20th Apr 2016 4:30pm
Westlain 217, Falmer Campus
Lectures in Language and Linguistics
Professor Panos Athanasopoulos, Lancaster University
Since the 1970s, foreign language education has undergone a cultural turn (e.g., Byram, 1989; Byrnes, 2002; Deardorff, 2009), according to which language teaching should take into consideration how “people of different languages—including language learners themselves—think and act” (Byram, Holmes, & Savvides, 2013, p. 251). So far, within this line of inquiry, the thoughts and actions of target language speakers and learners have been defined and studied mainly through the lens of pragmatics, with the intention to gain insights into how learners may successfully communicate and interact in the target language. However, to the best of our knowledge, no serious attempts have been made to date to link this cultural turn to the modern resurgence of linguistic relativity (the hypothesis that linguistic structures influence thought patterns, Whorf, 1956; Lucy, 1997). This seems somewhat surprising, since Byram in his influential 1989 publication talks about the importance of investigating “how pupils’ cognitive structures might change through language and cultural learning” p. 103). The aim of this talk is to examine the extent to which empirical evidence from L2 users within the linguistic relativity framework may reveal L2 users’ underlying cognitive representations that inform their communicative actions. The findings presented add to the emerging picture that when individuals learn a new language, they not only acquire new linguistic structures but also new ways of observing and reasoning about reality. I will argue for the centrality of experimental approaches in elucidating what it means to learn to think in a foreign language, and discuss the implications and applications of these approaches for language pedagogy.