Complex Systems and Applied Linguistics

Cameron, Lynne and Larsen-Freeman, Diane (2007). Complex Systems and Applied Linguistics. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 17(2) pp. 226–240.



This book introduces and develops the potential of complex systems as a metaphor or supra-theory for systems in applied linguistics. Change and heterogeneity are central to complex systems theory and to the resonances that we find between complex systems and applied linguistics systems. The book explores these resonances and what happens when complex systems theory is used to make sense of central areas of applied linguistic concerns: language, language learning, discourse and the language classroom. Principles of complex systems theory are explained, drawing on work that has been most developed in the biological sciences and that is being extended into the social sciences, developmental psychology and other applied disciplines. These principles importantly include descriptions of change over time (system dynamics) that work for all levels and scales: movement from temporary and relative stability through adaptive behaviours and self-organisation to the emergence of new patterns that are not amenable to reductive explanations. Seeing applied systems as complex, adaptive and dynamic opens up new conceptualisations of properties and activities, enables new questions about how people use, learn and teach languages, and demands new ways of investigating behaviour and development.

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