SLA in Uncertain Times: Disciplinary Constraints, Transdisciplinary Hopes
We live in uncertain times in an uncertain world. While large-scale efforts exist to end poverty, promote peace, share wealth, and protect the planet, we are witnessing serious deterioration of solidarity and respect for human diversity, coupled with alarming tides of authoritarian populism in the West. Many multilinguals—even more so multilinguals in marginalized communities—are vulnerable in the present climate. Researching bi/multilingualism is the business of second language acquisition (SLA) researchers. How well equipped is this field to respond to the present challenges? In this article I unpack four constraints that I believe hamper SLA’s capacity to generate useful knowledge about multilingualism. One is a disciplinary identity that is built around the language two of learners and the late timing of learning. The second constraint is the adherence to an essentialist ontology of language that considers it a system separate from the act of communication. A third constraint is a teleological view of linguistic development benchmarked against an ideal monolingual native speaker model. The fourth and final constraint is the disaffection for ethics, values, power, and ideologies, all of which are considered inappropriate disciplinary content. Tempering such a pessimistic view, some hopeful signs suggest SLA’s research habitus is changing and may soon be better suited to investigate gradient, equitable multilingualism in all its forms. In this spirit of hope, I suggest nine strategies that would help SLA researchers better investigate the human capacity for language and support equitable multilingualism in today’s uncertain world.