Paul Kei Matsuda
Applied Linguistics: Overview and History

Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd ed. (2006).

Applied linguistics can be described as a broad interdisciplinary field of study concerned with solutions to problems or the improvement of situations involving language and its users and uses. The emphasis on application distinguishes it from the study of language in the abstract—that is, general or theoretical linguistics. However straightforward this characterization of applied linguistics may be, it is not universally embraced. In fact, ever since the term ‘applied’ was attached to linguistics, language specialists identifying with this field of inquiry and activity have offered and continue to offer competing, sometimes contradictory definitions and descriptions of its scope, status, and significance. Lack of consensus on an issue as basic as the domains and limits of applied linguistics poses a particular challenge to an encyclopedia compiler: how to capture the nature of a complex, dynamic field without slighting a particular point of view, a pet project, or an entire area of study?

This situation is comparable to that of many other intellectual formations that arose in the mid-20th century—such as composition studies, cultural studies, environmental studies, and women’s studies—in that applied linguistics defies the traditional, taxonomic view of disciplinarity that seeks to draw clear and unambiguous boundaries. This state of affairs is addressed in the following account of how applied linguistics came about and developed as an area of study and in a survey of some issues and areas of focus that occupy those who engage in the study of language problems that affect the lives of individuals, groups of individuals, or entire societies and cultures.

Berns, M., & Matsuda, P. K. (2006). Applied linguistics: Overview and history. In K. Brown (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (2nd ed.; pp. 394-405). Oxford, UK: Elsevier.

Updated on December 22, 2007