From Cognitive to Pedagogic Grammar and Back: Linguists vs. Folk Models of Language and Learning

The paper will give examples of both successful and failed attempts to apply aspects of cognitive grammar to teaching English and Czech as a foreign language and suggest how this can be used to extend and further solidify the philosophical and methodological foundations of cognitive grammar. It will also survey techniques used by language professionals that can be considered to have an affinity to cognitive grammar.
Doing this, the paper explores the claim made by Langacker and other cognitive and construction grammarians that cognitive grammar is eminently suited to be used in language teaching not least because it best mirrors how language is used by native speakers. Indeed, it can be argued that teachers have long used elements of cognitive grammar when explaining complicated concepts ranging from prepositions to tense. However, applying cognitive grammar in the classroom, similarly to applying any other linguistic theory, has so far been a one-way street. Teachers (and indirectly students) are presented with a model of how language works and are asked to apply this in their teaching (or learning). This, unfortunately, ignores the complexities and subtleties of the process of learning a second language. The problem partly lies in the perception of the teaching professionals as clients of the researcher-linguist rather than partners and sources of data. In fact, the process of second language instruction and acquisition is essential to the understanding of language in its natural environment and I claim that any comprehensive theory of language must account for the complexities inherent in this process as adequately as for data obtained from corpora, language in use, introspection or first language acquisition. Second language learning is all the more valuable for cognitively orientated linguistics because it is at the same time an overtly linguistic, psychological and social process.
Moreover, for both learners and teachers (as for linguists), language and language learning is not a straight-forward concept but its understanding is governed by a complex of cognitive models and folk theories. In fact, the effort to apply cognitive grammar to language teaching is in itself an expression of a common model of the teaching process which equates second language acquisition with acquiring a facility in constructing successful speech events. However, many (if not most) students come with only a partial representation of this model, i.e. they want to learn a language. To compound this, they hold two conflicting models of language one of which is an essentially Chomskean assumption about rules and the dictionary and the other views language as a phrasebook which might be expanded into an inventory of constructions. Students (and teachers) also have demonstrably different learning styles, which influences the process of instruction and begs the question whether they might not also conceptualize language constructions differently. Native speakers who come into contact with learners bring another set of problems which a cognitive modernizer must take into account.
All these factors are not just the broader context in which language learning takes place; they are an integral part of language in use and a successful usage-based model of language must account for them. Applicability to language teaching is thus not a side benefit of cognitive grammar, it is a true test of its viability as a model of language; and success lies in not treating pedagogic grammar as a simplified version of a more complete model but rather as an linguistic enterprise in its own right.

From Cognitive to Pedagogic Grammar and Back

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