Academic vocabulary learning
Peter Grundy, in his provocative plenary on Saturday, challeneged the traditional ways of thinking about words and meaning. He considered three hypotheses:
● meaning comes from the use of language rather than from language itself
● we use language to point to thoughts
● the real meaning of an utterance isn’t the literal meaning of what we say but the unspoken thought that we intend to communicate and that our utterance points to.
He showed examples of the same language forms used to point to a wide variety of different meanngs in different contexts and he suggested that as teachers we tend to treat the meanings of words and of sentences as relatively stable and think of language learning as a rehearsal for language use. Learners who become fixated on translation, literal meaning and the (bilingual) dictionary are unable to recognise when the foreign language (English) is being used metaphorically, even though they are perfectly capable of doing this in their own language.
What implications does this have for vocabulary development in EAP? Isn't vocabulary more precise in academic fields because the business of academics is to define exactly waht they are talking about or explain ideas clearly to students?