Applied Linguistics

When I did my M.A. in Applied Linguistics in the 1970’s, the term “Applied Linguistics” meant the application of new linguistic insights into the burgeoning world of Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Courses were springing up everywhere in response to the worldwide demand for teachers of English, then already clearly established as the world language.

I was quite indignant at the time at the abrogation of the term to TEFL, as I was aware of the exciting prospects opened up for the application of linguistic frameworks to literature. Literature teaching had always been at least half of my work in schools and colleges and I had never been very happy with the limited untheoretical approach of traditional teaching (still standard in N.A.T.E). I was lucky enough to be introduced to Stylistics on my M.A. course and I happily pursued this interest through the Poetics and Linguistics Association.

Coming back to Linguistics recently, it has been interesting to see how Linguistics is now applied to an ever-increasing range of subject areas. My friends and I have been reading the book on Forensic Linguistics by Malcolm Coulthard and Alison Johnson. It shows how linguists can assist in the gathering of evidence for litigation by applying linguistic framework to spoken and written texts. Their evidence has been critical in a number of cases, most famously the Bentley appeal, where linguistic analysis was accepted as showing that the police evidence was unreliable. The book also shows that linguistic evidence is not always accepted by judges, and that evidence which is recognised in the UK is not always recognised in, for instance, the USA or Australia. While there is some demand for the services of linguists, forensic linguistics is not a flourishing profession. Indeed, it appears that there is only one full-time professional. For one thing it is a very stressful to be cross-examined in court – very different from defending one’s ideas in the academic world. Moreover, linguistic evidence must always be secondary to material evidence. One linguist produced a case that, on the balance of probabilities, a text written in biro was genuine, only to recall that biros had not been invented at the time of writing!

My friends and I have now moved on to a book introducing the topic of linguistic analysis applied to the subject of medicine. There has evidently been quite a bit of research into relevant spoken texts (e.g. doctor-patient consultations) and written texts (e.g. patient records) and we look forward not only to learning about the linguistic frameworks applied to these texts, but also matching them with our own experience of the health care system.

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