"The philosopher pulled the lower jaw of the hen": ludicrous invented sentences in language teaching

Cook, Guy (2001). "The philosopher pulled the lower jaw of the hen": ludicrous invented sentences in language teaching. Applied Linguistics, 22(3) pp. 366–387.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/applin/22.3.366

Abstract

This paper assesses, and contests, the long tradition of attacks on the use of invented sentences in language teaching. It seeks to separate arguments against them which rely on parody and ridicule, from more reasoned assertions. Four main serious arguments are identified: invented sentences are ‘meaningless’; they are not discourse; they are not ‘real’; and they are ‘bad’ for learners. Each of these claims is discussed in turn, and countered. It is argued that, while invented sentences have often been uninspiring in practice, there are are no valid reasons of principle against their use. On the contrary, sentences invented by a teacher for a specific context may have advantages which are less easily attained by the use of attested examples: as a means of making a lesson more personal and spontaneous; as illustration of a linguistic item; as a means of promoting noticing; and as mnemonics. The conclusion of the argument is that both invented and attested examples have a role to play in language teaching, and that the dogmatic outlawing of the former is misguided.

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