Entry by Cara Bailey
Larsen-Freeman, D. (2006). On the need for a new understanding of language and its development. Journal of Applied Linguistics, 3(3).
In Larsen-Freeman’s article, she discusses a new means of understanding language development through the application of the Chaos/Complex Theory (C/CT). In this light, the language system can be described as “dynamic, emerging from use, its subsystems interactive,” and learning as “gradual, situated in a particular context and accomplished by unique, goal-oriented agents” (283). She resists the “categorical observations” of Universal Grammar (UG), by asserting that learner’s language performance should not be compared with a mastery of grammar and its forms but rather should be viewed as dynamic and ever-changing (282). The very notion of the language system creates what Larsen-Freeman sees as a dangerous tendency toward dualistic constructions, i.e. “competence and performance” or “acquisition and use.” According to her proposed method of understanding language as development, “such dualistic thinking is unparsimonious and perhaps unnecessary”; learners should not be judged on whether or not they have “gotten” verb forms as if forms could be “possessed” like discrete objects. The entire system is instead much more dynamic and personal. All learners have individual purposes for language use, and classroom practices should take into account that learners should learn language as it can be applied outside of the classroom and “authenticat[ed]” by each individual (285). In fact, rather than presenting language as a system of rules, instructors should present language as “patterned” and individual speakers develop language by manipulating these patterns (286). Larsen-Freeman also presents several empirical and qualitative studies in several disciplines which attempt to study the variability and dynamism of language development, even as she notes that the representation of learner language remains relatively unexplored within her article and in the field.
Notably, Larsen-Freeman connects her view of language and its development with several other fields of language acquisition. For example, she links the understanding of language as dynamic with the theory of emergence, stating that the language system is “created” through the individual’s manipulations of patterns (287). This theory also connects to the notion of the dynamic system, in which language is not a closed, fixed system but continuously evolves, as well as the fact that languages are inherently variable. As Klein (1998: 540-41) writes, language is a “normative fiction” because no “structurally well-defined ‘external language’” exists. Her most valuable contribution to educators is the term “grammaring,” which she proposes in response to the issue of how grammar is often taught as a “static system.” The term “grammaring” attempts to underscore grammar as a “procedural skill” for students to practice manipulating structures instead of demonstrating a knowledge of rules (296). This conception of grammar promises to transform many language programs which still rely on traditional language instruction and examination. Furthermore, her description of language acquisition provides an important framework for those interested in making all levels of foreign language classes focused on content rather than tracking language development through traditional examinations.