Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Contributions of Grand Linguistic Theories to Second Language Acquisition Research and Pedagogy

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

Contributions of Grand Linguistic Theories to Second Language Acquisition Research and Pedagogy

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Language acquisition has always been seen as an interesting phenomenon for investigation as it was thought that its study would open a way for understanding the nature of human beings. In fact, the study of language has a history comparable to the study of philosophy, fine arts, and literature (see, for example, Formigari, 2004). Yet, such efforts have not always been philosophical, with some branches of linguistics trying to find solution to language-related problems in the real world. These branches constitute a family of subfields of linguistics, together named as Applied Linguistics. The field of Applied Linguistics is defined as "the academic discipline concerned with

the relation of knowledge about language to decision making in the real world" (Cook, 2003, p. 5). The decisions are made with respect to a wide range of language-related problems including aphasia, forensic investigations, (critical) discourse analysis, journalism, L2 teaching and learning, etc.

It would not raise a lot criticism to claim that the most studied member of the field of applied linguistics is second language acquisition (SLA) research and pedagogy which deals with the processes that are involved in the second language (L2) acquisition and use, with the practical objective of improving these processes. Any branch of applied linguistics has no choice but to resort to its mother (i.e., linguistics) as, in whatever phenomenon language is concerned, linguistics has something to offer to help us better understand that phenomenon. Again, it could be claimed that SLA has benefited most from linguistic theories. This is so because many linguistic theories proposed for explaining first language acquisitions either had implications for studying L2 acquisition and use or were subjected to experimentations to see if their propositions could explain aspects of L2 acquisition and use.

In the present review paper, the contributions that linguistic theories have made to SLA research and pedagogy are discussed. Since it would be difficult to put limit to linguistic theories and to the contributions that they have made to SLA research and pedagogy, the present review has been necessarily selective. That is, it has only reviewed the contributions that four grand linguistic theories have made to SLA research and pedagogy. The four linguistic theories of interest to be discussed included Structural Linguistics, Nativism, Functional Linguistics, and Cognitive Linguistics. The contributions of these linguistic theories to SLA have been of different degrees and types. Some of them have more influenced SLA research, others have had implications more for SLA pedagogy, and, yet, some others have influenced both. At the end of the review, some suggestions are made as to how SLA research and pedagogy should interact with linguistic theories in the future.

2. Structural Linguistics

Perhaps, the first systematic attempts to study the nature of language were those made by the so-called structural linguists. Structural Linguistics was founded on the belief that the core of language knowledge is structure, or pattern, and that language speakers learn to use these structures/patterns in pre-determined language use contexts (see Richards & Rodgers, 2001). This belief originated from the linguistics interests of the 1950s "[a]s linguists discovered new sound types and new patterns of linguistic invention and organization, [and, therefore,] a new interest in phonetics, phonology, morphology, and syntax developed" (p. 54). So, the structural linguistics began to undertake efforts to study the phonological, morphological, and syntactic organizations of a wide range of languages all over the world. Another important premise of Structural Linguistics was that every language has its own particular system of structures and that no presuppositions could be made about the structural patterns of any language in the world. The duty of a structural linguist was to study the structural patterns of a language before he/she could make generalizations on its structural system. …

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