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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