SLA Theory Building: “Letting All the Flowers Bloom!”


  • An earlier version of this paper was presented as a plenary address to the annual meeting of the British Association of Applied Linguistics, University of Southampton, September 1995. I thank all those who provided important feedback, suggestions, and criticisms on earlier versions of this article. I am especially grateful to Merrill Swain, John Schumann, Elaine Tarone, and Leo van Lier. Any shortcomings, and there are no doubt many, are my responsibility alone.

concerning this article should be addressed to James P. Lantolf, Department of Modern Languages, 314 Morrill Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853 USA. Internet:


This article presents a postmodernist critical analysis of the SLA theory building-literature as primarily represented in the writings of Beretta, Crookes, Eubank, Gregg, Long, and to some extent Schumann. I argue that there is no foundational reason to grant privileged status to the modernist view of SLA theory these scholars espouse. Scientific theories are metaphorical constructs that are elevated to theoretical status because they are “taken seriously” by their developers. All of which argues against cutting off any would-be SLA theory before it has the opportunity to be taken seriously (i.e., to bloom).