Taking Risks in Cross-Border Scholarship

by Xiaoye You, Penn State University

In her book, Imagining the Cosmopolitan in Public and Professional Writing, Anne Surma has identified a series of challenges in transnational writing. In the age of globalization, writing should not be viewed solely as either a local practice or a product for a local audience. Instead, it has potential to reach a distant audience or has ramification for the other who we don’t know or have never imagined. This potential creates challenges for transnational writing. We don’t know who may read our writing, how they will respond to it, and in what ways our writing will affect those whom we never imagined, particularly whether our writing will alienate or harm them. With these uncertainties, we need to be responsible for and careful with our writing. With the rise of global networks and advanced communication technologies, these challenges and uncertainties are more real than they were before.

 

In transnational writing scholarship, it is not only important to recognize the connections between the local and the global, but also to cross the real and artificial boundaries between nations, cultures, and ethnicities. To cross boundaries in our scholarship, there are practical challenges and risks even with a relatively well-defined scholarly audience. A few years ago, Steve Fraiberg and I put together a panel for the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). Under the panel title “From ‘Black English’ to World English: Multilingualism and Multimodality in and across Local and Global Contexts,” the panelists presented studies on  literacy practices in three national contexts. In our panel proposal, we stated that

These studies are intended to promote a cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural perspective that forges connections and “gateways” linking World Englishes and African-American Vernacular Englishes. In making this move, this panel argues for attention to all the semiotic modes with writing conceptualized as one resource within a wider rhetorical repertoire. Key to this less bounded approach is an understanding of language (broadly conceived) as dialogic, hybrid, mediated, dynamic, and co-constitutive.

The panelists included me presenting a study on Chinese students composing in a first-year writing course, Steve presenting an Israeli student’s multilingual and multimodal literacy practices, and David Green proposing the African American metaphor of “putting in work” for framing revision in formal writing instruction. My dear colleague and friend Keith Gilyard served as the respondent. In the end, I wasn’t able to attend the conference due to my daughter’s birth. So I asked a colleague of mine to present my paper. After the conference, Steve, David, and one of my students described how the audience responded to the panel. In the Q & A period, an audience asked the panelists about the title of the panel and the relationship of the presentations: “Why are you on a panel together?” As David recalls, the central concern seemed to be about the phrase World Englishes as signifier for global imperialism, and whether we all saw our projects as ways of resisting English language imperialism or easing its adoption, and for whom. Many in the audience seemed to view World Englishes as embracing colonial erasure as ok, whereas Black English was a resistance to that erasure. Steve responded by saying something like “We have the same goals. We’re all supporting students’ rights to their own languages.” He then referenced W. E. B. DuBois and his notion of double consciousness. He suggested that this concept was not only relevant to speakers of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) but also those of World Englishes. His point was that when people live across borders and live in between worlds, they learn to cultivate a bifocal perspective. He framed this point in terms of moving from double consciousness to double voicing (Bakhtin). Keith somewhat disagreed with Steve, saying something like “Black students’ own languages, like the students themselves, have been oppressed in ways that are completely different from international students – that there’s a history of oppression that has to be considered.  AAVE and World Englishes are not the same.” This is a position that Keith has long taken in his writings (“Cross-Talk,” “Rhetoric”). There was a brief moment of silence, but then the audience sort of murmured angrily and supported Keith. Looking back, I think the audience asked a valid and valuable question. Unfortunately it was the last question and there was no time for further discussion. The audience’s question and Keith’s disagreement with Steve’s answer called my attention to the risks in crossing borders, including national, ethnic, racial, gender, sexual, and class, in scholarship. Because of the fear of historical erasure, we may not feel comfortable to step outside our identities and communities.

 

In my forthcoming book, Cosmopolitan English and Transliteracy, I argue that much of the scholarly discussion in composition studies dealing with difference has been centered on the nation-state framework, including the most prominent multiculturalist discourse. As we recognize the local-global connections with any writing practice and the increasing flows of people and cultural products across national and geographic borders, we need to re-envision our moral responsibilities in literacy education. We should not only focus on cultivating national citizens but also global citizens. A cosmopolitan orientation to literacy education means that our students will interact with diverse dialects and languages in addition to Standard English. Furthermore, they will encounter diverse cultural discourses and, through deep engagement with them, potentially form affinities with, or at least learn to deal with, the communities and groups behind these discourses. The cosmopolitan orientation demands that we seek to cultivate in students the ability to engage these cultural discourses through reading and writing using Standard English, other styles, other languages, and other semiotic resources. This ability necessarily requires that they negotiate across language differences and “consciously and effectively move back and forth between as well as in and out of … communities they belong to or will belong to” (Guerra 258). I call this ability and its enactment transliteracy. Ultimately, they should foster “a cultural disposition involving an intellectual and aesthetic stance of ‘openness’ towards peoples, places, and experiences from different cultures, especially those from different nations” (Szerszynski & Urry 469). While institutionally they remain citizens of a certain nation, morally and culturally they become citizens of the world. In other words, transliteracy is translingual and transcultural practice with a cosmopolitan imperative.

 

To practice transliteracy myself, one of the attempts I made in the book is to show the connections and commonalities between African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and China English as social practice. Doing so, I ran the risks of receiving questions and doubts from some scholars, questions similar to the one raised at the Cs. Scholars will probably feel uneasy about such comparisons due to the difference in the historical experiences and social positions of their speakers, their unique socio-political meanings, and their formal linguistic features. Despite these recognized differences, however, I want to highlight their commonalities, to which we have not paid as much attention. For example, we can ask a series of questions for AAVE: How does one define the categorization “African American”? Do all African Americans speak the variety in their home communities? Do only African Americans speak AAVE? Is AAVE defined by a relatively stable set of linguistic features? These are not new questions for scholars of AAVE and African American Studies (Rickford & Rickford; Wolfram; Kendall & Wolfram). These questions can be similarly raised for China English. Both varieties have in common these fuzzy/fluid boundaries, that they are similarly hard to categorize.

 

To make the conversations productive, I have adopted a few strategies to show due respect to AAVE and its speakers. First, I foregrounded AAVE in its sociopolitical histories and emphasized that its studies have strategically provided a basis for political power, identity formation, conversation, and negotiation. Second, I reviewed studies on AAVE and reiterated that it possesses distinct pronunciations, lexicon, sentence structures, and language practices that mark African American history, identities, voices, and alliances. For furthering the intellectual conversation and effecting positive political action, this body of research deserves to be applauded. In the context of education, these efforts helped move forward discussions and enact policies concerning literacy education for minority students, such as the publication of “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” by the Cs in 1974. Third, I drew on scholars such as Jacqueline Jones Royster, who lamented that in composition studies, we lack the notion of hybrid people, or “people who either have the capacity by right of history and development, or people who might have created the capacity by right of history and development, to move with dexterity across cultural boundaries, to make themselves comfortable, and to make sense amid the chaos of difference” (37). We sometimes assume teleologically that people of a cultural category will use language in predictable ways.

 

In the end, through comparing the two English varieties as social practice, I suggested that they are each invariably connected to the historical struggles and diasporic experiences of their speakers. AAVE originated with Africans being forced to leave their homelands and then being dispersed across the Atlantic and North America, and they continue to move within and across national, ethnic, and class boundaries. Removed from their traditional cultural designations, speakers of China English live in an in-between space. As illustrated by the cases that I examined in the book as well as my historical study of English writing in China (Writing in the Devil’s Tongue), when using English, the Chinese speakers of English have to negotiate with personal and collective histories connected with the language in the local context. They use English for expressing their feelings amidst drastic social change and for critiquing neocolonial and imperialist forces operating inside and outside their nation, in the process making English their own. They appropriate historical elements to construct meanings for an indeterminate future, or in the words of Bhabha, their art of English use “renews the past, refiguring it as a contingent ‘in-between’ space, that innovates and interrupts the performance of the present” (7). English used by these diasporas is a way of being and a practice in the making.

 

Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print.

Gilyard, Keith “Cross-Talk: Toward Transcultural Writing Classrooms.” Writing in Multicultural Settings. Ed. Carol Severino, Juan. C. Guerra and Johnnella  E. Butler. New York: MLA, 1997. 325-331. Print.

—–. “The Rhetoric of Translingualism. College English 78.3 (2016): 284-89. Print.

Guerra, Juan C. “The Place of Intercultural Literacy in the Writing Classroom.” Writing in Multicultural Settings. Ed. Carol Severino, Juan. C. Guerra and Johnnella  E. Butler. New York: MLA, 1997. 248-60. Print.

Kendall, Tyler, and Walt Wolfram. “Local and External Language Standards in African American English.” Journal of English Linguistics 37.4 (2009): 305-30. Print.

Rickford, John R., and Russell J Rickford. Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2000. Print.

Royster, Jacqueline Jones. “When the First Voice You Hear is not Your Own.” College Composition and Communication 47.1(1996): 29-40. Print.

Surma, Anne. Imagining the Cosmopolitan in Public and Professional Writing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Print.

Szerszynski, Bronislaw, and John Urry. (2002). Cultures of cosmopolitanism. Sociological Review 50.4 (2002): 461-81. Print.

Wolfram, Walt. “Reexamining the Development of African American English: Evidence from Isolated Communities.” Language 79.2 (2003): 282-316. Print.

You, Xiaoye. Writing in the Devil’s Tongue: A History of English Composition in China. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2010. Print.

—–. Cosmopolitan English and Transliteracy. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2016. Print.

 

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Moving, Slowly: Transnational Composition

By Bruce Horner, Ph.D.

(An entirely, if also necessarily, partial “beginnings” narrative of the Transnational Composition SIG)

Horner

Bruce Horner, Ph.D. Transnational Composition Ex Officio

In 2008, when I decided to propose a SIG meeting (for the 2009 CCCC), I was responding to growing pressures for and interest in reimagining composition studies from a transnational perspective: it increasingly seems to have made less and less sense to more and more people to maintain CCCC’s largely parochial focus on the US (with Canada consigned to mere “also” status) in light of all the phenomena identified with “globalization.”

The original 2008 proposal states simply that the SIG would explore:

transnational relationships between ways of teaching and studying postsecondary writing at particular locales, informed by ongoing research on literacy work across the globe [and would provide] a forum for exploring ways to expand the conceptual horizon of U.S. teachers and scholars of college composition and those teaching postsecondary writing in Canada, Mexico, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and in Eurasia, Africa, and Central and South America, and for addressing concerns about the roles and responses of university-level writing teachers in the spread of Standard Written English accompanying global economic and geopolitical relations.  There is growing interest among those attending CCCC in looking beyond national borders to understand writing and its teaching, and growing concern among CCCC participants about the global circulation of particular ideologies of writing and literacy and their instruction.

This SIG explores questions resulting from these interests and concerns: Which language(s) are students (and scholars) being asked (and taught) to use when writing?  How? According to which set(s) of standards?  Why?  What relationships are being negotiated by literacy practices and literacy workers between the languages of former colonizers and indigenous languages, and between particular varieties of English emerging on the ground and those with institutional authorization?  How might composition teachers and scholars respond appropriately to the development, or calls for the development, of a “lingua franca” form of English?

By sharing various approaches to postsecondary writing instruction and practice taken by different nationalities and research on literacy work in a variety of locales across the globe, this SIG will also explore the ways in which forms of writing instruction, beliefs about writing, and literacy practices encouraged in one locale do, and might ideally, interpenetrate writing instruction, study, and literacy work in other locales.

In retrospect, it’s telling, and humbling, to see how US-focused the proposal itself remained in the presumed identities of those being addressed.  That has changed.  It’s also telling that one residue of that US-centricity is the term “composition,” whose specific meaning in the US does not carry well transnationally, but that remains in the group’s name.  And it’s telling as well that the trajectory of my own interest in pushing beyond US English only strictures in composition—represented by my 2001 College English essay on SRTOL and by the 2002 CCC essay John Trimbur and I co-authored on “English Only and US College Composition”—would take 6+ more years before I felt prompted to propose the transnational SIG.  Such is the slow pace of change.   But it’s heartening that at the first (2009) meeting, not only did many people show up, but they immediately questioned the term “composition” as problematic, and it’s been so ever since.

It’s taken another five years after that first, 2009 meeting for the group to feel established enough to attempt standing group status.  Before then, I was running the SIG on a figurative shoestring, reproducing and submitting each year a proposal for the SIG, with different speakers invited and issues being raised, but largely reflecting my own idiosyncratic interests and knowledge.  I was also, on a shoestring, running the SIG Listserv, which was largely moribund except just before and after each CCCC, and was used largely as a means of announcements of conferences of possible interest and for the SIG itself.  This stands in sharp contrast to the lively and frequent postings on the current Facebook page, which currently has over 500 members representing at least 30 different nationalities and localities.  (The Listserv still exists but duplicates the Facebook group in many respects.)

In 2013 an opportunity arose for our SIG (along with others) to have two meetings: one open meeting at noon on a Thursday in addition to the more ordinary meeting (also open) on Friday.  This proved to be a watershed moment.  I went to chair the Thursday noon meeting room expecting to spend my time there alone, reading student papers.  As it turned out, about fifty people were in attendance, all full of interest and ideas.  That led to more people attending the Friday meeting and then the push in 2014-15 for standing group status.  (I recall that at the 2014 meeting, I was attempting simultaneously to chair the meeting and take notes on the discussion—a painful if striking illustration to all attending that we needed to move beyond the shoestring model.)

It merits emphasizing that the SIG emerged roughly simultaneously with other developments at 4Cs to adopt a transnational perspective, including the institution of the globalization committee and its efforts to sponsor more transnational perspectives, and Christiane Donahue’s preconvention international research forums, as well as the efforts of many individuals in their research, teaching, and their lobbying for enabling more transnational interaction, for example through providing better internet access and “virtual” participation.  These efforts continue, and need to continue, in order to break with the US parochialism of CCCC.

All that said, and in order to further such efforts, I’m delighted to see the group’s standing status and to see it now growing in numbers, work, and achievements.  In concert with the CCCC Committee on Globalization and the Wednesday International Research Network Forums, a transnational perspective on composition/postsecondary writing, a transnational population of students, teachers, and researchers, and transnationality in communications and scholarly and teaching interactions are increasingly, if sometimes frustratingly slowly, coming to be recognized as the norm, rather than deviation from the norm.  This is progress. It’s an emerging process.

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Suresh Canagarajah on Translingualism: A Four Part Interview, Part IV

Shakil Rabbi, PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at Pennsylvania State University, spends the hour with Suresh Canagarajah, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor and Director of the Migration Studies Project at Pennsylvania State University, to discuss  the role and position of translingualism amidst neoliberalism, the growth of multilingual students in writing classrooms, and monolingual ideologies.

This fourth and final part suggests that translingualism is still emerging, and for that reason, highlights the importance of role models, mentors, and theorists who influence this orientation about writing.

SHAKIL RABBI: How did you come to understand writing translingually?

Who were the scholars who helped you grow into this position?

 SURESH CANAGARAJAH: What I would say is translingualism is always there as a form of practice in many communities. Translingualism is not a new invention. It is not a new theory. In practice, it’s always been there. The only thing that has been slow is people coming to a realization that they do have a translingual competence or they do have a translingual proficiency.

So in my case, the mere fact that I grew up in a multilingual environment; you know like with three or four languages around me, and also writing in English and Tamil, then moving to the United States for higher education where there are other norms, but bringing my own language resources with me– to begin with, they created a tension. You know, how do you resolve all these different resources you are bringing with you? How do you– What’s the relationship between the languages and literacies you have in your background?

So, in some sense, the tension has been creative. It has generated its own theorization and proficiency on my role, in my part. But you could go in different directions, like some students ignore and suppress all this diversity in their background. But, in my case, I don’t know why, but I was actually always finding ways to develop these repertoires rather than suppress any of them. To put it another way, I wasn’t embarrassed about the other literacies and languages I brought with me. Maybe, it’s a political fact in the sense that me coming from an underdeveloped community and also from a minority community. You know in Sri Lanka we have, we were struggling for identity and autonomy. We had a strong political consciousness. And we were not going to give up our language resources easily. So that helped me to explore ways of putting all this together.

So, but theoretically, that brings me to mentors and scholarship that might have helped me develop or conceptualized translingualism, as a form of practice that has a name, and a label, and an identity– that took a long time. So I would say I can’t think of one mentor but I’m fine with this idea of piggybacking as a kind of scholarly enterprise. It’s a, I think, a term developed by Cheryl Geisler to talk about philosophers in their writing. What she says is, they are in their writing using one philosopher to move to another position, and then using another philosopher to move to another position. It’s like piggybacking. So, I think, that is what I have been doing. And for me, interestingly, it means going beyond English or Linguistics.

I’ve been also learning from say postcolonial scholars, cultural studies scholars, like Stuart Hall, Homi Bhabha, scholars like that, which help me in that my area of focus was not narrow. And I wasn’t focusing only on Linguistics. Because we didn’t have too many good mentors there, you know. Because for a long time, even now, the monolingual ideology is very strong. And a lot of people are slow to develop this position.

So, I’ve always enjoyed reading scholars from other fields.  And right now I’m reading more diverse scholars in geography, in physics, there’s a lot on, you know, on posthumanism. All these scholars are helping me think about translingualism and expand it into new areas, you know, to think about translingualism as a kind of semiotic practice. It is not just about language. It involves, objects, it involves people, it involves ecologies. So I think I’m always piggybacking on other scholars and developing my own point of view, but I don’t think I have just one scholar. I think that is dangerous. If I had just one scholar, I might have stopped my own development at a particular point. But the fact that I’m always looking for new mentors, let’s say in different fields, it has been helping me theorize better.

And I guess I must conclude by saying, translingual practice is by no means completely defined, nor has it stopped developing. The best work is yet to come.

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Suresh Canagarajah on Translingualism: A Four Part Interview, Part III

Shakil Rabbi, PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at Pennsylvania State University, spends the hour with Suresh Canagarajah, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor and Director of the Migration Studies Project at Pennsylvania State University, to discuss  the role and position of translingualism amidst neoliberalism, the growth of multilingual students in writing classrooms, and monolingual ideologies.

This third part highlights how translingualism is relevant to places and/or contexts that see themselves as monolingual.

SHAKIL RABBI: How does translingualism relate to monolingual educational contexts?

How is it being used in Higher Education?

SURESH CANAGARAJAH: There is, first of all, a slight contradiction in these monolingual policies, educational policies of higher education institutions in the West. Because, on the one hand, they talk about globalization, diversity, and issues like that. But they still haven’t changed a lot of their dominant ideologies about and/or relating to monolingualism. So translingualism might show up these inconsistencies and tensions. That if you really want to address globalization, diversity, multilingualism. Then even with the native speaker students you have to develop an awareness of languages as plural, as fluid, as diverse. So that is one issue. We might actually do a service to educational institutions, in a way by showing them how much they have to change, and what they can do pedagogically to further their own ends, their own agendas of globalization, diversity, etcetera.

But from a resistant point of view, you know it’s possible that these changes are going to take a long time. You know, political structures, ideologies, are not easy to change. But I think teachers and students are finding spaces in their classrooms to write differently, to develop a translingual awareness. And that’s a very promising development.

So, there are spaces I see in classrooms where teachers have been creative, teachers have been aware. Part of the issue is that, you know, it’s a political point. What they say is, surveillance is not for hundred percent. You know, the institutions of education can’t enforce their dominant ideology completely, because there are spaces that are very– that are not under their control, like, you know, classroom spaces.

Okay, there is a fifty minute class. And maybe for thirty minutes a teacher focuses on what the school wants. But for twenty minutes they might have a creative activity that addresses translingualism. It’s difficult to control.

But the other thing is, on a more pragmatic note, I think teachers and students have to still wrestle with monolingualism, the dominant norms, even as they develop a translingual awareness. Because you know we suffer if we don’t address the norms that are out there. This doesn’t mean fulfilling the monolingual norms without reservation, you know, without qualification, just like doing what they want.

You can do it in a very savvy way. That is while– There are many ways to do this. A lot of teachers sometimes say the best way to succeed in the exams and, you know, the testing systems that we have now, which are monolingual, is to develop a translingual awareness. You know if you can shuttle between languages, this person has a better understanding of the norms, reductive as they might be in particular situations, compared to a student who studies only those norms hundred percent. So it’s a paradox, where translingual awareness will actually help you succeed in an exam or in an educational agenda which prioritizes monolingual norms.

This doesn’t mean, you know, that we teach students only those norms. But what we teach our students is shuttling between norms. And knowing how languages are diverse will actually help you succeed with the standards we have now. Because you are actually going above and beyond what the school wants from you. And it also makes you successful outside of these monolingual norms. I mean when have to find a job, when you travel outside, you are going to engage with other norms that are out there.

So I’m not against monolingual norms. I don’t think they are set in stone. It’s an ideology. For people, it’s a political issue, about whose norms matter. But translingualism can–by relating to those norms–also develop a richer repertoire of norms and resources, that the students can use both to succeed in the school but also succeed outside.

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Canagarajah’s Discussion on Translingualism Extended: Predraft on Forthcoming Publication

A month ago, when we first published Part I and II of our interview with Suresh Canagarajah, we noticed that—as it had occurred with other posts—many productive conversations and discussions emerged out of these two video clips. We were quite happy about this since our Social Media Committee at the Transnational SIG hopes to foment critical and engaging conversations about transnationalism and language plurality as relating to writing pedagogy. However, we also noticed that some of you requested more information and clarifications on the arguments shared in Canagarajah’s interview, specifically regarding his view on the relationship between translingualism and L1 and L2 studies (Part II of the interview). We are aware of the current discussions—and to some extent debates—in our field regarding these topics and people’s general curiosity about multilingualism and how it may best be addressed in the writing classroom. Questions such as: “What are the benefits or problems in treating translingualism and L1 and L2 as separate?”; “How does translingualism as an umbrella term problematize writing difference?”; “How have various disciplines related to language, writing, and pedagogy responded to students’ diverse linguistic and writing practices?”; “How can we learn from conversations in fields outside of Rhetoric and Composition, and how can our field contribute to their conversations?” were a few that emerged.

Given the public’s desire for a more in-depth discussion on these questions and the importance of the topic in our field, we—the Social Media Committee—felt the need to extend our conversation on Canagarajah’s interview. Yet, we understand that answering such questions requires time and space, and should be something we can reckon with in our own studies. Therefore, with the kind permission of Dr. Canagarajah, we are sharing with you all a pre-publication draft that will appear in the Applied Linguistics Review in December of 2015. This draft includes the citation information, and can be cited in your publications if the need arises. However, we also hope to see conversations grow out of this opportunity for follow-up. We encourage all of you to please comment on our blog and Facebook group. Sharing these conversations in these spaces allow all scholars following us both in the US and outside a perspective on how we, as writing scholars and educators, resolve these issues.

In this article, Canagarajah persuasively makes the case for reconsidering the idea of enumerating and separating bi/multilingual users’ linguistic repertoires. He further shows that “native speaker”-based language ideologies are detrimental in the way in which they prescribe students’ educational paths and categorization. Moreover he provides a thorough consideration for how translingualism—as a practice—is now explored in several disciplinary fields and geographical contexts in language studies. Canagarajah goes on to argue that all disciplinary groups in writing may share the theoretical assumptions relating to translingual practice while focusing on the student groups they are most interested in. While they will develop pedagogies that are unique to their student groups, they can be consistent with the theoretical orientation to translingual practice. Thus he attempts to resolve the debates between different disciplinary groups in writing.  He also illustrates how certain research findings and pedagogical constructs in L2 writing can be adopted by other composition instructors to further a translingual orientation to writing. He concludes by demonstrating how policy level changes are being made by teachers in Education and Critical Applied linguistics, who are attuned to the translingual orientation in response to the Common Core State Standards.

We hope that this preview motivates you to read the whole article. We look forward to hearing your comments.

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Suresh Canagarajah on Translingualism: A Four Part Interview, Part II

Shakil Rabbi, PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at Pennsylvania State University, spends the hour with Suresh Canagarajah, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor and Director of the Migration Studies Project at Pennsylvania State University, to discuss  the role and position of translingualism amidst neoliberalism, the growth of multilingual students in writing classrooms, and monolingual ideologies.

The interview consists of four parts. This second part examines the role of translingualism in Writing Studies, while looking into the implications of translingualism for the distinction of L1 and L2 writing.

Part II: “What are some implications of translingualism for the distinction between L1 and L2 writing as disciplines?”

TRANSCRIPT

SHAKIL RABBI: What are some implications of translingualism for the distinction between L1 and L2 writing as disciplines?

SURESH CANAGARAJAH: Yes, translingualism is going to make scholars rethink a lot of these many distinctions, because, you know especially in the languages—say, the English department, the German department, the Russian department etc.–they are based on language differences. Almost, really, territorializing these languages and thinking of them as separate things. And translingualism says there are connections. Their relationship is fluid. But there’s already a lot of discussions in the English department. For example, should we have this department in this shape, or would it be better to organize it differently? But one of the interesting realizations that’s coming through this debate is that any department structure, or any disciplinary structure, is going to be conservative and oppressive. You know, it will have its own agenda. So more important than that is a translingual awareness of scholars. You know it is more like a disciplinary awareness, an interdisciplinary awareness of scholars– how they share resources, ideas, theories among themselves, whichever department they are in or whichever discipline they are in. That is more productive rather than finishing off with a new disciplinary divide.

So as far as I’m concerned, about L1 and L2 in particular, it’s possible for all of us to share similar theoretical assumptions about how language works, how texts work. It doesn’t have to be different. But we might focus on different types of scholars, so for example– I mean students.

So L1 Composition might still focus on native speaker students. And you know there’s enough work to be done with native speaker students– with making them familiar with diversity and translingual awareness. And L2 writing can continue to focus on international students, multilingual students.

Bilingual scholars, like Ofelia García, Kris Gutierrez, they have their work– they have their work cut out for them. You know they are translingual theoretically, but they are focusing on issues of heritage language, bilingualism, etcetera.

TESOL, as an organization, has published a special topic issue on plurilingualism. Theoreticallly, they are on board. It doesn’t mean that TESOL, as an organization, loses its value or strength. You know they are going to be focusing on international students, multilingual students.

So the way I think about it, is, it is possible for all of us to share certain theoretical assumptions relating to translingualism, but as a practical pedagogical strategy or even research strategy we might choose to focus on different student demographies. You know different student groups. We can’t all focus on the same students. You know there are enough students with different goals, and different needs, that we don’t have to make all the scholars deal with the same thing.

So the way I think about this, at least for the present, till other changes happen– you know we can’t control history. We don’t know how things are going to change in terms of how disciplines are going to be redrawn. But for now, what we can do is, we can share certain theoretical assumptions relating to translingualism, while we focus on different groups of students and address their concerns.

Transcription by: Sara P. Alvarez

For part I and details on the other 3 parts of this interview, please see our previous blog here: https://transnationalwriting.wordpress.com/2015/08/04/suresh-canagarajah-on-translingualism-a-four-part-interview-part-i/

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Suresh Canagarajah on Translingualism: A Four Part Interview, Part I

Shakil Rabbi, PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at Pennsylvania State University, spends the hour with Suresh Canagarajah, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor and Director of the Migration Studies Project at Pennsylvania State University, to discuss  the role and position of translingualism amidst neoliberalism, the growth of multilingual students in writing classrooms, and monolingual ideologies.

The interview consists of four parts:

1) The first part  focuses on the question of whether  translingualism risks complicity with neoliberalism.

2) The second part examines the role of translingualism in Writing Studies, while looking into the implication of translingualism for the distinction of L1 and L2 writing.

3) The third part speaks to the question of how translingualism is relevant to places and/or contexts that see themselves as monolingual.

4) The fourth and final part suggests that translingualism is still emerging, and for that reason, highlights the importance of role models, mentors, and theorists who influence this orientation about writing.

Part I: “Does Translingualism Risk Complicity with Neoliberalism?”

TRANSCRIPT

SHAKIL RABBI: Could you respond to the recent charge by scholars that translingualism risks complicity with neoliberalism?

SURESH CANAGARAJAH: It’s true that new neoliberalism sometimes wants this diversity of competencies and skills in their workers. They want workers to be developing [these] by themselves. So they want students, citizens, to develop these skills by themselves. But then, if you look at translingual practice, we don’t make the same argument. We are not saying translingualism is completely in the ends of people themselves: that, there’s no room for teachers, there’s no room for institutions, there’s no room for norms.

So, what I would say is, translingualism as it is theorized by a lot of scholars, it is very politically savvy. You know, we do see a role for teachers, role models, engaging with translingualism with a sensitivity to power. So all the time, in my work, I mean, if somebody said, in my work, or in  the work of Ofelia García and others, that we have no sense of power, that’s ridiculous. You know, we are always concerned about power, and how translingualism or plurilingualism engages with power.

We need to make a clarification of all these things as a product versus all these things as a practice. So if you think of multilingualism or plurilingualism as a product, as a kind of disposition, as a feature, maybe neoliberalism thrives on that. You know, for example, look at advertisements, marketing. They present multilingualism, translingualism, as a branding kind of mechanism. You know, to say “We are relating this to everybody. We love all the people of the world for our products etcetera.” and you know all those languages. But the way translingual scholars theorize this is, its not as a product or an essence, but as a practice. That is, how do you bring your resources to make spaces in business or education, or critique for more empowering ends? So translingualism might use it for its own purposes as a product, but translinguals– I’m sorry, neoliberalism might use it as a product, but translingual scholars are talking about it as a practice.
So there’s a difference. We have to make a distinction between translingualism as a product versus translingualism as a practice. And as we know, people, suppose neoliberals, use translingualism as a product, for their purposes. You know, as a branding mechanism, as a symbol, as something that profits. But we are talking about it as practice, which is very socially-conscious, sensitive to power. And it is going to vary in different contexts how we practice translingualism: against which norms, against which dominant groups, in which domain. It will be very different in different contexts.

Transcription by: Sara P. Alvarez

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