Grand Unified Theory

Grand Unified Theory

In many cultures, it is against the rules to talk about politics and religion. People have strong opinions about these things. We can say the same thing about teaching theories and methods. Teachers can have strong opinions, too. And they might argue about theory and method because there are many theories and methods. Which one is best? Which one is right?

But what if we had a way to unify the different theories about how languages are learned? In physics, we call this a Grand Unified Theory or a Theory of Everything. In applied linguistics, we have many theories about how to teach and acquire languages. However, it is possible to unify them. In the following chapters of Elemental Linguistics, we will look at a simple attempt to make a Grand Unified Theory about how languages are learned.

In the 1970s Krashen famously gave us the “input hypothesis.” He stated it clearly. “We acquire language by understanding messages” (1989, pg. 440). For Krashen, this may be the Grand Unified Theory of second language acquisition. However, after Krashen stated his theory, many linguists criticized it, and they developed other theories. To be sure, Krashen’s theory is simple and elegant, but we can expand it , by including it in the following 10 theories.

  1. The communication hypothesis
  2. The input hypothesis
  3. The big data hypothesis
  4. The retrieval hypothesis
  5. The spacing hypothesis
  6. The interleaving hypothesis
  7. The compelling input-flow hypothesis
  8. The noticing hypothesis
  9. The interaction hypothesis
  10. The output hypothesis

We can call these hypotheses “theories” or simply “principles.” (In Elemental Linguistics, we call them theories for short.) And we can combine them into one *Grand Unified Theory as follows. We acquire language by understanding and interacting with compelling and meaningful messages, as we notice big linguistic data and receptively and productively retrieve it through spaced repetition and interleaving. As we will see in the following chapters, the beauty of this grand theory is this. It can actually guide our teaching and planning in practical ways.

*Calling this the Grand Unified Theory might also be a Delusion of Grandeur, where the cat looks at himself in the mirror — and sees a Lion.


Dr. Joseph Poulshock

Dr. Joseph Poulshock is a professor of English linguistics in the Faculty of Economics at Senshu University.