Thursday, December 23, 2010


Silva, T., & Leki, I. (2004). Family matters: The influence of applied linguistics and composition studies on second language writing studies—Past, present, and future. Modern Language Journal, 88(1), 1-13.

Abstract: The intellectual history of the disciplinary roots of second language (L2) writing research and pedagogy in English examines the influences of its feeder disciplines, composition studies and applied linguistics, and their parent disciplines, rhetoric and linguistics. After a brief history of L2 writing’s two grandparent disciplines (rhetoric and linguistics) and its two parent disciplines (composition studies and applied linguistics), the article focuses on the effect of the two parent disciplines’ conflicting identities. Whereas L2 writing benefits from its invigorating position at the confluence of these two intellectual streams, it has also been pulled in different incompatible directions resulting from differences, and even similarities, between applied linguistics’ and composition studies’ inquiry paradigms and traditions, their intellectual identities, and the material disciplinary manifestations of their organizations, conferences, and publications. A brief history of L2 writing pedagogy and research demonstrates the push and pull of the conflicting influences of its feeder disciplines.

I like this article very much because I too think that disciplinary affiliations are important in understanding scientific fields and it is important to make explicit the assumptions of discourse communities for novices. I think these affiliations can be enabling or constraining and I like the way Silva and Leki put this.


We believe it is important for L2 writing to view its parent disciplines (and its grandparent discipline, for that matter) neither as places to go for authoritative answers to its questions nor as role models to be emulated or imitated but as areas with their own interests and agendas, strengths and weaknesses, and issues and problems that generate information and insights for L2 writing professionals to consider. (p. 10).


Silva, T. (2005). On the philosophical bases of inquiry in second language writing: metaphysics, inquiry paradigms, and the intellectual zeitgeist. In P. Matsuda & T. Silva (Eds.). Second Language Writing Research: Perspectives on the process of knowledge construction (pp. 3-15). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

I think this is a very useful book especially for graduate students who are new to doing research because the contributors share their personal experiences doing research and I believe this book is a good source for demystifying the process. I also like Silva's chapter in this book. In his words,


This book is largely about reflection—the reflections of L2 writing researchers on projects they have done. This involves self-disclosure—telling the story behind the study. My chapter is also a story about a project—the story of how I have come, over the past 25 years, to the opinion that it is important and necessary to look at the philosophical bases of inquiry in L2 writing. In a sense, this story is about me. However, I do not believe that it is idiosyncratic. In fact, I believe that, to a certain extent, it parallels the development of the field with regard to its view of the relationship among theory, research, and practice. (p. 3)

 After reviewing two philosophical traditions, that of Plato and Gorgias, in a humorous way, he continues with summarizing two scientific traditions, positivism and relativism, and finally proposes humble pragmatic rationalism (HPR).

In my view, a strong positivist orientation for second language writing research is not viable because of its inductive basis; its lack of recognition of perceptual, cognitive, and sociocultural screens through which reality is filtered; and its bias toward the so-called "hard" sciences (i.e., dealing with inert matter is a lot easier than dealing with people, who are more complex entities affected by a lot more slippery variables). A rigid relativist orientation is also unacceptable, in my view, because there really seems to me to be something out there--a physical reality that can be understood, if only partially, and because consensus alone will not make something so (e.g., a group of people can develop a consensus that human beings are immortal, but this will not keep them from dying). HPR is attractive to me not only because it accepts the notion of the existence of a physical reality, but also because it recognizes that this reality can be seen albeit through a glass darkly. I see HPR as well balanced in the sense that it has not only what it takes to generate viable theories of complex phenomena, but it is also pragmatic enough to be useful in addressing real-world problems and concerns. (p. 9)  

You may have a different view but still I enjoyed the simplicity with which Silva writes about these complex philosophical ideas, and in a humorous way too. Actually I think I was not the only one who thought so, I heard one of my classmates saying 'I wish I have read this chapter in my quantitative research course' before the class we were going to discuss this chapter started.


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