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?

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