Language Teaching

Plenary Speeches

Complex, dynamic systems: A new transdisciplinary theme for applied linguistics?

Diane Larsen-Freemana1

a1 University of Michigan, USA


In this plenary address, I suggest that Complexity Theory has the potential to contribute a transdisciplinary theme to applied linguistics. Transdisciplinary themes supersede disciplines and spur new kinds of creative activity (Halliday 2001 [1990]). Investigating complex systems requires researchers to pay attention to system dynamics. Since applied linguists study language systems that change (for example, as they develop in learners, this is a useful perspective to bring to bear on many of our concerns. To introduce Complexity Theory, I list twelve principles undergirding this perspective and elaborate on three of them: those to do with dynamism, complexity, and the role of context. I then discuss several studies of L2 development that have been informed by the perspective. I conclude by suggesting that the ultimate promise of Complexity Theory is the help it provides in humanizing science.

(Online publication March 30 2011)


Revised version of a plenary address given at the American Association for Applied Linguistics, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 7 March 2010.