- The Oxford handbook of applied linguistics ed. by Robert Kaplan
More than a decade ago, the International Journal of Applied Linguistics (3.1.3–16, 1993) published a paper by S. N. Sridhar entitled ‘What are applied linguistics?’. The (apparent) ungrammaticality in the title is most appropriate as it reflects the diversity of intellectual and disciplinary engagements in the study of applied language studies. The Oxford handbook of applied linguistics purports to do the same: to present a comprehensive treatment of the field of applied linguistics, presenting its range, scope, and limits.
The field is presented under twelve major themes, each represented by three or more subthemes. The major themes are: the four skills (of learning/teaching), discourse analysis, the study of second language learning, the study of second language teaching, variation in language use and language performance, bilingualism and the individual learner, multilingualism in society, language policy and planning, translation and interpretation, language assessment and program evaluation, and technological applications in applied linguistics. Altogether, thirty-nine chapters (515 pp.) were commissioned to present a definition of applied linguistics. The list of authors assembled to knit together the various strands of this interdisciplinary field is indeed impressive: the papers are written cogently and are faithful to the main theoretical paradigms of their topic area. The 108-page references section is fairly comprehensive and a very useful resource for students and researchers pursuing interest in different areas of applied linguistics. The index (15 pp.) is exhaustive and very well organized. The introductory chapters by William Grabe and Patricia Duff provide the range of issues, the emerging trends, and the theoretical and methodological approaches that engage the study of applied language science. Finally, the concluding chapter by the editor provides speculations on the future of this interdisciplinary field—where to from here? After reading the papers, I am, and all applied linguists will be, convinced that insofar as the questions of good and bad language science have been falsely abstracted from the social contexts, as is the case in descriptive linguistics, applied linguistics restores it again. That is quite an accomplishment of this volume.
The editor notes, rather honestly, that ‘[A] book of this type will be judged not only on what it includes, but also on what it excludes’ (v). There is thus an awareness in such a complex undertaking—where a field is delineated, where disciplinary boundaries are drawn, where knowledge is legitimated—that certain areas of applied linguistics may not be able to find a voice in the comprehensive articulation of the field. The reasons for inclusion of topics follow the standard pattern: long history, tradition, convention, mainstream status. The reasons for exclusion, however, are not quite clear. There are several well-established and very fruitful areas in the field of applied language study such as language and gender, language and race, codeswitching, critical discourse analysis, among many others. Silence on such topics pushes these areas to the margins when in fact these are the very areas, critical discourse analysis for instance, that present the possibility of new understandings of, for example, the ideological bases of language variation, acquisition, teaching, and use—issues critical to applied linguistics. It is imperative that a handbook of applied linguistics pay [End Page 531] at least as much attention to the new(er) paradigms as it does to the established orthodoxies. Otherwise, applied linguistics will become anachronistic, rather than futuristic.