Language Learning

An Ecological-Semiotic Approach

Authored by: Leo van Lier

Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning

Print publication date:  January  2011
Online publication date:  January  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415998710
eBook ISBN: 9780203836507
Adobe ISBN: 9781136863950


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In this chapter I will sketch the main principles of an ecological-semiotic approach to language, learning, and pedagogy. The ecological-semiotic approach (from now on I will use the shorthand term ecology, to avoid creating another acronym) described here is different from other ecological approaches to language and linguistics, such as ecolinguistics (Fill & Mühlhäusler, 2001), linguistic landscape (Shohamy & Gorter, 2008), translanguaging (Creese & Blackledge, 2010), and similar perspectives on language and linguistics that look at such issues as language contact, linguistic oppression, language death, linguistic landscaping, and other important ecological/linguistic interrelationships and connections. The ecology approach I describe here is on a social-cultural-historical scale that is consonant with these latter perspectives, but on the ontogenetic and microgenetic scales it rests on quite different theoretical and research foundations. In particular, ecological learning addresses issues such as perception, affordance, semiosis, and educational quality that do not receive central focus in ecolinguistics, to the best of my knowledge. In one sense one might say that ecology takes a more micro approach to the principles of ecology, and ecolinguistics a more macro approach. However, the micro–macro dichotomy is a rather crude delineation and might suggest that one can only focus either on the micro, or on the macro. In actual fact, all ecological approaches aim to transcend any one particular spatio-temporal scale and thus break down the micro–macro split. We can provisionally say that ecological approaches are concerned with situated cognition and agency. The situatedness (of both cognition and agency) can be drawn wide or narrow, as required by the phenomena in question.

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