Deficit views of language learners in applied linguistic discourses: A corpus-based critical discourse analysis
Many applied linguists have noted that disciplinary discourses often construct L2 learning and learners as defined by impossibility and failure and have denounced the many deleterious consequences for both theory building and the educational uses of applied linguistic research (e.g., Canagarajah, 2004; Firth & Wagner, 1997; Ortega, 2010; Phillipson, 1988; Seidlhofer, 2001). These criticisms, however, have been rarely explored empirically. Drawing on both corpus linguistics and critical discourse analysis (e.g., Baker et al., 2008; Fairclough et al., 2007; Partington, 2006), I sought to document empirically some of the ways in which nonnativeness is linguistically constructed as a deficit in published applied linguistic discourses. A 5-million-word corpus was compiled for the project, which consisted of 462 articles published from 2005-2009 in 11 major applied linguistic journals. I undertook a bottom-up search for evidence of the construction of nonnativeness as deficit via the identification of keywords associated with “learners” and “non-native speakers.” Important collocational patterns were further explored using concordance line analysis to uncover frequent metaphors used in the literature to describe L2 performance, ability, and ultimate attainment. Ample support was found for the claim that L2 users are frequently characterized as “less” rather than “more” (Ortega, 2010) in applied linguistic research. Over 75% of the concordance lines analyzed were characterized into one of the following discourse strategies: (1) the characterization of learners as generally deficient in some way, through the use of negative statements with primary verbs (are not, do not), the modal cannot, or an affirmative statement with a negative prosody verb (have difficulty, need); (2) the characterization of learner success as possible but only under certain conditions, through the use of conditional and concessive clauses (if, when, although); and (3) the characterization of learners as passive beneficiaries of particular external forces (e.g., teaching techniques, task conditions, etc.) which can bring about learning gains. The presentation will examine the contributions and limitations of using surface corpus linguistic analyses as a heuristic tool to engage in critical discourse analysis (Hardt-Meutner, 1995) and discuss how the findings shed light on the problems of representing nonnative speakers in research as deficient vis-à-vis an idealized monolingual norm.
Casey Keck. "Deficit views of language learners in applied linguistic discourses: A corpus-based critical discourse analysis" American Association for Corpus Linguistics. Atlanta, GA. Jan. 2011.
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