[xmca] When Ancillarity is Constitutive

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Thu Oct 04 2007 - 01:26:51 PDT

  Wilkins, the grand old man of communicative language teaching, noted that the "distinction" between form and meaning in language is highly interesting to linguists but unsustainable by teachers or learners.
  In Ellis' 2003 "Task Based Learning and Teaching", the author starts out by saying that tasks are "pieces of work" where the principle focus is on MEANING (I don't like the word "work" applied to children, but we'll leave it there for the moment). "Exercises", in contrast, are pieces of work where the principle focus is on FORM.
  Then he gives us this:
   ¡°Indicate whether the following sentences are grammatical or ungrammatical:
  They saved Mark a seat.
  His father read Kim a story.
  She donated the hospital some money.
  They suggested Mary a trip on the river. (Ellis, 2003: 164)¡±

  Mark is neither here nor there, Kim's story is unread, because his father never had a son, the hospital is not only destitute but nonexistant, and neither suggestion nor trip will ever take place. Yet this is, according to Ellis, a task (he calls it a "consciousness raising task") because the kids are going to use language to talk about it.
  Here's the paradox. If they focus on the MEANING of the task, they will talk about grammatical form. It is, therefore, no task, but merely an exercise, because the focus is on form. But if they are focussing on form, that is indeed the intended content of the exercise, and it is, therefore, no mere exercise, but a bona fide task.
  Russell says: in a certain village, there is a barber who shaves every man who does not shave himself. If said barber doth shave himself, then he must not shave himself. But if he does not shave himself, than he must shave himself betimes.
  When Ellis was here in Seoul, I asked him if ANY teaching English through Englsh could be considered "task based". Not so surprisingly, he said "yes". Think a minute what this means for non-native teachers!
  Children and teachers HAVE to shuttle between form and meaning. Sometimes form is "ancillary" and sometimes its "constitutive", and sometimes meaning is "ancillary" and sometimes its "constitutive".
  But perhaps a better way of expressing this is that people shuttle between "ancillary" and "constitutive", and the distinction, while highly interesting to linguists, is not sustainable in practice.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Thu Oct 4 01:29 PDT 2007

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