Paul Kei Matsuda
Second Language Writing in the Twentieth Century: A Situated Historical Perspective

Exploring the Dynamics of Second Language Writing (2003)

Existing historical accounts of the field of second language writing, which began to appear in the 1990s, usually begin with the 1960s and catalogue pedagogical approaches or emphases in the field (e.g., Leki, 1992; Raimes, 1991; Silva, 1990). It is not historically insignificant that many researchers see the 1960s as the beginning of the field, that they focus on pedagogical approaches or emphases, and that historical accounts began to appear in the 1990s, because they mark a set of assumptions about the disciplinary and epistemological status of the field. That is, the field of second language writing has been positioned as a subfield of second language studies, and the sole purpose of the field is considered to be the development of pedagogical knowledge. Yet, a broader view of the history seems to suggest the limitations of these assumptions. Although it is true that writing issues began to attract serious attention from L2 specialists only in the 1960s, historical evidence suggests that L2 writing instruction did not suddenly become an issue in the 1960s (Matsuda, 1999). Furthermore, the rise of historical consciousness in the early 1990s seems to indicate that the nature of the field began to change around that time.

My goal in this chapter is to provide an understanding of the dynamics of the field of second language writing by considering its development from a broader, interdisciplinary perspective. Specifically, I will be examining how the field has been shaped by the interdisciplinary relationship between composition studies and second language studies. Understanding the historical context of the field is important both for researchers and teachers because our theoretical and pedagogical practices are always historically situated. Without the knowledge of the context in which certain theories or pedagogical strategies developed, we will not be able to apply them or modify them in other contexts or in light of new theoretical insights. Without an understanding of the history, we may continue to use pedagogical strategies that are no longer appropriate for the changing student population or dismiss some useful ideas or practices for the wrong reason. In other words, this historical chapter tries to enhance second language writing teachers’ understanding of the existing theoretical and pedagogical insights.

Matsuda, P. K. (2003). Second language writing in the twentieth century: A situated historical perspective. In B. Kroll (Ed.), Exploring the dynamics of second language writing (pp. 15-34). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Updated on April 28, 2013