Introduction: Reconciling Translingualism and Second Language Writing

Zhaozhe Wang and Tony Silva

During the past decade (2010—2019), translingualism (used as a catch-all term) has impacted scholarship and research at the intersection of language studies and writing studies. Those employing the term come from various disciplinary orientations and collectively have explored issues such as language difference (Horner, Lu, Royster, & Trimbur, 2011), language ideology (Lu & Horner, 2013), language policy (Canagarajah, 2017; Lee, 2018), language contact (Canagarajah, 2013a), language pedagogy (Canagarajah, 2013b; De Costa et al., 2017; Horner & Tetreault, 2017), and agency (Lu & Horner, 2013), among many others. Language, an essential aspect of writing that had been largely ignored in writing studies, ironically, made a comeback and drew attention from a neighboring field that has a long established intellectual legacy of dealing with language issues in writing, namely, second language writing (SLW). Inspired by different conceptualizations of language, scholars situated in the two disciplinary camps further different agendas: translingualism, by and large, views language as fluid and negotiated and thus aims to legitimize the negotiation of idiosyncratic language usage in writing and combat mono- lingualism, whereas SLW, in general, views language as a bounded system and thus, while also combating monolingualism, aims primarily to prepare writers to effectively communicate in the target language. Naturally, the divergent and occasionally conflicting views of what appears to the broader academic community to be the same scholarly area have planted the seeds of tension that later escalated into a turf battle.

The heated discussions, which we witnessed in publications and conference presentations on both sides, often revolve around such fundamental questions as: (1) What particular variety of English or whose English should we teach? (2) Who is entitled to define, teach, and practice writing that manifests diverse linguistic, cultural, rhetorical, and modal norms? (3) How do we productively, sensitively, and ethically treat language differences in writing classrooms? (4) And how do we, if at all possible, teach translingual practice? These discussions were initiated during the Q&A sessions at conference talks and special interest group meetings (see Chapter 9 in this volume) and later turned into critiques in the pages of flagship journals (e.g., Canagarajah, 2013c; Matsuda, 2014). For instance, some SLW scholars express concerns about translingualism’s prioritizing political-ideological matters over classroom realities, its “talking” too much but “doing” too little, its perceived dismissal of the existing research tradition and contribution of SLW, its implementability in a writing class and, if implemented, its potential for doing students a disservice. In the other camp, some translingual scholars charge SLW with the reproduction and perpetuation of monolingualism and insufficient attention to the structural inequality and injustice imposed by Standard Written English or American-edited English.

These discussions and critiques, though not politically motivated per se, have inevitably contributed to tensions with political implications over such issues as perceived discrimination in academic publishing and in hiring, as a group of prominent SLW scholars claimed in a polemical open letter, titled “Clarifying the Relationship between L2 Writing and Translingual Writing: An Open Letter to Writing Studies Editors and Organization Leaders” (authored by seven and endorsed by dozens). In the now well-recognized and oft-cited 2015 College English Open Letter that highlights the frayed relationship, SLW scholars lamented the consequences of what they saw as translingual scholars’ misrepresentation of the field of second language writing (Atkinson et al., 2015). In another piece, Suresh Canagarajah (2015) joins the polemic from a different perspective in an attempt to “clarify the relationship between translingual practice and L2 writing.” Since then, numerous journal articles, book chapters, collections, and disciplinary dialogues have appeared in response to the resulting discord, attempting to understand the situation and to ease the tension (Atkinson & Tardy, 2018; Donahue, 2018; Gevers, 2018; Hall, 2018; Horner & Tetreault, 2017; Schreiber & Watson, 2018; Tardy, 2017; Williams & Condon, 2016). Yet questions linger. Are we in a position to confidently claim that we have crossed the disciplinary divide, despite our differences? Have we rethought the boundary of our disciplinary terrains and demarcated a common ground where we can productively rewrite the terms and agree to disagree? Have we effectively and ethically translated the terms into programmatic and pedagogical practices that truly empower our students, regardless of their linguistic, cultural, ethnic, and racial differences? If so, how did we get here? If not, how can we get there? This is the context in which we situate our volume.

Aim and Objective

Admittedly, documented scholarly debates around translingualism and SLW occur for the most part at the theoretical level among a few dozen academics;

more importantly, the debates are mostly benign in nature. So why the need, if not the imperative, to reconcile the two parties? We believe in the need for a reconciliation because of the debates’ collateral impact on our students, especially those linguistically minoritized individuals that we all purport to serve and empower. For example, writing teachers often find themselves caught up in the ongoing battle between a celebratory and a critical view of translingual approaches to teaching writing, feeling increasingly disoriented and less certain as to how to pedagogically deal with students’ languages. Program administrators and teacher trainers, too, express a general unease regarding the language component in writing assessment—how do we modify the course outcomes and assessment rubrics to simultaneously recognize students’ language difference and ensure that they gain equal opportunities in the “unsafe” and judgmental world outside of the writing class? The inevitable consequence is a an undesirable, unproductive, and oftentimes oversimplified pedagogical dichotomy: We as writing educators either adopt a translingual approach and encourage students to code-mesh (which is, unfortunately, a misrepresentation of the translingual approach) or continue to seek and implement innovative strategies to work on students’ linguistic accuracy, complexity, and fluency (which is a parochial view of the scope ofSLW work).

Considering the collateral impact on our students, we believe it is a kairotic moment to address the troubled relationship between the two entities: proponents of translingualism and second language writing professionals. The primary aim or objective of the book is to work toward a reconciliation of these two entities so that they can, on an equal footing, work together constructively and productively—or at least coexist peacefully and respectfully—in the interest of developing a better understanding of multilingual writing and the empowerment of multilingual writers. To achieve this goal, we invited many scholars/researchers/teachers who not only work at the intersection of writing studies and language studies but have also contributed extensively to the scholarship of translingualism and/or SLW. The majority of them have participated in the scholarly debates in one way or another; some among them are central figures in these debates. We strove for a balanced view by inviting a roughly equal number of contributors from the “translingual camp” (many of them identify with rhetoric and composition studies) and the “SLW camp” (many of them identify with SLW studies and/or applied linguistics). In response, we received 18 chapters that represent state-of-the-art thinking on the way forward toward reconciliation, and they do so from a variety of angles and in a variety of ways.

For example, some chapter authors present their thinking on possible paths to the reconciliation of these two areas, while some detail their experiences working in either or both area(s) as scholars, researchers, teachers, and/or program administrators, which could shed light on potential synergies between the two areas. In addition, some authors share accounts of their research data, classroom pedagogies, course curricula, or program configurations that might provide useful resources for scholars and practitioners in either or both area(s). More specifically, they address disciplinary discourses, the nature of language and languages, relationships between scholars and disciplines, institutional politics, and specific issues in pedagogy and curricula. We hope that this volume will inspire constructive discussions in the cross-disciplinary sphere, provide answers to or raise new questions about the future of translingualism and second language writing, and inform field practitioners of the latest thinking on this topic and potential programmatic and pedagogical solutions.


To better contextualize the divergent voices and call the conversation to order, we offer definitions of the key concepts. We acknowledge the difficulty of doing so, as all definitions are contextual. The task becomes particularly daunting when the discord we set out to reconcile is partially caused by the “terminological mishmash” (Matsuda, 2013a). And you, the reader, will soon notice that our chapter authors have also offered their own versions of the definitions, explicitly or implicitly. So here, our definitions are purposefully eclectic and open-ended.

Reconcile: This polysemous verb comes from the Latin re- (again) and concilare (bring together) and can denote (1) restoring friendship or harmony, (2) settling or resolving differences, (3) making differing perspectives consistent or compatible, and (4) acquiescing to an unpleasant reality.

Translingualism: An ideology, orientation, disposition, approach, practice, phenomenon, or rhetoric that (1) treats one’s languages not as discrete entities but as available codes in a repertoire; (2) assumes that language is performative and always in contact with diverse semiotic resources and generating new meanings; (3) sees language difference as a resource for meaning making; and (4) negotiates purposeful textual practices, such as code-meshing, as convention- and context-transforming (see, e.g., Canagarajah, 2013a; Horner et al., 2011; Lu & Horner, 2016).

Second language writing: A field of inquiry that studies writing done in a language other than the writer’s native language(s), with specific foci on the characteristics/identities and objectives of second language writers, the contexts in which they write, their writing processes, and the products of their writing. The field is also concerned with the professionalization of teachers and the teaching of second language writers (Matsuda, 2013b; Silva, 2013; for an extensive treatment of the nature of the field of second language writing, see the “Disciplinary Dialogues” section in Volume 22 of the Journal of Second Language Writing).

Ultimately, reconciling translingualism and second language writing will call for togetherness-in-difference: we acknowledge and respect each other’s differences and agree to work together toward empowering our students. Used in our title for this collection, reconciling is a gerund; but it is also the present progressive. It’s an ongoing project. And we humbly start the conversation. In the next section, we introduce the authors’ distinctive approaches to reconciling discourses, languages, scholarship, institutions, curricula, and pedagogies vis-a-vis translingualism and second language writing.

Overview of Chapters

In Chapter 2, Christine Tardy sees the uneasy relationship between translingualism and SLW as largely discursively constructed through publications and conference presentations. To investigate this hypothesis, she conducted a discourse analysis of 23 publications that discuss the relationship between translingualism and SLW and found that it has become a convention of our discourse to acknowledge and re-enforce the tension. A useful rhetorical strategy to rebuild the relationship, Tardy suggests, is to avoid creating or re-creating dichotomies in our scholarship. She also advises scholars to acknowledge the diversity of viewpoints within translingualism and SLW and the complex viewpoints held by individuals. Most importantly, she proposes that we consider what a more productive relationship between composition studies, translingualism, and second language writing might look like.

In Chapter 3, drawing on his large-scale project of tracing the textual circulation of “rhetoric” in SLW scholarship, Jay Jordan argues that the rhetorical concept of kairos provides an opportunity to reconcile SLW and translingual writing. He asserts that a shift of scholarly and pedagogical attention from mastery to kairos foregrounds the composing present, and that it is in the composing present that a rhetor’s language resources interanimate with other factors, such as immediate surrounds, materials, and bodily (redactions. One way of achieving this shift in multilingual writing, Jordan suggests, is to return to kairos’ simultaneous temporal and spatial dimensions, while emphasizing the composing present, or, paying more attention to lime as opposed to simply investing more time.

In Chapter 4, revisiting the provocative rhetorical question he asked in 2013 in the Journal of Second Language Writing—“The end of second language writing?”—Suresh Canagarajah encourages scholars who work at the intersection of writing and language studies to absorb the evolving insights into translingual practice and make creative new contributions. To do so, Canagarajah suggests, writing teachers should adopt more complex and variable considerations to understand the language identities of their students in designing relevant pedagogies. He then illustrates a nuanced view of language identities and the implications for writing development using his own literacy autobiography.

Bruce Horner, in Chapter 5, sets out to question the very relationship between translinguality and L2 writing: it appears to be assumed that translingual theory is concerned primarily with L2 writing and writers. In his view, translingual is best used to designate a recognition of the contribution of the concrete labor of all writers, as opposed to exclusively L2 writers, to the ongoing maintenance and revision of language. As such, translingualism relocates both L2 writing and writers and other marginalized writing and writers to the center of interest as problematizing conventional notions of writing, writers, and language. Horner ultimately suggests that any commingling of the two need neither constrain nor reduce either but can and may advance both.

In Chapter 6, through tracing the historical developments of the field of SLW, the paradigm of translingualism, and their related fields, Tiane Donahue promotes collaborative research on the shared terms, different ground, various populations, and different purposes of each domain. She acknowledges that each domain might hold to its perspectives, while suggesting that they learn more about the other and gain new approaches to their own work. She notes that a few commonplaces that may generate potentially fruitful discussions include language and code, translanguage, and native. Donahue also proposes multiple concrete research projects that can be undertaken in both domains in a collaborative manner.

Jeroen Gevers, in Chapter 7, cautions against the temptation to associate SLW and translingual writing with fixity and fluidity, respectively, and maintains that fixity and fluidity are complementary to each other. As such, he suggests that we should recognize fixity and fluidity as interrelated dimensions of language in use, noting that although translingual writing scholarship helps us see language as an emergent phenomenon, we need to acknowledge that named languages continue to shape writing practices.

In Chapter 8, Paul Kei Matsuda recounts his personal history of “weathering the translingual storm”—witnessing the emergence of the translingual movement in US writing studies and its development into a “typhoon” while maintaining his critical (disengagement—as a committed champion of language movements in the field. The rich behind-the-scenes account not only challenges translingual/SLW scholars to reflect on their motives for joining the conversation, but also offers valuable advice for the next generation of writing scholars/ practitioners who will carry on these language movements.

In Chapter 9, Michelle Cox (SLW scholar) and Missy Watson (translingual scholar) represent two sides of the divide. Employing the methodology of emotional labor interviews, Cox and Watson traced the history of the SLW Committee at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), compared pedagogical approaches, and reread early literature on critical pedagogy, which helped them uncover the misconceptions each camp holds about the other and realize that we have lost sight of the larger goal of shifting the culture of the broader community to become more linguistically and culturally inclusive. Toward reconciliation, they suggest that we use language as a centerpiece of our pedagogical and professional efforts and advocate for the valuing of language difference within society at large.

Dana Ferris, in Chapter 10, states her firm belief that we all want the same things—that linguistically diverse student writers thrive in our classes and programs and beyond them. To unite scholars in both camps around our advocacy for linguistic justice, Ferris urges us to recognize our shared interests and values: valuing multilingualism, resisting a deficit perspective, and recognizing the instability of English. In addition, Ferris advises translingual scholars to engage in more empirical investigation and acknowledge the expertise of SLW specialists, while also advising SLW scholars to integrate translingual work into their scholarship and develop common pedagogical ground.

In Chapter 11, Todd Ruecker and Shawna Shapiro suggest that the concept of critical pragmatism can help to bridge the divide between idealist and pragmatist positions that represent translingualism and SLW respectively. They outline the history and pedagogical iterations of critical pragmatism and discuss how it influenced the development of Critical English for Academic Purposes (EAP). Drawing on examples from their own pedagogical practices and professional development work, Ruecker and Shapiro illustrate how scholars and teachers working in these areas have helped students learn the conventions of academic writing while also engaging with critical perspectives on those conventions.

Xiaoye You, in Chapter 12, expresses his concern with the resurgence of nationalism and its impact on writing education in a global context. In response, he argues for a yin-yang relationship between national and transnational perspectives to the teaching of writing globally. In this relationship, seemingly opposite or contrary perspectives may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent. Thus he suggests that we continue pedagogical explorations that allow us to teach not only standard linguistic forms but also the appropriation of these forms in different contexts of communication, continue taking in insights from studies within and against nationalist frameworks, and develop new terms to challenge or complement those inspired by national and ethnic perspectives.

In Chapter 13, Ryuko Kubota provides a cautionary note regarding the detrimental effects of liberal approaches to linguistic and textual differences, arguing that they may not always lead to actual transformation of the normative, monolingual, and oppressive practices. In response to the binary view of plurality and fixity and the celebration of difference, Kubota proposes critical performative engagement in order to transform the power imbalance and offers realistic recommendations. These include, for example, performing translingual practices in feasible and negotiable ways, transforming assessment practices, encouraging plurilingualism in academic literacies, communicating the problems to a wider audience, and focusing on institutional and epistemological hierarchies of power.

The only kind of reconciliation that matters to Jonathan Hall and Maria Jerskey, in Chapter 14, is working together as activists for the common goal of linguistic justice in our institutions and in society at large, regardless of our disciplinary roots and departmental loyalties. In a dialogic manner, the two faculty members at the linguistically and culturally diverse City University of New York share their observations of the institutional structures that impede or facilitate cross-disciplinary pedagogical practices for students of all language backgrounds. Ultimately, they make the argument that to reconcile is to move to a renewed, collective commitment to bring down the institutional structures that stand in the way of equitable educational opportunities for all students regardless of their linguistic practices.

In Chapter 15, Lisa Arnold claims that the way to reconciliation lies in the art of “weighing English”—accounting for the power and value of English, especially in the Outer and Expanding Circles. To make her case, Arnold draws from interviews with multilingual writers that she conducted during her time at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, which show that, for some writers in the EFL context, “translingualism in writing is neither a straightforward nor necessarily desirable practice due to existing power dynamics.” Acknowledging SLW’s contributions to translingualism in weighing English, Arnold suggests that we “go beyond mere appreciation of language difference to meaningful writing pedagogy that will meet the needs of our multilingual students” through weighing English.

Nancy Bou Ayash, in Chapter 16, presents translation as a reconciliatory pedagogy and productive transdisciplinary area for the kind of anti-monolingualist thinking and work that both translingual and SLW scholars are invested in. Through her description of a pedagogical translation initiative in response to an institutional effort to enforce the negotiation of diversities, Bou Ayash further calls for exploration of curriculum design choices that foreground the meso- politics of translation, which she sees as a productive way for translingual and SLW scholars to consolidate energies.

In Chapter 17, Qian Du, Ha Ram Kim, Jerry Won Lee, Karen Lenz, Neda Sahranavard, and Sarah Sok aim to address the scholarly concern over translingualism as a “brand.” In doing so, they consider how postsecondary writing curricular decisions can be approached through a translingual orientation without explicitly branding them as “translingual.” Through the analysis of an ongoing revision of a writing curriculum in an English for Academic Purposes program at a large, public research university in the U.S., Du et al. illustrate how approaching writing instruction without translingualism as a brand enables instructors to avoid uncritically following disciplinary trends while selectively applying philosophies of translingualism based on local institutional and student needs.

Brooke R. Schreiber, in Chapter 18, aims to build a framework for a translingual approach to writing in response to common critiques. For her, the way forward for harmony between translingualism and second language writing is a recognition that teaching students to critique linguistic norms and standards does not mean a naive determination not to acknowledge the power of those norms and standards. She illustrates this framework with pedagogical activities from her own teaching that encourage students to investigate writing assessment practices, language attitudes in their communities, the origins of dominant language norms, and balancing the teaching of grammar with questioning norms and standards. Ultimately, Schreiber argues that a translingual approach must acknowledge the dominant language ideologies that shape our society, so it includes space for students to both develop competence in disciplinary norms and challenge monolingual biases.

Finally, in Chapter 19, Carol Severino contends that one way to open up, de-escalate, and de-polarize the current discussion is to position translingual- ism and SLW on a continuum rather than thinking of them as two entrenched camps and conceive of them as overlapping clusters of situationally based practices. She suggests two paths in practice: a teaching project on “mapping” this controversy in a course for graduate student teachers and researchers of second and foreign language writing and a learning project that involves writing teachers studying other languages, using them to write whole discourses, and reflecting on their learning and writing experiences and what they might mean for positioning themselves in the controversy.


Editing this collection has been an interesting, edifying, and rewarding experience for us; we hope that it will be the same for you. Does the book bring us closer to the reconciliation (in any or all of its senses) of translingualism and second language? This is a judgment for you to make. Does it leave some/many lingering questions? Yes, indeed. Will it invite and facilitate productive additional conversations between the two areas? We certainly hope so.


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Atkinson, D., & Tardy, С. M. (2018). SLW at the crossroads: Finding a way in the field.

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Matsuda, P. K. (2013a). It’s the wild west out there: A new linguistic frontier in U.S. composition. In A. S. Canagarajah (Ed.), Literacy as translingual practice: Between communities and classrooms (pp. 128-138). New York: Routledge.

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Matsuda, P. K. (2014). The lure of translingual writing. PMLA, 129(3), 478-483.

Schreiber, B. R., & Watson, M. (2018). Translingualism * code-meshing: A response to Gevers’ “translingualism revisited” (2018). Journal of Second Language Writing, 42, 94-97.

Silva, T. (2013). Second language writing: Talking points. Journal of Second Language Writing, 22, 432-434.

Tardy, С. M. (2017). Crossing, or creating, divides? A plea for transdisciplinary scholarship. In B. Horner & L. Tetreault (Eds.), Crossing divides: Exploring translingual writing pedagogies and programs (pp. 181-189). Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

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