It’s Always Already About Language: Hopeful Paths for Productive Exchange Between Second Language Writing and Translingualism

Tiane Donahue


I began my career in higher education “for real” when I pursued a Ph.D. in linguistics at l’Universite Rene Descartes in Paris, France. I had learned French in high school, grown up in a French family without being spoken to in French other than the occasional French swear word or lullaby, and spent a year in a high school exchange program. I was certainly not “adequately bilingual” to complete a degree. I needed a lot of help—friends who read drafts and told me how unorganized I was in relation to French expectations, “Antidote” correction software, endless coffees with colleagues and cousins. I brought with me the world of composition studies as I understood it, a desire to do contrastive rhetoric work without being reductive, and a plan to engage with quantitative and qualitative approaches to analysis. I was not, and still am not, an expert in SLW research and teaching. But I am a practitioner of more than one language and not afraid to attend conference sessions in languages I don’t know or to try to parse articles in my field with the awkward help of translation tools. I’m also not an expert in translingualism, though I’ve worked hard to understand it. I am a linguist working in writing studies and as such have always prioritized description of how language works. I’ve been reading extensively to gain a deep understanding of shared concerns and real differences across SLW and translingualism. These shared concerns and differences are anything but simple, reductive, and obvious; they are complex, interrelated, contested.

My background is in French functional linguistics, a way of thinking and doing linguistics that focuses on the work language does rather than what language is. I’ve tried to bring what I know from this form of language theory and research, as well as from the French education sciences domain of la didactique,

the European research discipline of the theory of teaching in general or in disciplines, including writing (la didactique des mathematiques, la didactique de I’ecrit), to bear on pressing questions in writing studies, working across these disciplines and across U.S. and European perspectives. This has by necessity led to engaging in questions of language and writing, and to my sense that, as the title indicates, “it’s always already about language,” even as that perspective has not always been welcome in U.S. writing studies.

I’ve learned in these years of work that visiting countries, and disciplines, is a long, patient project. Little makes sense right away; some understanding can in fact be misleading; seeking the recognizable in the other can blind us to what’s there; and terms, concepts, theoretical frames, authors, and methods can seem similar and yet be fundamentally different or vice versa. I would like to take the opportunity with this chapter to explore one way that I believe proponents of two ways of working across languages in writing—SLW and translingualism—can (re)find productive exchange. Specifically, I will argue that collaborative research on some of the shared terms, the different ground, the various populations, and perhaps the different purposes of each domain (I say “domain” to cover both SLW as a field and translingualism as a paradigm) might engage collegial understanding and respect between trans/mgurt/ists and second language writing scholars. Each domain might hold to its perspectives, but also learn more about the other and gain new approaches to its own work.

When I started work on this chapter, I had in mind to do a comprehensive review of the ways in which SLW and translingualism have been presented and explained, how they have developed, via analysis of publications, presentations, manifestos. It has been a deeply humbling experience to see how huge a task that is, one I’ve not come near completing. I outline a sampling of key points and possibilities, for context, and I then present my argument for the kinds of comprehensive and collaborative work I believe we need. Doing so, I join others who have made this call in the past (cf. Jordan, 2016; Matsuda & Jablonski, 2000; Tardy, 2017; Horner, Lu, Jones, & Royster, 2011; Jeffrey, Kieffer, & Matsuda, 2013; Siczek & Shapiro, 2014; Manchon, 2018; Silva & Leki, 2004; Reichelt, 1999).

Doing so, I am also sure some of my SLW colleagues and some of my translingualist colleagues will disagree with my perspectives, but I hope those disagreements will lead to new exchanges. I will therefore not attempt answers but suggest shared paths to pursue in the context of a long-standing debate that entails both “fast movements and slow processes” (Jordan, 2016). How we understand terms, what we see in how they change and move over time, and what we do with them (inform teaching? analyze writing or communication? carry out research?), is where to begin. I hope to lay out concrete examples—teasers, if you will—of how to do this. Above all, I hope the brief ideas sketched here will entice members of both domains to collaboratively explore the sites where common ground could fee jointly developed and might encourage the peaceful and respectful coexistence, if not full-out reconciliation, the volume seeks.

Part I: Second Language Writing and Translingualism Second Language Writing

The long history of careful applied linguistics work in SLW is critical for all of us to read, even more so for proponents of translingual perspectives and approaches. There is a deep literature here (just for starters: Kroll, 1990; Silva & Matsuda, 2001a; Casanave, 2003; Kroll, 2003; Matsuda & Silva, 2005; Hyland, 2003; Matsuda, Ortmeier-Hooper, & You, 2006). And these are works in English; we know little about what is published about these SLW questions in other languages about other languages (in French the literature is extensive), something even our most respected scholars do not always underscore.

SLW is defined by Atkinson (2015) as “an international and transdisciplinary field of study that is concerned with any issues related to the phenomenon of writing in a language that is acquired later in life” (p. 384). This broad, encompassing definition seems to include most of what is tackled in translingualism as well, but it embeds concepts (“writing,” “language”) that can be understood in fundamentally different ways. SLW has been seen for some time now as interdisciplinary. Matsuda notes in his chapter offering a situated historical perspective of L2 writing (in Kroll, 2003, p. 15), that we need to understand the “dynamics of the field of second language writing by considering its development from a broader, interdisciplinary perspective” (p. 15), between composition studies and SLW, echoing the description of parent disciplines and lineage provided by Silva and Leki (2004).

As Matsuda notes, concern about L2 writers began in English departments, responsible for first-year composition courses that included all students. Departments developed curricular responses and the CCCC took up ESL-writing questions, but not for very long, as a newly-professionalized teaching corps within ESL in the 60s, further supported by the formation of the TESOL organization, fostered what Matsuda (1999) first and then others have described as a “disciplinary division of labor” (p. 18) between what was called LI writing and L2 writing. The L2 section developed several competing theoretical and pedagogical frames built from different understandings of what writing is: a sentence-level structure, a discourse-level structure, a process, or language use in context (Matsuda pp. 19-22). The last frame supported the development of English for Specific Purposes, which itself engendered research on the features and genres of different purposes and contexts.

In a 2003 colloquium, Matsuda stated the “field of second language (L2) writing has come of age” (p. 151, in Matsuda, Canagarajah, Harklau, Hyland, & Warschauer, 2003). The colloquium showed the diversity of issues facing us—issues of “resident L2 writers” (Harklau), multiliteracies (Canagara- jah), ways technology can support L2 learning (Warschauer), discourse analysis to study L2 writing (Hyland), or the importance of meta-disciplinary inquiry (Matsuda) to fully establish a “field.” (p. 152). Silva and Matsuda (2001a) evoke ‘“intellectual formations’ that have evolved separately over the past four decades [while] with the increasing awareness of the uniqueness of its instructional and research issues, L2 writing came to be recognized as a field of inquiry with its own goals, philosophical orientation, and disciplinary infrastructure” (p. xiv).


At the time of the SLW colloquium mentioned previously, the “translingual” strand in US writing studies was developing, building from established attention to students’ language diversity in writing but seeking a different path, theoretically stimulating but leading to pedagogical practices that sometimes appeared at odds with decades of second language writing instruction, and research that was not always solidly grounded in empirical knowledge. While the history of translingualism as a strand within U.S. Writing Studies is much shorter, the phenomenon of translingualism itself has been, in other parts of the world, a “way of life” (Foster & Russell, 2014, ctd in Ayash, 2017; Kara-Abbes, Kebbas, & Cortier, 2011). Here, too, I’ve read widely and am struck by the diversity and mobility (Lu & Horner, 2016) of definitions and uses of the term translingual, but also the abstractness of them. Defining translingualism has always seemed more slippery, to me, than defining the SLW tradition.

It’s an orientation (Atkinson, 2015) that focuses on the ways in which meaning is constructed rather than on the conventionalized or normed contours of a given language, something it shares with some subfields of linguistics. For Canagarajah (2015) translingualism “treats language proficiency as a pragmatic endeavor of developing [individuals’] already-available translingual competence for specific genres, activities, and purposes in a situated manner” (p. 431). “[TJranslingualism [is] a diverse and strategic social practice” (Canagarajah & Gao, 2019, p. 3) rather than a product or an endpoint; part of what interests translingualists is to explore the features of that practice or diversity of practices. It’s also a confident versatility, a flexibility, a mobility with one’s linguistic resources, similar to the flexibility with modes inherent in multi literacies.

For some, translingual practices creatively and strategically negotiate norms (Canagarajah & Gao, 2019, p. 2), involving a variety of forms of communication appropriate to diverse contexts. Canagarajah (2015) notes that “the translingual orientation perceives a synergy between languages which generates new grammars and meanings. The prefix reminds us that communication transcends individual languages, and goes beyond language itself to include diverse modalities and semiotic systems. It also reminds us that language and meaning are always in a process of becoming, not located in static grammatical structures” (p. 419), a system of social interaction (Leech, 1980), or a linguistic repertoire with features that are socially constructed as belonging to a particular language (Seals, Ash, Pine, Olsen-Reeder, & Wallace, 2019).

Translingualism has been placed on a continuum, “with a monolingual/ monocultural approach at one end, a multilingual/multicultural approach in the middle, and a translingual/transcultural approach at the other end” (Guerra, 2016, p. 229). While they are on a continuum, Guerra is careful to note that each has its own ideological beliefs, values, and practices, which would indicate less a “continuum” than a set of parallel approaches and worldviews. It has also been defined in terms of the dispositions it fosters, “a general openness to plurality and difference in the ways people use language” (Lee & Jenks, 2016, p. 317), or as “a constellation of highly complex sociocultural issues and experiences” (p. 317), one that, for speakers or writers who live plurality as the norm, leads to “rhetorical attunement” to difference, multiplicity, and meaning negotiation (Lorimer-Leonard, 2014). A translingual frame goes “beyond the conceptual metric of ‘language’ in the traditional sense as a basis of determining a particular enunciation’s assumed rhetorical appropriateness or social value” (Lee & Jenks, 2016, p. 320) to instead consider that rhetorical and situational value and effectiveness as the criteria—though it also works to change the social context itself and the ways it receives utterances, ultimately a key distinction.

Related Fields

While this current collection posits two domains—SLW and Writing Studies— we also need to note other related fields with important insights that again remind us it is always already about language, including Foreign Language Writing (FLW); Contrastive and Intercultural Rhetoric (cf. Casanave, 2017; Connor, 2003), with roots in bilingual education (another deeply-researched field); and even sociolinguistics. And, of course, SLW scholarship is not specific to English. European scholars, for example, quote a quite different range of scholars when analyzing L2 learners’ writing (see for example Archibald & Jeffrey, 2000).

FLW, as Silva (qtd in Reichelt, 2001) notes, “could do much to enhance and legitimize current mainstream (LI-based) theories of writing by making them less narrow: less monolingual, less monocultural, less ethnocentric; less fixated on writing by 18-year-old native speakers of English in North American colleges and universities and more inclusive, more realistic, more generalizable, and ultimately, more valid,”1 which itself could lead to L2 theory also informing mainstream theory. Silva and Leki (2004) had also suggested cross-referencing with foreign language writing research. Inquiry into FLW—and such inquiry in English was extensive already when Reichelt reviewed it in 1999—is a necessary component of SLW, though unfortunately often described as “writing other than in English” in a way that continues to cement the center-ness of

English in our scholarly explorations (note also unfortunately that the reviews of FL writing often claim there isn’t much about it—without noting that the reviews focus on articles/publications written in English).

Taylor and Cutler (2016) encourage an intentional working-across second- language and foreign-language teaching, calling this approach “translingual” and arguing that monolingual pedagogies (in FLW the ones that encourage a language classroom to be only in that target language) “treat learners’ minds as if the [native language] were irrelevant for learning” another language (p. 1); they suggest “translanguaging” instead (which I will discuss in more detail later), defined for them as “the deployment of a speaker’s full linguistic repertoire without regard for watchful adherence to the socially and politically defined boundaries of named . . . languages” (Otheguy, Garcia, & Reid, 2015, qtd in Taylor & Cutler, 2016, p. 2). In FLW, they suggest the focus should be on how to capitalize on learners’ existing language repertoires, a framing echoed in European research on plurilingualisme (Dompmartin, 2013).

Convergence, Divergence

In 2004, Silva and Leki traced the history of applied linguistics and composition studies as parent disciplines of the emerging field of SLW. In an article whose title, “Family Matters,” hints at optimism, they offered a hopeful set of similarities between second language and composition studies that seem today to seed the reconciliation the current volume evokes, including the two fields’ shared youth, marginalization, interdisciplinary nature, and focus on practice. They pointed then to a future that would best benefit from middle-ground work rather than oppositional stances. The L2/composition discussion does not map directly onto the SLW/translingual one, especially since some com- positionists are dubious about language and translingual paradigms, but it is thought-provoking. Remembering that what we’ve just seen is a quite partial overview of SLW and translingualism, and positing translingualism as a strand within composition, I’d like to consider here next a sampling of the things these two domains share, from my perspective.

  • • SLW and translingual proponents share a challenge common to many fields. Theory and research results from any field are not guaranteed to inform practices on the ground, and in the domains in question here the fraught labor conditions exacerbate the problem. Underpaid, overworked pools of faculty in all types of institutions across the U.S. or faculty from English departments or any number of other contexts are not always in a position to be up-to-date or involved in producing or reading the material that each domain’s top scholars produce (without overgeneralizing of course, as other factors drive who is or is not in this situation). How might we account for the huge diversity of faculty and institutions? We can’t really talk of “Second Language Writing instruction” as a homogeneous endeavor any more than first-year composition (FYC) and its strands. They are both internally heterogeneous with different levels of instructor preparation, different groundings, theoretical frames, practices; judgements can be made about SLW or translingualism based on practices that are in fact not consonant with the theoretical frames and the research. I believe this may be a key source of misunderstanding.
  • • Both groups are about language in ways that mainstream U.S. writing studies has often rejected. It’s always already about language, but we don’t all have a foundation in the study of language that supports understanding this.
  • • “Social justice” could easily be claimed by both domains as a key component of their concerns.
  • • Both engage superdiversity: this is a “cover” term for many features of the “dramatic increase in the demographic structure of the immigration centers of the world” (Arnaut, Blommaert, Rampton, & Spotti, 2015, p. 1) and references all different kinds of migrants’ movements, reasons for migrating, and networks, matched by massive changes in communication technologies and patterns. Of the terms that capture this phenomenon, Arnaut et al. felt “superdiversity” was the simplest, least politicized, and least entangled term to use.
  • • Both confront the myths of homogeneity in our classrooms and mono- linguality as the norm. Note that these are all phenomena being analyzed around the world, not owned by U.S. scholars or teachers (cf. Yanaprasart, 2017), and again not necessarily about English.
  • • A deeply shared goal is to support students in that ever-increasingly multilin- gual/multicultural mainstream context in the U.S. This comes with a deep shared commitment to language diversity, to models that suggest we are in contact zones, and to resisting English-only policy.
  • • They share a deep respect for students, their voices, the resources they bring; the “general openness to plurality and difference in the ways people use language” (Lee & Jenks, 2016, p. 317) attributed to translingualism seems to fit current SLW discussions as well.
  • • They want to know students better and to have a stronger sense of the complex, complicated, layered relationships students have with language.
  • • Both have argued that “English language education is a political and ideological enterprise” (Casanave, 2017, p. 100) or the field should more carefully study the ideology informing theory (Johns, 1997).

Note as well that Silva (2016) makes recommendations for SLW research

that can easily be common to translingual research: ensure that it is context-

embedded and socially situated; expand the existing repertoire of methods;

triangulate both data types and methods; seek ways to study development;

make every effort to answer empirical questions; and consider new domains, populations, and contexts. In 2005 Silva had suggested SLW researchers can and should: “a) study SLW from the perspectives of the social sciences, humanities, and even the physical sciences; b) mix modes of inquiry where appropriate to overcome the limitations of any single mode and add breadth and depth to a study” (p. 12), similarly shareable goals with translingual research.

As to tensions, again, Silva and Leki (2004) outlined some key differences between SLW and composition that partly predict SLW and translingual differences in inquiry paradigms and traditions, scope, political orientation, theory vs. practice, speech vs. writing, linguistic determinism, cross-disciplinary work, and professional venues. It seems to me a significant amount of scholarship about differences between the two domains involves experts from one domain explaining the perspectives of the other domain, not members of the domains working together to clarify those perspectives. Founding thinkers often feel they are misunderstood and quite a few scholars note that they feel both SLW and translingualism are misunderstood. In addition, many of the frames U.S. translingual scholars use have come from quite specific contexts (for example, children, or, as in Creese & Blackledge, 2010, very specific types of schools) without discussion of generalizability. The relative lack of empirical research grounding translingual publications, with a few exceptions, is balanced by critique for the narrow scope and reductive conclusions of some SLW scholarship. I also see a tension in terms of the purposes of translingualists— a tension I don’t see in SLW communities—between those who seek to teach translingual practices and those who seek to describe and account for them, though this can also result in helping students see their practices and understand them (for example, Guerra, 2016).

Tension thus arises out of the apparent disconnect between a long history of SLW research and pedagogical practice and the more recent development of translingualism. Tardy (2017) notes that the interest in translingualism has not resulted in compositionists, on the whole, taking an interest in the deep linguistics knowledge that should inform translingual work (p. 182), nor are key second language scholars or other linguists with compatible ideas referenced in translingual work (p. 183). This might be because many translingualists are grounded in composition itself, where the tradition has already been less connected to SLW.

Some of the tension between SLW and translingualism could indeed come from misunderstandings. Williams and Condon (2016) suggest “translingual advocates are adhering to outmoded understandings” of SLW practices in terms of teaching grammar or genre. They note that “a rapprochement [between SLW and translingualism] will only be possible if the misinterpretation of second language writing classrooms as sites of prescriptive teaching that eradicate difference is modified to reflect the reality” (p. 14) and that “translingual theorists are presenting themselves as the saviors of students marginalized by discriminatory linguistic policies and prescriptive teaching” (p. 15), which certainly can rankle.2 Other misunderstandings and misreadings are cited by Canagarajah and Matsuda in texts addressing each other’s work (though I note that this particular tension might partly be grounded in the difference between looking at student writing in the U.S. vs. looking at language and language users around the world—quite different populations, and a call, then, for us to be precise in our work) (Canagarajah, 2015; Matsuda, 2014).

Some tension comes from the sense that translingualism is meant to replace SLW approaches, linked in part by the SLW community’s sense that the field itself is not being renewed or growing (cf. Atkinson in Santos, Atkinson, Erickson, Matsuda, & Silva, 2000), not garnering sufficient PhD activity (Silva, in Santos et al., 2000), being perhaps overtaken by English as a Foreign Language emphases (Santos, in Santos et ah, 2000), or not attending sufficiently to student needs and desires (Erikson, in Santos et ah, 2000). Concerns are certainly in part focused on the real issue of positions and hiring, in particular if university search committees do not make the distinctions we make here. Matsuda (in Santos et ah, 2000) underscores the importance of a closer look inward by the SLW specialists and a much stronger effort to exchange and learn about each other between SLW specialists and composition experts. (I wonder in fact whether in 2000 Matsuda imagined what might be coming down the pike).

From one angle, we might think tensions are partly grounded in SLW’s goal of encouraging integration and translingualism’s goal of encouraging resistance, to oversimplify a bit. This calls to mind M. L. Pratt’s (1991) depiction of two universes:

Autoethnography, transculturation, critique, collaboration, bilingualism, mediation, parody, denunciation, imaginary dialogue, vernacular expression: these are some of the literate arts of the contact zone. Miscomprehension, incomprehension, dead letters, unread master pieces, absolute heterogeneity of meaning: these are some of the perils of writing in the contact zone. They all live among us today in the transnationalized metropolis of the United States and are becoming more widely visible, more pressing, and, like Guaman Poma’s text, more decipherable to those who once would have ignored them in defense of a stable, centered sense of knowledge and reality.

(Pratt, 1991, p. 37)

This tension between what fosters or embraces resistance (with an accompanying political stance) and what fosters integration or accommodation (with an accompanying effort at neutrality) runs deep (Casanave, 2017, pp. 104-105). Calls to “move beyond merely valorizing” linguistic diversities to “establish their legitimacy” (Milson-Whyte, 2014, p. 105) run alongside calls to address what students themselves are asking for (learning Standard American English to succeed, for example), though these calls don’t seem to account for educators’ responsibility to think through, shape, and guide students to learning they may not have imagined to be valuable or important.

There is also a parallel here with broader writing theory domains: some strands of U.S.-style FYC and a U.K. Academic Literacies critical pedagogy can be contrasted, for example, with European university literacies or a U.S.- style WAC/WID (writing across the curriculum/writing in the disciplines) approach focused on integration into discourse communities. There is of course also a range of FYC theories. As Lee and Jenks (2016) point out, FYC can emphasize teaching a specific set of skills just as easily as it might emphasize knowledge construction or self-reflexive awareness, in a pursuit of access and social justice, while “teaching a particular form of literacy such as standardized English in the interest of facilitating [that same] access and mobility” can be deeply contested (p. 322). That is, SLW instruction and translingual instruction can both “go wrong,” as Teague (2017) suggests.

Part II: The Work of Collaborative Exploration

Williams and Condon (2016) make a case for SLW and translingual concepts and terms as a site for possible common ground (for example, second language theorists “write about form and genre using terms similar to those used by translingual, theorists,” p. 1), but the subsequent development in their article actually underscores the difference in understanding of these terms between these groups. Several other texts have issued similar calls for a better understanding. However, I believe without ongoing collaboration between scholars to unpack common ground and clear difference, via terms, concepts, methods, or key theorists and theoretical frames, we will not further deep understanding of these two domains and possibilities for respectful exchange. As Williams and Condon point out, we risk an ongoing misunderstanding of each other without this kind of work, and in fact can even end up silencing each other when critical questioning is associated with entrenched negatives. They are arguing that SLW can be misunderstood as less progressive in its models and approaches (p. 5), seen as not valuing difference, for example, in the same way translingualists proclaim to, but the same kind of claim can be made in the opposite direction, as when translingual scholars who argue for the linguistic-structural equality of languages, not social equality, are imagined to be missing the point about key power imbalances underlying different languages uses (Kubota, 2016).

The question, then, is about sites where common ground could be jointly developed, traced through publications and conversations, research and teaching. Where can differences be articulated clearly and systematically, including what those differences are based on—ideology? Practice? Objectives? Research results? Research methods and approaches? Here again, it is about language, in two ways: the language we study in writing, and the precision of the language we ourselves use, our care, as we describe phenomena.

Language and Code

We might collectively explore what we mean by “language;” first—what is/ are the model/models of the nature of language with which different domains are working? In my read of SLW theories, languages appear to be understood as discrete entities; in my read of translingualism, they generally do not. Certainly the deep body of bilingual scholarship has entirely supported languages as discrete entities and the separation of languages in language learning (Creese & Blackledge, 2010), with multilingualism understood as “parallel monolingual- isms” (Heller, 1999). For many years, SLW had posited the importance of second language learners compartmentalizing LI and L2 (Friedlander, 1990). For Garcia and Li (2014), in a poststructuralist frame, languages cannot be seen as discrete “entities;” indeed the “entity” concept can be traced to colonialist perspectives necessary to nation-building (Makoni & Pennycook, 2007; Pen- nycook, 2008). This key difference is encapsulated in the use of “code” to reference “language.”

Code is linked to codifying, as in “codifying and maintaining notions of what constitutes a standard usage of English” (Milroy ctd in Lee & Jenks, 2016, p. 320). Seeing a language as a code is commensurate with seeing language and language categories, as Makoni and Pennycook (2007) have noted, in a Western linguistic and cultural frame and accepting the simultaneous use of multiple “languages” in a way that entrenches language as discrete and bounded (ctd in Lee & Jenks, 2016, p. 319). Both U.S. and European linguists more recently have roundly rejected “code” as a way to describe language. Wilson, in 1998, noted that “code theories, which treat utterances as encoding messages, have been replaced by inferential theories inspired by the work of Paul Grice, which treat utterances merely as pieces of evidence about the communicator’s intentions” (p. 1). So “code” and its related concepts are worth a closer look for what they imply about the nature of language. We might, for example, move away from code-based models of language mixing toward Bakhtinian models of heteroglossia, as recommended for example by Bailey (2007, ctd in Creese & Blackledge, 2010), which then “encompasses both monolingual and multilingual forms simultaneously” (p. 106).

Francois (1989) argued that we needed a new model of language, rejecting the famous “langue-parole” separation ofSaussurean structuralists. The fluidity of linguistic meaning, as for example in the observation that the same signi- fier does not mean the same thing for different speakers, counters the model of a relationship between language and thought, as well as a “coded” model of language, one that implies that in order to communicate, people must already share the same “code” (Francois, 1989, p. 42).

Code is rejected as well in Bakhtinian perspectives on “discursive circulation”; meaning comes out of the differences in accentuation of a word or other utterance in each use. For Bakhtin, Francois (1989) explains, this difference is where “thinking” in its dynamic sense occurs (p. 43), and dialogue between speakers who are constructing this meaning via these differences is where meaning occurs. Bakhtin suggests that language, in its every use, by every speaker, is modified as it is taken up; language is not a stable code but a dynamic dialogic movement. While Bakhtin was not exploring translingualism or SLW, this understanding of how language does the work of constructing meaning seems directly relevant to both. Indeed, his concept of “responsive comprehension” could form the basis for a deep understanding of individuals’ dialogic interaction in any language context.

This work of defining of language is a complex landscape that can only be evoked in this short piece; how SLW and translingual scholars use the term “code” and related terms such as codeswitching or code-meshing deserves full unpacking via analysis of the discourses of the fields, and I do not take these up here. My real point is that many terms need this kind of careful collaborative exploration. Much like the careful work that international or cross-disciplinary interactions demands, if we take a look at specific terms, we open up realms for deep discussion. I’ll offer two terms here, but just as examples of what we could pursue: the term “translanguaging” and the term “native.”


Translanguaging indexes a range of disciplinary sources and meanings, and like many of the terms we think about, is often used with less precision than we might hope. Translanguaging originally designated communication in which input was in one language and output in another, and was designed to support learning of language alongside content, in the field of bilingual education (again a contextual history we would do well to attend to) (Mazak, 2017). But it shifted to attention to “the multiple discursive practices in which bilinguals engage in order to make sense of their bilingual worlds” (Garcia, 2009, qtd in Mazak, 2017, p. 2), with meaning-making at its heart. It is neither U.S.- nor Anglo-centric but embedded in language and languaging across national contexts.

Baker (2011) quoted in Taylor & Cutler defines translanguaging as “making meaning, shaping experience, gaining understanding and knowledge through the use of two [or more] languages” (p. 2), treating languages as discrete entities in this framework. Canagarajah (2011) suggests translanguaging is “the general communicative competence of multilinguals” (p. 403). Translanguaging is also understood as a “movement across languages ‘that normalizes bilingualism without diglossic functional separation’” (Garcia, xiii ctd in Lee & Jenks, 2016, p, 321). Unpacking these from the perspective of SLW or translingualism opens a discussion about “trans” and “language” as well as bi- or multi- or plurilin- gualism and the underlying purpose of the linguistic acts we see or wish to encourage in our students’ work.


The term “native,” in the set of terms meant to identify different times of acquisition or other relationships to language—“first,” “second,” “maternelle”■— is another index to worlds of possibility. “Native” in Anglo-Saxon uses has been contested for some time, first in L2 and later in translingual contexts (Casanave, 2017). Romer’s (2009) study of “native” and “nonnative” writers learning academic English notes that perhaps the distinction is not even relevant, as “it appears that native and non-native apprentice academic writers develop their academic discourse competence in similar ways, and that native speakers also have to learn the language (and phraseology) of academic writing. The native academic writer does not seem to exist” (p. 99). In the 1990s, criticism of the “native-nonnative” distinction, in applied linguistics in the U.S. and Europe, noted its implications as “second-rate,” its use as an exclusion tool, its racial implications (Singh, 1995; Rajagopalan, 1997; Afendras et al., 1995; and more recently, Etus and Schultze, (2014). Other L2 authors note alternatives to “native” such as “language expertise, language inheritance, and language affiliation” (Rampton, 1990); six linguistic identities (Faez, 2011) because the “native/nonnative dichotomy falls short in capturing the multifaceted nature ofindividuals’ diverse linguistic identities and tends to misrepresent them” (p. 231); or the label “LX” to signify any number of languages acquired after 3 years and Ll(s) to indicate one or more languages acquired early on. Certainly, the negative of “non-native” (like the idea of languages “other than”) is also marginalizing (Dewaele, 2018).

Canagarajah underscores the importance of this issue in his 2015 article on clarifying the relationship between L2 and translingual writing. He describes the deep problems with classifications such as “native” or “first” for anyone who has learned more than one language at the same time or has different kinds of competencies in different languages (I always feel more at home writing academically in French, for example). He notes, “there is the realization that the native speaker construct is an ideology, labeled ‘native speakerism’ (Holiday & Aboshiha, 2009), that confers power on those who consider themselves the owners of a language” (2015, p. 417). Canagarajah further argues that “native,” when used to describe English proficiency, labels writers in terms of their relationship to English and suggest some ideal “nativeness” is the target for learners, rather than the aspiration he names—to be a “good multilingual speaker of English who integrates English into my other repertoires and appropriates it for my own voice” (p. 417).

We can add that FLW instruction challenges worldwide are intriguingly under-researched in terms of “what are considered ‘foreign’ languages . . . when they are in fact the ‘native’ languages of more and more of today’s students” (Valdez, 1995, p. 300). “Native” is thus a term we might jointly analyze, one for which we can recognize history, common concern, perhaps different applications that open up new understandings? Imagine the conversations to be had with the larger writing studies field, or college administrators, about “native” speaker classifications.

These terms and concepts, a la Bakhtin, are also “owned” by other scholars and fields. Before we get too possessive in our stance about translingualism, for example, we might review other uses, such as the Artificial Intelligence scholarship about “translingual information retrieval” (Yang, Carbonell, Brown, & Frederking, 1998), defined as “providing a query in one language and searching document collections in one or more different languages” (p. 323) in automated translation. This can “automatically establish translingual associations between queries and documents without the need to translate either” (p. 323). Literary studies devoted attention to translingualism with the 2000 volume The translingual imagination (Kellman), including an intriguing “roster of translingual others” and a well-considered development of the ways in which literary authors work across languages.

Anthropological linguistics provides the idea of an “index of communi- cativity” (for a society: the degree to which in a given multilingual society two individuals can communicate, Kuo, 1979); they measure the resemblances between languages and offer the frame of “receptive bilingualism” in Singapore, where more and more people are becoming multilingual over time. The increased inter-ethnic contact there is actually raising all language boats, not increasing just one or two languages (pp. 330-331); it is increasing extensive multilingual practice and polyglossia. Note that Kuo in 1979 said Singaporeans are “already . . . translingual” (p. 337). Translingualism also features in research on the way language revitalization works (Huang, 2010), the way children’s contact with elder language users builds their valuing of and investment in multiple languages (see also Seals et al., 2019, for explorations of translingual teaching as supportive of, rather than harmful to, language revitalization).


Any number of joint projects about the language we study and language we use—transdisciplinary, with complementary expertises, as Tardy (2006, 2017) suggests—might be undertaken, doing a form of boundary work (Hall, 2018). There is no shortage of individuals already invested in this work, from teachers who teach both SLW and FYC to scholars grounded in a cluster of disciplines, from traditional SLW or composition to sociolinguistics. Consider:

  • • A study of the frequency and uses of a term or terms across SLW and translingual scholarship over time; a study of themes, like “error” or “text structure” or “multicompetence.”
  • • A study of the labels and explanations provided for one domain by the other; for example, do SLW scholars or teachers actually see themselves as

“traditional multilingual” (on the Guerra (2016) continuum)? Do translin- gualists see themselves as “saviors of marginalized students?”

  • • A corpus study, using the same corpus and studying it from different perspectives.
  • • An exploration of a set of key theorists and how they inform, or could inform, SLW and translingualism, or a study of crossover authors vs. authors that never cite each other.
  • • A study of key documents such as SRTOL, the Horner et al. (2011) “manifesto,” and the Open Letter. A joint analysis of their underpinnings, philosophies, assumptions, language, and paradigms would be quite revealing.
  • • A side-by-side study of examples of classroom practice (with their underlying model spelled out), analyzed in light of the claims of each domain. A caution here that efforts to do this can fall short if they stay at the level of noting a shared vocabulary without studying the underlying meanings and models.
  • • A study of notable gaps in the literature, with complementary information from each domain. For example, translingual scholarship rarely delves into language acquisition and development research; SLW and translingualism do not often connect to research into writing knowledge “transfer” that might inform this aspect of writers’ development. Imagine a joint study of key bibliographies in each domain, each with titles and content that might surprise the other.

Perhaps it is precisely in recognizing the gaps in citations of each other’s work that scholars in these two domains can collaborate to explore how much is being developed outside of the U.S. and English publications. As a small example, U.S. translingual scholars seem generally unaware of the “plurilingual” development in Europe, yet European linguists speak of “la perception des contacts de langues comine atout, en ce que les longues seraient moitis des ‘systemes’d juxtaposer que des ‘ressources’d combinerpour/par les locuteurs” (Dompmartin, 2013, p. 10) and effect careful research about these linguistic resources that might serve as model for U.S. research.

Canagarajah and Gao (2019) note that it may be time to take translingualism further. They argue for considering language diversity in contexts beyond English, including when languages interact with each other without including English (p. 1). This matches the interest some SLW scholars have had for resisting L2 as “only a language other than English,” who also argue that we should all move beyond only U.S. and European contexts, questions, literature, and models. These questions are ripe for joint exploration.

And finally, both domains need practical modes of analysis in the new domain of post-modern, post-structural superdiversity. How can we do a finegrained linguistic analysis worthy of the context? (Rampton, 2013). Rampton suggests we consider all current approaches insufficient because none accounts for linguistic and situated discourse and ideology components all at once. It seems clear that we need new methods for some of what we need to study, in particular if we plan to do boundary work (see, for example, Bechtel & Ciekanski, 2014). Translingualism has not yet seen extensive empirical study of the phenomena it claims. While some SLW methods developed over the years wouldn’t serve translingualism well, FLW research might offer some models of empirical research. Particularly interesting is the approach described by Reichelt (2001) of empirical studies of student writers’ strategies and how they influence growth in writing. At the same time, both SLW and translingual research can learn from the attention in sociology’s migration studies to what Wimmer and Glick-Schiller (2002) have called “methodological nationalism,” the unexamined tendency to assume a limiting nation-state framework in cross-national or cross-language research.

Reconciliation can be understood not only as restoring friendly relations or encouraging harmonious compatibility, but also as making accounts of things consistent with each other, reconciling them. Neither of these can be done effectively without constructive collaboration.


  • 1. In fact, this perspective turns all of Writing Studies in the U.S. context on their heads. U.S. scholars frequently claim there is no, or only recent, “Composition” teaching and research outside the U.S., but perhaps the rest of the world should be saying “there is no, or only recent, attention to writing other than the focus in Composition” within the U.S.
  • 2. Though, again, the range of possible practices in SLW classrooms suggests that it is possible there are indeed practices that seek to eradicate difference or support prescriptive teaching, just as there are practices in FYW classrooms that focus only on sentence-level standards or prescriptive “modes” of writing.


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The Complementary Role of Fixity

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