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The consequences of this topic are intensely practical. Some people (philosophically

they are called "foundationalists") would argue that the only way it is ever possible

for us to understand each other is if the rules are stable, transcendental (i.e., exist

in some otherworldly "realm of forms" rather than constantly being reinvented based

on actual usage), and thus "foundational" — provide a firm foundation for

communication to rest upon. One practical consequence of this belief is that rules

become primary in the classroom as well: students must be taught grammar and

vocabulary in the abstract, first and foremost, and applications later, if at all ("if we

have time . . ."). Drill grammar and vocabulary in the A and B languages, and

students will have an excellent foundation for translation skills. Similarly, translation

theories must be taught in the abstract as well, so that students are given a systematic

theoretical foundation for practice. If possible, of course (again, "if we have time

. . ."), they should be given a chance to apply those theories to practice, to test them

in practice, or to derive the theories inductively; but if we don't have time (and

somehow we never do), well, that's all right too.

If we want to explore other possibilities in the classroom, it is also important to

explore other theoretical possibilities for communication, because foundationalists

in the department (teachers and students alike) will say, "If you don't start with the

rules, with the abstract theories, with system, no communication will be possible at

all, everything will fall apart, the students won't learn anything, etc."

I developed a countertheory in The Translator's Turn (1991); if you're interested

in pursuing this theoretical issue at length, you may want to read the first chapter

of that book. Generally, however, the "antifoundationalist" or "postfoundationalist"

view is that usage (experience of language in actual use situations, writing and

speaking) is primary, and the rules are reductive fictions deduced from perceived

patterns in usage. People can communicate without absolutely stable rules partly

because speech communities regulate language use, and try to make sure that when

someone says "dog" everyone thinks of or looks at a canine quadruped; but partly

also — and this is important because a speech community's regulation never works

completely or perfectly — people can communicate because they work hard at it,

restating things that are misunderstood, explaining and clarifying.