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2017 Conference - An Ecological Exploration of the SLA/Language Policy Interface:
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van Lier’s (1995) concentric circles, as exemplified in an onion, emphasized multiple ways of interpreting linguistic action and the importance of adopting an ecological and situated approach to SLA research. This approach thus served as a heuristic in thinking about learning and teaching for all its complexity. An onion metaphor was also adopted by Ricento and Hornberger (1996), who compared the study of language policy and planning (LPP) to unpeeling an onion. This metaphor was subsequently extended in Hornberger and Johnson (2007) as their focus shifted to slicing the onion, in order to unpack the multiple layers underpinning LPP research. In highlighting the onion trope, I seek to illustrate how SLA and LPP researchers can work together to better understand the dynamics surrounding language acquisition, a cornerstone of van Lier’s body of work. Such an exploration of common ground between these two applied linguistic fields has recently been encapsulated in the transdisciplinary and ecologically-inspired model advanced by the Douglas Fir Group (2016). Building on these intellectual developments and insights from scalar approaches to language learning and teaching (Canagarajah & De Costa, 2016), I revisit van Lier’s (2004) ecological-semiotic perspective on language and examine several features of this perspective (e.g., relations, context, systems, emergence, diversity) in order to explore potential benefits of a SLA/LPP interface. To illustrate how the synergies in both fields can be tapped through an ecological lens, I draw on my recent fieldwork on linguistic minorities in China. Specifically, I trace the language learning experience of an Uighur minority student from the Muslim-dominant province of Xinjiang. I demonstrate how China’s language policies, which were engineered to contain social unrest and to promote assimilation at the institutional, regional and national level, shaped his learning of Mandarin Chinese and English as he moved across three provinces during his school career.
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