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Why education needs linguistics (and vice versa).

last updated 23 April 2004

Richard Hudson

Bibliographical information

This paper was written in the summer of 2002 and heavily revised in July 2003; it was published in the spring 2004 issue of the Journal of Linguistics, volume 40, pages 105-130.


The paper disputes the view (of e.g. Noam Chomsky) that linguistics has no practical applications, and especially not in relation to school teaching. I argue that linguistics has a great deal to offer education, though the interface between linguistics and education needs more attention from both sides. After sketching the recent history of language education in the UK (and some other countries), I identify the areas of linguistics which are relevant to education, distinguishing 'ideas', 'models' and 'descriptions'. I then survey various areas of education which need linguistics, from mother-tongue teaching through foreign languages to the teaching of thinking skills and citizenship. Finally I argue that linguistics research needs this link to education not only for practical reasons but also because we need a theory of how education affects language and a channel through which our research findings can filter through to the next generation.