Linguistics as a science has a long history of research and discovery, but still there is little agreement on the major roles and impacts of linguistic activity on the human nature, relationships and communication.
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It goes without saying that any language is a powerful instrument of persuasion and communication of any information; it is a human invention for the utility of human interactions; it is a technology having much functionality in different applications of human linguistic capabilities; it is a powerful tool for acting in the world and producing influence on it (Pare, 2009).
The major division among linguists is observed in the area of juxtaposed applied and formalist linguistic areas of research, and their ability to refer the language to realistic events and contexts.
The functions of the language in constructing and influencing the social, political, ideological and cultural reality are also debated and researched.
The set of articles reviewed in the present work provide a deeper understanding of the connections that a language has with the reality on any level, the functions that it plays in reflecting the human choices, and the way it is contextually shaped to reflect the social reality and discursive specificity of linguistic events.
One has to realize the difference between language and reality, and never strive to direct representation thereof in a language, even in applied linguistics – these conclusions were initially drawn from the article of Widdowson (2001) about the nature of applied linguistics and its relevance to the reality, but further on related to the argumentation of Smart (2010) on the subjective nature of collective argumentation.
The hypothesis of the author was that the discourse relationships in the formation of the argumentation, proofs and evidence, contradictions and comparisons are discursively related not only in organizations with similar standpoints, but in those opposing each other in views.
Smart (2010) finds the recurrent claims, themes and patterns of argumentation that are directly influenced by the behavior of opponents. That is, the discourse of the professional climate change organization is continuously formed as a natural reaction to the argumentation of the opposing party (Smart, 2010).
Hence, many similarities in the nature of scientific objectivity and its subjective representation in the collective argumentation of environmentalists and environmental skeptics may be found in the work of Smart (2010) voicing the claims of Widdowson about the fact that a linguist should “refer linguistic categories back to the actual language from which they had been abstracted” (Widdowson, 2001).
It is true because the practical element in linguistics should be observed – the science that exists for its own sake has no sense. Widdowson (2001) reviews two main tools of applied linguistics such as corpus analysis and critical discourse analysis to show how both the textual facts and effects can benefit the human understanding of linguistics and text in reality.
It is the critical discourse analysis that has found its implementation in the work of Smart (2010); by analyzing the contextual discourses of collective argumentation formation, the author managed to show how the diametrically different viewpoints play a continuous role in the construction of the social reality of both opponents.
One more useful idea of Widdowson that can be used in further practice is that linguists should “develop their own specialist discourses to suit their own disciplinary perspective on language” (Widdowson, 2001, p. 11).
By stating this, the author shows how the plurality of applied linguistics perspectives gives the opportunities for the scientific enquiry, research, comparison and analysis for the sake of further mediation between concepts and approaches.
One of such perspectives finds its reflection in both the claims of Smart (2010) about the living nature of a discourse and its affluent changeability depending on the collective argumentation , and in the Widdowson’s theory of regarding language as detached from reality; it is the systemic functional linguistics (SFL) approach of Young (2010).
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Young (2010) states that the intrinsic part in this language perspective is that it both creates and realizes its cultural part. This overview of the active nature of a language brings about the theory which says that language has its nature in the evolved service of its usage.
Language then results from a continuous act of options and choices that it transpires in. It is also fashioned by varying cultural and social situations. Hence, the functional role of a language results from its function, purpose and immediate discourse, enabling the speaker to use various linguistic instruments to construct the reality.
Young’s ideas about the functional application of language and its practical revelations of socio-cultural discourses may be developed further, as it is very logically complemented by the theory of Ricento (2006) about the language policy role in constructing the reality on the individual, group and even national level.
Young (2010) argues that SFL is a biaxial language describing perspective that views the external social-cultural phenomenal of the formal internal system through which the expression of the meaning of language is derived.
The SFL perspective is designed to work through the interaction of people through the use of language. Some similar ideas may be found in the claims of Ricento (2006) about the social role of the language used in particular settings.
Ricento (2006) identifies such concepts as diglossia in social terms, as a means of lowering the importance of indigenous languages and to assert the overwhelming influence of ‘big’ languages such as English nowadays or French several centuries ago.
In his opinion, such terms as “native speaker”, “mother tongue” and “linguistic competence” have lost their meaningfulness, and were abandoned under the conditions of complex multiculturalism. Research of language policies under the proposed angle shades light on the current situation with the economic instability, political turbulence, racism and discrimination that first of all find the reflection in the language.
Ricento’s (2006) claim that “ideology of monolingualism” has to be considered “as necessary for social and economic equality” proves to be true in case of having a brief look at how the linguistic hegemony can change the cultural, political and economic perspectives of a state. The linguistic concepts appear deeply welded into socio-cultural, political and historical contexts.
The proper approach to language policy can change the situation in a country and can alter the attitudes of some group members to another group. Young’s (2010) attention to the issue of linguistic metafunctions may serve as a sound theoretical substantiation of Ricento’s ideas on a theoretical, deeply detached level of linguistic functionality and situational context construction dependency.
Instead of a conclusion, one needs to note that the role of the language in the practical, contextual issues of everyday life is gaining importance and influences the linguistic theory.
Despite the fact that a linguistic situation may never render the reality in full, language has become a powerful tool for shaping the economic and cultural equality, solving various problematic issues and restoring the cultural dignity and autonomy by means of monolingualism implementation.
The language has a set of practical and theoretical functions; it serves as a reflection of human choices and shapes the discursive reality on a continuous, living basis. Continuation of research in linguistics may help identify some more mechanisms that are enacted in the discursive interactions of linguistic acts’ participants.
Pare, A. (2009). What we know about writing, and why it matters. Compendium 2, Vol 2, No 1, pp. 1-11.
Ricento, T. (ed.) (2006). An Introduction to Language Policy: Theory and Method. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Smart, G. (2010). “Argumentation across Web-Based Organizational Discourses: The Case of Climate Change.” In Srikant Sarangi & Chris Candlin (eds.), Handbook of Communication in Organizations and Professions. Mouton De Gruyter.
Widdowson, H.G. (2001). Coming to terms with reality: applied linguistics in perspective. In Graddol, D. (ed). Applied Linguistics of the 21st century. AILA Review 14.
Young, L. (2010). Systemic Functional Linguistics. Forthcoming in J. Simpson (Ed.) Routledge Handbook of Applied Linguistics.