Applied Linguistics from the perspective of sign language and Deaf studies
In this presentation, applied linguistics is explored in relation to sign language – the class of natural human languages which have arisen spontaneously within Deaf communities. These languages are produced and perceived in the visual modality, and are historically unrelated to the spoken languages which surround them. Despite surface differences from spoken language, they share at a deeper level the linguistic structure of all human language, and are found in parallel social and communicative contexts, as unwritten languages that occupy minority positions within societies where other languages are dominant.
The presentation begins with a brief but comprehensive introduction to the linguistic study of sign languages and the status of different sign languages within their surrounding majority spoken language communities. This will be followed by a discussion of current research priorities in the applied linguistics of sign language, including lexicography and sign language corpus linguistics. The remainder of the presentation discusses a range of issues pertinent to sign language and deaf studies in relation to applied linguistics, grouped around four themes: sign language teaching and learning; language and politics; sign language within the bilingual context; and technological and social change, concluding with a discussion of the role of applied linguistics in identifying and solving problems (both linguistic and policy-orientated) – independent of the modality of the language or languages considered.
Disciplinarity and disparity in applied linguistics
The identification and institutional status of applied linguistics as a distinct academic activity has always rested on a claim to disciplinarity. Its engagement with issues of language use and learning is said to be informed by the theoretical insights and empirical research of one discipline or another: indeed it now seems to be taken as self evident that applied linguistics is of its very nature an interdisciplinary area of enquiry. So what does this disciplinarity involve? Whatever other informing disciplines might be invoked as relevant, linguistics must presumably figure as primary. How then has applied linguistics realized the relationship with the discipline of linguistics that is claimed to inform and lend authority to its practices? This discipline has itself been defined in two radically disparate ways: one focusing on the abstract properties of the linguistic code and the other on how language is realized in contexts of use, and applied linguistics, especially as related to language pedagogy, has tended to take its bearings from one or other of these. Both disciplinary variants have their validity as methodological constructs but as such both are necessarily partial and reductive representations of language as it is actually experienced by its users, which is what applied linguistics is essentially concerned with. The critical question then arises as to the relative relevance of these two disciplinary perspectives, how far they have been, and can be, drawn upon, and their disparity resolved, in dealing with problematic issues in the practical domains of language use and learning.
Language Teaching in Turbulent Times: Curriculum-savvy teachers for curriculum success and sustainability
English has never been in such high demand in Tunisia and all of Arabic/French-speaking North Africa, especially in this post-revolution era. A suitable level of competence in English is valued in all areas (business, academia, civil society action and even politics) in a turbulent national and regional environment marked by socioeconomic problems, high youth unemployment, migration, terrorism and armed conflict. Yet, overall competence in English has remained low to very low in spite of decades of language instruction. This situation requires us as Applied Linguists, yet again, to revisit our assumptions about language, language learning and teaching, curriculum design and language policy and planning. Given the current global status of English, further enhanced by information and communication technologies (ICTs), English teachers, more than any other language or content teachers, find themselves charged with the responsibility of adapting their views and practices to meet the challenges of this brave new world. This presentation calls for attending to the central role of the English language teacher in curriculum implementation in order to promote learner autonomy while striving to humanize the teaching learning process and to ensure curriculum success and sustainability.