By Kamil Wiśniewski Aug 29th, 2007

Applied linguistics is an umbrella term that covers a wide set of numerous areas of study connected by the focus on the language that is actually used. The emphasis in applied linguistics is on language users and the ways in which they use languages, contrary to theoretical linguistics which studies the language in the abstract not referring it to any particular context, or language, like Chomskyan generative grammar for example.

Interestingly even among applied linguists there is a difference of opinion as to the scope, the domains and limits of applied linguistics. There are many issues investigated by applied linguists such as discourse analysis, sign language, stylistics and rhetoric as well as language learning by children and adults, both as mother tongue and second or foreign language. Correlation of language and gender, as well as the transfer of information in media and interpersonal communication are analyzed by applied linguists. Also forensic linguistics, interpretation and translation, together with foreign language teaching methodology and language change are developed by applied linguistics.

Shortly after the introduction of the term applied linguistics it was associated mainly with first, second and foreign language teaching, however nowadays it is seen as more interdisciplinary branch of science. Although in certain parts of the world language teaching remains the major concern of applied linguists, issues such as speech pathologies and determining the levels of literacy of societies, or language processing along with differences in communication between various cultural groups – all gain interest elsewhere.

In European union the focus of applies linguistics is put on the issues connected with the language policy of this multilingual community. The primary aim is to keep the balance in fulfilling the need for lingua franca and maintaining smaller languages in order for them not to get devalued. This is a pressing matter as with the migration of people within the European union and from outside its boarders the mixture of languages is getting more and more complex. Therefore, the focus is also put on analyzing language attitudes, adopting common language policy, creating teaching textbooks and other materials.

As it can be seen there are many trends in applied linguistics, some interconnected, others not having too much in common. There are, however, some very general tendencies among applied linguists to put more effort on certain investigations such as languages of wider communication, corpus analysis, or critical applied linguistics. When it comes to languages of wider communication it is clear that with the increasing numbers of international travels and technological advances the need for an international language raises. As English is the contemporary lingua franca applied linguists attempt to include language policy and planning in their interest, but is also concerned with analyzing language and identity, and special educational needs. Corpus analysis takes both quantitative and qualitative approach to the study of language and applied linguists focus of the identification of patterns of language use depending on social context, audiences, genres and settings. Critical applied linguistics is interested in the social problems connected with language such as unemployment, illiteracy and pedagogy.

Brown K. (Editor) 2005. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics – 2nd Edition. Oxford: Elsevier.

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