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

  • Diane Larsen-Freeman (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 30 March 2011

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.

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K. de Bot (2008). Second language acquisition as a dynamic process. The Modern Language Journal 92.2, 166178.

N. C. Ellis & D. Larsen-Freeman (2006). Language emergence: Implications for applied linguistics. Introduction to the special issue. Applied Linguistics 27.4, 558589.

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D. Larsen-Freeman (1997). Chaos/complexity science and second language acquisition. Applied Linguistics 18.2, 141165.

D. Larsen-Freeman (2006). The emergence of complexity, fluency, and accuracy in the oral and written production of five Chinese learners of English. Applied Linguistics 27.4, 590619.

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E. Morin (2007). Restricted complexity, general complexity. In C. Gershenson , D. Aerts & B. Edmonds (eds.), Worldviews, science and us: Philosophy and complexity. Singapore: World Scientific, 529.

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Language Teaching
  • ISSN: 0261-4448
  • EISSN: 1475-3049
  • URL: /core/journals/language-teaching
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