Journal of Applied Linguistics and Professional Practice, JAL Vol 3, No 3 (2006)

On the need for a new understanding of language and its development

Diane Larsen-Freeman
Issued Date: 14 Sep 2015


Applied linguists have quite naturally turned to linguists’ theories for their conceptions of language. Until recently, dominant theories in linguistics have encouraged applied linguists to view language as an abstract, static system. However, static views of language are not especially helpful when it comes to language teaching, language acquisition and other areas that applied linguists study. An alternative view, one inspired by Chaos/Complexity Theory (C/CT), sees the language resources of speakers as a dynamic network of language-using patterns – emergent, mutable and self-organizing – and their development within language learners not as an act of conformity, but rather as continuing dynamic adaptedness to a specific context. C/CT is centrally concerned with describing the mutual constitution of a system and its development, thus overcoming the dualistic thinking that is fostered by considering language apart from its access or use. It also counters the tendency to portray learner language as being an incomplete and deficient version of native speaker language. Finally, it addresses the ‘inert knowledge problem’, which results when language is taught as a system of fixed rules. There are a number of new theories that are much more compatible with a C/CT way of viewing language, and applied linguists would do well to consider them.

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DOI: 10.1558/japl.v3.i3.281


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