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In terms of the roots of applied linguistics, in the 1950s, generative linguistics was not as powerful as it was earlier - the field of study that generative linguistics used to operate within narrowed - and applied linguistics appeared in response to such a phenomenon. Although it stems from Europe and the United States of America, this field of linguistics spread very quickly all over the world.
Applied linguistics, in contrast to theoretical linguistics, emphasizes language speakers. It revolves around the study of how they use a given language, not how they should use it. Moreover, it does not focus only on second language teaching (although it did at the beginning when it was introduced), but it includes many other aspects of language, even some issues concerning communication and societies, inasmuch as the emphasis is put on speakers. In addition, applied linguistics is applicable to great an extent nowadays due to the fact that it is important to improve the issue of lingua franca. However, the fact that other languages should be kept as well ought to be taken into account in that it enables people to preserve their identity when they migrate. What is more, this area of linguistics endeavours to answer questions concerning learning and teaching languages, factors affecting learning languages, the use of technology in the case of teaching and learning languages, problems and solutions to them in terms of language disorders.
There are several branches of applied linguistics which play a predominant role in this field of study, and one of them is bilingualism and multilingualism. Bilingualism means that people can use two languages, and both of them are their mother tongues. Such a situation happens only in countries which are ethnically diverse (for instance Switzerland). Multilingualism, on the other hand, means that people can use two or more languages.
Another important branch of applied linguistics is lexicography concerned with compiling dictionaries and preparing entries to them. Additionally, it deals with the relationships within the vocabulary of a given language. Literacies, being a field of this kind of linguistics, refer to the above one seeing that it concerns people being able to read and write. Some people may claim that situations when somebody cannot read or write do not happen nowadays, since people are developing all the time, but illiteracy is still a problem - not only referring to some people, but even to some nations.
Moreover, there is pragmatics which deals with the study of how the context influences the interpretation of utterances. It concerns the relationships between what is said and the person interpreting what has been said. In addition, it investigates how information is passed, and how people can get information from others. In order to do so, speakers and listeners need to possess some knowledge about themselves, which ensures that the utterance will be interpreted appropriately.
Another branch of applied linguistics is translation. It copes with translating words, sentences, or text from one language (called the source language) into the other (called the target language), paying attention to the similarities and differences between the languages taken into account. Contrastive linguistics finds its place in such a situation, as it deals with the similarities and differences between two languages.
Apart from the above branches, there is computer-meditated communication being a recent one due to the fact that it is connected with communicating via networked computers. However, technology is constantly developing, and - as a result - text messaging is a part of computer-meditated communication.
Discourse analysis and conversation analysis are the other branches of applied linguistics. Discourse analysis concerns investigating approaches used for analyzing spoken and written language. The latter - conversation analysis - is connected with studying how people use language in interaction. Not only is the verbal language examined , but the non-verbal interaction is analysed as well.
The branch of applied linguistics which is vital as far as teaching and learning a language is concerned is second language acquisition. This is a very broad topic, especially for those who cope with methodology. Second language acquisition is a complex process during which people learn a foreign language. It is complex in that it concerns a conscious and subconscious study being exposed to the language, and it cannot be predicted owing to the fact that various people have differents needs, and they may adopt diverse strategies and techniques in order to acquire the language. Second language acquisition considers speakers' knowledge of the language expressed by the rules that govern it and speakers' knowledge of means that enable and facilitate communication by the practical application of the rules.
Language planning is another branch - it deals with making plans and, sometimes, changing a language resulting in meaning shifts or assimilations so that people that live within a given community could benefit from it and communicate more effectively.
Although applied linguistics is a broad field of study of problems within languages, it includes many branches, and there are many fields of study that refer to it, it may be difficult to describe and explain the main characteristic features of this area of linguistics.