Origin and Development of Applied Linguistics

“Applied linguistics is not a discipline which exists on its own. It is influenced by other disciplines and influences them as well. It is a two-way process.

For this reason, applied linguistics examines theories from all sorts of different areas (semantics, syntax, pragmatics, sociolinguistics,…) and from all sorts of perspectives so that it help find out effective solutions for language -related issues such as teaching methodology (including foreign language and mother tongue teaching), translation, aphasia,…” Applied linguistics originated in close relation with foreign language teaching and has developed to cover a wide range of knowledge, but its core has always been language teaching and learning.

Applied linguistics draws its sources from sociology, psychology, anthropology and information theory as well as from linguistics to solve practical problems in practical areas such as language teaching. So applied linguistics is not linguistics that is applied, though it applies, first of all, linguistics. In fact, what it applies depends on what the theories are applied to.

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Applied linguistics, unlike pure science, aims to solve problems.

Thus between theories of linguistics and related fields and the practical areas such as language teaching, it plays the role of a mediator, which bridges theories and practice together. In this way, applied linguistics not only provides principles and methodology for language teaching, etc. , but also gives feedbacks to the theoretical study by summing up the experience from practice. As applied linguistics makes language teaching and learning its core, it provides language teacher with good language theories, principles and methodology.

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By learning applied linguistics, language teacher can possess an overall understanding of updated theories of language teaching & learning as well as a better perspective of the various factors affecting language teaching &learning. So it is very necessary for a language teacher to learn applied linguistics in order to teach more effectively. As for language learners, it is also very helpful to have some knowledge about applied linguistics.

For one thing, by knowing the currently used teaching approaches and methods, which are covered by applied linguistics, language learners can learn to adjust themselves to the teacher’s teaching by adopting a more proper learning method because “a theory of teaching always implies a theory of learning “(Applied Linguistics, Yue Meiyun) and language learning is a two – way process, which needs efforts and adaptation from bath the teacher’s side and the learner’s side. For another, applied linguistics covers a wide scope of knowledge.

It helps to enhance learner’s insights and depth of knowledge in language learning. Applied linguistics is an interdisciplinary field of study that identifies, investigates, and offers solutions to language-related real-life problems. Some of the academic fields related to applied linguistics are education, linguistics, psychology, computer science, anthropology, and sociology. The goal of this writing is to make some personal comment on the viewpoint: “Applied linguistics is not a discipline which exists on its own.

It is influenced by other disciplines and influences them as well. It is a two-way process. For this reason, applied linguistics examines theories from all sorts of different areas (semantics, syntax, pragmatics, sociolinguistics,…) and from all sorts of perspectives so that it help find out effective solutions for language -related issues such as teaching methodology (including foreign language and mother tongue teaching), translation, aphasia,…”.

Many linguistic students like me find linguistics useful because it broadens and deepens their understanding of related fields such as languages and literature (English and foreign), social sciences (especially anthropology, sociology, and psychology), education, philosophy, communication... The question is whether applied linguistics and linguistics applied is the same. Needless to say, the answer is “no”. Phillip Shaw, Stockholm University Strictly looking at the model above by Philip Shaw, a professor from Stockholm University, we can see a basic coherence between applied linguistics and other sciences.

According to the professor, studying linguistics means studying language’s sounds, grammar, words, meanings, uses, and connected contexts - that is phonetics, syntax, lexis, semantics, pragmatics, and discourse respectively. Of these, phonetics focuses on the physical sounds of speech. It covers speech perception (how the brain discerns sounds), acoustics (the physical qualities of sounds as movement through air), and articulation (voice production through the movements of the lungs, tongue, lips, and other articulators).

This area investigates, for instance, the physical realization of speech and how individual sounds differ across languages and dialects. This research plays a large part in computer speech recognition and synthesis. Syntax is the study of how units including words and phrases combine into sentences. Syntacticians investigate what orders of words make legitimate sentences, how to succinctly account for patterns found across sentences. Semantics within linguistics refers to the study of how language conveys meaning.

Pragmatics is the study of how utterances relate to the context they are spoken in. By areas studied, he distinguishes different kinds of linguistics. Sociolinguistics is the study where linguistics looks at how language functions in different social contexts. In other words, it is the study of how language varies according to cultural context, the speaker's background, and the situation in which it is used. Meanwhile, historical linguistics studies how languages are historically related.

This involves finding universal properties of language and accounting for a language's development and origins. Psycholinguistics is the study of language to find out about how the mind works. Pr. Phillip Shaw emphasizes that we can applied all knowledge of the above-mentioned sciences. It is understandable, therefore, whereas theoretical linguistics is concerned with finding and describing generalities both within particular languages and among all languages, applied linguistics takes these results and applies them to other areas.

He defines applied linguistics as an engineering of linguistics, taking what the sciences of linguistics have discovered and applied to solve real practical problems. Kamil Wisniewski, in his work ‘Applied Linguistics’ 2007, he presents the term applied linguistics as an umbrella term that covers a wide set of numerous areas of study connected by the focus on the language that is actually used.

He puts the emphasis in applied linguistics 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. There is a consensus among linguists that is applied linguistics is an interdisciplinary field of study that identifies, investigates, and offers solutions to language-related real-life problems.

Some of the academic fields related to applied linguistics are education, linguistics, psychology, computer science, anthropology, and sociology. Major branches of applied linguistics include bilingualism and multilingualism, computer-mediated communication, conversation analysis, contrastive linguistics, sign linguistics, language assessment, literacy, discourse analysis, language pedagogy, second language acquisition, lexicography, language planning and policies, stylistics, pragmatics, forensic linguistics, and translation.

For all of what I have presented above, I want to restate that applied linguistics does not exist on its own, it makes a great influence on other disciplines and also is influenced by them. The findings of linguistics, like the findings of any other theoretical study, can be applied to the solution of practical problems, as well as to innovations in everyday areas involving language. This is the mandate of applied linguistics. Applied linguists draw from theories of language acquisition to develop first and second language teaching methodologies and to implement successful literacy programs.

Applied linguists may also engage in language planning by developing alphabets and grammars for unwritten languages and by writing dictionaries. In short, applied linguistics applies the theories and tools of formal linguistics, sociolinguistics, and psycholinguistics in a wide variety of socially useful ways In his own work – “Issues in applied linguistics” (Cambridge University Press, 2001), Michael McCarthy presents applied linguistics as problem – solving concept.

According to him, it is the belief that linguistics can offer insights and ways forward in the resolution of problems related to language in a wide variety of contexts that underlines the very existence of applied linguistics. Applied linguists try to offer solutions to real-world problems in which language is a central issue. People often think that applied linguistics refers to the use of linguistic research in language teaching, but this is just one sub-discipline.

McCarthy lists out the domains of typical applied linguistic problems which, as he says, seems certainly be wide – ranging and potential endless, but might include 14 problems as following:

  1. A speech therapist sets out to investigate why s four-year-old child has failed to develop normal linguistics skills for a child of that age.
  2. A teacher of English as a foreign language wonders why groups of learners sharing the same first language regularly make a particular grammatical mistake that learners from other language backgrounds do not.
  3. An expert witness in a criminal case tries to solve the problem of who exactly investigated a crime, working only with statements made to the police
  4. A advertising copy writer searches for what would be the most effective use of language to target a particular social group in order to sell a product.
  5. A mother-tongue teacher needs to know what potential employers consider important in terms of a school-leaver’s ability to write reports or other business documents.
  6. A historian wishes to understand the meanings of place-names in a particular geographical area and how they have changed over time.
  7. A person constructing a language test foe non-native speakers for entry into further education needs to know what the key linguistic or psycholinguistic indicators are of reading ability in a second of foreign language.
  8. A literary scholar suspects that an anonymous work was in fact written by a very famous writer and looks for methods of investigating the hypothesis.
  9. A dictionary writer ponders over possible alternatives to an alphabetically organized dictionary.
  10. A computer programmer wrestles with the goal of trying to get a computer to process human speech or to get it to translate from one language into another.
  11. A group of civil servants are tasked with standardizing language usage in their country, or deciding major aspects of language planning policy that will affect millions of people.
  12. A body is set up to produce an international, agreed language for use by air-traffic controllers and pilots, or by marine pilots and ships’ captains.
  13. A zoologist investigates the question whether monkeys have language similar to or quite distinct from human language and how it works.
  14. A medical sociologist sets out to understand better the changes that occur in people’s use of language as they move into old age. (Michael McCarthy, “Issues in Applied Linguistics”, Cambridge University Press 2001, page 1-2)

In a work called “Understanding applied linguistics” by Professor V. B Owhotu (2007), the author emphasizes the importance and growing diversity of applied linguistics. In his view applied linguistics is driven first by real world problems rather than theoretical explorations.

In other words, the applied linguists should be preoccupied by the following problems: language learning problem (emergence, awareness, rules, use, context, automaticity, attitudes and expertise); language teaching problems (resources, training, practice, interaction, understanding, use, context, inequalities, motivation, outcomes); literacy problems (language and culture); language inequality problems such as ethnicity, class, gender and age; language policy and planning problems (status planning, corpus planning, and ecology of language);

Language assessment problems (validity, reliability, usability, responsibility); language use problems (dialects, register, discourse communities, gate-keeping situations, limited access to services); language and technology problems (learning, assessment, access and use); translation and interpretation problem (on-line, off-line, technology assisted); and language pathology problems (aphasia, dyslexia, physical disabilities). Needless to say, it is far beyond my capacity to present an insight to all of these above-mentioned problems.

However, in this part of the writing, I would like to take problems of language learning and teaching, translation and interpretation, and speech-language pathology as examples to demonstrate the point that applied linguistics helps us to find out effective solutions to our practical problems.

Researches in language teaching today show that applied linguistics is sometimes used to refer to “second language acquisitions”, but these are distinct fields, in that second language acquisition involves more theoretical study of the system of language, whereas applied linguistics concerns itself more with teaching and learning. In their approach to the study of learning, applied linguists have increasingly devised their own theories and methodologies, such as the shift towards studying the learner rather than the system of language itself, in contrast to the emphasis within second language acquisition.

I shall continue by considering what avenues within linguists suggest themselves for approaching two of the problems relevant to languages teaching. Let us consider problem of teacher trying to understand why learners from the same language background are having difficulty with a particular grammatical structure in English.

Potential linguistic questions for the solution of a grammatical problem, as McCarthy shows in “Issues in applied linguistics”, are: “What is known about the learner’s first language or any other language they know which might be interfering with their learning of the foreign language? What do grammarians say about this structure? What psychological barriers might be preventing the learning of the structure?

Are some structure difficult to learn if they are tackled too early on? Is there an order in which structures are best presented? ” (Michael McCarthy, “Issues in applied linguistics”, page 8). Can linguistics offer an approach or solution to the problem? If so, which branch(es) of linguistic study and by what methods? The answer lies in such linguistics’ components as pragmatics, semantics, syntax. In terms of pragmatics, students sometimes make mistakes in the use of unsuitable sentences in certain contexts that makes listeners misunderstand.

Therefore, when teaching English, teachers need not only teach grammar and vocabulary but also teach how to use sentences in suitable contexts; e. g. teaching students how and when to say thank you or apologize. In terms of syntax, the most popular mistakes students make are: when making sentences students often translate word by word as the result of their habit of mother tongue (e. g. I have a cat black); combining words incorrectly to produce phrases (e. g. “a high man” instead of “a tall man”); the agreement between words in a sentence (e. g. S and V, tenses).

In these cases, possibly effective solutions for teachers are: teachers need to teach students how to combine words correctly according to English grammatical rules; they should teach words in contexts. Teachers might also apply semantic knowledge to deal with learners’ mistakes.

That is when teaching students a word which has many different meanings, they should teach the meanings related to the context, situation; wishing to talk about a meaning of the word, we may use different synonyms or antonyms; when teaching students how to translate the sentences or the texts into learners’ mother tongue, we should teach students to combine the meaning of English words and the meaning of their mother tongue to have a good translation.

It could be confirmed that any problems in language learning and teaching might be solved with application of linguistics, and knowledge about language plays or could play a major role in language teaching and learning. In translation and interpretation area, applied linguistics can also be shown with effective applications in solving problems.

In an article titled “Linguistics and Applied Linguistics” posted in the website of University of Melbourne, Australia, the author emphasizes an important role of linguistics and applied linguistics in different areas of our life, specially in translation and interpretation area. The article provides clear reasons why linguistic and applied linguistics should be studied by those specializing in translation and interpretation. One of the given reasons is that the skills in need for solving problems are central to the study of linguistics. An evidence for this assumption is clearly shown in the article.

That is, “In a period when Australian culture is coming to term with the need to relate the worldwide mosaic of non-English speaking cultures, and when information and communication are moving to technological centre stage, there is a growing demand for people equipped to analyze language.

In fact, an increasing number of employers, ranging from language teachers to engineers of knowledge systems and speech synthesis, from translators to managers to designers of natural-language interfaces for computers, from lexicographers to lawyers to bilingual schools in Aboriginal communities, realize the value of a sound training in Linguistics”.

As cited in the article, knowledge in Applied Linguistics will provide us a head start in understanding and orienting us to the area and will give us relevant knowledge and analytical skills. People with a background in Applied linguistics also gain an enhanced understanding of how people learn first, second and foreign languages and of how language is used in the community.

These skills will be relevant to those interested in preparing for careers as language teachers, language education and assessment experts, speech pathologists, interpreters and translators, and a variety of jobs in industry where language and communication are issues are of concern. Linguistics and Applied Linguistics provide unique skills in cross-linguistic and cross-cultural communication that are helpful in solving problems in translation and interpretation.

Speaking of applied computational linguistic, people often mention machine translation, computer - assisted translation, and natural language processing as fruitful areas which have also come to the forefront in recent years. I am going to pick up machine translation as a typical example of applying linguistic knowledge.

Machine translation is a form of translation where a computer program analyses the text in one language - the "source text" - and then attempts to produce another, equivalent text in another language - the target text - without human intervention. Currently the state of machine translation is such that it involves some human intervention, as it requires a pre-editing and a post-editing phase.

Note that in machine translation, the translator supports the machine and not the other way around. Nowadays most machine translation systems produce what is called a "gisting translation" - a rough translation that gives the "gist" of the source text, but is not otherwise usable. However, in fields with highly limited ranges of vocabulary and simple sentence structure, for example weather reports, machine translation can deliver useful results.

It is often argued that the success of machine translation requires the problem of natural language understanding to be solved first. However, a number of heuristic methods of machine translation are also used, including: lexical lookup methods, grammar based methods, semantics based methods (knowledge-based machine translation), statistical methods, example based methods, dictionary-entry based methods, linguistic rule based methods.

Generally, rule-based methods parse a text, usually creating an intermediary, symbolic representation, from which the text in the target language is generated. These methods require extensive lexicons with morphologic, syntactic, and semantic information, and large sets of rules.

Statistical-based and example-based methods avoid manual lexicon building and rule-writing and instead try to generate translations based on bilingual text corpora, such as the Canadian Hansard corpus, the English-French record of the Canadian parliament. Where such corpora are available, impressive results can be achieved translating texts of a similar kind, but such corpora are still very rare.

Given enough data, most machine translation programs work well enough for a native speaker of one language to get the approximate meaning of what is written by the other native speaker. The difficulty is getting enough data of the right kind to support the particular method. The large multilingual corpus of data needed for statistical methods to work is not necessary for the grammar based methods, for example.

But then, the grammar methods need a skilled linguist to carefully design the grammar that they use. Generally speaking, application of knowledge from linguistics and applied linguistics benefits the practice of language teaching and learning, translation and interpretation. Linguistic theory has also provided a rich knowledge base for application in speech language pathology.

First of all, linguistic approaches to aphasia are aimed at providing well-motivated descriptions for patterns of dissociation in aphasia; unifying diverse phenomena in normal and abnormal language under a single account; constraining competing accounts within linguistic theory.

As cited by Roman Jakobson on the role of linguistics in research on aphasia (1971, p.39-40), “the application of purely linguistic criteria to the interpretation and classification of aphasia facts can contribute substantially to the science of language and language disturbances, provided that linguists remain as careful and cautious when dealing with psychological and neurological data as they have been in their traditional field”.

He provides some linguistic approaches to aphasia such as: first of all, pathologists or clinicians should be familiar with the technical terms and devices of the medical disciplines dealing with aphasia; then, they must submit the clinical case reports to thorough linguistic analysis; and further, they should themselves work with aphasic patients in order to approach the cases directly and not only through prepared records which are quite differently conceived and elaborated.

As we know, phonological theories have also provided frameworks for the description of the speech of unintelligible children in terms of coherent phonological systems, thus facilitating logical goal-setting for intervention. In this part, I might give an example of clinical application. Clinical linguistics entails the application of linguistics to speech-language pathology.

This involves treating individuals whose linguistic development is atypical or impaired. This branch of applied linguistics may also involve treatment of specific language impairment, where one aspect of language develops exceptionally. Phonological disorder is a typical problem of people with speech-language pathology.

Some children learning a language have difficulties at the phonological level of language acquisition, including problems with knowledge of phonetic segments and phonological constraint, and how that knowledge is implemented in speech production. These problems result in impaired intelligibility and most often difficulty in other language domains such as lexical and syntactic development.

In addition, they may lead to later problems in developing literacy. Research in speech production disorders had little concern with the nature of phonology. Rather, children who used few speech sounds or used them incorrectly were studied to determine if they had problems with sensory, cognitive, motor, or perceptual tasks.

A speech sound production problem was presumed to be a peripheral motor problem. After all, speech pathology and linguistics have, as sciences, experienced a parallel development over the past years. Although these disciplines have traditionally been separated, they have common areas of concern, and there are indications of a growing interest on the part of speech pathologists in such linguistic subfields as sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, and neurolinguistics.

Speech and hearing publications are paying attention to theoretical and methodological linguistic models, and descriptions of communication disorders are using linguistic paradigms as a basis.

Given the interest of speech pathology in linguistics, there is both an obligation and an opportunity for linguists to define new roles for themselves within speech pathology. This requires the identification of common areas and methods by which the linguist can adapt linguistic concerns so that they are meaningful to the speech pathologist.

Areas of common interest include communication disorders, phonetics, language acquisition, and language variation. Linguists may have to expand their data base to include the particular interests of speech pathology; they may need background information in areas not traditionally stressed in linguistics; and they must understand the goals of speech pathology as a professional field.

Needless to say, what have been mentioned above may not enough to get an insight in application of linguistic and applied linguistic knowledge in solving practical problems. The writing, as being said in the very beginning part, just provides my personal comment on the given statement; therefore, in order to get insight in the statement, there should be further studies on it.

There should be other different approaches in analyzing or understanding it, too. I myself believe that possible findings of potential studies on this viewpoint will be very meaningful and surely benefit the practice of applied linguistics in solving practical problems.


  1. Alan Davies (2007), An Introduction to Applied Linguistics: From Practice to Theory, Edinburgh University Press.
  2. Alan Davies and Catherine Elder (2004), The Handbook of Applied Linguistics, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing
  3. Roman Jakobson (1968), Child Language, Aphasia and Phonological Universals, Mouton Publishers.
  4. Roman Jakobson (1959), On Linguistic Aspects of Translation, essay retrieved from http://www. scribd. com/doc/23687802/Linguistic-Aspects-of-Translation-Jakobson
  5. Michael McCarthy (2001), Issues in Applied Linguistics, Cambridge University Press.
  6. V. B. Owhotu (2007), Understanding Applied Linguistics, University of Lagos Press.
  7. Phillip Shaw, An Overview of Applied Linguistics, video retrieved from www.sportballa. com/video-gallery/Applied-linguistics
  8. Kamil Wisniewski (2007), Applied linguistics, article retrieved from http://www. tlumaczenia-angielski. info/linguistics/applied-linguistics.html

Updated: Jul 07, 2022
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Origin and Development of Applied Linguistics. (2016, Sep 12). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/origin-and-development-of-applied-linguistics-essay

Origin and Development of Applied Linguistics essay
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