chapter  21
Language and culture
ByClaire Kramsch
Pages 13

Language and culture have not been seen by everyone as inseparable as they might be seen today by an applied linguist. Indeed, the study of language was since its inception the domain of linguists, not anthropologists, and language teaching was about the teaching of linguistic forms, not foreign cultures. There is no better illustration of this than the Cornell model of teaching foreign languages. At Cornell University in the United States, after World War II, the study of foreign languages was taken out of departments of foreign language and literature and clustered together under the purview of linguists who had supported the war effort and taught languages according to the new audiolingual or Army method (Stern 1983). The prestige of linguistics and the new technology of the language laboratory encouraged an emphasis on language as skill, not as cultural understanding. The foundation of the English Language Institute at the University of Michigan in 1941

and of the School of Applied Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh in 1957 are generally seen as the beginning of the field of applied linguistics. At that time, the study of language was distinct from the study of both literature (big C Culture) and anthropology (little c culture). On the one hand, linguists and grammarians, following the path set by Saussure, studied language as a closed system of signs shared by all members of a community of ideal native speakers. On the other hand, cultural anthropologists like Lévi-Strauss studied culture as a closed system of relational structures shared by homogeneous social groups in exotic primitive societies. Oddly enough, the legacy of scholars who were both anthropologists and linguists, like Wilhelm von Humboldt, Bronislaw Malinowski, Edward Sapir, and Benjamin Whorf did not initially influence the emerging field of applied linguistics. For example, even though attention was paid early on to the social context of second language acquisition (SLA) and to acculturation factors in SLA, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, that posited the constructivist relation of language and thought and the mutual dependency of linguistic forms and cultural worldviews (for a review, see Kramsch 2004), was not taken seriously among psycholinguists, many of whom had studied under Noam Chomsky (see, for example, Pinker 1994: ch. 3).