced proficiency.

Do you agree with this view?

Rampton introduces the notion of 'language crossing' as 'the use of speech varieties which are not normally thought to belong to the speaker' (Rampton 1999: 335), and suggests that 'a part of being competent in a speech community is knowing how to negotiate one's identity across different game-like activities carried out in different language varieties.' (p. 71)

Do you observe language crossing yourself?

Applied Linguistics (1999) 20 (3): 316-340.
doi: 10.1093/applin/20.3.316

Dichotomies, difference, and ritual in second language learning and teaching

B Rampton
This article questions the distinction between 'natural' and 'instructed' language learning. It first of all introduces two extracts in which adolescents use Panjabi as a second language in peer group recreation, and then shows how these contradict orthodox images of natural acquisition and classroom learning. But rather than simply dismissing the dichotomy as empirical fantasy, its important role as an ideology of language is recognized, and there is an attempt to recast it, drawing on Bernstein 1996. This is followed by a discussion of ritual as a valuable analytic concept, and it is then proposed that it may be more productive to distinguish between learning in situations in which language is bound up with an active sense of potentially problematic social, cultural or ethnic otherness, and situations where the acquisition of additional languages is treated as a relatively taken-for-granted, within-group matter-of-course. Towards the end, the article addresses some of the immediate educational ramifications of this reformulation, and it concludes with some comments on ways in which these ideas might be further explored.

Do you think 'casual conversation' or 'small talk' for phatic communication is properly dealt with in the concept of 'task' by IIO researchers?

'Phatic communication', a term coined by Malinowski, is conveniently defined as 'Small talk: the nonreferential use of language to share feelings or establish a mood of sociability rather than to communicate information or ideas; ritualized formulas intended to attract the attention of the listener or prolong communication' in Grammar & Composition.

'Phatic function' is among the six functions of language Roman Jakobson proposed.
Below is a summary figure I made from Jakobson's "Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics," in Style in Language (ed. Thomas Sebeok), 1960. (The concept of situation is added, though).

Michael Halliday's view that sees 'language and communication as multi-layered, containing at the same time an ideational meaning (topic-based meaning), interpersonal (role-and relationship-based meaning) and textural (meaning about message construction) is another intellectual source that helps the sociolinguistic understanding that Block is promoting.

Learn more about Halliday's linguistics.

Systemic functional grammar

Systemic functional linguistics

Michael Halliday

Halliday & Matthiessen (2004)
  An Introduction to Functional Grammar Talk at work

Talks in workplaces can be understood in a continuum ranging from Core business talk to Work-related talk, Social talk and Phatic communication. Give some (imagined) examples of these four types of talks in workplaces.

4.5.2 Critique of NfM

Read the following article and examine the validity of the tenet of negotiation for meaning for SLA.

Applied Linguistics (1998) 19 (1): 1-23.
doi: 10.1093/applin/19.1.1

A Classroom Perspective on the Negotiation of Meaning


It is widely argued that engaging in communicative language tasks helps a learner develop in an L2 in several ways Tasks provide an opportunity not only to produce the target language, but also, through conversational adjustments, to manipulate and modify it Checking and clarifying problem utterances (‘negotiating for meaning’) ensures that task participants receive comprehensible input and generate comprehensible output, both of which have been claimed as crucial to second language acquisition (SLA) Task type is considered significant, with those tasks requiring an exchange of information most likely to prompt negotiations for meaning This paper reports a classroom observation of the language produced by intermediate EFL students engaged in required and optional information exchange tasks in both dyads and small groups The results show no clear overall effect for task type or grouping, though there was a discernible trend for dyads doing a two-way task to produce more negotiated interaction However, it was noticeable that many students in the small groups did not speak at all, many more in both dyads and small groups did not initiate any negotiated interaction, and very few students in either setting produced, any modified utterances Such positive results as were obtained seemed to be due to the disproportionate influence of a small number of the students, and so were not typical of the group as a whole The setting of the study within a classroom, as opposed to a venue especially arranged for data collecting, is suggested as a significant variable, with important implications for group work research methodology It is also suggested, contrary to much SLA theorizing, that ‘negotiating for meaning’ is not a strategy that language learners are predisposed to employ when they encounter gaps in their understanding.

'Negotiation for meaning' is not the only type of negotiation in linguistic communication; There are 'negotiation of solidarity and support', 'negotiation of face', and 'negotiation of identity'. Negotiation of solidarity and support

See the excerpt from Aston (1986) on p. 75 and present your interpretation of the interaction. Negotiation of face

Define the concepts of face, positive/negative face, and politeness.

Do you agree with Davies' view that 'the Japanese participants in this study were constantly walking a fine line between the maintenance of positive and negative face, that is, balancing their personal need to be accepted and treated as a member of a group while maintaining their freedom from imposition from others (p. 79)'? Negotiation of identity

'Identity', a problematic notion, is defined here according to Weedon (1997: 32) as 'the conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions of the individual, her sense of herself and her ways of understanding her relation in the world'. (Weedon also proposes a notion of a 'subjectivity' which is 'precarious, contradictory and in process, constantly reconstituted in discourse each time we think or speak' (ibid.). 

Discuss the implications of the following statements. 
What is actually said and how it is said may be classified as plausible or reasonable within that particular discursive field. It is, therefore, a particular voice which a particular speaker has adopted momentarily with a view to projecting a particular subjectivity. And the sum total of subjectivities embodied by an individual at a given time constitute her/his individual identity. (p. 80)

Thus, to tell a reader that a dyad of ESL learners is made up of two women whose L1 is Japanese, is of little use unless the researcher is going to explore what it means to be a Japanese woman engaging in a conversation in an L2. (p. 81)


4.6.1 The study 

Block chooses the following article to show how the view of language and communication in the cognitivist SLA studies might be made more complete. (p., 81) 

Studies in Second Language Acquisition

Volume 22 / Issue 04 / December 2000 , pp 471-497


Alison Mackey, Susan Gass and Kim McDonough

Theoretical claims about the benefits of conversational interaction have been made by Gass (1997), Long (1996), Pica (1994), and others. The Interaction Hypothesis suggests that negotiated interaction can facilitate SLA and that one reason for this could be that, during interaction, learners may receive feedback on their utterances. An interesting issue, which has challenged interactional research, concerns how learners perceive feedback and whether their perceptions affect their subsequent L2 development. The present research addresses the first of these issues - learners' perceptions about interactional feedback. The study, involving 10 learners of English as a second language and 7 learners of Italian as a foreign language, explores learners' perceptions about feedback provided to them through task-based dyadic interaction. Learners received feedback focused on a range of morphosyntactic, lexical, and phonological forms. After completing the tasks, learners watched videotapes of their previous interactions and were asked to introspect about their thoughts at the time the original interactions were in progress. The results showed that learners were relatively accurate in their perceptions about lexical, semantic, and phonological feedback. However, morphosyntactic feedback was generally not perceived as such. Furthermore, the nature as well as the content of the feedback may have affected learners' perceptions. (Received August 23 1999)

4.6.2 Gender

Mackey et al. (2000) list participants' biological sex, but do not discuss gender issues. (Read below to check the meaning of the terms).

Gender is a range of characteristics of femininity and masculinity. Depending on the context, the term may refer to such concepts as sex (as in the general state of being male or female), social roles (as in gender roles) or gender identity.

Sexologist John Money introduced the terminological distinction between biological sex and gender as a role in 1955. Before his work, it was uncommon to use the word "gender" to refer to anything but grammatical categories. However, Money's meaning of the word did not become widespread until the 1970s, when feminist theory embraced the distinction between biological sex and the social construct of gender. Today, the distinction is strictly followed in some contexts, especially the social sciences and documents written by the World Health Organization (WHO), but in many contexts, even in some areas of social sciences, the meaning of gender has expanded to include "sex" or even to replace the latter word. Although this gradual change in the meaning of gender can be traced to the 1980s, a small acceleration of the process in the scientific literature was observed when the Food and Drug Administration started to use "gender" instead of "sex" in 1993. "Gender" is now commonly used even to refer to the physiology of non-human animals, without any implication of social gender roles.

Gender studies has become a branch of the social sciences.

In the English literature, the trichotomy between biological sex, psychological gender, and social sex role first appeared in a feminist paper on transsexualism in 1978. Some cultures have specific gender-related social roles that can be considered distinct from male and female, such as the hijra of India and Pakistan.

While the social sciences sometimes approach gender as a social construct, and gender studies particularly do, research in the natural sciences investigates whether biological differences in males and females influence the development of gender in humans; both inform debate about how far biological differences influence the formation of gender identity. (Obtained on August 21, 2012)

Deborah Cameron's paper in 2010 is informative.

Sex/Gender, Language and the New Biologism

Deborah Cameron

Applied Linguistics (2010) 31 (2): 173-192.
doi: 10.1093/applin/amp022
First published online: May 31, 2009

In recent years there has been a striking shift in both academic and popular discourse on the subject of male-female differences. It is increasingly common for biological explanations to be proposed for differences that had previously been treated by most investigators as effects of socio-cultural factors. This article critically examines the arguments as they apply to the specific case of male-female differences in linguistic behaviour. It concludes that the relevant linguistic research evidence does not on balance support the new biologism; that evidence is more adequately accounted for using the socio-cultural approaches which most linguistic researchers favour.

4.6.3 L1

This section introduces the concepts of language expertise, language affiliation, and language inheritance from Leung, Harris and Rampton (1997).

TESOL Quarterly, Volume 31, Issue 3, pages 543-560, Autumn 1997

The Idealised Native Speaker, Reified Ethnicities, and Classroom Realities


Article first published online: 4 JAN 2012
DOI: 10.2307/3587837

TESOL practice in the schooling sector in England has implicitly assumed that ESL students are linguistic and social outsiders and that there is a neat one-to-one correspondence between ethnicity and language. This perspective has tended to conceptualise L2 learners as a linguistically diverse group (from non-English-speaking backgrounds) but with similar language learning needs. However, demographic and social changes in the past 30 years have rendered such assumptions inadequate and misleading, particularly in multiethnic urban areas. In this article we seek to (a) offer an alternative account of the classroom realities in contemporary multilingual schools where the linguistic profiles and language learning needs of ESL students are not easily understood in terms of fixed concepts of ethnicity and language; (b) draw on recent developments in cultural theory to clarify the shifting and changing relationship among ethnicity, social identity, and language use in the context of postcolonial diaspora; and (c) question the pedagogical relevance of the notion of native speaker and propose that instead TESOL professionals should be concerned with questions about language expertise, language inheritance, and language affiliation.

The three terms may be roughly explained as follows:

Language expertise: how proficient people are in a language.

Language affiliation: the attachment or identification people feel for a language whether or not they nominally belong to the social group customarily associated with it.

Language inheritance: the ways in which individuals can be born into a language inheritance that is prominent within a family and community setting whether or not they claim expertise in or affiliation to that language.

Block (2003: 84-85)
Analyse one or two language users you know in terms of these three concepts.

By the way, the above issue of TESOL Quarterly, which Bonny Norton guest-edited, was "devoted to examining the relationship between language and social identity, explores how language learning and teaching are affected by such factors as gender, race, class, and ethnicity." ( It also includes Norton's distinguished paper, Language, Identity, and the Ownership of English.

TESOL Quarterly
Autumn 1997, Volume 31, Issue 3, Pages 405-664

Table of Contents

TESOL Quarterly, Volume 31, Issue 3, pages 409-429, Autumn 1997

Language, Identity, and the Ownership of English

Article first published online: 4 JAN 2012
DOI: 10.2307/3587831

This article serves as the introduction to the special-topic issue of the TESOL Quarterly on Language and Identity. In the first section, I discuss my interest in language and identity, drawing on theorists who have been influential in my work. A short vignette illustrates the significant relationship among identity, language learning, and classroom teaching. In the second section, I examine the five articles in the issue, highlighting notable similarities and differences in conceptions of identity. I note, in particular, the different ways in which the authors frame identity: social identity, sociocultural identity, voice, cultural identity, and ethnic identity. I explore these differences with reference to the particular disciplines and research traditions of the authors and the different emphases of their research projects. In the final section, I draw on the issue as a whole to address a prevalent theme in many of the contributions: the ownership of English internationally. The central question addressed is the extent to which English belongs to White native speakers of standard English or to all the people who speak it, irrespective of linguistic and sociocultural history. I conclude with the hope that the issue will help address the current fragmentation in the literature on the relationship between language and identity and encourage further debate and research on a thought-provoking and important topic.

Just as, at the level of relations between groups, a language is worth what those who speak it are worth, so too, at the level of interactions between individuals, speech always owes a major part of its value to the value of the person who utters it. (Bourdieu, 1977, p. 652)

4.6.4 A look at some data

Read the excerpt on p. 86 and analyse it (1) as a phonological feedback and (2) as an identity issue. Why do you think the NNS made the remark in the Recall? Do you just think that 'his pronunciation was not very very good' and that 'the phonological feedback was perceived by the learner as being about phonology', too, as Mackey et al. (2000: 486) did?


Read the following quotation from Scollon (1998: 33) that you find on page 89 of the textbook and discuss its implications. Do you think the dimensions of linguistic communication mentioned in the quotation are properly represented in SLA literature or 'tasks' and texts in EFL textbooks in Japan?

Whatever else we do in speaking to each other, we make claims about ourselves as a person, we make claims about the person of our listeners, we claim how the persons are related to each other at the outset of the encounter, we project an ongoing monitoring of those multiple relationships, as we close the encounter, we make claims about what sort of relationships we expect will hold upon resuming our contacts in future social encounters. Scollon (1983) Mediated Discourse as Social Interaction

Chapter 5: What does the 'A' in SLA stand for?


The two terms acquisition and learning were once differentiated by Krashen but now are used almost interchangeably.


How acquisition and learning were defined respectively by Krashen?

What is the non-interface position?


Figure 5.1 on p.96 Gass's (1988, 1997) information processing view as follows.

L2 input ≫ Appercepton ≫ Comprehended Input ≫ Intake ≫ Integration

The concept of restructuring was emphasised as well as that of automatisation after McLaughlin (1990).



Applied Linguistics (1990) 11 (2): 113-128.
doi: 10.1093/applin/11.2.113

This paper argues for a cognitive psychological approach to second language phenomena that emphasizes the importance of the development of automaticity and the process of restructuring. It is argued that practice can lead improvement in performance as sub-skills become automated, but it is also possible for increased practice to create conditions for restructuring, with attendant decrements in performance as learners reorganize their internal representational framework. In the second case, performance may follow a U-shaped curve, declining as more complex internal representations replace less complex ones, and increasing again as skill becomes expertise. Examples are drawn from first and second language research, and from research on expert systems. The cognitive approach is not seen as competitive to, but as complementary with, linguistic approaches to second language development.


Researchers like Neisser, Harré, and Edwards argued that the information processing paradigm shared behaviourism the following features: 1) Cartesian mind-body dualism; 2) tendency to carry out research in laboratory settings; and 3) a dominant concern with the aggregate or average human being. (p. 97)
Discuss the potential problems of these features.

Wikipedia on Ulric Neisser

Harr&eacute and Gillett (1994)

The Discursive Mind

Edwards (1996)

Discourse and Cognition

Among the theoretical background of these non-information processing view is Gibson's affordance theory.

An affordance is a quality of an object, or an environment, which allows an individual to perform an action. For example, a knob affords twisting, and perhaps pushing, while a cord affords pulling. The term is used in a variety of fields: perceptual psychology, cognitive psychology, environmental psychology, industrial design, human-computer interaction (HCI), interaction design, instructional design and artificial intelligence.

Different definitions of affordance that have developed are explained in the following sections. The original definition described all action possibilities that are physically possible. This was then refined to describe action possibilities of which an actor is aware. The term has further evolved for use in the context of HCI as indicating the easy discoverability of possible actions.

Affordances as action possibilities

Psychologist James J. Gibson originally introduced the term in his 1977 article "The Theory of Affordances" and explored it more fully in his book The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception in 1979. He defined affordances as all "action possibilities" latent in the environment, objectively measurable and independent of the individual's ability to recognize them, but always in relation to the actor and therefore dependent on their capabilities. For instance, a set of steps which rises four feet high does not afford the act of climbing if the actor is a crawling infant. Gibson's is the prevalent definition in cognitive psychology.

Affordances were further studied by James Gibson's wife, Eleanor J. Gibson, who created her theory of perceptual learning around this concept. Eleanor Gibson's book, An Ecological Approach to Perceptual Learning and Development explores affordances further.

Jakob von Uexküll had already discussed the concept in the early twentieth century, calling it the "functional colouring" (funktionale Tönung) of objects.

Affordances as perceived action possibilities

In 1988, Donald Norman appropriated the term affordances in the context of human-machine interaction to refer to just those action possibilities that are readily perceivable by an actor. Through his book The Design of Everyday Things, this interpretation was popularized within the fields of HCI and interaction design. It makes the concept dependent not only on the physical capabilities of an actor, but also the actor's goals, plans, values, beliefs, and past experiences. If an actor steps into a room with an armchair and a softball, Gibson's original definition of affordances allows that the actor may throw the recliner and sit on the softball, because that is objectively possible. Norman's definition of (perceived) affordances captures the likelihood that the actor will sit on the recliner and throw the softball. Effectively, Norman's affordances "suggest" how an object may be interacted with. For example, the size and shape of a softball obviously fits nicely in the average human hand, and its density and texture make it perfect for throwing. The user may also bring past experiences to bear with similar objects (baseballs, perhaps) when evaluating a new affordance.

Norman's 1988 definition makes the concept of affordance relational rather than subjective or intrinsic. This he deemed an "ecological approach," which is related to systems-theoretic approaches in the natural and social sciences. The focus on perceived affordances is much more pertinent to practical design problems from a human-factors approach, which may explain its widespread adoption.

Norman later explained that this restriction in meaning of the term had been unintended, and that he would replace the term by "perceived affordance" in any future revision of the book.[5][6] However, the definition from his book has become established enough in HCI that both uses have to be accepted as convention in this field.
Obtained from on August 21, 2012.


Compare the comments from Long (p. 98) and Kasper (p. 99)


The following two books had seminal influence on the sociocultural approach in applied linguistics. (Japanese translations are available for these: 『心の声』 and 『行為としての心』

Voices of the Mind: Sociocultural Approach to Mediated Action

James Wertsch

In Voices of the Mind, James Wertsch outlines an approach to mental functioning that stresses its inherent cultural, historical, and institutional context. A critical aspect of this approach is the cultural tools or "mediational means" that shape both social and individual processes. In considering how these mediational means--in particular, language--emerge in social history and the role they play in organizing the settings in which human beings are socialized, Wertsch achieves fresh insights into essential areas of human mental functioning that are typically unexplored or misunderstood.

Although Wertsch's discussion draws on the work of a variety of scholars in the social sciences and the humanities, the writings of two Soviet theorists, L. S. Vygotsky (1896-1934) and Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975), are of particular significance. Voices of the Mind breaks new ground in reviewing and integrating some of their major theoretical ideas and in demonstrating how these ideas can be extended to address a series of contemporary issues in psychology and related fields.

A case in point is Wertsch's analysis of "voice," which exemplifies the collaborative nature of his effort. Although some have viewed abstract linguistic entities, such as isolated words and sentences, as the mechanism shaping human thought, Wertsch turns to Bakhtin, who demonstrated the need to analyze speech in terms of how it "appropriates" the voices of others in concrete sociocultural settings. These appropriated voices may be those of specific speakers, such as one's parents, or they may take the form of "social languages" characteristic of a category of speakers, such as an ethnic or national community. Speaking and thinking thus involve the inherent process of "ventriloquating" through the voices of other socioculturally situated speakers. Voices of the Mind attempts to build upon this theoretical foundation, persuasively arguing for the essential bond between cognition and culture.

Mind As Action

James Wertsch

Book Description provided by

Contemporary social problems typically involve many complex, interrelated dimensions--psychological, cultural, and institutional, among others. But today, the social sciences have fragmented into isolated disciplines lacking a common language, and analyses of social problems have polarized into approaches that focus on an individual's mental functioning over social settings, or vice versa.

In Mind as Action, James V. Wertsch argues that current approaches to social issues have been blinded by the narrow confines of increasing specialization in the social sciences. In response to this conceptual blindness, he proposes a method of sociocultural analysis that connects the various perspectives of the social sciences in an integrated, nonreductive fashion. Wertsch maintains that we can use mediated action, which he defines as the irreducible tension between active agents and cultural tools, as a productive method of explicating the complicated relationships between human action and its manifold cultural, institutional, and historical contexts. Drawing on the ideas of Lev Vygotsky, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Kenneth Burke, as well as research from various fields, this book traces the implications of mediated action for a sociocultural analysis of the mind, as well as for some of today's most pressing social issues. Wertsch's investigation of forms of mediated action such as stereotypes and historical narratives provide valuable new insights into issues such as the mastery, appropriation, and resistance of culture. By providing an analytic unit that has the possibility of operating at the crossroads of various disciplines, Mind as Action will be important reading for academics, students, and researchers in psychology, linguistics, cognitive science, sociology, literary analysis, and philosophy.

Of the Vygotskian terms, Block introduces the genetic approach, mediation, and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZDP) in particular.

For the genetic approach and mediation, the following explanation in The Mozart of Psychology: Lev Semenovich Vygotsky ( may be helpful.

Vygotsky theoretical perspective can be understood best in terms of three general themes that run throughout his writings:

1. The use of a genetic, or developmental method;

2. The claim that higher mental functioning in the individual emerges out of social processes; and

3. The claim that human social and psychological processes are fundamentally shaped by cultural tools, or mediational means. (Lock 2005)

Although usually separated for discussion purposes these thematic strands are totally interrelated in a non hierarchical manner and an understanding of this interconnectedness is critical to an understanding of Vygotsky's approach (Wertsch, 1985, Lock, 2005)

1) Genetic Development

Vygotsky developed his theoretical framework using genetic analysis, which examined the origins and history of phenomena, focusing on their interconnectedness. The genetic method holds that mental processes can only be properly understood from the perspective of how and where they occur in growth. In describing his approach he consistently emphasised that it was imperative to focus not on the product of development, but on the process whereby higher forms are established. He posited that learning and development takes place in society and in culturally shaped contexts. And, as historical conditions are constantly undergoing change, so do contexts and learning opportunities. Therefore there can be no universal schema that can fully represent the changing dynamics between internal and external aspects of development (Steiner & Souberman, 1978)

2) Higher Versus Elementary Psychological Functions

Vygotsky saw cognitive or psychological abilities as falling into higher or elementary mental functions. Elementary mental functions were what children had when they were born, i.e. an intact nervous system and also included other "lower" or "natural" mental functions such as elementary perception, eidetic memory, attention and will (Kozulin, 1986). Natural/lower or elementary abilities make it possible for people to do new things that are different from higher abilities. Higher, or "cultural" mental functions, e.g. abstract reasoning, logical memory, language, voluntary attention, planning, decision-making, etc. have their origin in human interaction and appear gradually during the process of radical transformation of the lower functions. These are specific human functions which are formed and shaped gradually in a course of transformation of the lower functions, according to specific goals, practices, and beliefs of the persons culture and social group (Kozulin, 1986). The transformation is made through the so-called "mediated activity" and "psychological tools" (Kozulin, 1990; Newman & Holzman, 1993).

Wertsch (1985) suggests the 4 major differences between higher and lower mental functions are:

・The shift of control from the environment to the individual, that is, the emergence of voluntary regulation;

・The emergence of conscious realisation of mental process;

・The social origins and social nature of higher mental functions; and

・The use of signs to mediate higher mental functions.

3) Vygotsky and Mediation

"The central fact about our psychology is the fact of mediation"

Semiotic mediation is central to all aspects of knowledge co-construction. Vygotsky regards semiotic mechanisms (including psychological tools) to mediate social and individual function, and connects the external and the internal, the social and the individual Wertsch and Stone (1985) (Mahn & John-Steiner).

Wertsch (1994) elaborates on the centrality of mediation in understanding Vygotsky's contributions to psychology and education.

[Mediation] is the key in his approach to understanding how human mental functioning is tied to cultural, institutional, and historical settings since these settings shape and provide the cultural tools that are mastered by individuals to form this functioning. In this approach, the mediational means are what might be termed the "carriers" of sociocultural patterns and knowledge (Cited by Mahn & John Steiner, 1994).

Following is an explanation of Zone of Proximal Development from Wikipedia.

The zone of proximal development (in Russian: зона ближайшего развития), often abbreviated ZPD, is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help. It is a concept developed by Soviet psychologist and social constructivist Lev Vygotsky (1896 - 1934).

Vygotsky stated that a child follows an adult's example and gradually develops the ability to do certain tasks without help. Vygotsky's often-quoted definition of zone of proximal development presents it as

the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers

Vygotsky and other educational professionals believed education's role was to give children experiences that were within their zones of proximal development, thereby encouraging and advancing their individual learning.

"The zone of proximal development defines functions that have not matured yet, but are in a process of maturing, that will mature tomorrow, that are currently in an embryonic state; these functions could be called the buds of development, the flowers of development, rather than the fruits of development, that is, what is only just maturing"

Obtained from on August 21, 2012.


Wikipedia explains activity theory as follows:

Activity theory (AT) is an umbrella term for a line of eclectic social sciences theories and research with its roots in the Soviet psychological activity theory pioneered by Alexei Leont'ev and Sergei Rubinstein. These scholars sought to understand human activities as complex, socially-situated phenomena and to go beyond paradigms of reflexology (the teaching of Vladimir Bekhterev and his followers) and physiology of higher nervous activity (the teaching of Ivan Pavlov and his school), psychoanalysis, and behaviorism. It became one of the major psychological approaches in the former USSR, being widely used in both theoretical and applied psychology, and utilized in education, professional training, ergonomics, and work psychology.

Activity theory is more of a descriptive meta-theory or framework than a predictive theory. It considers an entire work/activity system (including teams, organizations, etc.) beyond just one actor or user. It accounts for environment, history of the person, culture, role of the artifact, motivations, and complexity of real life activity. One of the strengths of AT is that it bridges the gap between the individual subject and the social reality - it studies both through the mediating activity. The unit of analysis in AT is the concept of object-oriented, collective, and culturally mediated human activity, or activity system. This system includes the object (or objective), subject, mediating artifacts (signs and tools), rules, community, and division of labor. The motive for the activity in AT is created through the tensions and contradictions within the elements of the system. According to ethnographer Bonnie Nardi, a leading theorist in AT, activity theory "focuses on practice, which obviates the need to distinguish 'applied' from 'pure' science - understanding everyday practice in the real world is the very objective of scientific practice. … The object of activity theory is to understand the unity of consciousness and activity."

AT is particularly useful as a lens in qualitative research methodologies (e.g., ethnography, case study). AT provides a method of understanding and analyzing a phenomenon, finding patterns and making inferences across interactions, describing phenomena and presenting phenomena through a built-in language and rhetoric. A particular activity is a goal-directed or purposeful interaction of a subject with an object through the use of tools. These tools are exteriorized forms of mental processes manifested in constructs, whether physical or psychological. AT recognizes the internalization and externalization of cognitive processes involved in the use of tools, as well as the transformation or development that results from the interaction.

Activitiy may be better known as Scandinavian activity theory now than as Russian activity theory.

AT remained virtually unknown outside the Soviet Union until the mid-1980s, when it was picked up by Scandinavian researchers. The first international conference on activity theory was not held until 1986. The earliest non-Soviet paper cited by Nardi is a 1987 paper by Yrjo Engeström: "Learning by expanding". This resulted in a reformulation of AT. Kuutti notes that the term "activity theory" "can be used in two senses: referring to the original Soviet tradition or referring to the international, multi-voiced community applying the original ideas and developing them further."

The Scandinaviant AT school of thought seeks to integrate and develop concepts from Vygotsky's Cultural-Historical Psychology and Leont'ev's activity theory with Western intellectual developments such as Cognitive Science, American Pragmatism, Constructivism, and Actor-Network Theory. It is known as Scandinavian activity theory. Work in the systems-structural theory of activity is also being carried on by researchers in the US and UK.

Some of the changes are a systematisation of Leont'ev's work. Although Leont'ev's exposition is clear and well structured, it is not as well-structured as the formulation by Yrjo Engeström. Kaptelinin remarks that Engeström "proposed a scheme of activity different from that by Leont'ev; it contains three interacting entities - the individual, the object and the community- instead of the two components - the individual and the object - in Leont'ev's original scheme."

Some changes were introduced, apparently by importing notions from Human-Computer Interaction theory. For instance, the notion of rules, which is not found in Leont'ev, was introduced. Also, the notion of collective subject was introduced in the 1970s and 1980s (Leont'ev refers to "joint labour activity", but only has individuals, not groups, as activity subjects).

Obtained from on August 21, 2012.

There is free online version of Engeström's Learning by Expanding.

Learning by Expanding:
An Activity - Theoretical Approach to Developmental Research

Block explains activity theory in terms of its three stages: motive, action, and operation. (pp. 101-102)


Need ≫ Objective ≫ Motive


Need ≫ Objective ≫ Motive ≫ Goal ≫ Action


Need ≫ Objective ≫ Motive ≫ Goal ≫ Action ≫ Conditions ≫ Operations

Does the activity theory (particularly, the three stages above) sound true to you? Which do you find as a more appropriate theory for ELT, the information processing theory or activity theory?


Appropriation is succinctly explained in Bakhtin and Hypertext (

Appropriation, for Bakhtin, is an integral component of dialogue: in order to engage in dialogue, one must be able to apprehend, internalize, and recreate the utterances of others (which is the same "intertextual" activity that Kristeva argues occurs in the context of reading). I do not use the term appropriation to be indicative of an absorption and subsequent conformity to the dominant discourse in a given discourse community; rather, appropriation is the theft of language (either that of the dominant discourse or of the "other) which is then reinterpreted and used to further the discourse of the self.

Obtained from on August 21, 2012.

As you can see in the above explanation, you need to understand dialogue when you want to understand appropriation.

Once again, let's take a look at a concise explanation offered by Bakhtin and Hypertext (

As an abstract concept, Bakhtinian dialogue is the dialectical relationship between self and other where "self" occupies a relative center, and thus requires the other for existence. Dialogue as I refer to it in this essay is the use of language which allows voices of the "other" to emerge in dialogue with the voice of the individual, as opposed to "monologic" speech, or the use of language which seeks to suppress the voice of the "other."

Obtained from on August 21, 2012.

We're here led to the concept of dialectics. To understand more about this concept, please go to one of my blog articles:

As Block says, appropriation is "not just the passing of the external to the internal; it is the meeting of the external and the internal to form a synthesised new state." (Block 2003; 103)

However, Block hastes to add that this synthesis "should not be taken as a completely harmonious affair, the achievement of what Rommerveit has termed 'Habermas's promised land of "pure intersubjectivity" (Block 2003; 103).

Block mentions Wells (1999) Dialogic Inquiry: Towards a Socio-cultural Practice and Theory of Education and states that 'appropriation is to be seen more as a transformational ongoing process." (Block 2003; 103)

If you still find it difficult to understand appropriation, it may help if you compare the acquisition metaphor and the participation metaphor.

On Two Metaphors for Learning and the Dangers of Choosing Just One

Anna Sfard

doi: 10.3102/0013189X027002004
EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER March 1998 vol. 27 no. 2 4-13

This article is a sequel to the conversation on learning initiated by the editors of Educational Researcher in volume 25, number 4. The author’s first aim is to elicit the metaphors for learning that guide our work as learners, teachers, and researchers. Two such metaphors are identified: the acquisition metaphor and the participation metaphor. Subsequently, their entailments are discussed and evaluated. Although some of the implications are deemed desirable and others are regarded as harmful, the article neither speaks against a particular metaphor nor tries to make a case for the other. Rather, these interpretations and applications of the metaphors undergo critical evaluation. In the end, the question of theoretical unification of the research on learning is addressed, wherein the purpose is to show how too great a devotion to one particular metaphor can lead to theoretical distortions and to undesirable practices.

Related to the concept of participation is the concept of community of practice. So is the concept of Legitimate peripheral participation (LPP).

Please note that if you're obsessed with the information processing view, you may well forget these dimensions of our live that children know very much.


We may pay more attention to the works of Merrill Swain.

“New” Mainstream SLA Theory: Expanded and Enriched


Article first published online: 29 NOV 2007
DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-4781.2007.00671.x

The Modern Language Journal
Volume 91, Issue Supplement s1, pages 820?836, December 2007

How have the ideas raised by Firth and Wagner (1997) influenced the construction of second language acquisition (SLA) theories? In this article, we take the position that prior to and since 1997, there was and has been a notable increase in SLA research and theory that prioritizes sociocultural and contextual factors in addition to acknowledging individual agency and multifaceted identities. This article focuses on 4 major influences on a growing body of SLA research: sociocultural theory of mind, situated learning, poststructural theories, and dialogism. We highlight aspects of these perspectives that have been used in SLA theory, and provide examples of research that illustrate the richness and complexity of constructs such as languaging, legitimate peripheral participation, subjectivity, and heteroglossia. These perspectives and constructs address Firth and Wagner's call for a reconceptualization of SLA by offering alternative understandings of language and language learning.

Do you think that we should change the acronym of SLA to SLP (P for participation) to to change the 'A' from Acquitisitio to Activity? (p. 108)


On pp. 109-110, Block offers a beautiful summary of Lantolf and Pavlenko (2001). Read and discuss the implications of the following 5 points.

1. Historically and sociologically situate active agents

2. Engaging in communities of practice

3. Non-participation as active resisitence

4. Agency is co-constructed with other agents

5. Construction of self-identity and a personal narrative.


What is 'SLA' to be about? Should the term include 'Activity'? Or is it to be confined to the narrow sense of 'acquisition' (perhaps in the hope of getting the status of 'rigorous science')? If so, how narrow, or focused, should it be? Think how Chomsky would argue about this issue.

Block says at the end of this chapter.
However, on the ground, in the minds of language learners, it is likely to be the case that none of this debate really matters. For it is there that individuals are experiencing language learning in complex webs encompassing language acquisition, language use and language activity. (Block 2003: 118)

Are you on the ground?

Chapter 6: Some thoughts about the future

(6.1 - 6.3 Omitted)


Breen (2000) proposes the four-layered model of learning contributions to language learning. (p. 126)

Layer 4: Wider community identity and participation

Layer 3: Classroom context: a particular learning community

Layer 2: Learner action in context

Layer 1: Learner attributes, conceptualizations and affects

Which layer are you most interested in?


Discuss the meaning and implications of the following two propositions (p. 128):

(1) Culture enables individuals to engage in acts of symbolic representation.

(2) Culture stands at the crossroads of structure and agency.

Wikipedia has an article on "structure and agency."

In the social sciences structure or agency of human behavior is a debate where agency refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. and structure, refers to the recurrent patterned arrangements which influence or limit the choices and opportunities available.[1] The structure versus agency is a central debate that may also be understood as an issue of socialisation against autonomy, and can be contrasted with the "nature versus nurture" debate.

How do you find yourself as an L2 user in terms of structure and agency?


Those of you who took my class on communicative language abilities may remember Bachman and Palmer's model (1996) of Language Knowledge which is subsumed in the model of Communicative Language Ability.

Pragmalinguistics and sociopragmatics roughly correspond, I believe, to B&P's functional knowledge and sociolinguistic knowledge respectively.

Discuss the implications of the following statement by Block (2003: 131): "It is a trajectory which links more traditional interests in pragmalinguistics with increasingly more informed frameworks for sociopragmatics that include notions of individual agency and the interface of culture and identity."


Works like Bailey and Nunan's Voices from the Language Classroom: Qualitative Research in Second Language Education, TESOL Quarterly special issue in 1997, Norton's Identity and Language Learning, Norton and Toohey's Critical Pedagogies and Language Learning, and Pablenko's various works constitute pioneer works of learner identity as language user. (See also Kramsch's works, Block's Second Language Identities, and Dönyei and Ushioda's Motivation, Language Identity and the L2 Self)

Among others Norton's paper in 1995 may be one of the earliest works.

Social Identity, Investment, and Language Learning†


TESOL Quarterly
Volume 29, Issue 1, pages 9-31, Spring 1995
DOI: 10.2307/3587803

The author argues that second language acquisition (SLA) theorists have struggled to conceptualize the relationship between the language learner and the social world because they have not developed a comprehensive theory of social identity which integrates the language learner and the language learning context. She also maintains that SLA theorists have not adequately addressed how relations of power affect interaction between language learners and target language speakers. Using data collected in Canada from January to December 1991 from diaries, questionnaires, individual and group interviews, and home visits, the author illustrates how and under what conditions the immigrant women in her study created, responded to, and sometimes resisted opportunities to speak English. Drawing on her data analysis as well as her reading in social theory, the author argues that current conceptions of the individual in SLA theory need to be reconceptualized, and she draws on the poststructuralist conception of social identity as multiple, a site of struggle, and subject to change to explain the findings from her study. Further, she argues for a conception of investment rather than motivation to capture the complex relationship of language learners to the target language and their sometimes ambivalent desire to speak it. The notion of investment conceives of the language learner, not as a historical and unidimensional, but as having a complex social history and multiple desires. The article includes a discussion of the implications of the study for classroom teaching and current theories of communicative competence.

Do you agree with the view of Pablenko (2001: 167) that is quoted on p. 132?


Tarone and Liu (1995) reports of a case where one and the same L2 user showed quite different linguistic behaviours of varying linguistic developments depending on the interlocutors. Block summarises this case as the user's negotiation of his subject position in three different communities of practice that perhaps most impacted on the linguistic aspects of his interactions (p. 134). Do you know (of) similar cases?


Teutsch-Dwyer (2001) introduces a case of Karol, a Polish immigrant to the U.S., whose linguistic failure is probably to be explained by his struggle to find a position suitable for his gendered identity in various communities of practice. What is your idea about the relationship between identity, language use and language learning?


At the very end of this book published in 2003, Block says "Time will also tell if there really will be a social turn in SLA." Do you think there's been a social turn in SLA since then? How about in Japan?