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Resonances: Second Language Development and Language Planning and Policy from a Complexity Theory Perspective

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This chapter begins by introducing Complexity Theory and five of its theoretical tenets that have implications for both second language development (SLD) and language planning and policy (LPP). The tenets have to do with qualities of complex systems: emergence, interconnected levels and timescales, nonlinearity, dynamism, and context dependence. These tenets are then applied to SLD. I go on to show that these same qualities of complex systems hold resonances for LPP. However, descriptive resonances are not sufficient for building a bridge between SLD and LPP. Thus, I conclude that a bridge must be constructed of a deeper awareness, namely that both second language learners/educators and planners/policy makers operate in a complex world, where interventions need to be situated, contingent, and adaptable, and where agents of change need to be prepared for unexpected outcomes.

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The central thesis of this paper is that grand theories of development are alive and well and should be paramount to those interested in behavioral intervention. Why? Because how we think about development affects how we approach treatment. Here I discuss the central concepts of a new theory of development—dynamic systems theory—to highlight the way in which a theory can dramatically alter views of what intervention is all about. Rather than focusing on one root of maladaptive behavior such as biological predispositions, environmental causes, or motivational states, dynamic systems theory presents a flexible, time-dependent, and emergent view of behavioral change. I illustrate this new view with a case study on how infants develop the motivation to reach for objects. This example highlights the complex day-by-day and week-by-week emergence of new skills. Although such complexity presents daunting challenges for intervention, it also offers hope by emphasizing that there are multiple pathways toward change.
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I imagine that choosing any one alternative out of the three educational models provided by Spring (2007/this issue) may not really be adequate for a new social–sociolinguistic theory for a potentially just world order. As an alternative to the persistently degenerating consumerist model of the education security state, it may not be enough to borrow extensively from the classical, progressive and indigenous models but also turn our attention to the dialectics between social theory and action and to language as multilinguality that mediates this interaction such as in the work of Habermas, Foucault, and Bourdieu (for an insightful discussion of the work of these philosophers on these issues, see Sarangi, 2001); we also need to carefully examine such monumental efforts and their critiques in the field of education as the National Educational Policy Investigation in South Africa in 12 volumes (National Education Coordinating Committee, 1992) and the National Curriculum Framework (National Council of Educational Research and Training, 2005) with all its 21 position papers divided into three volumes; namely, Curricular Areas, Systemic Reforms, and National Concerns. We are indeed looking for a society in which there is space for universal “happiness, satisfaction, and leisure”; but I think we are also looking for a society that ensures an autonomy of mind and reflection and of care and respect for others. As Spring indicates, there are serious problems with such short-cut solutions as “think globally; learn English; remain rooted in your national identity.” As you get increasingly sucked into the consumerist economy, long hours of work leave you with no happiness and leisure; there is no time for reflection so that you are not even aware of what is destroying you; ruthless competition leaves no space for caring for others and the diversity of your life style, and communication systems vanishes faster than you realize.
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In the wake of conversations about integrating macro- and micro-levels of linguistic analysis over the last 50 years, and following theoretical and methodological debates in the 1990s about investigating the dynamics of entire social systems, complexity theory is coming of age in educational linguistics. Central to the application of complexity theory in social science is its attention to multiple scales of social organisation and how they are connected through the actions of individuals, with an emphasis on the unfolding of social processes rather than on cause–effect relationships. This provides us with a new perspective that is increasingly being adopted in the development and implementation of multilingual education throughout the world, as seen in the simultaneous management of linguistic resources across different scales – national, regional, community, classroom, and interpersonal.
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Principles of Language EcologyContributions of Language Ecology to the Study of Educational Language Planning and PolicyExamples of an Ecological Approach to Educational Language PolicyConclusion
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How might we usefully apply concepts and procedures derived from the study of other complex dynamical systems to analyzing systemic change in education? In this article we begin to define possible agendas for research toward developing systematic frameworks and shared terminology for such a project. We illustrate the plausibility of defining such frameworks and raise the question of the relation between such frameworks and the crucial task of aggregating data across ‘systemic experiments’, such as those conducted under the Urban Systemic Initiative sponsored by the US National Science Foundation. Our discussion includes a review of key issues identified by groups of researchers regarding (1) Defining the System, (2) Structural Analysis, (3) Relationships Among Subsystems and Levels, (4) Drivers for Change, and (5) Modeling Methods.
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This article outlines an emergentist account whereby the limited end-state typical of adult second language learners results from dynamic cycles of language use, language change, language perception, and language learning in the interactions of members of language communities. In summary, the major processes are:1. Usage leads to change: High frequency use of grammatical functors causes their phonological erosion and homonymy.2. Change affects perception: Phonologically reduced cues are hard to perceive.3. Perception affects learning: Low salience cues are difficult to learn, as are homonymous/polysemous constructions because of the low contingency of their form–function association.4. Learning affects usage: (i) Where language is predominantly learned naturalistically by adults without any form focus, a typical result is a Basic Variety of interlanguage, low in grammatical complexity but communicatively effective. Because usage leads to change, maximum contact languages learned naturalistically can thus simplify and lose grammatical intricacies. Alternatively, (ii) where there are efforts promoting formal accuracy, the attractor state of the Basic Variety can be escaped by means of dialectic forces, socially recruited, involving the dynamics of learner consciousness, form-focused attention, and explicit learning. Such influences promote language maintenance.Form, user, and use are inextricable.
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The book introduces key concepts in complexity theory to readers concerned with language, its learning, and its use. It demonstrates the applicability and usefulness of these concepts to a range of areas in applied linguistics including first and second language development, language teaching, and discourse analysis. It concludes with a chapter that discusses suitable approaches to research investigations. This book will be invaluable for readers who want to understand the recent developments in the field that draw on complexity theory, including dynamic systems theory, ecological approaches, and emergentism.
Transdisciplinary approach to language study. The complexity theory perspective
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The linguistic genius of babies. TED talk
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The handbook of bilingual and multilingual education
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  • Terrence G. Wiley