The ApplicationsAn Orientation
TALKING about talking,
using language about language is about as easy as burning wood in
a wooden ehūlhā. In
fact it is notoriously difficult – even for the professional. (Ask any student of linguistics or linguistic
philosophy.) It involves a
difficult exercise in self-consciousness.
So long as language is working smoothly, we do not take notice
it. This is as natural as a healthy person’s reluctance to pay any
medical or cosmetic attention to his body.
Even when language is not working so smoothly, it is not always
easy to realize that this is the case.
We are so accustomed to take for granted the learning and the
using of our native languages that it is only when we face a language
we do not know or know very imperfectly, or when we are not sure who
is to use which language with whom and on what occasion what we realize
that language can present problems. But realizing that a problem exists is not being equipped to understand
and possibly solve that problem.
There is likely to be a haze of misconceptions which would
prevent a proper understanding of the problem and lead us to wrong
It was thought, therefore, that it would not be out of place
to put together some saliencies that may serve as guidelines after
the following plan:
I (a) What language is not.
I (b) What language is like
II (c) What linguistics is not.
II. (d) What linguistics is like.
III. The applications of linguistic
Language is not writing
Language is not writing. A moment’s reflection is enough to
let us see that many languages today are not being written down –
not even by the linguist for the purpose of his study (but then it
is of course unfair to count that as the use of writing in
connection with that language); that many languages must have disappeared
from this earth without any trace of writing being left behind (even
as some are disappearing right under our noses); and that, whether
in the life of mankind or of a single individual, language comes first
and writing comes afterwards as a way of recording it through visible
symbols. While speech determines some of the very basic
characteristics of writing in all its forms (its linearity, for instance),
writing affects speech only marginally and infrequently (a South Indian
giving a separate value to the d in judge, for instance). And yet we frequently proceed as if we equate
language with writing. Somebody is called up on to teach a language
– and then he just has to begin with the alphabet. One can speak for hours about everyday matters without anybody being
the wiser as to whether one is speaking in Urdu or Hindi, and yet
for most people Urdu and Hindi are totally different languages rather
than different styles of using the same language – call it Hindu,
if you like. (It is interesting that the distinction is
not so well established when it comes to feature films). Even scholars make this mistake when they suggest
that the continued use of one writing system for a language is a proof
that it has remained unchanged.
Language is not literature
No matter what the vague titles of university departments say,
language is not literature. Literature
is only one possible use of language. Even if we interpret the term
‘literature’ liberally to include history and philosophy and mythological
texts and the literature on internal combustion engines, literature
is not even the staple use of language.
In a way it is as specialized and abnormal a use of language
as that in drawing up a contract or sending a diplomatic note.
Even the simple or the conversational style used in literature
is a special effect – as anyone who has attempted to write in one
can testify. And yet we have
often fondly hoped that teaching Goldsmith’s or Dickens’s prose or
Wordsworth’s or Tennyson’s verse is teaching the twentieth-century
use of English. Translating,
which is a difficult art that is mastered only at the end of one’s
training, used to be put smack at the beginning of one’s learning
English when one was completely at the mercy of one’s mother tongue. Our grandfather’s English was better than our
children’s is today – not because the former learnt it via translation
but because they learnt it via active use as a medium for studying
other high school subjects.
Language is a collection of words – perhaps?
There are people who collect words as one would collect stamps
and one need not grudge them this hobby – which is great when it comes
to solving crossword puzzles or to writing sonnets galore.
(After all who else would use that last word?) Those who identify a language with their favourite dictionary always
think that each word carries a language tag and that learning a new
language is mastering a bilingual dictionary.
Naturally for such people it is difficult to accept that ¶ebil or fursat (or phursat)
are perfectly good Hindi words and to realize that bhagvān
un kī ātmā ko shānti de is no Hindi.
There are people who seriously believe that we can evolve an acceptable
national language by fixing up quotas for the words from the regional
languages to be absorbed in it. One cannot even produce a nationally acceptable
dinner menu on those lines! Mughlai
cuisine is something more than a collection of recipes. Language is surely more complex than cuisine.
Or a collection of rules
We are certainly getting warmer, but we are still away from
language if we think of it as an assortment of prescriptions and proscriptions
– especially proscriptions. But
then who would have dared to use the phrase do’s and don’ts
if one spoke (or wrote) by the book? As for the person who does write
by the book, Winston Churchill has impaled him once for all when he
said, “This is the sort of English up with which I shall not put !”
It is a legitimate question to ask why do’s and don’ts
find ready acceptance while the Basic English blood, body-water,
and eye-water just wouldn’t do for Churchill’s ‘blood, sweat,
and tears’. A vague, essentially
romantic reply that this is all a matter of the genius or the feel
of a language is not very helpful. It is simply a way of postponing an investigation – which is of
course far better than doing an amateurish job of it.
Language and a language
Perhaps we went the wrong way about in asking the question:
What is language? English also permits us to speak of a language.
A given language is not just some general attribute of homo
sapiens that distinguishes him from other species, rather it is
the attribute of a specific community. A language is a body of socially
learned habits shared by the members of a community – a body of habits
that is susceptible to being characterized as a system of interlocking
rules that a child or an adult foreigner has somehow to internalize
before being accepted as a member of that speech group. There is a world of difference between a collection
of rules and a system of rules – a language is describable as a giant
recipe for covering an indefinitely extensible dinner table with utterances
(each different from the rest in some way) that are admissible in
that language; a language is describable as a program for a computer
that will have to surpass any that man has built so far.
There is also a world of difference between a difficult art
like literature in which only a few can play the passive role and
fewer still the active role and a body of habits that is the common
property of a community all of whose members except absolute morons
and babes in arms can play the roles of senders and receivers.
Language habits permeate all our waking life at the least –
and this includes even the time when we are neither listening (or
reading) nor speaking (or writing).
Explaining Language to a Visitor from Mars
Suppose we are called upon to explain what these bodies of
habits found I human groups on this planet are like to a visitor from
Mars (and suppose further that we have a language to talk in with
The two fundamental facts about the human animal are: (a) he
is not just gregarious, but social; he lives in a network of intersecting
in-groups of various sorts in which he assumes varied roles, and this
socialization is a part of his animal quest for a harmonious adjustment
with environment; (b) he is not just imitative and inventive, but
cultured, his experience and his behaviour – that is, his whole interaction
with environment – are governed through socially learned habits that
make for a better adjustment with environment.
And what fits him above mere face-to-face gregariousness and
face-to-face imitativeness and mere trial-and-error inventiveness
in his capacity to use symbols that enable him to share his experience
with his fellow humans and to codify it for future reference. Out of the symbolisms that he shares with others
as a part of culture, a language system is the most basic in more
ways than one: it is the most widely shared, being within reach of
everybody; the most ambitious, not being confined to any segment of
man’s sharable experience; the most primitive, serving as a reference
point for other symbolisms; and the most closely enmeshed with the
rest of his behaviour, word and deed being close bedfellows.
It is noteworthy that all the known human societies are equipped
with reasonably, even exquisitely, complex language no matter how
rudimentary their technology, their policy, or their belief system.
The Martian will also note that the one-language-per-human-being-per-group
formula, howsoever attractive theoretically and politically, does
not always work – least of all in non-primitive societies.
What makes the formula plausible is the perfectly well-attested
observation that differences of language and differences in language
are a very sensitive index of differences of non-linguistic cultural
patterns exhibited by different classes or neighbourhoods or generations. The simple formula fails so often that by the side of the concept
of the language group we need another concept to handle the complicated
situation that characterizes an area – the concept of the language
network. South Asia, besides being a unit useful for
other purposes (say, geopolitics,
culture-history, etc.), is covered by such a network. Any geographical or historical language survey has to handle India,
Pakistan, Nepal, and Ceylon together.
There is great genetic diversity – there are at least four
different language families, but there are also characteristic South
Asian linguistic traits that cut across the genetic diversities –
the widespread tapping of Sanskrit for “higher” vocational for conveying
‘and the like’ (Hindi paise vaise for example) are only some
of the links. There may of course be sub-networks within such a network. It is in terms of such networks rather than
language groups that we can define language pride and loyalty, the
sway of competing standards, the relationship between languages and
literary or intellectual traditions, the total linguistic economy
that determines who speaks how often with whom, on what occasions,
in which linguistic code.
Admittedly, this Martian’s-eye-view of man, the language-using
animal, is an extrinsic view of language.
It needs to be supplemented.
Explaining language as an unimaginative Computer
The distinction just hinted at between the extrinsic and the
intrinsic view of language can be presented in another fashion.
We have already used the expression a body of habits – which
is only a first approximation of what we are heading for – a system
of norms. If we don’t make this distinction between the
actualities of linguistic behaviour and habits and the norms governing
the potentialities, we shall be unable to account for the distinction
between a parrot’s accumulating a repertory of utterance through imitation
and the child’s passing beyond that stage to making up his first own
successful utterance. A crucial
difference between parrot performance and human performance is that
the latter alone is grounded in a competent mastery or an internalization
of a system that specifies an open-ended repertory of utterances.
One way of getting at this system is an attempt to explain
in a step-by-step manner, as to an unimaginative machine, the specification
of the open-ended repertory of utterances that are permissible in
a given language.
A language is then, to view it intrinsically, a system of interlocking
rules that apply to certain elements that could be inventoried. This
sort of thing is of course familiar ground for a logician or a mathematician
or a student of Pānini. What sort of a system is a language then?
Very broadly speaking, we can understand it in terms of the
between system and inventory;
between the intrinsic formal organization of an utterance and its
linkage with the real world in which the speech event and its ‘meaning’
between the outward phonological form, the inward grammatical form,
and the semantic structuring.
Putting the three together we can depict the anatomy of a language
in some such diagram (the expression ‘some such’ is used advisedly:
it serves to veil a good deal of current controversy in the field
At either end – form or meaning – the linguistic system is
anchored to the extrinsic realities of language which we have earlier
examined. The utterance-types that are defined by their
distinct phonology, grammar, and semology are after all available
to us for inspection only as performed utterance-tokens, as texts.
It will be seen now why Leonard Bloomfield was led to argue
that “The most difficult step in the study of language is the First
step. Again and again, scholarship has approached
the study of language without actually entering upon it.” (Language, New York, 1933, section 2.1)
Linguistics is not philology
In conservative British usage, the term philology lumps
together philology proper and linguistics. But the two are quite distinct. Philology proper (and from now on we shall
dispense with the qualification ‘proper’) is the study of written
documents undertaken to find out what they reveal about the text itself
(to establish the text itself when there is some question about it)
and to find out what they reveal about the circumstances – biographical,
social, cultural, linguistic – in which the text was produced.
A philologist is then like an archaeologist – both examine
and ‘restore’ the material remains of a bygone age with the thoroughness
and controlled imagination of a detective or a paleontologist and
reconstruct as much of that age as possible.
Indeed One division of philology, palaeography (along with
epigraphy) is almost as much a part of archaeology as it is of philology.
Of course, knowing many languages is likely to be an asset
to a student of linguistics, just as knowing a little bit of linguistics
is likely to be an asset to the language teacher.
But do not expect that the theoretical study of English grammar
is going to make one proficient in using English and do not ask, when
you next meet a student of linguistics, the question ‘How many languages
do you know?’
Linguistics and prescriptive studies of language
a person teaches you how to speak (or write) a language that you do
not know, he is a humble language teacher.
But when a person teaches you how to speak (or write) a language
that you think you know, he is a language authority, a teacher’s teacher. He is the Emily Post of pronunciation, grammar,
usage, spelling. His advice
often takes the form of authoritative manuals or dictionaries. He may invoke the practice in polite society,
the sanction of literary classics or sacred texts, even rationality
in support of his do’s and don’ts.
The student of linguistics does not condemn him or applaud
him or even compete with him: he merely studies him as a socio-cultural
phenomenon that has to do with language. The rules that linguistics
discovers or postulates as underlying the structure of admissible
utterances serve to define what a given speech form at a given point
of time is like. The rules
that prescribe this or that detail as against other alternatives,
define (when they do not represent mere whims on the part of the authority)
the choice of one speech form, one dialect if you like, as prestigious,
refined, standard as against other available dialects.
The criterion of admissibility within a linguistic code is
a linguistic fact that is true as much of the educated form of English
as of the dialect of a backwoodsman from the United States or of the
dialect of an American Indian tribe.
The criterion of standardness within a language network is
a sociological footnote to linguistics. Some communities may lack this distinction.
There are different dialects of Kurdish in West Asia, but there
is no standard Kurdish. Other communities may have more than one standard
speech form – Hindi-Urdu speakers, for instance. In popular thinking and even in scholarly thinking
outside the field of linguistics the two criteria are conflated.
Linguistics is a focal science
Language is such a central fact about man that the study of
language is bound to bring together several disciplines.
The philosopher and the literary critic, the scientific student
of human society and human culture, the cultural historian (including
the philologist), the scientific student of human behaviour (the psychologist
as well as the biologist), and finally the student of formal systems
have all of them a finger in the pie.
How does the linguistic study of language stand in this vortex? Linguistics can be thought of simply as the
leading science of language, the science that studies it intrinsically
as a symbolic system. As the
intrinsic study of language, linguistics has been described with some
justice as the most scientific of the humanities or with even better
justice the most humanistic of sciences.
Being humanistic, it respects quality more than quantity, what
is uniquely human more than what is shared with other life and accepts
what is distinctive of the particular along with what is shared with
other expressions of language, and the mental with the physical, and
the historical along with the universal.
For the remaining disciplines the study of language needs some
excuse – say, that language is an example of a socially inherited
body of customs or a material available for artistic manipulation.
The first basic tool of linguistic is the technique of the
structural analysis of single systems – speech forms underlying homogenous
bodies of language samples (oral or written) of given times and places.
The names phonology, grammar, and semology
can refer equally to the three levels of such a language system or
to the study of these levels within the framework of linguistics.
Analytic linguistics – also known as structural or descriptive
or synchronic linguistics – is the cornerstone of linguistics. P¡¸ini is the earliest known analytic
linguist. The focus is here not on languages or on languages in general
but on a language.
While phonology, grammar, semology constitute the core of he
linguistic system, there are certain peripheral maters.
One is graphonomy – the study of the writing system that records
utterance in visual symbols. Graphonomy
is divisible into two levels – the level of distinctive shapes as
such (Calligraphy) and the level of their tie in with the core
of language, typically with its phonology (Orthography). Another
is paraphonology – the study of vocal gestures that accompany the
main phonologically conveyed message – features like shouting, whispering,
hemming and hawing, silences. Finally, the study of habitual or preferred
forms, as opposed to the merely available, which begins with frequency
counts of phonological, grammatical, or graphic units.
The name historical linguistics may be applied to the
study of language change and variation.
It covers four closely related but distinct problems with the
(a) The problem of diachrony: Language odes not stand
still. If we compare analytic descriptions of successive
phases of a language system, we find some traits continuing unchanged,
some traits being lost with or without traces, and some traits being
more or less gradually replaced by others.
Sometimes given the traits at stage “we can reconstruct traits
at stage ‘ of which the traits at stage” are divergent developments.
This is known as internal reconstruction.
(b) The problem of diatopy: Language varies according
to geographical location or social differentiation based on class,
sex, education, etc. If we compare analytic descriptions of neighbouring
speech forms, we find more-than-chance resemblances that can be explained
as common inheritances or mutual influences or common borrowings from
some third source. These,
especially common inheritances, lend themselves to systematic statements
of correspondences. Dialects
can be studied this way. Symbolically:
(c) The problem of divergence:
Putting diachronic correspondences and diatopic correspondences
due to common inheritance together, we can explicate language variation
as a given language changing in different directions in different
populations, first leading to different dialects which is turn may
solidify into new daughter languages. Indeed,
we can reconstruct the parent language by comparing the daughter languages. Symbolically:
Languages traceable to a single parent language are said to
belong to the same language family (or sub-family, as the case may
be). Relationships between
languages or between their corresponding details are called genetic
relationship when a family is implied. These may be either diachronic or diatopic.
(d) The problem of convergence: Diatopic correspondences,
however, may be due not to divergence from a common source but to
the influence of one language on another, whether the two languages
in question are related or not. This is the whole question of language contact
(or dialect contact, as the case may be). Thus the varied traits of a dialect of Hindi, that are not traceable
to inheritance, may be traceable to a neighbouring dialect of Hindi
or a neighbouring related language like Panjabi or an ancestral language
like Sanskrit or a distantly related language like English or an unrelated
language like Tamil. Due to
prolonged contact languages belonging to a single network (for example,
the South Asian area) may come to share some traits cutting across
genetic diversity, as we have already seen.
All of these exemplify convergence and contact relationships.
Genetic and contact relationships put together constitute historical
Language Universals and Language Typology
Finally, the languages of the world through the ages may be
compared and their resemblances and differences noted.
Leaving aside historically explicable cases – through divergence
from a common source or convergence from contact – and leaving aside
purely chance cases, there will be a residue of resemblances and differences.
The perspective so gained may be called panchronic and pantopic perspective.
Some traits will be common to all languages – the language
universals so called. Others
will have to be thought of as parallel developments – the nursery
words for father and mother for instance – or as exhibiting possible
types limited by the logic of situation – an adjacent modifier can
either precede or follow, the anatomy of speech organs permits just
so many configurations, and so on. Parallel developments in two languages are sometimes attributable
to the fact of their recent divergence from a common source that is
pregnant, so to say, with certain potentialities for changes.
A suitable name for the establishment of such non-historical
correspondences would have been ‘comparative linguistics’, on the
analogy of comparative religion or comparative literature; but, unfortunately,
it was preempted by the study of linguistic divergence and reconstruction
[division (c) under Genetic linguistics above]. The term contrastive
technique has been suggested instead.
Actually, the name translative analysis will be a better
term for this search for analogies. (Analogies, it will be remembered, are distinguished
in biological comparisons between different species from homologies
traceable to common heredity.) Language universals and language
typologies together constitute what may be called correlative
The comparisons of correlative linguistics need not simply
be between language traits or between languages.
They could also be between diachronic chains, diatopic landscapes,
family divergences, or area convergences.
All such comparisons of correlative linguistics ultimately
feedback into analytic and historical linguistic methods and perspectives.
General phonetics and general semantics are best regarded as
a part of this third branch of linguistics, which deals with languages
The Application of Linguistics
The expression ‘applied linguistics’ is best avoided, because
falsely suggests that there is a branch of linguistics of that name
to be opposed to ‘pure linguistics’, with which it holds a unidirectional
relationship. Further, in applying linguistic theory to a
problem, it is seldom the case that we are applying nothing but a
delimited portion of linguistic theory – more commonly, the whole
of linguistics, if not other closely related subjects as well, have
to be brought to bear on the problem.
What follows is a brief survey of possible applications that
is not intended to be exhaustive.
They can be grouped under three headings:
From the general to the specific and back.
From the focal to the peripheral and back
From the theoretical to the practical and back
From the General to the Specific and back
The very first thing we can do with the analytic, the
genetic, and the contrastive techniques is obviously to apply them
to specific speech forms, to specific language families or sub-families,
or to specific areas of language contact.
Linguists can be called upon to prepare grammars, dictionaries,
and language surveys in space and in time.
This is the only slender excuse for using phrases like English
or Indo-European or Romance or Indian linguistics in the sense of
the study of English or Indo-European or Romans or Indian languages.
Indian linguistics is linguistics first, not just a branch
of Indology, and most certainly not a brand of linguistics!
The raw material or data to which to apply the techniques of
analytic, historical, or correlative linguistics may be obtained from
various sources: (a) fieldwork with contemporary languages; (b) philological
study of written or sound-recorded texts, typically of cultivated
language varieties; (c) secondary sources consisting in recorded observations
of various degrees of sophistication (sometimes the only source for
archaic stages or extinct varieties, sometimes exploited for methodical
From the Focal to the Peripheral and back
So far we are still within the field of linguistics – the intrinsic
study of language. This field
has naturally close ties with the other language disciplines. The phrase ‘history of English’, is thus made to cover both the
intrinsic history of the language (the Great Vowel Shift, the loss
of inflections, and all that), and the extrinsic history of the language
(the battle with French for supremacy, the rise of standard English,
and all that). The principal
language disciplines other than linguistics proper may be called perilinguistic
disciplines; they are the following:
The biology of language (biolinguistics) includes not only the anatomical
and physiological (including neurological) foundations of speaking
and hearing but the place of the speech event in human ecology, the
development of the individual (human ontogeny), and human evolution
The psychology (including social psychology) of language learning,
maintenance, and loss (psycho-linguistics) is closely related to the
preceding; language pathology also falls here largely. The psychology of language use covers the psychology
of recognition, production, and reproduction by way of repetition,
recall, learning transfer, and translation; and relates learning,
use, etc. to non-linguistic behaviour.
The ethnology of language (ethnolinguistics) studies man’s linguistic
customs (e.g., those relating to naming children, joking, greeting,
swearing, abusing and insulting), relates them to language as studied
intrinsically and to non-linguistic customs, and finally places languages
in relation to the larger problems of the science of culture – as,
assimilation by the individual of the culture of his in-group or of
some other group (enculturation and acculturation respectively), tradition
and innovation, cultural relativism and ethnocentrism, and cultural
evolution and cultural planning. Among linguistic customs, one had
better include the technology of writing (whether penned, painted,
graven, stamped, printed, or whatever). The study of naming customs is called onomastics
covering personal names, group names, place names, animal names, and
The sociology of language (sociolinguistics) is basically an elaboration
of the fable of Aesop on language as the great binder and divisor
of people: it is the study of man’s roles in relation to language,
of language networks, of co-variation between language traits and
social roles, and of the part played by language in various social
processes (such as, the carrying out of social action, the rise, maintenance,
and dissolution of groups, and the recruitment of an individual into
a group, including his socialization within the in-groups). The sociology
of language use covers the linguistics aspect of (social phenomena
line) small-group interaction, conformity and subversion, hierarchy
and social distance, loyalty and prejudiced.
The culture-history of language is of course an important division
of the culture-history of man. Philology
as a culture-history technique and the extrinsic histories of individual
languages have already been commented upon. Even the intrinsic study of languages may serve
to illuminate the history of the movements of people, the diffusion
of cultures, and earlier stages of culture – this culture-history
technique is sometimes the rather fanciful name of ‘linguistic paleontology’.
The foregoing are different extrinsic approaches
to language. A given phenomenon
like plurilingualism may be studied by adopting any of various approaches. (This is the reason for preferring the terms
‘biology of language’ etc., to the terms ‘biolinguistics’ etc. Besides,
‘ethnolinguistics’ suggests a false analogy with ‘ethnobotany’ for
folk botany and similarly formed terms.
Of course folk linguistics of the kind discussed in section
I(a) above is a perfectly legitimate subject of study for the folklorist!)
The ‘and back’ in the heading of this section
should serve to remind us at this point that the results of the intrinsic
and extrinsic study of language, languages, and language texts may
themselves have a bearing on the neighbouring fields of culture-history,
sociology, etc. Language-based techniques like philology, content
analysis of texts, chronology of language divergence and convergence,
and so forth may thus provide evidence for movements of peoples and
culture traits, the sociology of status, stereotyping, unconscious
drives, and so on.
On a some-what different footing are the following disciplines:
aesthetics of language (stylistics) is the link between linguistics,
literary criticism, and the extrinsic study of the literary culture
of a community (the ethnology of literature).
philosophy of ordinary language is the link between linguistics, logic,
Language can also be studied as a special case of some more
(a) Language as
a formal system (formal linguistics) with properties amenable to the
techniques of symbolic logic and mathematics.
(b) Language as
a ‘population’ with statistical properties (statistical linguistics)
has also come to be recognized as a field of study.
Computer-based techniques, whether computer-oriented or
merely computer-aided, can be applied to these two as well as to other
branches and applications. Such
computer-based studies in language and texts do not add up to a substantive
field of study, however, to be called computational linguistics or
mechano-linguistics – names which are best avoided.
From the theoretical
to the Practical and back
So far we are still in the theoretical domain and away from
‘language problems’ as they confront a language teacher, a practical
politician, and so forth. Has
linguistic theory any direct or indirect applications in this practical
domain? Here it is best to
admit that linguistic theory has to be liberally interpreted to include
the insights of linguistics proper as well as those of the peripheral
studies surveyed above. It
is idle to talk about language teaching unless we have some understanding
of language as a system of norms as well as of the process of language
The usual considerations that pertain to any application
of science in general and of the human sciences in particular to the
value-laden practical world also apply to the application of linguistic
theory to practical problems and need not be raked up here.
The possible fields of practical application can be grouped
at two levels: (a) the level of policy-making; (b) the level of technique.
Policy decisions about language imply that language is susceptible
to conscious planning. Conscious
planning may be opposed to evolving tradition and evolution through
heredity as the latest of the three modes of evolution in the broadest
sense of that term – the introduction of innovating patterns for better
adaptation and their effective transmission.
Considering that language itself is an important instrument
of evolving tradition, there is a prima facie case for making it one
of the earlier guinea pigs for evolution through
planning! The types of decisions
involved may be illustrated by the following problems: Should the
language of literature (or law or science or philosophy) be necessarily
removed from causal speech of the educated and of the uneducated?
Should the world community fall back upon a natural language
(like Basic English), or an artificial language (like Esperanto)? Who should learn which language for what purposes and by what arrangements?
Which language should be a medium for teaching which subjects?
What part should language play in education as a whole? Should the rhetoric of public and academic
debate go in for the ‘hard-sell’ or the ‘soft sell’?
The very word ‘technique’ has connotations of the improvement
of technology through the utilization of scientific insights and may
be opposed to the word ‘art’ in this context. Nobody has suggested, to my knowledge, that linguistics can offer
useful advice to a poet at his job of writing poems or even translating
poems. But linguistics can
offer useful advice to a scientist wishing to streamline the terminology
in his field or to transcode an existing terminology to a new language
as in discussing chemistry in Hindi).
The application of linguistic theory to language teaching can
be manifold: there is the problem of reducing unwritten languages
to writing for the spread of literacy and smoothening the passage
to literacy in the standard language; the problem of foreign language
teaching and the quite different problem of native language teaching;
the problem of speech correction and remedial teaching of various
sorts; the problem of teaching the deaf-mutes and the blind. The teaching of any language, native or foreign, should be adapted
to the subsequent use of that language (for example, as a medium of
higher stages in education). Personal
or class-room or broadcast teaching testing, preparation of curricular,
texts and other teaching and testing aids can benefit from consulting
with the linguistic in defining goals and anticipating results and
in determining input, processing, and output conditions and procedures. Finally, the scientific study of language and specific languages
will always have a bearing on the designing of new alphabets and artificial
languages, orthographic reform, the designing and teaching of Braille
or short-hand or telecommunication codes, the designing of typewriting
and type-setting keyboards, the establishment of conventions for geographical
names and other proper names for the use of cartographers, librarians,
and others. Even designing
of transmission channels ca benefit from inputs from the linguist. The construction of a typewriter whose input will be the spoken
word and that of the mechanical translator are dreams still largely
unrealized. In the mean time
linguistics, especially the translative technique for comparing languages,
can greatly clarify the problems of the human translator.
The scope of the practical application of linguistic insights
need not be narrowed down to foreign language teaching.
This was offered as a background paper at an interdisciplinary
Seminar on Language and Society in India at Indian Institute of Advanced
Study, Shimla, October 1967, and published in the proceedings, Language
and Society in India… Transactions…8.
Shimla: The Institute, 1969, p.76-88.
Excerpts from it were published in Language Sciences
(Bloomington, IND) No. 4:11-3,1969.