The redefinition of applied linguistics: modernist and postmodernist views

  • Albert Weideman Unit for Academic Literacy, University of Pretoria, Pretoria 002, South Africa


The lack of debate about what constitutes applied linguistics brings with it an uncritical acceptance of views that deserve to be contested. Moreover, it leads to an ignorance of the historical influence of such views, which directly affects the basis of applied linguistics research and the training of professionals in the field. Since attempts to use more inclusive and desirable terms have been unsuccessful, Young (2005: 43) has now suggested that we revisit the idea of characterising applied linguistics as a discipline of design (Weideman, 1983; 1987; 1999; 2003). This characterisation of applied linguistics is itself not wholly uncontroversial, however, and calls up valid points of critique. The paper will discuss the reasons why such criticism is valid with reference to the various traditional (modernist) definitions of applied linguistics, and the variety of postmodernist definitions that have emerged. The paper will argue, finally, that, while modernist definitions of the field have emphasised the theoretical, scientific basis of the discipline, and postmodernist definitions identify (social and political) accountability as the critical feature of the endeavour, the discipline of applied linguistics finds its characteristic feature in the moment of design. The paper concludes with how one might give a systematic explanation of this characterisation, in terms of a foundational, philosophical perspective. It finds that the contributions of both modernist and postmodernist approaches to applied linguistics can be honoured, and that this will allow us both to train professional applied linguists responsibly, and to do research that takes each of the various emphases into account.

Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 2007, 25(4): 589–605

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1727-9461
print ISSN: 1607-3614