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Language: An Ecological View

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Mark Garner

Ecological thinking has in recent years come a long way from its origins in biology, to become a new paradigm within many disciplines. Its approach is holistic, and focuses on dynamic, interactive systems and the interrelationships between the object of study and its context. The author demonstrates how adopting such an ecological perspective fundamentally changes our understanding of human language, and calls into question a number of assumptions: that language is rule-governed, for example, or that it represents a distinctive form of knowledge. From an ecological point of view, language is inseparable from all expressions of human sociality, such as communication, culture, and community. Arising from this perspective are key concepts, such as patterning, predictability, and creativity, which the author suggests as the basis of a very different approach to linguistics. Linguists, along with everyone interested in the many facets of meaningful human behaviour, will find the ideas presented here both stimulating and challenging. Furthermore, an ecological framework supersedes the distinction between theoretical and applied linguistics, and the book is specifically addressed to language practitioners of all kinds, for whom an ecological view of language is particularly relevant.
Contents: Thinking ecologically – The ecological crisis and a shift in thinking – What is ecology? – An ecological picture of language – Ecological alternatives in thinking about language – Three systems: communication, community, culture – Patterning and predictability – Creativity and its limits – Language, meaning, and environment – Towards a theory of language ecology – Some applications of language and ecology.