Friday, January 25, 2013

"Highly Comprehensible, Reasonably Unirritating, but Linguistically Unacceptable"

The title comes from Santos 1988. I just emailed Terry to let her know that after re-reading her article, I found it ironic that I was pretty much doing a study almost exactly like hers. I don't think her work had a big influence on my decision to go the direction I'm going, but I feel like I have a better sense of how to marry "acceptability judgments" + "world Englishes" + "L2 writing" after looking at her framework more carefully.

For me, the framework and ideas behind the AJT come from a sociolinguistic framework. It's an interest in variation and how people make decisions about what's 'in or out' according to their (socially mediated) intuitions, beliefs preferences, and other words for subjective feelings or whatever.

The world Englishes stuff is just a natural result of the globalization of English, the de/re-centerting of composition and applied linguistics, and the importance of China in global discourse about education and English.

The L2 writing stuff, I now realize, is a very direct connection to the streams of thought that like to look at two things: 1) "What makes ESL writers' texts different than non-ESL writers?" and 2) "How do readers react to those differences (aka errors)?" #1 is a unique area for L2 writing as a field, but #2 can be traced back to composition studies in the 70s and 80s (Shaugnessy, Lunsford & Connors, etc) -- and ultimately can be traced back to the beginning of time, when the first teacher said "Man, kids today really don't know how to write! They keep putting apostrophes in the wrong places [or whatever]."

Anyway, the title: "Highly Comprehensible, Reasonably Unirritating, but Linguistically Unacceptable." Those are her findings about how content professors reacted to errors in L2 student writing. Isn't it pretty wack how those things don't all add up? That's why I want to keep doing this kind of research.

Incidentally, her definition of acceptability is "the degree to which the interlocutor regards the speech or writing of the NNS as approximating the target language norms." Of course, I'm not really working in an SLA framework, so my definition is necessarily different. Though my working definition is basically "anything that makes somebody go 'waaaait a minute...'" Which is not that scientific, but in a pinch, it'll do.

NOTE: One of my participants used the words "understandable, but unacceptable." Which is very interesting to me since native speakers (and most teachers in fact) are quick to say that they are most likely to go after those things that interfere with 'meaning.'

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