In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Critical Applied Linguistics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals and Book Series
  • Critical Discourse Studies
  • Critical Language Awareness and Critical Literacies
  • Critical Second-Language Pedagogy
  • Critical Approaches to Language Classrooms, Materials, and Testing
  • Critical Approaches to Language Policy
  • Decolonizing Applied Linguistics
  • Language, Work, and Political Economy
  • Language, Gender, and Sexuality
  • Language, Race, and Raciolinguistics
  • Critical Sociolinguistics
  • New Directions for Critical Applied Linguistics

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Linguistics Critical Applied Linguistics
Alastair Pennycook
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0280


Critical applied linguistics is a field of inquiry and practice that can be understood in several ways. It brings a critical focus—where the critical is understood as social critique rather than critical thinking—to applied linguistic work. A central goal is to connect questions of domination (contingent and contextual effects of power), disparity (inequitable access to material and cultural goods), discrimination (ideological and discursive frames of exclusion), difference (constructions and realities of social and cultural distinction), and desire (operations of ideology, agency, identity, and transformation) to applied linguistic concerns. A key challenge for critical applied linguistics is therefore to find ways of understanding relations between, on the one hand, concepts and critiques of society, ideology, neoliberalism, colonialism, gender, racism, or sexuality and, on the other hand classroom utterances, translations, conversations, genres, second-language acquisition, media texts, and other common applied linguistic concerns. Whether it is critical text analysis, or an attempt to understand implications of the global spread of English, a central issue is always how a classroom, text, or conversation is related to broader social cultural and political relations. Critical applied linguistics suggests therefore certain domains of inquiry—language and migration, workplace discrimination, anti-racist education, language revival, for example—but also insists that all domains of applied linguistics—classroom analysis, language testing, sign language interpreting, language and the law—need to take into account the inequitable operations of the social world, and to have the theoretical and practical tools to do so effectively. Critical applied linguistics can also be seen as the intersection between different critical domains of work—such as critical pedagogy, critical literacies, and critical discourse analysis—where these pertain to applied linguistic concerns (critical second-language pedagogies for example). There are also several domains that carry labels other than “critical”—such as anti-racist education, feminist discourse analysis, queer theory—that are equally part of the picture. As a domain of applied work, critical applied linguistics seeks not just to describe but also to change inequality through forms of research, pedagogy, and activism.

General Overviews

Although people have doubtless been doing critical applied linguistics for a long time, the term seems to have been first used in Pennycook 1990, followed by an introductory text, Pennycook 2001, and the substantially revised second edition, Pennycook 2021. Other books with a more specific focus nonetheless provide good overviews of the field, including Benesch 2001 and Chun 2015, focusing on teaching English for academic purposes from a critical perspective. The edited book Norton and Toohey 2004 similarly brings a focus on language learning and critical pedagogy together. From an applied sociolinguistic perspective, Piller 2016 provides an introduction to issues of language diversity and social justice, while Joseph 2006 provides a broad overview of why we must always understand language politically. In an introduction to a special issue of the journal Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, Kubota and Miller 2017 gives an overview of current concerns around critical language education.

  • Benesch, S. 2001. Critical English for academic purposes: Theory, politics, and practice. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781410601803

    This book combines English for academic purposes (EAP) and critical pedagogy, arguing that students need to both learn and learn to question academic norms in English.

  • Chun, C. 2015. Engaging with the everyday: Power and meaning making in an EAP classroom. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

    Combines critical literacy pedagogy and English for academic purposes (EAP) and shows how a teacher gains awareness of power and meaning making in her classroom.

  • Joseph, J. 2006. Language and politics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748624522.001.0001

    Argues that language is political from top to bottom, from the level of individual interaction to the formation of national languages.

  • Kubota, R., and E. Miller. 2017. Re-examining and re-envisioning criticality in language studies: Theories and praxis. In Special issue: Re-examining and re-envisioning criticality in language studies. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies 14.2–3: 129–157.

    DOI: 10.1080/15427587.2017.1290500

    Re-examines the meaning of criticality in language studies from different theoretical perspectives, arguing for the importance of praxis.

  • Norton, B., and K. Toohey, eds. 2004. Critical pedagogies and language learning. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    A key edited text bringing second-language learning and critical pedagogy together.

  • Pennycook, A. 1990. Towards a critical applied linguistics for the 1990s. Issues in Applied Linguistics 1.1: 8–28.

    DOI: 10.5070/L411004991

    Though critical applied linguistic work clearly predates its naming, this was the first article to describe the field in these terms, and lay out a critical applied linguistic agenda.

  • Pennycook, A. 2001. Critical applied linguistics: A critical introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781410600790

    A widely cited introduction to the field, pulling tother work in related areas and explaining key concepts in critical theory and applied linguistics.

  • Pennycook, A. 2021. Critical applied linguistics: A critical re-introduction. New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781003090571

    A thoroughly revised version of the earlier text, taking into account political and epistemological changes in the intervening years and arguing for a renewed activist agenda.

  • Piller, I. 2016. Linguistic diversity and social justice: An introduction to applied sociolinguistics. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199937240.001.0001

    Focuses on linguistic dimensions of economic inequality, cultural domination, and barriers to political participation, drawing attention to a wide range of contexts of linguistic injustice.

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