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On the limitations of linguistics applied

by H Widdowson
Applied Linguistics ()

Abstract

Linguistics has changed a good deal over the 20 years since this journal was founded, and this raises questions as to what implications this has for applied linguistics as, in some degree at least, a dependent area of enquiry. One obvious change is that linguistic analysis appears to have got closer to language experience in that it has broadened its scope to take in the externalized language of actual use. Since applied linguistics is concerned with language problems as experienced in the real world, it might appear that the two areas of enquiry in effect converge into one. This article examines two examples of such apparent convergence, corpus analysis and critical discourse analysis, where linguistic description makes claims to be directly relevant to 'real world' problems in language use and learning. It argues that in both cases what we have is linguistics applied whereby such problems are reduced and resolved by the imposition of necessarily partial linguistic account on the reality of language experience. This, it is argued, needs to be distinguished from applied linguistics, a mediating activity, more ethnographic in character, which seeks to accommodate a linguistic account to other partial perspectives on language so as to arrive at a relevant reformulation of 'real world' problems.

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