Academic Exchange Quarterly     Spring 2015     ISSN 1096-1453     Volume 19, Issue 1

Language: Education, Society and Profession

We live in a world which is increasingly characterized by easier and wider “contact” which, in turn, produces contamination, exchange, influence, interference among once distant areas of knowledge. This dynamic and complex reality is today widely investigated with a view to detecting and promoting the best practices to interpret and operate within the many different domains of life. The academic and professional worlds are in fact searching for clues in order to take the right direction and steer a positive course.

A general tendency to mark and/or try to retrace boundaries might be at work, as a rediscovery of linguistic relativity seems to confirm: the idea that large differences in language translate into large differences in experience and thought, implies the consequence that people think about, and therefore see and interpret, the world in quite different ways because of the language they speak. This mantra is rather dangerous and today even more unacceptable because of the easier and wider contact among speakers of different languages we identify as a feature of the world we live. The interesting results in the field of intercomprehension, which look at communication among different linguistic groups as not only realistic but actually feasible, seem to be lying at the opposing end.

Whether you see boundaries and/or try to mark them, or you don’t see them and/or seek, conversely, to overcome them (if any), it is a fact that we may profit from this hybrid atmosphere to promote critical reconsideration of the issues at stake, which could help us find the key to get the best from this dynamically complex reality. Professionals who work in the field of education firmly believe that speakers of different languages may communicate and that any speaker of any language may understand and possibly embrace different thoughts, views and interpretations. Moreover, we should be aware that learning to recognize boundaries does not necessarily mean to underline their existence but, rather, can help to figure out new ways to overcome obstacles to mutual acceptance and understanding. Language and education are the tools through which it is possible to transform any contamination into an opportunity to enrich different, even distant, cultures. Approaches pertaining to other fields could be adjusted to operate across boundaries, and thus offer new keys to the interpretation of a particular area of knowledge.

Drawing on these considerations, this issue of Academic Exchange Quarterly features original perspectives on the complex interaction between language and social issues. Language: Education, Society and Profession offers four apparently heterogeneous themes related to the study of language, nonetheless revealing three different key points in research and approaches which might be fruitful also in other domains related to language and education, namely interculturality, language change and the urgency for effective communicative skills.

Investigation on intercultural issues is possibly the field of research with the most relevant tools for the quest to interpret today’s dynamically complex reality, but more than one page on the subject may sound rather pointless, since the very meaning of the word culture has become so ambiguous that only evidence-based studies may contribute to determine the concept and best situate intercultural communication within academic curricula.

Intercultural communication training within translation courses at university level is investigated by Daniel Tomozeiu. The focus of the article is represented by a recent survey among EU translation academics and students, whose outcomes regarding the very concept of intercultural communication and the importance attached to it in translation training environments is questioned, with the final aim of “mirroring” how intercultural communication is perceived in six different academic contexts.

Tracing linguistic change is today easier than in the past, thanks to more and more sophisticated and highly reliable technological tools which allow for quantitative analyses of huge amounts of data. Whether these instruments are applied to synchronic or diachronic studies, they always offer new insight into the relationship between language and social change. Galyna Semenenko investigates the use of absolute participial clauses in Early Modern English, arguing that their significant increase in frequency is a result of selective frequency copying. It is people with upward social mobility in early Modern English who seem to be mainly responsible for this linguistic phenomenon, particularly men who received classical education and belonged to the higher classes of the society, thus underlining the prestigious status of absolute participial clauses.

To favour effective communication means looking at mutual exchange as better understanding, rather than as despicable contamination. Most communication passes through spoken interaction and any educator knows that speaking skills are the most challenging component of the language curriculum in terms of anxiety, both in first and in second/foreign language contexts. Many attempts to find appropriate techniques depending on the type of learner and the learning environment have been made. Nowadays drama techniques at large – if not educational drama – find convincing applications with learners of any age.

The use of puppetry to increase motivation and overcome the anxiety deriving from spoken interaction is explored by Francesca Mirti, who illustrates an interesting pedagogical project and comments on its positive outcome. Thanks to a first phase consisting in involving the students as the audience of a series of theatrical performances, the second phase of such an intriguing task – involving students as puppeteers – apparently had significantly positive results on learners, who showed lower inhibition and more spontaneous interaction.

The importance of speaking skills is further underlined by Diana Fidaoui and Julie Causton, who critically investigates the current teaching of Arabic as a Foreign Language to adults in some U.S. universities. The article correlates the students’ low to average speaking ability to current introductory and intermediate AFL courses syllabuses which are concentrated on listening, reading, and writing. This seems to have a negative impact on students’ attitudes towards learning the target language.

The apparently heterogeneous studies here proposed cover a range of thought-provoking perspectives resulting from studies carried out in different parts of the world, i.e. through the medium of different languages and in response to the needs of different cultures. Hopefully, this will offer our readership of educational professionals new and unexpected clues to operate successfully across boundaries of many different types - disciplinary, cultural, social, professional.

The editors would like to inform readers of their upcoming edited book. Sound Instruction Volume V, which is coming out in May 2015, is an appealing collection of works offering a rich repertoire of resources and ideas on multiple issues concerning Language in Society and Professional Domains. The volume contains 43 contributions and reflects a vast community of practice from around the globe, with many authors outside the USA, located in such diverse places as Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the UK, the Netherlands, and Ukraine.

The editors would also like to gratefully acknowledge the efforts of all the contributors, who put time and energy first into giving shape to their ideas in writing and then into meticulously revising their reviewed manuscripts, so that they could be suitable for reaching colleagues, students and general readers worldwide. If it were not for their work and willingness to share results, this journal issue would not have been possible.

Emilia Di Martino
Università Suor Orsola Benincasa, Napoli (Italia)

Bruna Di Sabato
Università Suor Orsola Benincasa, Napoli (Italia)

Marilyn Pasqua
University of Calabria, Italy

Anna Franca Plastina
University of Calabria, Italy
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