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Trimbur, John. Translingualism and Close Reading. CE, Jan. 2016. Posted 01/30/2016.

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Trimbur, John. “Translingualism and Close Reading.” College English 78.3 (2016): 219-27. Print.
The January 2016 issue of College English addresses the question of “translingualism,” a term that Min-Zhan Lu and Bruce Horner, in their Introduction to the issue, see as “one possible entry point” for overcoming the perception that there is only a single form of English that is universally standard and acceptable (207). They discuss at length the challenges of defining translingualism, presenting it in part as the recognition that difference in language use is not just a phenomenon of L2 learning but rather is a feature of “the normal transactions of daily communicative practice of ordinary people” (212).
In this issue, John Trimbur “traces a branch of translingualism to its source” (220). He focuses on texts by Mina Shaughnessy, David Bartholomae, Bruce Horner, and Min-Zhan Lu. He locates the origin of this translingual impulse in the evolution of open admissions at the City University of New York (CUNY) in the 1960s and 1970s, as writing teachers confronted evidence that the edifice of “monolingualism” in English was an ideology of exclusion rather than a fact.
Trimbur argues that, far from being an accurate description of United States English prior to the turmoil of the 1960s, “monolingualism is not a possible linguistic condition at all” (220). He contends that all speakers move among various dialects and registers; the heterogeneous voices that are now becoming more audible demonstrate the existence of “a plurilingual periphery within the Anglophone centers” such as London and New York (219; emphasis original).
Trimbur recounts the history of CUNY from its birth in 1847 as the Free Academy, documenting that despite initiatives such as Search for Excellence, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK), the system remained largely White (220). In the late 1960s, demands from groups like the Black and Puerto Rican Student Community (BPRSC), in concert with growing civil-rights activism, pressured CUNY administrators to establish a true open-admissions policy (221). This shift introduced writing teachers to student writing that many considered worthy only of “eradicat[ion]” (221). In this new environment, Trimbur writes, “literature MAs and PhDs,” among them Mina Shaughnessy, began to draw on their expertise in New Critical close reading “to find order . . . in the language differences of students formerly excluded by selective admissions” (221).
Trimbur contrasts Shaughnessy’s work to understand the logic behind apparently anomalous usage with the approach of Bartholomae, one of the scholars Trimbur designates as members of the “Pitt school” (222). These scholars, Trimbur writes, recognized that literary theorists routinely constructed meaning from arcane texts by literary authors such as Donald Barthelme or e. e. cummings; the Pitt school critics “placed an extraordinary pressure on themselves” to apply these same approaches to student writing in order to understand “evidence of intention” (222).
To clarify this contrast, Trimbur hypothesizes Bartholomae’s response to an example of student writing addressed by Shaughnessy in her 1977 Errors and Expectations: A Guide to the Teacher of Basic Writing. Whereas Shaughnessy argued for “a logic of nonstandard English” in the essay by noting its use of the conventions of an “evangelical sermon,” Trimbur posits that Bartholomae would see the student practicing rhetorical strategies that positioned him as an applicant to academic authority, such as “moves up and down the ladder of abstraction” from concepts to examples and a gesture toward academic citation (223). In Trimbur’s view, Bartholomae would interpret this student’s effort as a sign not of a writer unable to abandon his “home language” bur rather as a writer “activated by his intention to ‘invent the university'” (223).
Trimbur then compares Bartholomae’s contribution to the approaches of Horner and Lu. Though he contends that both Horner and Bartholomae viewed language difference as socially and historically constructed (220), he contends that Bartholomae maintained in some part a view of standard English as a destination toward which students evolved, somewhat as an L2 learner might move toward a “target language” (224). In Trimbur’s contrast, Horner develops a “dialectical and resolutely social sense of error” in which editing becomes a “negotiation in situations of unequal power and authority”; in this view, teachers might look at student writing “not just for its errors but for the possible rhetorical effects of its language differences” (224).
Trimbur argues that Min-Zhan Lu further complicates the idea of a monolingual center for English by challenging the integrity of standard usage itself. In Lu’s view, Trimbur states, supposedly standard language is inherently “unstable, fluctuating, and hybrid” (225). The resistance of monolingual ideologies to the unconventional and different is the product of a “struggle among conflicting discourses with unequal sociopolitical power” (224-25). In this view, linguistic hierarchies become “momentary hegemon[ies}” (225), within which close reading can locate the value of elided difference.
Trimbur sees an important benefit in such approaches to student writing in their power to bring basic and second-language writing in from “the margins,” where they have been “orbiting around the mainstream English at the center in first-year composition” (226). He calls on composition to cease seeing difference as a reason to isolate the unacceptable but rather to recognize the degree to which difference actually inhabits all language use, thus “dismant[ing] these divisions and the pernicious judgments about language differences and about the differences between people that they have rested on” (226).

Author: vanderso

I'm a recently retired associate professor of English in Southern Indiana. I've been teaching writing for twenty-five years, but I feel I have much to learn about how people really learn to write. In this blog, I'll be sharing research and thoughts and hopefully gathering information from others about the process of learning to write.

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