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?”


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:

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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?”


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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Bringing Global Issues into the Writing Class

By Rita S. Nezami, Ph. D.

Stony Brook University, New York

As Mohamed Bouazizi’s charred body lay in a hospital bed in Tunisia, I walked into the writing classroom in January 2011 and asked my students at SUNY-Stony Brook what they thought about the young Tunisian man’s self-immolation. They looked at me with blank, bewildered eyes. I could see they had no idea what I was talking about. A month later, as thousands of Egyptians gathered on the Tahrir Square in Cairo, I asked those same students what they thought about the Egyptian protests and the Arab Spring. Again, those blank eyes stared at me. This time, I was bewildered.

I’m perhaps not alone in finding an alarming number of students who are unaware of and unengaged by significant transnational developments, i.e., those that are likely to be widely covered in the worldwide, mainstream press. This witting or unwitting inattention or lack of interest by students is ironic given the cultural and racial diversity in our classrooms.

I want to suggest that, for reasons we don’t fully understand, students severely limit their attention to matters that lie outside their immediate sphere of concern. Yet, there’s something different now: online access. Digital, networked access puts the world and its complexities and the most recent developments in their pockets. The problem is choice: Why do students use the tools of unprecedented connection with events anywhere in the world, yet most use these technologies to build personally customized digital cocoons that keep the world out? Facebook users have a monumental resource to share and inform each other about current global events, yet it appears that young people are mostly interested in finding out what their friends are up, to relieve boredom, or to look at their friends’ photos.

Networked digital technologies could so easily make our students the most deeply informed population in history or political science. The urgent question becomes how our undergraduate writing classrooms can help students recognize the costs of their isolation from issues and debates that will shape their lives and how we can help them acquire the tools to question whether they live in self-imposed attention bubbles? The question is: How do we break the bubbles so that we can open our students’ minds in the classroom and beyond? It’s not an easy task. Yet, I managed to get my students motivated to write about various global issues through fiction. I was able to trigger their interest, for example, by assigning a textual analysis of a novella that tells Bouazizi’s story, whose self-immolation triggered the Arab Spring in the MENA region. After reading about Mohamed’s life and death under corrupt dictatorship, students began to show enormous interest in writing responses and research papers on the Arab Spring revolts, about worldwide corruption, brutal dictatorships, and suicide by self-immolation. By looking online at photographs of Bouazizi’s burning body, students’ interest was further heightened. I believe there are other ways, including visual rhetoric (photographs, films, art work) that we can use to help our students become informed, global citizens. Today I will speak about how I bring the world into the classroom through literature.

Some texts that have generated interest in global issues:

  1.     My Mother, the Crazy African by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigeria. (Immigrant experience, assimilation, loss of identity and culture)
  2.     By Fire by Tahar Ben Jelloun, Morocco. (The Arab Spring, dictatorship, police harassment, unemployment, self-immolation)
  3.     The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, Pakistan. (Post 9/11 discrimination/racism toward Muslims, racial profiling)
  4.     Leng Lui is for Pretty Lady by Elaine Chiew, Malaysia. (Immigrant workers, cheap labor, human rights abuse)
  5.     The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra, Algeria. (Post-Soviet Afghanistan, Taliban terror, fundamentalism, human repression, public execution, individual liberty, human rights abuse, female condition/suffering)

In the Intermediate Writing course that I teach at Stony Brook University, I have students write a textual analysis on a short story that depicts various universal issues. I have noticed that once the class moves on to write their research papers on global issues, they often choose topics that are depicted in the story. After reading By Fire, for example, many students wrote papers on the Arab Spring, corruption, dictatorship, police harassment, self-immolation and unemployment. Students realize that unemployment and police violence are not only concerns in the United States but exist in many other nations. As a result, not only do they become more informed but also more realistic and somewhat humbled by the fact that young people in other countries face harsher realities. At the same time, knowledge about other corners of the world empowers students, making their self-esteem gradually go up as they begin to understand what lies beyond their self-imposed bubbles, what’s happening outside the United States.

My upper division undergraduate course, Writing 302 (International Literature) invites students to evolve their skills as writers by formulating various kinds of responses to literary texts by writers from around the world. By not limiting their readings to texts by writers living exclusively in the West who write in English, students open themselves to the possibilities of responding to the problem of being human in ways other than those conditioned by first-world assumptions formed by American and European culture, media, and politics. They read works in English and English translation.

They begin to see the world through different cultural experiences and rethink their assumptions about priorities, community, identity, suffering, happiness, and humanity. These texts provoke students by challenging their views about the universality of Western perspectives on ethics, economics, politics, freedom, power, and the human good. The acts of reading and writing inform each other. Students read in order to write about their reading, and they reflect on their experience of encountering alien notions of difference. Above all, they look more deeply into themselves. Ultimately, reading globally and writing locally becomes a rewarding, intellectual and stimulating journey into other ways of being, into other worlds, and into global issues.

Based on the interest generated among my students through such a pedagogical approach, I would urge instructors in writing and other disciplines to try this method of bringing the world into their horizon. Perhaps SUNY-Stony Brook’s cultural and racial diversity has helped domestic students engage with international students at a greater level. Once students realize that reading locally and writing globally can offer them a chance to become global and informed citizens, and allow them to travel into other cultures, they become instantly motivated. In fact, I’ve had many students tell me at the semester end, “I’ve applied for my passport. Now I can follow your advice and travel.”

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Writing Perspectives from Eastern Europe: Blog Three

Personal Reflections on Writing Instruction in Russia

By Natalia V. Smirnova MA

PhD Student, Open University, UK/ State University of St. Petersburg, Russia

Deputy Head of the Department of Foreign Languages

National Research University Higher School of Economics, St. Petersburg

My purpose is to provide a reflection on writing instruction at present and current approaches to integrating writing instruction in Russian universities. In Russia, writing in Russian (L1) has been studied in a number of disciplines: Literary studies, Linguistics and Teaching Foreign Languages, Education and Pedagogy, Philosophy though few pedagogical implications have been made for the university context. Writing instruction has been mostly developing in the field of English as Foreign Language (EFL). Russian tradition of EFL treats writing as a skill (competence) and teaching writing is based not only on the UK EFL pedagogical tradition but is deeply rooted in the L1/L2 writing instruction scholarship of the 19th century (Smirnova, 2015a). As a result, while there is a systematic approach to teaching writing in English (L2), university curriculum seems to lack sufficient L1 writing instruction.

Teaching L1 writing in disciplines is mostly an individual teacher stance on what/how to teach, and perhaps on whether to teach L1 writing. Despite the fact that a majority of university teachers agree that L1 writing is not a naturally developing skill, its instruction seems to be too fragmented and too localized (Shchemeleva & Smirnova, 2015). Moreover, there are almost no forums for disseminating teaching/researching L1 writing experience (in contrast with L2) that could serve as a platform for developing a local model of writing instruction.

Given that L1 writing instruction is fragmented and localized, I would like to illustrate the university writing context by sharing my experience of working in one Russian research-intensive university. Writing instruction in L1 is provided only at the entry level when freshmen students undertake a course in Philosophy. This course is rooted in rhetoric and theory of argumentation as a part of philosophy and aims at providing students with disciplinary argumentation and research skills rather than general writing skills.

Last year, we (me as an EFL instructor and a teacher of Philosophy) ran a redesigned course for students majoring in history. A series of lectures were ran in L1 and focused on theory of argumentation and logic, while a series of seminars were ran in L2 and trained students in applying the new concepts to their writing (Smirnova, 2015b). When students undertake the 2-4th years of their study, there is no course in disciplinary writing. Disciplinary writing is seen as something which develops naturally within the process of communication of academic advisors with their students when they are writing their theses and research papers. Our redesigned course is different in that it addresses disciplinary writing through L2.

Unlike L1 writing instruction, teaching writing in L2 is systematic across the four years of study (writing is taught as one of the four skills). During the first two years students learn general academic writing skills. During the 3rd and 4th years of study students learn the basics of disciplinary writing. This emphasis on teaching L2 writing can be explained by the status of English as the global language of science (Lillis, 2001). Yet, the focus is primarily on writing to produce (essays, research articles, theses) rather than on writing as a process. As a result, students seem to not acquire necessary and wide range of writing sub-skills (planning, drafting, revising, editing, expressing writer’s voice etc.) (Smirnova, 2015c).

It seems that writing in L1 has a strong theoretical base and is closely-related to meaning-making, though it lacks proper pedagogical models. In contrast, while L2 writing instruction is systematic, it treats writing as a technical skill only and ignores some theoretical assumptions that writing is a social practice and is a key element of literacy (Lillis, 2001; Lillis & Curry, 2010).

Overall, Russian writing instruction tradition seems to be hidden (underexplored) in a great variety of local contexts (high schools, universities, regional educational standards) across Russia and there is much which international scholars can learn from (e.g. Butler, Trosclair, Zhou & Wei, 2014). This locality can be seen in contemporary local writing instruction that seems to be shaped by three traditions. First, there is currently a call for researching writing as a social practice by taking a UK perspective in which writing as a mode of meaning-making empowers learners to succeed in university studies and in their future careers (Shchemeleva & Smirnova, 2015). Second, there is also a call for integrating writing instruction in the university curricular and adapt experience of the USA approach (Shchemeleva & Smirnova, 2015; Smirnova, 2015c). Third, increasingly there is more attention given to providing writing instruction both in L1 and L2 and developing bilingual writers within disciplines (Smirnova, 2015b).


Butler, D.B., Trosclair, E., Zhou, Y., Wei, M. (2014). Student and teacher perceptions of academic English writing in Russia. Teaching English for Academic and Specific Purposes, 2(2). Retrieved December 15, 2014, from

Harbord, J. (2010). Writing in Central and Eastern Europe: Stakeholders and directions in initiating change. Across the Disciplines, 7. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from

Lillis, T. & Curry, M.J. (2010) Academic writing in a global context. London: Routledge.

Lillis, T. (2001). Student writing: access, regulation, desire. Literacies. UK: Routledge.

Smirnova, N.V. (2015a) History of teaching writing in Russia: key approaches and methods (from 17th to 20th century) (forthcoming).

Smirnova, N.V. (2015b). Writing-to-learn instruction in L1 and L2 as a platform for historical reasoning. Journal of writing research. (forthcoming)

Smirnova, N.V. (2015c). Writing-for-publication: Online pedagogy for post graduate research writing. Edited collection Post/graduate writing pedagogies and research literacies in the 21st century, editors Badenhorst, Cecile and Cally Guerin, Emerald (forthcoming).

Shchemeleva, I., Smirnova, N. V. (2015). Academic writing within a university setting: challenges and perspectives (The case of Russia). In edited collection based on the AWEAST conference in Romania (forthcoming)

Academic Writing in Russia: A Writing Center Perspective

By Ivan Eubanks, Ph. D.

New Economic School

Assistant Professor of Humanities & Languages

Director, Merrill Lynch Writing & Communication Center

Chief Editor of the English Division, Educational Studies / Voprosy obrazovania

Editor in Chief, Pushkin Review

As for the growing interest in academic writing in Russia, I believe there is a specific reason behind it. Russia has no universities ranked in the top 100 worldwide, and only a handful in the top 500. The reason is not that Russian institutions are less valuable, but that faculty in Russian institutions less frequently publish in English-language international venues and less frequently work on international collaborations than colleagues from many other countries. Thus a lot of good Russian research may be published mainly in domestic Russian-language journals, many of which are not indexed outside of Russia and therefore don’t have great impact factors. In response, the Russian minister of education has become interested in educational reform, and the Russian government has provided incentives for universities to get their faculty to publish in international venues and top ranked journals, many of which are in English.

This has led to two problems.  One is that faculty need training in genre awareness, information literacy, and other aspects of academic writing. What passes for a decent article here, for example, might be viewed as disorganized (structurally deficient) if it were translated into English and submitted to an American journal.  Similarly, using evidence, responding to other sources, and citation are all things that are done differently here. Thus a large part of the new interest in writing instruction is therefore concentrated on faculty training.

But training faculty is only a short-term solution. The impetus to offer writing classes to students and graduate students comes, in my opinion, from an altogether appropriate long-term strategy. If those students learn to write well, and if they learn to adapt to different discourse communities early in their careers, the ones who go on to become academics should feel more comfortable writing for international audiences.

Writing instruction is only one small part of this whole trend in Russia. Other parts involve hiring faculty from outside Russia, setting up exchange programs around the world, offering dual degree programs (e.g., students at St. Petersburg State University who study in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences get a degree from SPb State and Bard College, who helped set up the program), and encouraging collaborative research among Russian academics and those from other countries. Also, the old degree system (specialist, candidate of sciences, doctor, professor) is giving way to the American model (bachelor, master, doctorate), as several high profile institutions are beginning to adopt it.

In summary, I think the emergence of writing instruction in Russia is part of a more comprehensive and aptly conceived movement for educational reform, which involves moving away from the German model that Russians initially adopted and toward an Anglo-American model.

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Writing Perspectives from Eastern Europe: Blog Two

The Importance of Writing Instruction: A Lithuanian Perspective

By Monique Yoder

M.A. TESOL – English Instructor

LCC International University

LCC International University in Klaipėda, Lithuania has developed significantly since Harbord’s 2010 survey of writing within Central and Eastern European institutions. Today, LCC has about 500 students with an international student population hailing from nearly 25 countries. About 50% of the student body is Lithuanian while the rest comes from Latvia, non-EU nations, and Central Asia. An Intensive English Program (IEP) was established in 2007 to support in-coming freshmen whose academic English proficiency level does not meet admissions standards. By taking one or two semesters of IEP, students are able to gain basic academic communication skills needed in order to function in an English-medium university. At the post-undergraduate level, two graduate programs have also become available: M.A. TESOL in 2008 and a dual M.A. in International Management / M.B.A. in 2014.

Founded by North Americans (from both Canada and the US) in 1991, LCC maintains its identity as a North American-style liberal arts university with a mission to teach through a Christian worldview. The majority of faculty has received higher degrees from North American institutions. Faculty members are mostly from Canada, the US, or Western Europe; however, one-third of faculty members are from Lithuania. Considering its founding purpose to offer a North American-style university, LCC will continue to instruct academic writing within a North American framework.

Since the 2012-13 academic year, Lithuania now requires its undergraduate students to write an undergraduate thesis in order to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. Washback from this national policy has forced LCC to evaluate its composition and content courses across the disciplines in order to equip students with the tools necessary to perform and write up original research.

As a result, first-year composition courses at LCC now require students to write an annotated bibliography on self-selected research topics for their argumentative compositions. In second- and third-year instruction within disciplines, students are taught how to write a literature review within a content course. These literature reviews are specific to the discipline and follow APA or MLA guidelines, depending on the student’s major. In the year before their final year of study, students take a research methods course specific to their discipline. This course not only teaches students research methodology, but also reinforces annotated bibliography, literature review, and research writing learned in previous courses. In students’ final year of study, they take two semesters of Thesis. The first part of Thesis requires students to do preliminary research using peer-reviewed publication sources, accompanied by an annotated bibliography, and draft a research proposal introduced by a literature review. The proposal then undergoes a preliminary defense in front of a faculty panel as a sort of quality control check. Students who receive a satisfactory assessment in the defense then move on to second semester of Thesis and can then execute their research study, analyze data, write their thesis, and then defend before graduation. Students are paired with a faculty mentor throughout this process to help guide students’ research and writing.

EFL writing instruction in Serbia: One perspective on emerging trends

By Brooke Ricker Schreiber

PhD Candidate, Pennsylvania State University

My comments here are based on my experiences both as a foreign instructor teaching EFL writing in Serbia, and as a researcher in the English departments of two universities there. While writing instruction and assessment practices vary, it is clear that writing is a deeply entrenched component of English language education at the university level. As Harbord (2010) points out, writing in Eastern and Central Europe tends to be taught as a means of developing students’ linguistic proficiency in English rather than as a skill in its own right. This is certainly traditionally the case in Serbia, where writing instruction takes place most visibly each semester as part of sets of “practical” courses designed to improve students’ language competence. Writing is thus taught in parallel with translation and grammar courses, and like them is assessed by timed exams, a structure shaped by custom, by university policy, and by participation in the Bologna Process. These courses tend to focus on expanding and improving students’ vocabulary and syntax, and rely on typical five-paragraph essay types, such as compare and contrast and opinion essays. The pedagogical materials used in these courses are almost exclusively North American or British, although instructors selectively adapt these materials for their own purposes, and are beginning to produce their own EFL textbooks for their students. The ultimate focus of these courses is on preparing students for their eventual work as teachers and translators, and improving students’ abilities to both use and talk about the language.

However, within these “practical” courses (and in additional elective courses), the trend seems to be for individual instructors in Serbian universities to find ways to integrate both practical (business) genres and sourced-based writing into their practice. For example, at both universities at which I conducted research, in the fifth semester of the practical writing course, the midterm examination task is for students to write a cover letter for a job application as a timed essay exam. After several weeks of classwork on curriculum vitae and cover letter writing, for the exam, students are given both an invented student resume and a job description, and must write a one-page cover letter which draws on the information provided. This task, while faithfully adhering to the length and time requirement of the exam structure, gives the students a writing task with a clear audience and purpose, one which aims to be as authentic as possible within the given constraints. In another semester, a group of instructors have developed an exam task which incorporates academic citation. Students spend class time reading and discussing a set of academic sources around a chosen topic, and in the final exam must answer a question about that topic relying on the sources for support.   There also seems to be a new (or perhaps renewed) interest in the use of technology to facilitate interaction around writing; Serbian writing instructors are increasingly turning to class blogs on which students post their writing and receive teacher and peer feedback as a means of promoting the potential for a community of writers inherent in the practical writing courses.

In the Serbian university, EFL writing pedagogy is arguably an emerging hybrid, one which works to fit audience-driven and source-based writing tasks into both the examination system and the overarching goals of language instruction.

Perspectives on Writing from Romania

By Ligia Mihut

Assistant Professor, PhD

Barry University, Miami Shores, FL

(this section is a brief summary of a more comprehensive article, “Academic Writing: Global Views and Romanian Trends” (2004) written by Sonia Pavlenko, Cristina Bojan, Andrei Kelemen, and Mihaela Aluas, TRANSYLVANIAN REVIEW 23.1, 259-270)

Concerns with academic writing in Europe emerged in the 1990s. Pavlenko et al. introduce Dirk Siepmann’s classification of Anglo-Saxon style (covering both UK and the US), the French intellectual style, and the German style. The distinction between them resides in heightened attention to theory, data analysis, or ornate language.

Since a significant portion of the article is devoted to definitions of academic writing but also to distinctive writing traditions—the Anglo-Saxon, French, and German—it is notable that scholars in this region, in this case Romania, seek to situate their current practices relative to other historical traditions. These intellectual traditions, as noted earlier, involve writing in a different language but they also emphasize a distinct intellectual way expressed through logical processes, data analysis, and purpose—to advance a theory, to engage in dialog, or to display eloquence. Such an orientation towards established writing traditions/ histories may seem necessary since Romania, and many other countries in Southern and Eastern Europe occupy a small territory and their languages are only used by a small number of people. I call this scholarly positioning present in other scholars’ accounts from this region an orientation to dialog, a particular openness to engage other perspectives while simultaneously establishing a particular identity in the field of academic writing.

As Pavlenko et al. explain, Romania has a particular history that shapes writing instruction in higher education institutions. Notable is the censorship of written communication prior to 1989—the year that marks the end of the Communist regime. The suppression of writing was first accomplished through an increase of literature reviews, a writing genre that would increase the visibility of established, state-approve works rather than promote original ideas, and through the removal of research from higher education. According to Pavlenko et al., research activity was redirected to the so-called research institutes where control over this activity could be established more easily. Although Romanian universities underwent significant changes especially since Romania’s integration in the European Union in 2007, many obstacles remain standing. Financial difficulties represent a major impediment, but perhaps the most pervasive is limited training in rhetoric and writing conventions of advisors and faculty. In conclusion, the authors propose that writing instruction in Romania would best develop if academic writing courses would be incorporated in a bachelor degree, and specialized writing centers would serve the needs of graduate students and faculty.


Harbord, J. (2010). Writing in Central and Eastern Europe: Stakeholders and directions in initiating change. Across the Disciplines, 7. Retrieved March 6, 2015, from

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Writing Perspectives from Eastern Europe: Blog One

    By Ligia Mihut, Ph.D.

   Barry University, Miami Shores

In the fall 2015, I was invited as a guest speaker in Dr. Shyam Sharma’s class, International Rhetorics. The purpose of this graduate seminar was “surveying a number of rhetorical traditions from around the world” through three lenses: historical, geo-political, and issue-centered (Sharma). The course also connected students to a number of composition and rhetoric scholars whose research or expertise centered on an international region. As a guest speaker, I shared my research as well as some observations about writing and literacy in Romania based on my ethnographic work with Romanian immigrants in the US and archival research in Romania. A question from a graduate student persisted in my mind weeks after our Skype conversation. “Can we talk about an Eastern European rhetoric?” It is a question that has preoccupied me for many years. The student’s question and a lack of visibility of scholarship from and about this region reiterated the significance of this question: “What writing practices and traditions have developed in this region? Even if we might not be entitled to call it Eastern European rhetoric, how can we account for certain particularities that emerge in this region?

With recent and persistent calls to turn toward writing instruction outside the US, one region in particular – Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union—remains quite obscure in terms of approaches and beliefs about writing research and pedagogy. In “Permeable Cosmopolitanism,” I underscore the fact that references to Europe often denote Western Europe thus ignoring the complexity of European languages and cultures. Such summative designation neglects the historical and cultural specificity of this region marked by distinct, albeit new, approaches to the teaching of writing. The purpose of this blog is to highlight new developments of writing instruction in Eastern Europe through a series of email conversations, blogs written by scholars from Eastern Europe, and articles about writing instruction/ scholarship in this region.

The following questions guided the email conversation I initiated with scholars teaching and doing research in Eastern Europe.

“Can we speak of an emerging Eastern European composition and rhetoric in the same way we identify a US composition or Chinese rhetoric, Latina/o rhetoric, and other Western or non-Western rhetorics? What specific trends/ traditions/ developments in writing instruction and research are emerging in this region?”

Highlights of our conversation:

As a region Eastern Europe is rather difficult to identify. Even more problematic is to define Eastern Europe as “homogenous writing culture.” (Kruse “Writing Perspectives”)

If Eastern European countries are compared to Western countries, we note a “transformation lag.” (Kruse)

But …

“Perhaps there isn’t a “homogeneous” rhetoric but perhaps, that is precisely what makes this region unique–that individual expression, personal or even ethnic identity in writing, is highly valued. This might be constitutive of the writing culture in this region. Certainly, if we consider solely academic writing, there is definitely a gap and delay in adopting academic genres at most higher education institutions in Eastern Europe.” (Mihut “Writing Perspectives”)

The German Humboldtian university model has established an institutional practice that shapes reading and writing practices in this region:

“What the former communist countries mostly had in common was an inherited German Humboldtian university model. As far as writing is concerned this seemed to be partly responsible for a mode of written academic communication that did not favor readability but rather relished complexity of phrase, wide vocabulary, virtuosity of language mastery and general features that were reader responsible rather than writer responsible.” (Harbord “Writing Perspectives”)

“Europe is Humboldtian meaning that seminar writing and thesis writing, both based on extensive source reading are quite common. The Anglo-Saxon tradition of essay writing (which is much more argumentative and communicative but uses less sources) is now slowly replacing these traditions.” (Kruse)

New developments since the fall of the Communist regime seem to be rather slow and differentiated:

“25 years after the fall of communism, and this situation has changed to a greater or lesser extent in different former communist countries. In those countries that see themselves as core (Russia as core of the Soviet Union, Serbia as core of Yugoslavia) the change has been rather slow, perhaps even negligible. This could be because people identify with the existing rhetoric as part of a culture they take pride in.” (Harbord “Writing Perspectives”)

Due to larger changes in higher education reforms in this region –the Bologna Process”—differences between writing pedagogical traditions will be blurred.

“The European reform program known as “Bologna Process” is currently changing teaching everywhere into the same direction so that in spite of differences traditions the current practices equal each other more and more.” (Kruse)

Writing in multiple languages and awareness of multiple writing styles/ traditions are dominant in writing instruction scholarship in Eastern Europe. I would argue that this preoccupation with writing in L1, L2, and other languages is a key feature of writing instruction developments in this region. Although academic writing culture (not writing culture in general) seems delayed compared to Western countries (Kruse), in terms of attention to language diversity, Eastern Europe is a forerunner. (Mihut)

Relationships established betweenL1 writing, L2 writing or writing in other languages are complex. At times, there is a need to preserve the national language, but there are trends of transfer, transplanting, or selective adaptions.

In “Writing in Central and Eastern Europe,” John Harbord shows that instructors teaching classes where the national language is the subject are preoccupied with language preservation as a way of protecting one’s national or ethnic identity. However, in disciplines unrelated to the study of language/ discourse/ rhetoric, or literature, scholars are more readily open to adopt and adapt writing practices from other Western traditions:

“Social scientists, in contrast to teachers of the national language, seem rather less concerned about cultural heritage and more interested in obtaining effective tools for doing their job. Which culture these tools come from appears less important to them. Marine Chitashvili, the distinguished Georgian psychologist who founded the Centre for Social Sciences at Tbilisi University, framed this very well when I raised concerns about imposing the norms of English academic writing on Georgian. She said:

Georgian doesn’t have its own culture of academic scholarship. The way we have written until now is the Russian way, which was imposed upon us as part of the Russian empire in the 19th century and the Soviet empire in the 20th. We have the choice to keep the Russian way of writing which is not ours, or exchange it for the Anglo-American way of writing, which is also not inherently Georgian. (personal communication, May 22, 2008).”

Although evidence is scarce, there seems to be a trend in emerging new “ways” of writing.

“This is especially interesting in the case of Serbia. Serbian rhetoric has customarily been seen as distant from English and very reader responsible; many of my students endorse this view (either with their opinions or their output). However, I had a student recently who commented that she attempts to write in the ‘new Serbian’ style. In her words, new Serbian rhetoric is influenced by English and attempts to be simpler and clearer, while traditional Serbian rhetoric is influenced by French (in the 19th century) and complex and baroque. Apparently there is a ‘school’ of younger Serbian scholars who see themselves as using the new Serbian rhetoric. Among the many fascinating issues raised by this anecdotal evidence is the fact that a writer-responsible style is not perceived as external (e.g. US style) but as ‘new Serbian’ thus making it possible to rewrite and preserve national pride and cultural identity. The new paradigm involve the perception that ‘we are all influenced by other cultures; our national culture was previously shaped by one external influence, now it is shaped by another, but it is still ours’.” (Harbord, “Writing Perspectives”)

As the above dialog illustrates, it is rather difficult to offer a definite answer to the initial questions: “Can we speak of an emerging Eastern European composition and rhetoric in the same way we identify a US composition or Chinese rhetoric, Latina/o rhetoric, and other Western or non-Western rhetorics?” Yet, these questions invite further research and conversations with scholars from this region. In the following blog post, I launched an open invitation from scholars from different Eastern European countries. With each account, we learn more about the teaching of writing in Eastern Europe as well as about these scholars’ perspectives on writing instruction and research (see Blog 2).

Works Cited

Harbord, John. “Writing Perspectives from Eastern Europe.” Message to Ligia Mihut. 16 Feb. 2015. Email.

Harbord, John. “Writing in Central and Eastern Europe: Stakeholders and directions in initiating change.” Across the Disciplines 7 (2010): n. pag. Web. 6 March 2015. <>

Otto, Kruse. “Writing Perspectives from Eastern Europe.” Message to Ligia Mihut. 16 Feb. 2015. Email.

Mihut, Ligia. “Writing Perspectives from Eastern Europe.” Message to Otto Kruse and John Harbord. 17 Feb. 2015. Email.

Sharm, Shyam. “Courses.” Shyama Sharma, n. d. Web. 11 March 2015.


Mihut, Ligia. “Permeable Cosmopolitanism.” Mobilized Subjects: Knowledge and Cultural Transformations in the New Millennium. Eds. Cameron McCarthy, Nicole Lamers, Margaret Fitzpatrick, and Karla Parma. Champaign, IL: Common Ground, 2013. 86- 104. Print.

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Transnational Writing Blog Post

By Moushumi Biswas

Doctoral Candidate, University of Texas at El Paso

Key words: FYC, multilingualism, India, writing pedagogy, language practices

The question I have been asking of late is: How can we re-conceptualize writing pedagogy – and first year composition (FYC) in particular ­– to include the language practices of multilingual students from India?

Even as we speak for the cause of the many Englishes, I realize that those of us who are from other countries have tried to conform to the so-called standards of American English as we strove to succeed in the academy. Thus, despite the inclusive model of instruction that we have now in the face of a rising number of students (and teachers) of color, I feel the need to admit that for the simple purpose of effective communication, and good grades, non-U.S.-born students try to learn the lingua franca called American English. An example of that is the way I have spelled “color” in this article. I also remember the times I got funny looks in class for pronouncing “niche” as “neesh” and “pastiche” as “pasteesh,” which are the French ways of pronouncing them as I had “learnt” (not “learned”) in India. Then, as Victor Villanueva (1993) said in Bootstraps, have I become “raceless” through “concensus” when subjected to “acculturative and assimilationist forces” (113)? In a nation committed to diversity, especially on the threshold of the day when colored people will outnumber whites, how problematic is this practical need for a lingua franca? Does diversity, then, call for the inclusion of everybody’s languages, or in fact amplify the need for a lingua franca for the simple purpose of coherence and understanding each other?

It is interesting that even as early as the last century, right after the world wars, an apparent need to standardize college-level academic writing was felt in the American academy, and First Year Composition (FYC) was devised to meet this need. However, for students from India and other Commonwealth countries for whom English (the British form) is the first language, FYC is an unfamiliar thing. There is no formal writing instruction at the undergraduate level in their native countries and they are expected to learn to read, speak, and write the language during 12 years of elementary, middle and high school BEFORE entering college. Moreover, most students in India as well as the rest of the subcontinent learn two to three languages simultaneously (in my case, it was English, Bengali, and Hindi). Grammar instruction is mandatory just as literature and poetry classes are, for all the languages that students learn. It needs to be mentioned here that while grammar is often reduced to merely the mechanics of a language, I was fortunate to have an English teacher in fourth grade who actually explained the rhetorical aspect of grammar, including the purpose behind the rules and the exceptions! Not only did she teach us about the English language, but also the language itself and how it works. I believe in the universal relevance of this teaching strategy, particularly in the FYC classroom with a diverse student profile. When the rhetorical objectives behind the rules of grammar are grasped, grammar ceases to be a lifeless, mechanical thing; students understand the logos behind the structure of a language and it becomes easier for her to learn it and eventually, play with it. In fact, grammar becomes an aid to learning the nuances of a language. Insight into a language from such a mode of learning is the strength that students from India can bring to the FYC classroom, and share with other learners.

To my mind, learning the many nuances of a language, especially when it is a language with so many variations prevailing in the different parts of the world, is particularly useful. Growing up in a postcolonial country, I often heard about the social and educational capital that the English language carries since it would “enable me to communicate” in practically any continent. So I was taught English (British) alongside Bengali, which, by default, became my second language. But I did not lose my mother tongue because of this; rather, I gained a first language. In fact, straddling two cultures and continents was fun since it added variety to life, adding unique dimensions to my knowledge-making process. It helped widen my mind to the world beyond the immediate environment, not to miss the fact that it was not one-way traffic; the Indian languages added to English too. As it happens, India and other parts of the Orient contributed over 700 words to the Oxford English Dictionary, which are now part of regular usage. “Shampoo,” for example, is a Persian word while “guru,” “pundit,” “curry” and “bandana” are Indian. I think this global nature of the English language needs to be kept in mind when teaching writing in the U.S.

To return to the topic of students from the Indian subcontinent, or with roots there, I would include both students who come to the U.S. to get degrees and go back, and the 1.5-generation students who emerge from the American grade school system. The reason for including the 1.5-generation is that they are still very closely associated with the culture of their ancestors through their parents, an influence that is quite strong and sets them apart from other American students despite the fact that they were raised here. Under the circumstances, I believe FYC needs to examine the implications of teaching “standard U.S. English” to these multilingual students from the liminal space between native speakers and non-native speakers and also explore the pedagogical imperative of a monolingual system of learning and its impact on the composition process of multilingual students. If the key to composition lies in students’ local literacies, then FYC, as a matter of praxis, needs to ask if it should accommodate the literacies of multilingual students to facilitate the composing process. As a student from India, I can say that learning American English was an extension of my earlier experience of learning languages other my mother tongue, which later facilitated the process of teaching FYC in the U.S.-Mexico borderland classroom as I understood how bilingual students thought in more than one language, and sometimes translated from one language to another as they put their thoughts down into writing.

Even though English was my first language and I already had a master’s degree in English language and literature from India when I applied to graduate school in the U.S. (in 2008), I was advised to apply for a second master’s before looking at a doctoral program. I was told this would help me “test the waters in a different educational system and familiarize myself with the milieu of the American academy.” Six and a half years later, as I am working on finishing my doctoral dissertation, I have the chance to ponder over the grad school advisor’s words and look back at every new thing I encountered in the classroom here, particularly those related to language practices and expression of thoughts, the different Englishes spoken by students as well as teachers from different parts of the world, and the way my style of communication underwent changes – consciously as well as unconsciously – as I adapted to the academy in a different continent.

Scholars such as Alastair Pennycook and Suresh Canagarajah have theorized about the benefits of “code-meshing” and “translingualism” in teaching the English language, allowing non-native English writers to take a transcultural approach to text production. They say that such an approach makes space for multilingual students to have their local literacies inform their writing. Pennycook (2007) says in his book Global Englishes and Transcultural Flows that we can’t be proprietory about language because it is neither linear nor static. It is lived and enacted within culture, calling our identity into being as it helps us perform identity. Pennycook believes that a “lack of engagement with the global circles of flow (of language) limits its linguistic, musical and cultural possibilities” (117). While Pennycook is speaking in the context of hip hop, I think in a situation as diverse as the American classroom, there is a great opportunity to see the lived nature of language and its remixed flow, creating change through iteration even as we hear and read it.

In the essay “Toward a Writing Pedagogy of Shuttling between Languages: Learning from Multilingual Writers,” Canagarajah (2006) argues that “dominant approaches to studying multilingual writing have been hampered by monolingualist assumptions that conceive literacy as a unidirectional acquisition of competence, preventing us from fully understanding the resources multilinguals bring to their texts” (589). He asks, “How do teachers and researchers of English writing orient to linguistic and cultural difference in the essays they read?” (589). Referring to what he calls the “inference” model, he says that “if they see a peculiar tone, style, organization, or discourse, many teachers instinctively turn to the first language (LI) or “native” culture (CI) of the writer for an explanation” (589). I think Canagarajah brings into focus a very practical issue here. If the teacher is not familiar with the student’s tone, style, organization, or in other words, manner of expression, then obviously there would be questions about the viability of allowing “code-meshing” and “translingualism” in the FYC classroom. It would probably slow down the class as both teachers and students try to learn, absorb, and assimilate; and given the time limitation of a 16-week semester, the class might not be able to complete its coursework.

On the other hand, one would argue, this joint-learning exercise of the teacher and students might bring forth such rich learning moments in culturally relevant and responsive learning/teaching that it would still be worth it. Considering both the pros and cons then, should FYC adopt this approach and incorporate the notions of “code-meshing” and “translingualism?” I would say that adopting such an approach when teaching composition would ultimately help students gain their right to their own languages, while using language differences as resources for knowledge making and knowledge gaining. Then, how do we adopt this approach?

A TED Talk video dated June 2014 (posted earlier on the Transnational Writing blog), shows in a very “articulate” manner how “being articulate” can be the key to achieving “translingualism” and being understood across continents and cultures, regardless of a speaker’s “enunciation and diction.” “Tri-tongued orator” Jamila Lyiscott, who is a doctoral candidate and adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College, explains in her spoken-word essay, “Broken English” (link provided below) how she celebrates as well as challenges the three forms of English she speaks: with her friends, in the academy, and with her parents.

Lyiscott’s aim is to help strengthen the connection between the academic world and communities of color outside, and the example she sets in mixing and meshing the codes of three Englishes in the essay could well show the way to express oneself “articulately” to be understood by any kind of audience. When her father asks her, “Wha’ kinda ting is dis?” she answers in the academic tone, “father, this is the impending problem at hand.” On the other hand, sometimes in class she pauses “the intellectual sounding flow” to inquire, “Yo! Why dese books neva be about my peoples.” While declaring that she treats all three of her languages “as equals” because she is “articulate,” Lyiscott asks, “But who controls articulation?” This question is especially relevant in light of the fact that “the English language is a multifaceted oration/ Subject to indefinite transformation.” In her characteristic humorous tone, the tri-tongued orator points out that “even ‘articulate’ Americans sound foolish to the British.”

I think the “being articulate” approach employs Canagarajah’s code-meshing and code-mixing approaches very well without running the risk of code-mangling as might be feared when speakers of different Englishes – and other languages – try to incorporate their various forms of communication in individual expressions. Such democratization of expression through “articulation,” which harkens back to Nietzsche’s notion of language as something “unconsciously rhetorical,” recognizes the subjective aspect of truth/knowledge and embraces perceptions that emerge from different socio-cultural and political constructs while still being accessible to everybody. Furthermore, I think one significant aspect of such an approach is that it would work for students from India, whose language practices were my concern as I started writing this post, just as much as it would for students from anywhere else. In that sense, the “articulation” approach might well lead to a path of effective communication for all, while including their individual language practices. Equally important, too, is the fact that the “being articulate” approach will enable students to succeed in civic life after they leave the academy, no matter which part of the world they choose to go to.

  • Jamila Lyiscott’s essay “Broken English” can be accessed at:

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