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Arnold, Lisa. International Response to Rhet/Comp Theory. CS, Spring 2016. Posted 06/14/2016.

Arnold, Lisa R. “‘This is a Field that’s Open, not Closed’: Multilingual and International Writing Faculty Respond to Composition Theory.” Composition Studies 44.1 (2016): 72-88. Web. o2 June 2016.

Lisa R. Arnold discusses the responses of teachers at the American University of Beirut (AUB) to canonical texts of rhetoric and composition theory, in particular “Language Difference in Writing: A Translingual Approach,” by Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and John Trimbur. Arnold notes that in Lebanon, where translingualism is an “everyday reality” (80), the question of how to accommodate and value multiple language practices can resonate very differently than it does in the presumably monolingual North-American context in which the theory was proposed.

As the first director of the AUB writing program, Arnold hoped to provide faculty with professional development opportunities (75), at the same time responding to questions from scholars like Mary N. Muchiri and her colleagues and Christiane Donahue that ask composition professionals in North America to recognize “the diverse pedagogical traditions, methods of research, and values attached to literacy in non-U.S. contexts” (72).

As an “American-style university that is a leader in the Middle-East North-Africa (MENA) region,” AUB presents an opportunity for the study of such issues because it is “unique” among institutions outside of North America in having four “full-time, professorial-rank” lines for rhetoric and composition PhDs; the university also plans to implement an M.A. in rhetoric and composition (74).

In order to further faculty engagement with composition theory, the university offered a ten-session seminar during the 2013-2014 academic year. These seminars, attended by seventeen AUB faculty with varied levels of experience teaching in the program, explored a range of topics addressing writing theory and instruction (75). The final sessions each semester addressed teaching writing in the particular context of Lebanon/AUB.

Arnold attended all seminar sessions as a participant-observer and subsequently conducted interviews with fifteen participants, asking them to focus on what seemed “most relevant” to teaching and to the specific environment of AUB (77). Five faculty who had audited a previous graduate course on writing theory and pedagogy facilitated the sessions. Participants also completed an anonymous survey (76).

General responses indicated that faculty found rhetoric and composition theory to be “open,” “tolerant,” and “concrete,” engaged with students as individual writers (77-78). The issue of translingualism was among the discussions that inspired a range of responses (78), especially in regard to the question of how rhetoric and composition theory applied to teaching in Lebanon (78).

The Horner et al. article, which attendees read during the final fall-semester session, addressed the monolingual audience that presumably characterizes North American contexts. To this audience, according to Arnold, Horner et al. argue that rather than being treated as “an obstacle to be overcome,” difference in language should be viewed through a lens that “takes advantage of and appreciates students’ different strengths in English as well as in other languages and . . . reflects the heterogeneity of communicative practices worldwide” (79).

AUB faculty expressed interest in the theory but also voiced concerns about what it might mean in their context when implemented in the classroom. Many seminar attendees brought backgrounds in EFL or ESL to the sessions; Arnold reports general agreement that a “more flexible approach toward language difference” would be worth considering (79).

Concern, however, seemed to center around the degree to which a more tolerant attitude toward error might impact the need for students to learn formal English in order to succeed in the non-U.S. context (80). Arnold writes that in Lebanon, as in the African contexts discussed by Muchiri et al., universities like AUB are “highly selective” and “English carries a different value for its users” (80). She notes the concerns of “Rania,” who posits that British universities expect less expertise in English from students from “developing nations” who will presumably return home after graduation than from native speakers. Rania fears that allowing students flexibility in their use of English will become a process of withholding “correct English” in order to impose “a new form of colonialism” (81). However, according to Arnold, Rania subsequently appreciated the opportunities for learning offered by a translingual approach (81).

The response of “Rasha” similarly indicates ambivalence toward translingualism. Students either liked the opportunity to use Arabic or, in her words, “just hated it” (qtd. in Arnold 82), but she found that discussions of whether or not such multilingual practice was appropriate increased student engagement with issues of language use itself (82). Other examples demonstrate that students do translingual work regardless of the teacher’s goals, for example, using Arabic for group work (82). A number of the teachers drew on their own experiences as learners of multiple languages to encourage students to embrace the challenges involved in a multilingual context. Arnold reports that these teachers felt empowered by translingual theory to draw on language difference as a resource (84-85).

Teachers like “Malik,” however, highlighted the importance of providing students with the kinds of English skills that would serve them in their culture (83), while “Jenna” expressed concerns that the increased tolerance urged by Horner et al. would lead students to become “too confident” that audiences would understand translingually inflected communication: “[Students] get this false perception of abilities and skills which are not there” (qtd. in Arnold 85).

For Arnold, her experience working with writing instructors charged with teaching English outside of an English-speaking environment gives presence to the theoretical precepts of translingualism. She notes that graduates of rhetoric and composition programs may often find themselves taking jobs or providing resources to colleagues outside of the North-American context, and she urges these graduates to attend to the degree to which their multilingual colleagues are often already unacknowledged “experts in their own right” with regard to working with language difference (87):

[T]here is a complexity to literacy practices and pedagogies that practitioners outside of North America understand deeply, and from which those of us trained in a presumably monolingual context can learn. (87)


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

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).