Monday, 20 February 2012

Desire paths

"All buildings are predictions.  All predictions are wrong."

So says Stewart Brand in How Buildings Learn.

I feel the same about metaphors - they are all wrong.

They change how we think about the things they describe, and thus the things themselves.

I understand, however, that not only do we need them, but that we cannot function without them.

 Therefore we need to question the assumptions upon which they are based, the connotations they foster, and they effects they produce.

In that spirit, and the one described by Brand, I wonder if we in ELT might get rid of fossilization.

 Fossilization has been used to describe the steady accretion of the same mistakes over time by L2 learners such that they end up embedded, rock-like, in the very bone of the learner's interlanguage.

The term is deeply suggestive.

For a start, it admits of little positivity, suggesting that the learner's language is a mere imprinted residue of the real thing, the inorganic remains of something organic which is dead and not liable to spring to life again any time soon.

It is therefore rather prescriptivist.

In the spirit of Brand's work, I would like to propose instead that we adopt the term desire path.

In architecture, a desire path is simply a path worn across an area by frequent use, rather than a path built across an area by design.

A desire path is created from the bottom-up by its users, as opposed to being foisted on them top-down by an architect or planner.

If we apply this metaphor to the way learners adapt and adopt English, it offers us a more positive view of the learning process and a more accurate view of the ever-changing nature of language itself.

For if we acknowledge that the same mistakes made again and again over time constitute a desire path, then they are no longer mistakes but more effective forms of communication, instituted by people actually using the language.

The democratisation of the learning process exemplified by desire path grammar is, I would argue, the very essence of BELF.

It describes what people want to use to do what they want to do.

It is not prescriptivist.

This is a good thing because, after all, prescriptivist grammars are predictions, and predictions are always wrong.

(Image: Kake Pugh)

No comments:

Post a Comment