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date: 11 April 2021

(p. v) Preface to the First Edition

(p. v) Preface to the First Edition

The work of organizing this volume began in the fall of 1998. Peter Ohlin of Oxford University Press (OUP) contacted me, indicating his interest in organizing The Handbook of Applied Linguistics. The suggestion was of interest to me—after all, I had been the editor of the Annual Review of Applied Linguistics from 1980 to 1991 and had continued on the editorial board through 2000 (Kaplan and Grabe, 2000); in addition, in 1980 I had edited On the Scope of Applied Linguistics (Kaplan, 1980), and in 1991 William Grabe and I coedited Introduction to Applied Linguistics (Grabe and Kaplan, 1991); finally, together with Henry Widdowson, I had served as coeditor for applied linguistics for the International Encyclopedia of Linguistics (IEL), edited by William Bright (Kaplan and Widdowson, 1992), and at present I'm engaged again in the same context for the second edition of the IEL (Kaplan and Grabe, in preparation), this time under the general editorship of William Frawley and with William Grabe serving as coeditor for applied linguistics in lieu of Henry Widdowson. In other words, I've been interested in the scope of applied linguistics for more than 20 years.

In October 1998, a preliminary proposal for the Handbook was developed, and, following appropriate review, in November a contract with OUP was signed. William Grabe, Merrill Swain, and G. Richard Tucker were invited to constitute an editorial advisory board for the project. In December 1998 and January 1999, the editorial advisory Board and I developed a revised outline for the volume and identified 43 contributors to write for the Handbook (out of a tentative list of more than 100 applied linguists who constituted a preliminary pool of potential contributors). Three contributors dropped out along the way. The first letters of invitation were mailed out in February 1999. Through March, April, and May 1999, negotiations were carried out; in June, the list of contributors was finalized. Contributors were asked to write scholarly articles on the topics for which they were responsible, placing their topics within the field of applied linguistics and, insofar as possible, suggesting the ways in which the several subdisciplines might develop in the future. Contributions began to arrive during late December 1999, though the deadline for contributions had been set for March 2000; contributions trickled in through March, April, and May 2000, and the last contribution was received in November 2000.

There are at least three holes in the design of this volume; work with the hearing impaired with teacher education, and with corpus development. Rachell Mayberry had agreed to provide an article on the first of these topics, JoAnn Crandall on the second, and Simon Murison-Bowie on the third; regrettably, these authors withdrew from the project in a time frame that made it impossible to replace them.

(p. vi) A book of this type will be judged not only on what it included, but on what it excluded. The editorial group spent quite a bit of time debating whether critical (applied) linguistics/critical pedagogy/critical discourse analysis should be included; on the grounds that critical applied linguistics rejects all theories of language, expresses “skepticism towards all metanarratives” (Lyotard, 1984), and rejects traditional applied linguistics as an enterprise because it has allegedly never been neutral and has, rather, been hegemonic (Rampton, 1997b), it was the decision of the editorial group not to include the cluster of critical activities.

In a way, the editorial group for this volume constitutes an entirely inappropriate set of editors for such a volume. Tucker had been president of the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) from 1978 and 1992; Swain, working at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) in Toronto, together with Michael Canale, had authored the seminal “Theoretical Bases of Communicative Approaches,” which had appeared in volume 1, number 1 of the journal Applied Linguistics; Grabe was the second editor of the Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, serving from 1991 to 2000. Both Swain and Grabe (and I) had at various times been elected to the presidency of the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL), and Tucker, in his CAL role, had served for a number of years as an ex officio member of its governing board. As a matter of fact, I happen to be the eldest of the editorial group by at least a dozen years; indeed, I am since 1995 formally retired from the University of Southern California (USC), holding the title professor emeritusus.

Thus, although the editorial group represents an enormous amount of experience, and although these four individuals have lived through much of the last 3 or 4 decades of the development of applied linguistics not only in the United States but in the world (through their participation in the International Association of Applied Linguistics [AILA] and their wide individual and collective familiarity with applied linguists around the world), they unquestionably know the history of applied linguistics; they know how and why applied linguistics has arrived at its present stage of development. Unfortunately, they are less well qualified to discuss the future of applied linguistics. That is a task for younger scholars. As a result, every effort has been made to allow a mix of younger and more established scholars to have their say through the 39 contributions to this volume. (Five of the chapters have two collaborating authors.) The distribution of scholars by country of residence and by gender is shown in table I.

Applied linguistics is a difficult notion to define; indeed, it should not be assumed that this volume will provide a definitive definition of the field. Rather, this volume offers a snapshot of some of the subfields of applied linguistics at the beginning of the third millennium—and thus, a kind of overview of the field. The term applied linguistics came into existence in the 1940s through the efforts of language teachers who wished to ally themselves with “scientific” linguists and to disassociate themselves from teachers of literature. By the mid-1950s, the term was given credence by the opening of the School of Applied Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh (1956) and by the creation of the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL, 1959) in the United States. Soon thereafter, during the 1960s, the term was (p. vii) institutionalized in the International Association of Applied Linguistics (Association Internationale de Linguistique Appliquée [AILA]; 1964) and in the evolution of a series of national associations of applied linguistics (e.g., the British Association of Applied Linguistics, 1967). Further, the field was given scope and substance by the publication of Introducing Applied Linguistics (Corder, 1973) and by the publication of The Edinburgh Course in Applied Linguistics (Allen and Corder, 1973–1975). The range and quality of research was soon being identified through the founding of a number of journals, including Language Learning (1948), TESOL Quarterly (1967), Applied Linguistics (1980), and the Annual Review of Applied Linguistics (1980).

Table I. Distribaution of Contributors

By Country

By Gender


05 (12.0%)


24 (57%)


01 (02.5%)


18 (43%)


05 (12.0%)


42 (100%)


02 (04.5%)


02 (04.5%)

United Kingdom

04 (09.5%)

United States

23 (55.0%)


42 (100.0%)

Because the field came into being during the ascendancy of the structuralist linguistics movement, of Skinnerian psychology, and of the audiolingual method—a combination that gave rise to the notion that linguistic and psychological theory could easily be translated into practice—early applied linguistics was dominantly associated with language teaching. Indeed, although that relationship continues in the present (see, e.g., Davies, 1999; Spolsky, 1999), the field has diversified, with some segments splitting off to become essentially independent: Language testing has its own organization and its own journal; second language acquisition has its own journal though not yet an independent organization; and language policy and planning commands several journals (e.g., Current Issues in Language Planning) and a website ( but no independent organization yet.

The current diversity of the field can be seen in the range of topics included in this volume, in the list of the “scientific commissions” of AILA, and in summary pieces written at various times over the past decade or so by Angelis (1987), Grabe and Kaplan (1991): 3–6), Kaplan 1999, Kaplan and Grabe (2000), and others (cf. Davies, 1999). It is clear that applied linguistics lacks a central organizing theory. In some ways, the field seems to be fragmenting into segments. At the Twelfth World Congress of AILA, held in Tokyo in August 1999, there were a number of fairly (p. viii) heated public discussions of the nature and scope of applied linguistics; there was little consensus among the participants in these discussions, but in part at least the lack of agreement may have been the result of the fact that six quite different questions were being addressed simultaneously:

  1. 1. What is the place of applied linguistics in the architecture of the “university”?

  2. 2. Where does applied linguistics fit in the sociology of knowledge?

  3. 3. What are the kinds of questions that applied linguistics ought to be addressing? That is, what are the dominant paradigms guiding research in the field?

  4. 4. What part(s) of linguistics can be applied to the real-world, language-based problems that applied linguistics presumes to mediate?

  5. 5. What kind(s) of problems can be solved through the mediation of applied linguistics?

  6. 6. What does an aspiring applied linguist need to know? That is, what should the content of graduate curricula in applied linguistics contain?

These questions are impacted by the assumption that applied linguistics ought to be unitary:

  • That the training of incipient applied linguists ought to be based on the notion of a curriculum in which “one size fits all”

  • That the work of applied linguists ought to be driven by a single unified theoretical paradigm

  • That the place of applied linguistics in the academy ought to be conceived in terms of a model of the traditional academic department

This assumption is quite ironic, because applied linguists have repeatedly argued that their field is not merely “linguistics applied,” but rather is, by definition, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary. For example, the charge of some English departments includes at least the following:

  • American literature (divided into chronological components)
  • Comparative literature
  • Creative writing

English literature (divided into chronological components—sometimes with Anglo-Saxon language and literature and Middle English language and literature as separate components, sometimes with special components in Irish language and literature, sometimes with special components in EL2 literatures)

  • History of English language
  • Journalism
  • Rhetoric and composition
  • Teaching English as a first language
  • Teaching English as a second language
  • World literature

(p. ix) Such hydra-like monstrosities do exist (not always happily). If applied linguistics is to be conceived as having a traditional academic departmental structure, one could conceive of something as diverse and ecumenical as that suggested above. Although such a structure is not to be highly recommended, it does illustrate the point that diversity is possible in an administrative sense.

Because the real-world language-based problems that applied linguists try to mediate are enormously diverse, having in common only the probability that they are language based, it is unlikely that any single paradigm can speak to the diverse activity of the field. Depending on the setting of a given problem, the applied linguist practitioner may be expected to know something about at least the following:



Education theory



International relations

Language learning and teaching



Policy development

Political science


Public administration


Teacher training

Text production

Indeed, Christian 1999: 7) points out that the current staff of the Center for Applied Linguistics contains individuals holding graduate degrees in the following: particular languages, cognitive and social psychology, educational psychology, multicultural education, bilingual education, educational measurement, health administration, in addition to linguistics, applied linguistics, and sociolinguistics. In sum, the applied linguist has to have a broad exposure to all the social sciences. Of course, because the common element is language, the applied linguist ought to be well grounded in linguistics, psycho- and neurolinguistics, and sociolinguistics, including literacy, individual bilingualism, and societal multilingualism. And all applied linguists must be highly computer literate and able to deal with statistical data.

With respect to the training of incipient applied linguists, a curriculum grounded in linguistics and its various hyphenated subcomponents should be considered basic. Beyond that, perhaps a wide variety of academic minors ought to be available, or, alternatively, joint degrees in applied linguistics and any of the fields mentioned above ought to be possible, assuming that bureaucratic obstacles can be overcome. “While these demands on new students may seem daunting, they are probably no more demanding than new and increasing expectations in other disciplines. It is an exciting time to be an applied linguist, and also an exciting time to become one” (Kaplan and Grabe, 2000: 16).

The contributions to this volume will, I hope, explicate and demonstrate the breadth of applied linguistics and the depth of knowledge required of one who aspires to practice this discipline in the real world. Although the field is diverse and multidisciplinary, it need not be thought of as Balkanized. Although there is no (p. x) unifying paradigm yet, it is likely that one may evolve in the future. What is unlikely, however, is that applied linguistics and autonomous linguistics will merge into a single enterprise. That is so because the two activities take quite distinct views of language: For the autonomous linguist, language is self-contained and independent of human use, whereas for the applied linguist language must be considered in the context of its uses and users.