I have rather a lot of comments on the discussion to this post, so I’m moving them to their own post here. To be honest, I’m quite surprised that the commenters have such a negative view of linguistics as a science. Just because a lot of what linguists do is not relevant to language pedagogy, is that any reason to a) write it off as a subject, and b) be ignorant of the parts of the subject that are relevant to the subject? After all, we don’t write off string theory because it isn’t relevant to bridge building (whereas other aspects of mathematics are).
First, to Steve Kaufmann’s most recent comment:
OK, I think we are talking at cross-purposes. I did not dispute the difference between sense 1 and 2 of ‘linguist’. I was asking whether you accepted both senses of the definition, since your comments implied that you didn’t.
Sure, a site that has explanations in 10 languages could be said to be linguistically friendly to the people who speak those languages, but your registration page is aggressively monolingual and English-oriented, even in the non-English versions (I read the French, Japanese and German versions). That was specifically what I was commenting on.
You have a rather rosy view of how much effect linguists have in First Nations communities, and you obviously don’t have any experience of the dynamics of an outsider linguist coming into a community. If you’re looking for reasons why a language doesn’t get passed on, believe me, the linguist is a non-factor. No one listens to the linguist or takes any notice of them! Quite often in endangered language communities the linguist only comes in when the language is already not being passed on (for all sorts of reasons).
Thanks for the explanation of the method you’re advocating- it’s much clearer now (and familiar to me from the work of Rod Ellis, for example). I have no quarrel with the method in principle (it’s similar to the one I used when teaching ESL at Harvard, for example), just in its application in some circumstances.
Finally, you’ve completely misunderstood my point about grammar. I never said anything about the deliberate study of grammar rules. I meant that part of ‘getting the words and phrases right’, as you put it, implies a control (implicitly or explicitly) of the morphology and syntax of the language. For example, it’s impossible to speak English correctly without ‘knowing’ at some level that the house is a well-formed phrase, but house the isn’t. Some people acquire that knowledge through being taught it, others intuit it through what they see in the language they’re exposed to.
Anti-linguist experts. You’re incorrect in claiming that we learn our native languages by reading and listening. Reading is truly a secondary medium of language transmission. Kids know a huge amount about their native language before they can read, and kids who can’t read still learn language. For most of human history, languages have not been written down, and this has had no effect on language acquisition. [This is, incidentally, a good example of what I mentioned in the first paragraph about parts of linguistics which are relevant to language learning.]
Don’t blame linguists for fill-in-the-blank exercises – that’s still part of language pedagogy. That’s not what academic linguits do. And I don’t see what’s “scary” about terms like allophone or collocation. Why are they scarier words than, say, infringement or arthritis or companion? Why do you think that when someone is trying to master a concept not naming that concept makes it any easier to understand?