definition of applied linguistics

Nama  : Nabiella Syifarani

Nim     : 2201410090



Applied linguistics is not easy to define because people would think of many things when it comes to applied linguistics. In fact, those who practice applied linguistics do not agree upon a certain definition. Therefore, there is a gap that needs to be filled in terms of defining applied linguistics. The definition problem is due to the lack of agreement on what is that to be applied?” A mediation between theory and practice “as Kaplan and Widdowson, ” a synthesis from a variety of disciplines including linguistics” as Hudson said, “presupposition of linguistics because a person cannot apply what he does not know” as Corder implied.

In addition, an extreme area of applied linguistics that is called critical applied linguistics highlights the following concerns and issues like identity, ethics, disparity, desire and the reproduction of otherness that have not been up to now considered to be connected to applied linguistics. What have been mentioned is an attempt to use applied linguistics concerns and activities to explain and analyze what applied linguistics methods and purposes are. This is called the ostensive definition approach.

These ostensive views have a problem because they really do not help in creating syllabuses in applied linguistics and they do not help in determining what things that are needed to be included in the profession. Those who argue for a dictionary definition believed that applied linguistics has a core do not accept ostensive definitions. For example, Widdowson claims that applied linguistics has got a core and he rejects the claim that says that applied linguistics is a mixture of many disciplines.

Widdowson and Cook believed that “the task of applied linguistics is to mediate between linguistics and language use”. Another definition of applied linguistics by Guy Cook is “the academic discipline concerned with the relation of knowledge about language to decision making in that real world”. However, the scope of applied linguistics is still not clear. He tried to create boarder lines to the areas of concern in applied linguistics as consisting of language and education, language, work and law and language, information and effect. The most important thing is that applied linguistics must be protected from the claim that says that language is everywhere, then applied linguistics is the science of everything.

Source and Target:

An important question that must be asked that is what the sources of applied linguistics are. Of course, it is obvious that once applied linguistics is mentioned, the first thing that comes to a person’s mind is simply linguistics. This because applied linguistics is associated with linguistics. However, linguistics is not the only source that applied linguistics takes from. Although, linguistics plays an important role in applied linguistics, applied linguistics has other sources such as psychology, sociology, education, measurement theory and so on. Another important question is what the target of applied linguistics is. It is clear that the main target of applied linguistics has to do with language teaching. In addition, language teaching includes speech therapy, translation and language planning. By accepting the following working definition that is, “applied linguistics is the theoretical and empirical investigation of real – world problems in which language is the central issue”. These real – world problems include the following failure and success, ability and disability, ethical and cultural, gender issues, technology and lack of resources, difficulty and simplicity and child and adult.

Emergence of the term Applied Linguistics:

In 1948, there was a journal, which was founded in Michigan University and called Language Learning. This journal was the first journal that carried the term-applied linguistics. It was mentioned in an article, which was called Language learning in 1967. However, the term-applied linguistics meant the application of linguistics. One of the editors has emphasized the wide range of theories and research methods that are used to investigate language studies in 1993. However, doing this cost a price which is abandoning the term applied linguistics. In here, the editor wanted to give his own interpretation of applied linguistics because he thought that the reader of the journal would understand a journal of research in language studies as a functional interpretation of applied linguistics.



Restriction of the Scope:

During the 1960s and 1970, it was taken for granted that applied linguistics was about language teaching. This was important because there was a need for language teaching especially English after the Second World War. This showed that a number of teachers, trainers and supervisors lacked language knowledge. It is accepted that applied linguistics is trying to solve language problems that people encounter in the real world. Then, the scope of applied linguistics should not be restricted to language teaching only. In fact, the scope should be broadening to cover language acquisition either the mother tongue or a target language, psych/neuro linguistics, sociolinguistics and so on.

Solution of terminology problem:

Corder suggested the idea that applied linguistics in only restricted to language teaching. This idea was open to criticism because applied linguistics is opened to other sources like education, psychology, sociology and so on. Spolsky argued that applied linguistics is educational linguistics. Other scientists believed that applied linguistics cover an area wider than language teaching. Each educational institution in America, Europe and Australia gives a course in linguistics analysis in terms of applied linguistics curriculum. These courses are about sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics or second language acquisition.


The problem about applied linguistics is that it is not a common one among applied disciplines. Applied linguistics has emerged in the 1950s and its main target is language teaching. Applied linguistics has no limits because it assesses language proficiency issues, what is the appropriate age of starting teaching and learning a second language, memory loss and so on. The solution of such problems are local and for the present time. Therefore, applied linguistics is a need because it is applied on different societies that face the mentioned problems.

It is clear that English played an important role in developing applied linguistics. The contribution of the English language to the development of applied linguistics is due to the domination of the English language in terms of politics and economics. All applied fields disciplines develop because of the need to provide training in newly appearing technical and professional occupation. This implies that the relationship between theoretical linguistics and applied linguistics should put applied linguistics in the first position and theoretical linguistics in the second position. By this sequence, theoretical linguistics will respond to the questions raised by applied linguistics. For example, if a problem is faced in the area of error analysis, the reference will be second language acquisition.

– References:

1.”History and Definition” of Applied Linguistics, (ch.1) by Alan Davies (2007), An Introduction to Applied Linguistics, Edinburg University Press.

2.”Applied Linguistics: A Twenty – First – Century Discipline” (ch.2) by William Grabe cited in The Oxford Handbook of Applied Linguistics, edited by Robert B. Kaplan, (2010) 2nd edition, Oxford University Press.

By Mohammed I. Al-Herz

Supervised by Dr. Alaeddin Hussain, Department of English Language

King Faisal University


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