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Lu and Horner. Introduction: Translingual Work. CE, Jan. 2016. Posted 02/28/2016.

Lu, Min-Zhan, and Bruce Horner. “Introduction: Translingual Work.” College English 78.3 (2016): 207-18. Print.

In their Introduction to the symposium on translingualism in the January, 2016, issue of College English, Min-Zhan Lu and Bruce Horner address the complexities of defining and implementing a translingual pedagogy. The Introduction previews the contributions of the participants, who were among those invited after a “conversation among four of us—Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, Anis Bawarshi, and Juan Guerra . . . .” that pointed to the need to explore translingualism as “one possible entry point for work contesting the monolingualism that continues to dominate the teaching and study of college writing and reading in the United States and elsewhere” (207).

Participants received a list of “tenets for a ‘translingual approach'” developed from a list compiled by Lu. Among the concerns noted were attention to

  • “language . . . as performative: not something we have but something we do”;
  • “users of language as actively forming and transforming the very conventions we use. . . .”;
  • “communicative practices as not neutral or innocent but informed by and informing . . . cultural relations of asymmetrical power”; [and]
  • “all communicative practices as mesopolitical acts, actively negotiating and constituting complex relations of power. . . .” (208)

These tenets also posit “difference as the norm of all utterances”; translingualism, in this view, does not address solely “deviations from the norm” (208).

Participants were further invited to consider the question of which tenets were important in their own work and how further work on these issues might “enhance the work of composition in each of the areas” (209).

Following their discussion of the contributions, Lu and Horner address a number of broad questions that they feel shape and emerge from the symposium. They describe translingualism not as it is sometimes construed—as a focus on L2 learning or other apparent deviations from standard usage; rather, they see it as addressing the use of language by “ordinary people” in daily lived experience, naming as its true “other” the claim that there is, indeed, a monolinguistic norm that sets universal standards (212).

They particularly address what they describe as a “conundrum” addressed in a number of the symposium articles: whether a translingual approach can be understood as an extension of approaches already in use in writing studies and classrooms, or whether it ought to be seen as calling for a more active engagement to “combat” the “deleterious sociocultural effects of the monolingual ideology” (213). They endorse the idea of translingualism as a forceful “rejection” of this ideology and its effects, arguing that the work of Mina P. Shaughnessy and others in exploring the language uses of students in 1960s and 1970s constituted “a sociopolitical movement” that, in Shaughnessy’s words, “pedagogically radicalized” writing instruction (qtd. in Lu and Horner 213).

To further address the conundrum, they explore the claims of Louis-Jean Calvet, who contends that, in fact, “languages do not exist” (qtd. in Lu and Horner 213; emphasis original); what does exist are “representations—what people think about languages and the way they are spoken” (qtd. in Lu and Horner 213; emphasis original). Understanding language this way leads Lu and Horner to the view that this process of representation itself makes users active in creating the languages they use. Recognizing the agency of users through their practice, the authors believe, can enable action on the power relations that govern these representations and can, in the words of two contributors, “open up” possibilities within language, genres, and modes that had previously been closed off (214).

Understanding language as “always emergent” rather than “time-less” (214) or fixed, Lu and Horner argue, requires as its corollary understanding that a translingual approach does not point to a particular set of language practices that can be identified in usage or texts. Rather, translingualism itself, as a representation, will be subject to “inevitable reworking,” not just by scholars attempting to apply it but also by “students at the pedagogical site” (215). Translingual pedagogy requires a “shift” from a transmission model of language instruction “to a more dialogical course of study” (215).

Lu and Horner caution that a focus on dialogic classrooms as sites of translingual teaching will not, in itself, upend the dominant monolingual ideology or ensure increased social justice or reorientations of power; instead, it is “an occasion for labor, the labor of revision,” a set of practices that “can be reworked” toward desirable ends (216). They call for readers of the symposium to see the contributions as a call to join in that labor of ongoing reworking and as examples of the kinds of work that can be done (216).


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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).