What Does a Translingual or Transnational Language Identity Look Like?

Canagarajah (2011) describes the way in which speakers do “translanguaging” thus: “the ability of multilingual speakers to shuttle between languages, treating the diverse languages that form their repertoire as an integrated system” (p. 401). This definition provides a good starting point for our conception of “transing” (Chapter 1), but we go further, considering transing as rethinking and structuring our ideas of linguistic and identity spaces. Canag-arajah’s definition mentioned earlier builds on Garcia’s (2009) definition of translanguaging: “Rather than focusing on the language itself and how one or the other might relate to the way in which a monolingual standard is used and has been described, the concept of translanguaging makes obvious that there are no clear-cut borders between the languages of bilinguals. What we have is a languaging continuum that is accessed” (Garcia, 2009, p. 47). Garcia’s definition, especially if we expand it to encompass multilingual language users, offers a more expansive conception of the movement between languages that translanguaging entails, suggesting that because the boundaries between a speaker’s languages are either porous or blurred or overlapping. Her spatial metaphor is important to us, as is her reference to the role that borders play in defining what translanguaging is. However, rather than thinking of languaging as taking place on a continuum, we consider languaging as a network, a three-dimensional space which multilingual people access and move about in, building on Blommaert’s conception of identity formation as described earlier, and also the conceptualization of trans- offered by Stryker, Currah, and Moore (2008). Lines of connection may intersect, creating new language spaces, and the spaces occupied by these ideological constructions, languages, may also come to intersect over time. A translingual identity performance, then, is built by movement between these linguistic spaces, by moving between but also integrating the languages of an individual’s affiliation.

Focusing on linguistic performance without considering its identity implications—and how the identities that we assign might go against a student’s claimed and performed identity—has serious consequences for the continued marginalization of translingual and transnational students. A translingual identity may not be an immigrant identity, but it might be; a transnational identity may be based on places where people have actually lived, and it might not be; through translingual practices, students may affiliate themselves with language communities which are not based on linguistic inheritance. These networks of affiliation are performed through language use, and through declarations of identity; we suggest that in order to work with our students as they come to our classrooms, and not as we would like them to be, our pedagogical practices need to center “transing” in our discussions of language practices, and teach students different ways to engage, rather than focusing on ideologically constructed end-points (see Chapter 8 for a fuller consideration of these ideas).

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