Defining Translingualism – Place and Practice

In the last few years, translingualism has emerged as a key concept in literacy and writing studies as a way of redefining language use in ways that account for not only dominant/marginalized discourse practices, but also the multi-lingual and hybrid practices in between.  In his introduction to the collected volume on translingualim, Literacy as a Translingual Practice, A. Suresh Canagarajah provides a tentative outline of the term translingualism, while noting, nonetheless, that it is too early for a full definition.

  • All discourses/texts are hybrid – translingualism is a stronger term than code-meshing or hybridity
    • “If code-meshing draws attention to difference, the translingual orientation also emphasizes difference-in-similarity” (4)
    • “‘translingual practice’ is emerging as a term that accommodates hybrid practices without ignoring the inherent hybridity in products that appear on the surface to approximate dominant conventions. The orientation thus enables us to discern agency and voice of both multilingual and monolingual writers in textual products that have varying relationships to the norm” (4)
  • Translingualism emphasizes practice because we lose a sense of sharedness when we consider multilingual communities
    • Textual form on its own cannot produce meaning; translingualism emphasizes the importance of seeing literacy practices as emergent and primary over form in the construction of meaning. This is in contrast to monoloingual views, which emphasize form or grammar in the construction of meaning. (4)
    • While translingualism heightens the attention paid to place and practice, it does not fully set aside form. Rather, “form is shaped for meaning in relation to these ecological, social, and contextual factors” – form can no longer be taken for granted (8).
  • Translingualism emphasizes dispositions – similar to Bourdieu’s concept of habitus
    • Dispositions include “assumptions of language, attitudes towards social diversity, and tacit skills of communication and learning” (5).
  • Place/space play constitutive and emergent roles in translingualism (6)



Word Cards

James Gee’s Discourse theory has shaped many of my views on language, literacy, agency, and identity. I was recently looking at some of his work that I hadn’t read before in order to respond to a review on an article draft that I am working on. Gee has had a few periods in his scholarship, with the last several years focusing on language, learning, and gaming. One thing I’ve always admired about Gee’s work is his ability to present his thinking for non-academic audiences, and his book Situated Language and Learning (Routledge, 2004) falls into this category, as it is primarily geared for elementary school teachers. Gee critiques literacy pedagogy practices prevalent in American schools, especially the phonics-heavy teaching practices found in schools that service largely marginalized populations. I was especially interested in Gee’s argument that literacy learning must be conceptualized as part of an embodied practice, thus pedagogues that over-emphasize symbolic decoding or phonics learning, fall short for students. Learning academic language cannot be a disembodied practice. Cultural learning must entail actions, experiences, and contextualized decisions (39). Too often, young children are taught to learn language without the kind of embodied practices necessary to fully understand language beyond a literal level. Gee argues for the importance of simulation and embodied experience in cultivating a richer school-based learning. 

Key to Gee’s work in this book is the argument that being able to relate to a text is an embodied process. Gee writes, “humans understand content, whether in a comic book or a physics text, much better when their understanding is embodied: that is, when they can relate that content to possible activities, decisions, talk, and dialogue. When people learn as a cultural process, whether this be cooking, hunting, or how to play video games, they learn through action and talk with others, not by memorizing words outside their contexts of application” (39). The argument for experiential learning is not new (see Dewey, for instance). However, what I find interesting about Gee’s formulation here is the emphasis placed on embodiment and potentiality. Gee illustrates this principle of language learning and embodied experience through a discussion of word meanings and connotations. 

Drawing a bit on card-based game genres, Gee suggests that we think of each word as being like a card in strategy games such as “Pokémon” or “Magic: The Gathering.” In these types of games, each card enables a player to make certain moves. Likewise, each word enables a user (i.e., speaker/writer) to make certain moves. Words contain action potentials in situated discourse. By living the potential actions tied to specific words, one learns the word’s multiple/alternative meanings. For instance, Gee points out how the word potential meanings of coffee shift in each of the following situations: the coffee spilled, get a mop; the coffee spilled, get a broom; the coffee spilled, re-stack it on the shelf. This idea relates to the story told by Victor Villanueva in Bootstraps where a student reading Fahrenheit 451 cannot understand the word “living room” (or alternative terms for this cultural space) because he had grown up in a migrant farm working family, which means he (and his family) followed the harvest from farm to farm, often living in communal worker cabins with other farm workers. These structures typically do not have living rooms. While the student could look up the word in the dictionary, its literal meaning carries no weight without the rich world of embodied experience to flesh out its connotations. In this way, literacy learning hinges on embodiment, and our capacity to construct multi-modal simulations of lived socio-cultural/embodied experiences in the processes of literacy praxis. 

Readiness Potential and Running

As the season has been changing from Summer to Fall, I have found myself steeped in the semester with significantly less time to dedicate to long bike rides. Also, wrestling season begins soon and I will be running a 5K Turkey Trot. All of this calls for a switch from cycling to running as my primary aerobic activity. I jumped on a treadmill in the WSU fitness center yesterday and found myself thinking about readiness potential.

I run in order to acquire certain sensor-motor capacities to act, including the capacity to run the 5k with a reasonably good time (hoping for 8-9 minutes per mile), and the endurance to last in live wrestling longer than a couple rounds. I listen to music in order to develop the capacity to dissociate my mind from my body – that is, to stop thinking about muscle fatigue, heart rate, and sweat by moving my concentration out of the small areas of my body that ache in order to focus on the broader goal of moving at a certain pace. As I run, I search out connections with cycling, telling myself that moving my legs here is no different than on the bike: just keep peddling; just keep running. The rest will take care of itself. The more I run, the easier it is to meet my goals.

Bawarshi situates readiness potential within genres. I situate readiness potential within the nexus of prior experience, ongoing practice, and genre. As I ran, I thought about how writers have to acquire capacities to sit and think through their moving fingers. The keyboard extends the arm; enters into circuits of doing and thinking and writing. The body must cooperate to some extent, resting somewhat comfortably. Shaking legs to numb the mind’s want to wander. Listening to music (or not) to keep focused on the writing task. Through practice, the act of sitting down and reaching a writing goal becomes more ready-at-hand.

Drawing Energy

The first two days of drawing class focused on some basic drawing techniques, including gesture drawing, blind contour drawing, broken contour drawing, and basic perspective drawing. Drawing involves three interrelated thought modes: observing/seeing, thinking/analyzing, and acting/doing. The first set of activities really pushed us to focus on paying attention while observing an object. Doing so demanded that we let go of what we already knew in order to see what was before us.

Each of the three drawing practices required us to either exclusively (blind contour) or primarily (gesture and broken contour) look at the object we were drawing while we drew. The front of the room featured three sturdy tables topped with various boxes. Everything was a shade of white except the various objects that were arranged for our study. Using the pencil as an instrument of our attention, we tried to bring our faculties of observation in closer contact with our drawing/movement faculties. We used the pencil to seek out the information we needed to complete the composition. The gesture drawing requires lots of energy as you stand up and sketch out the form of an object on a large pad of paper. As you focus on the object, you are seeking out its center of energy and form.

IMG_0162 IMG_0158

To be successful, we had to accomplish two goals. First, getting rid of our preconceptions was crucial in order to draw from our observation Quoting a book title from the biography of an artist, my professor remarked “seeing is forgetting the name of what one sees” – we’ve seen hundreds, even thousands of chairs in our life time; but none like the one before us at this moment. Another key goal for these first couple of days of class has been to learn to make our mark, to develop our own vocabulary of mark-making by employing a variety of line types.

ADR 090815-p7 ADR 090815-p5 ADR 090815-p6 ADR 090815-p4 ADR 090815-p1 ADR 090815-p2 ADR 090815-p3

First Day of Class

The first day of class for both ADR and ACO went great. We mostly did syllabus work and some brief introductions, but some of the things we talked about (or the instructors talked about) were really interesting. In my drawing class, the instructor talked about how drawing requires you to keep an open mind, to develop an agile brain that is open to make changes, and to have the courage to erase. She urged us to quiet the “I can’t do this” voice and to show up to class well fed and well hydrated because drawing demands energy and movement; we must be able to focus, for drawing is both a mental and physical doing.

I filled out questionnaires for both classes (Drawing questionnaire & Art). In my ACO class, I had the occasion to write about *why* I was taking the class. My answer was certainly thinking about this project: “I am beginning this course of study (toward the BFA in photog) for many reasons – for one, I’ve always been interested in photography and I studied art history at MSU, and two, I am interested in learning about composition and practice from other disciplines.” These seem to be the issues that interest me here: what does composition mean? what does it mean to compose? what does it mean to practice? My drawing instructor often reminds that we must learn to make our mark – what do the commonalities between learning to make art and learning to write tell us about composing? practice?

Syllabus and Supplies

art supplies stack

I got the list of required supplies for my drawing class today in addition to the syllabus and schedule (part 1 and part 2). Altogether, the supplies cost around $100 to acquire. My initial thoughts as I took a look at this set of materials was how visible the tools necessary to compose were to me. I want to compare this with a writing course, but I should hold off on that. Continue reading “Syllabus and Supplies”

Composition beyond writing

This fall, I will begin to pursue a B.F.A. in Photography. The opportunity to take start this program follows from the tuition benefit I enjoy at Wayne State University. But, it is also something that I’ve always wanted to do (I took a photography class in high school; nearly took another class at Michigan State; studied Art History before transitioning to English). Yet, I have done little to formally develop the interest over the last twenty years. More recently, when I bought my first iPhone, I found the device provided for me a new readiness potential to take the shots that I would see as I look around. Just carrying the phone with me gave me the regular opportunity to take photographs. Once I opened an instagram account, I slowly started committing myself to making photographs. Continue reading “Composition beyond writing”