Wednesday, October 01, 2014

L2 Writing and Translingual Writing - what's going on?

The latest issue of the SLWIS newsletter (from the L2 writing interest group of TESOL) includes a short piece by a number of well-known L2 writing scholars indicating their intent to clarify the "difference" between L2 writing and translingual writing.

The is in response to the recent interest in translingual writing -- a term coined by a popular 2011 paper by Horner, Lu, Royster, & Trimbur -- from what we in L2 writing have traditionally called "L1 composition" scholars. The concern that the L2 writing scholars have is this (my emphases):

...we are concerned about the tendency to conflate L2 writing and translingual writing, and with the even more disturbing trend to view translingual writing as a replacement for L2 writing. For example, we are concerned about the confusion and degrees of uncertainty resulting from a proliferation of such terms as: translingual writing, translingual writers, and code-meshing. There are also concerns about how this conflation may impact hiring practices for L2 writing specialists at postsecondary institutions and the comments of editorial boards for articles under review. We acknowledge that this trend has been largely confined within the discussion of U.S. college composition, so many who work in other contexts may be less familiar with the controversy.

This alarms me a little, since I am on the job market and have been looking into L1 rhet/comp jobs. I didn't know the situation was as serious as they suggest. They go on to quote their forthcoming piece in a top NCTE journal:

“...translingual writing is a particular orientation to how language is conceptualized and implicated in the study and teaching of writing. It emphasizes the fluidity, malleability and discriminatory potential of languages” but it “has not widely taken up the task of helping L2 writers increase their proficiency in what might still be emerging L2s and develop and use their multiple language resources to serve their own purposes."

I think I agree with this.

I talk about the emergence of translingual writing perspectives in my dissertation, and in general I am "in favor" of this perspective. The real benefit is that as a theoretical perspective, "translingual writing" does something very simple and elegant: it flattens out all variation in written language use into "language difference." This is a very sociolinguistic approach to writing; it encourages researchers and teachers alike to reconsider the question of "why anyone writes anything" (to quote myself recontextualizing a quote of Labov) with fresh eyes. Error, variation, dialect, register, slang, etc. -- they all come together, and I believe this is a useful and productive way to approach L2 writing. I advocate a "non-error based approach" to L2 writing in general -- not because I believe errors don't exist, but there is a long string of studies in both L1 and L2 composition that have proven over and over that judgments of error are subjective and complex, and when we look for errors, we find them.

However, where I see a need to be cautious is in simply referring to the actual process/product of writing as "translingual writing." Aside from my own belief that "translingual" is a misnomer for what is meant to be described (we really are still talking about English writing here, despite translingual scholars' arguments against "English Only" in US composition), I would say that there is no thing called translingual writing; the texts are still the same texts they would've been if they were written before we coined the term "translingual."  This is why I like to simply call this perspective the "translingual approach to writing" -- because it is a way of understanding written language and what to do with it.

There's more to be said here, but I'm just interested in seeing how this whole thing plays out over the long term. We may be entering a new era of engagement of L2 writing scholars in L1 composition, and this is certainly of interest to me as I put a tentative toe or two into the job market.

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