In my last post, I described Weeks 3, 4, and 5. In this post, I’m back with a recap of Week 6 and some final thoughts on the project. I’ve also placed links to all of the curriculum development posts leading up to this unit at the end of this post if you want to follow the story from the beginning!
Like formal theories of language, functional theories of language come from the field of linguistics, although this type of linguistics is less commonly found in the U.S.. The type of functional linguistics I am most familiar with is Systemic Functional Linguistics, based on the work of Michael Halliday, and practiced predominantly in Australia. While I am also far from an expert in functional linguistics, a key tenet of functional linguistics is that language cannot be separated from social function, or what humans do with language. This means that in contrast to formal linguistics, there is not a linguistic system that can be analyzed independently of the way it is deployed. In terms of language learning and teaching, this means that:
The term formal theories of language usually refers to linguistic theories that stem from the work of Noam Chomsky on Universal Grammar, or the idea that there is an innate language mechanism in humans that allows us to learn and use language. These theories are are also referred to as generative grammar, and are prominent in linguistic research in the United States. As a results, they have informed a great deal of research on second language acquisition, as well as theories of teaching. When the folk linguistic theories of language learning I discussed previously are contrasted with linguistic theories, these linguistic theories are most often formal theories. From my perspective, there are three main implications for taking an approach to language learning and teaching informed by formal theories of language, and I discuss these below.
Last week, I described the nation state ideology of language, and its implications for language teaching. This week, I’m discussing folklinguistic theories of language, and their implications for language learning and teaching. Generally, “folklinguistic” theories, or the general population’s beliefs about language, are contrasted with “linguistic” theories developed via the scientific study of language, or linguists beliefs about language. Frequently, these are in conflict. There are, of course, multiple linguistic theories, indicating that linguists don’t necessarily agree on what language is either, and I’ll discuss some of those as they relate to learning and teaching languages in upcoming posts. However, for the moment I’ll focus on folk linguistic beliefs I come across in the field of language teaching that to the best of my knowledge are not supported by scientific theories of language.
In my quest to make language and intercultural learning better, I sometimes feel that just when I start to understand one piece of the puzzle, I discover that the puzzle is in fact much larger than I thought. Recently, I have been researching ideologies of study abroad, which led me to think about ideologies for language learning, and just how much our beliefs about what language is influence how we teach it, and what we expect our students to do or know. Yet it is my impression that as teachers, we rarely think about what our ideologies of language are, we just take them for granted.