On Discourse, Communication, and (Some) Fundamental Concepts in SLA Research



This article argues for a reconceptualization of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research that would enlarge the ontological and empirical parameters of the field. We claim that methodologies, theories, and foci within SLA reflect an imbalance between cognitive and mentalistic orientations, and social and contextual orientations to language, the former orientation being unquestionably in the ascendancy. This has resulted in a skewed perspective on discourse and communication, which conceives of the foreign language speaker as a deficient communicator struggling to overcome an underdeveloped L2 competence, striving to reach the “target” competence of an idealized native speaker (NS). We contend that SLA research requires a significantly enhanced awareness of the contextual and interactional dimensions of language use, an increased “emic” (i.e., participant-relevant) sensitivity towards fundamental concepts, and the broadening of the traditional SLA data base. With such changes in place, the field of SLA has the capacity to become a theoretically and methodologically richer, more robust enterprise, better able to explicate the processes of second or foreign language (S/FL) acquisition, and better situated to engage with and contribute to research commonly perceived to reside outside its boundaries.