Language Transfer: History, Translation and Metalinguistic Awareness

This month we are publishing Explorations of Language Transfer by Terence Odlin. In this post the author discusses the book’s main themes.

Readers of Explorations of Language Transfer will notice several recurring themes, themes that have long seemed to me important for the study of transfer. I’d like to offer some remarks on three of those topics here: history, translation, and metalinguistic awareness.

History

Chapter 2 of the book examines parts of the challenging trail left by nineteenth century thinkers including Wilhelm von Humboldt, Hugo Schuchardt and Aaron Marshall Elliott. Space did not allow a discussion of certain other thinkers from that time who also wrote about bilingualism, such as the Italian historical linguist G.I. Ascoli. If I ever have the chance, I would like to read more about his analysis of how transfer might be manifest in linguistic variation across space and time. Furthermore, I suspect that interesting discussions of transfer go back before the nineteenth century, but if so, the trail may prove a little harder to explore.

Translation

Chapter 7 focuses on translation and transfer. The ongoing refinements in machine translation, one of the topics in this chapter, should be taken seriously by teachers and researchers even while professionals will do well in advising their students to distrust uncritical reliance on translation software. Yet machine translation is not the only area of interest. In the same chapter, I also consider the efforts of a Victorian translator named Mary Howitt who, despite her keen interest in Scandinavian literature, did not always succeed in accurately interpreting the work she undertook. Her translation errors often suggest negative transfer in her reading comprehension. Howitt is probably far from alone in the history of less-than-satisfactory translation, but there does not seem to be much detailed research investigating such cases. This domain, then, may well deserve more exploring.

Metalinguistic awareness

Our awareness of language, often called metalinguistic awareness, proves important in learning a new language, and it interacts with transfer in diverse ways. Without such awareness we could not compare anything in one language with anything in another, nor could we ask for definitions, let alone translate individual words or entire sentences. Even so, individuals vary considerably in how they use such awareness and in how they develop it further. Chapter 8 considers, among other things, successful attempts to foster such awareness. For example, raising consciousness about crosslinguistic similarities and differences has proven effective for helping learners recognize words that are real yet not obvious cognates. The attempts discussed did not involve French, but I think back to my own experiences with high school French and imagine how helpful it could have been if we beginners had gotten a little guidance in recognizing consistent formal relations in pairs such as côte/coast, fête/feast, and pâté/paste. Pairs of this sort also make a good case for why language teachers should have some knowledge of historical linguistics including sound changes.

I naturally hope that readers of Explorations of Language Transfer will find the themes outlined here worth reading about in greater detail, and I also hope that the book will inspire readers to engage in their own explorations of the similarities and differences between languages that can intrigue as well as challenge any learner.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Crosslinguistic Influence and Distinctive Patterns of Language Learning edited by Anne Golden, Scott Jarvis and Kari Tenfjord.

What Counts as Literacy Learning for Emergent Bilinguals in the 21st Century?

This month we published Multimodal Literacies in Young Emergent Bilinguals edited by Sally Brown and Ling Hao. In this post the editors explain what a multimodal approach to literacy learning involves.

We are excited about our new publication, Multimodal Literacies in Young Emergent Bilinguals: Beyond Print-Centric Practices. This edited volume features research intended to expand multimodal literacy teaching practices in ways that support emergent bilinguals in a variety of early childhood contexts including preschool environments, kindergartens, elementary classrooms, and out-of-school community locations. The chapters include perspectives from areas of the United States where students are relegated to English-only policies and practices, as well as studies from China, London, Brazil and Norway. Each chapter provides background information about the study and concludes with specific implications for teaching and learning practices which is sure to push you into new ways of thinking and alternative ways to support emergent bilinguals. This book provides culturally sustaining pedagogical possibilities for using multimodal approaches to teach literacy with young children learning multiple languages. You can expect to see emergent bilinguals framed from an assets-based perspective that celebrates their rich cultural and linguistic heritages. A translanguaging approach (García, Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017) guides the authors’ thinking about the complex ways in which young emergent bilinguals use languages in addition to other semiotic resources in order to speak, act, know, and do in manners unique to each learner.

Multimodality is at the heart of all of the chapters. A multimodal approach to literacy learning is based on:

  • Social semiotics where meaning-making is the result of social interactions (Kress, 2010);
  • Communication encompassing more than language or print (speech and written words); language is partial;
  • Utilization of multiple modes with a mode being a set of organized resources of various forms such as images, gestures, oral language, etc;
  • Active sign makers (emergent bilinguals) selecting modes and choosing available resources to create meaning based on their way of understanding the world;
    • For example, a child may use Legos (form) to enact a visual retelling of a story.
  • Construction of a coherent and cohesive ensemble or product drawing from multiple modes.

Using multimodality as a lens for teaching emergent bilinguals allows us to offer additional opportunities to make and share meaning. In many learning spaces, these opportunities are limited to oral and written language even though emergent bilinguals may utilize other semiotic resources in environments where English is the predominant or only language. Small changes in teaching practices can provide more equitable and accessible learning spaces. For example, a teacher may offer students an option to draw in response to a read aloud as opposed to answering questions on a worksheet. The drawing could be analyzed for meaning in terms of salience of features like the main characters as well the use of color to determine how the characters were feeling. We invite you to read this new publication in order to broaden your notions of what counts as literacy learning for emergent bilinguals in the 21st century.

Sally Brown and Ling Hao

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Multilingual Literacy edited by Esther Odilia Breuer, Eva Lindgren, Anat Stavans and Elke Van Steendam.

Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama

This month we published Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama by Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese. In this post the authors explain the context for the book and how they went about writing it.

One of the 16 ethnographic sites we observed during the research project, Translation and Translanguaging: Investigating linguistic and cultural transformations in superdiverse wards in four UK cities (TLANG), was a large, new, city-centre library. Our guiding concern was to investigate how people communicate in public settings when they bring into contact different biographies, backgrounds and languages. The state-of-the-art Library of Birmingham was the largest regional library in Europe. It attracts a diverse constituency of users, including local people from the city, and visitors from all over the world. One of the library staff, Millie, agreed to be a key participant in the research. She was originally from Hong Kong, having moved to the UK nearly 20 years earlier. Over four months we observed her working in the library. Our colleague Rachel Hu shadowed Millie as she went about her daily routine. We (Adrian, Angela and Rachel) wrote extensive field notes which described what we saw and heard as we observed. We gave Millie a digital voice recorder, to record her spoken interactions with members of the public and colleagues. She also recorded during her tea breaks and lunch breaks.

When we first negotiated access to do the research, the library was a beacon of civic pride for the city. Record-breaking numbers of people had visited in the 12 months since it opened. The spectacular building had exceeded every criterion for success. But by the time we started our field work, six months later, the government had made cuts to local authority grants. The city’s finances were hit hard. Opening hours were significantly reduced, and the library announced that it would cut more than 50% of its staff. As we observed and listened to the people who worked in, and accessed the services of, the library, politics was at the forefront of discussion. When we recontextualised and recreated these discussions as ethnographic drama, it was almost inevitable that the narrative would be dominated by concerns beyond the linguistic.

Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama represents discourses in circulation at a moment of political tension. The play focuses on four customer experience assistants in the library, three women and one man. The drama opens at the point when they have been told they have the option to put themselves forward for voluntary redundancy, or apply for their own jobs, with no guarantee of success. We meet the four characters in the staff room, where they take their lunch breaks and tea breaks. All the circulating tensions in the library are played out in their conversations. They are the only characters in the play, and they are all on stage throughout. In their interactions the voices of others are heard. They discuss the positions of the interim director of the library, the trade union, their colleagues, local and national politicians, and so on. In these discussions perspectives on histories, politics and economics are played out.

The ethnographic drama is made from field notes, audio-recordings, and any other material we were able to gather. This includes fictionalised voices. The ethnographic drama is a creative documentary account of an actual situation, and a specific environment, which integrates original and constructed dialogue. We enhance the rhythm of the dialogue where we can, to drive it forward. It has to move at a good pace, and at a varied pace, or the audience will be bored. We want to bring to the attention of the audience what we saw, and what we heard during our time in the library. Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama is about how political decisions affect people’s lives, often unfairly. It’s about a government pushing an austerity policy which harms the lives of the least privileged. The discourse of the four characters represents a particular moment in the workplace, offering an insight into the effects on working people of the government’s austerity measures. The drama treads a line between giving in to the force of powerful structures, and seeking the possibility of escape to new horizons. Ode to the City – An Ethnographic Drama takes ethnographic material and renders it for an audience in as truthful a way as possible. The rest is up to the audience.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like the authors’ previous books: Volleyball – An Ethnographic Drama, Interpretations – An Ethnographic Drama and Voices of a City Market.

Linguistic Landscape’s Turn Towards Educational Settings

We recently published Linguistic Landscapes and Educational Spaces edited by Edina Krompák, Víctor Fernández-Mallat and Stephan Meyer. In this post the editors outline the aims of the book.

The field of Linguistic Landscape (LL) has recently taken a marked turn toward educational settings, as seen in the growing interest for the exploration of schoolscapes (Brown, 2005, 2012; Laihonen & Szabó, 2018) and its relevance to language learning and teaching (Gorter, 2018; Malinowski et al, 2020; Niedt et al, 2020), where elements of the LL itself have increasingly been used as pedagogical tools (Badstübner-Kizik & Janiková, 2018; Marten & Saagpakk, 2017).

This turn has strongly suggested that there is important potential to be found at the intersection of LL and educational spaces in the advancement of theoretical debates, methodological innovations and empirical evidence. Our contribution aims to theorize this intertwined relationship and pave the way for new approaches in the exploration of LL in sociolinguistics and the educational sciences. In our book, we define the term linguistic and semiotic educationscapes as ‘the mutually constitutive material and social spaces in which linguistic and symbolic resources are mobilised for educational purposes’ (Krompák, Fernández-Mallat & Meyer, 2021, p. 2). In doing so, our contribution comprises empirical studies in the schoolscape tradition as well as studies that apply elements of the LL for teaching purposes and that expand beyond educational institutions in the narrow sense of the term. With the diverse languages (e.g. Chinese, Dutch, English, Flemish, German, Italian, Latvian, Māori, Sámi/Saami and Swedish) and territories (e.g. Hong Kong in Asia; the United States of America in North America; Austria, Belgium, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland in Europe; and New Zealand in Zealandia) that are covered in this book, the volume gives an overview of current research in the Global North while also showing the need for thematic and geographic extension of research on educationscapes.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Migration, Multilingualism and Education edited by Latisha Mary, Ann-Birte Krüger and Andrea S. Young.

Wider Audiences and New Practices in Academic Communication in the 21st Century

This month we published Digital Genres in Academic Knowledge Production and Communication by María José Luzón and Carmen Pérez-Llantada. In this post the authors explain what digital genres are and why their research is important.

The technological advances of the internet influence the ways in which academic knowledge is being produced and disseminated, offering new opportunities and facilitating new practices for scholars. Scholars are increasingly posting their research updates on their group websites, blogging about their research, launching crowdfunding proposals, promoting their research through videos, or interacting with others on Twitter or other social networking sites. These digital genres (i.e. genres which make use of the affordances of the internet to varying degrees) enable scholars to respond to new demands, such as increasing their visibility or engaging the interested public. In the 21st century scholars are expected to maximize the impact of their research both within and beyond academia and reach wider and diverse audiences, which include not only other researchers but also practitioners, policymakers and the general public.

As genres are tools for accomplishing actions or goals, the book Digital Genres for Academic Knowledge and Communication explores the diversity of digital genres (e.g. blogs, open lab notebooks, crowdfunding proposals, Twitter, academic videos) that scholars have incorporated into their genre repertoire to perform different actions. Digital genres help scholars to:

  • promote their research output, achieve local, national and international visibility and build their scholarly reputation
  • share research in progress and practices with peers and collaborate with all relevant actors
  • engage in interdisciplinary and intercultural interaction with scholars across the world, and ask for and provide feedback, help, support and advice
  • disseminate research and information that can contribute to increasing the scientific literacy of diverse audiences
  • engage the interested public in the production of academic knowledge
  • adopt more participatory and transparent practices of research evaluation

Since we ourselves are multilingual scholars, one aspect of particular interest for us is the relation between multilingualism and digital genres and the possibilities that these genres offer for multilingual scholars. The digital medium enables these scholars to draw upon two or more languages that are part of their linguistic repertoire (e.g. English and/or the languages spoken in their local communities) in order to reach and connect with international and local audiences.

The use of English as a shared language in informal digital genres (e.g. blogs, tweets, discussions in ResearchGate) can help scholars to disseminate, promote and make their research more visible internationally, and interact and collaborate with other researchers at the international level. When English is used as the shared language, scholars’ online communication has apparently become more tolerant of non-standard linguistic forms than formal academic communication. Therefore, for many multilingual scholars, using English in online exchanges probably entails less pressure than writing in English for research publication purposes.

In addition to communicating in English to reach a global audience, multilingual scholars also use their local or national languages when communicating online. The local language makes it easier for scholars to disseminate their work locally, provide access to research results to the local audiences who can apply them (e.g. practitioners in the field, policymakers), promote scientific literacy and engage the public in research. When composing some digital genres (e.g. research blogs, Twitter, crowdfunding projects) multilingual scholars may decide to use only English or only their local language, depending on their imagined audiences. However, they often draw on their multilingual repertoires to communicate simultaneously locally and internationally, adjusting their languages(s) to heterogeneous audience(s), which enables them to participate in different communities and to perform multiple identities.

In short, online multilingualism widens the possibilities for sharing knowledge with diverse audiences. However, further research is necessary on the multilingual practices of scholars when communicating online, in order to determine the extent to which multilingual scholars are participating in global academia and are connecting with various local audiences by composing digital genres.

María José Luzón and Carmen Pérez-Llantada

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Global Academic Publishing edited by Mary Jane Curry and Theresa Lillis.

Reflecting on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and its Companion Volume

This month we published Reflecting on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and its Companion Volume edited by David Little and Neus Figueras. In this post the editors introduce the CEFR and the questions raised in their book.

The best known fact about the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is that it defines communicative proficiency at six levels arranged in three bands: A1 and A2, B1 and B2, C1 and C2. Very soon after the CEFR’s publication in 2001, the principal national and international language testing agencies in Europe began to use these labels to indicate the level of their tests and report test-takers’ performances. The CEFR made much less impact, however, on curricula and teaching.

Twenty years on, the introduction of the CEFR Companion Volume (CV) seeks to redress the balance, giving priority to teaching and learning over assessment. The CV also updates the CEFR’s descriptive scheme, adding many new descriptors, a handful of new scales, a new pre-A1 level, and a substantial new section on mediation. In doing so, it gives language education professionals much new material to reflect on and engage with.

Predictably, the CV has aroused great interest among language assessment specialists. In 2018, EALTA (European Association for Language Testing and Assessment) organized a one-day symposium to stimulate discussion of the provisional (2017) version of the CV; and in February 2020, EALTA, UKALTA (UK Association for Language Testing and Assessment) and the British Council organized a two-day conference that focused on the definitive version of the CV within the broader framework established by the 2001 CEFR.

The conference opened with two accounts of the international impact of the CEFR, one from Japan and the other from the United States, and an introduction to the CV from Brian North, who coordinated its development. The remainder of the conference addressed three aspects of the CEFR and the CV: their “action-oriented” approach to the description of language proficiency in terms of language use, their advocacy of a “plurilingual approach” to language education, and the proficiency levels and descriptors. This explains the four-part structure of Reflecting on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and its Companion Volume, which brings together expanded versions of the conference presentations.

The book provides a wide-ranging introduction to the CEFR and the CV. It also encourages those who already work with the CEFR to revisit basic concepts by raising questions like these:

  • The CEFR identifies four modes of language use: reception (listening and reading), production (speaking and writing), interaction (spoken and written), and mediation (spoken and written). Why then do the major testing agencies use the CEFR’s proficiency levels but cling to the four-skills model (listening, speaking, reading, writing)?
  • In the CV’s scales of plurilingual and intercultural competence, the descriptors assume a strict separation between languages. How then can we take account of the real-world practice of mixing two or more languages in the same communicative event?
  • The process of linking curricula, teaching materials and assessment to the CEFR and CV is (or can be) highly technical. So how realistic is it to encourage busy professionals to take the CEFR to their hearts?
  • As we have noted, the CV invites us to focus on curricula, teaching and learning rather than assessment. But how can we expect educational reform to succeed if all three dimensions are not developed interdependently?

These are just four of the many questions explored by contributors to our book. We hope that the book will stimulate language education professionals to pose questions of their own – and to undertake the research that is necessary to answer them. Only in this way can we maintain the CEFR and the CV as the living and ever-evolving instruments of language education policy and practice that the Council of Europe intended.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Action-oriented Approach by Enrica Piccardo and Brian North.

The Remaking of Language Education

This month we published Liberating Language Education edited by Vally Lytra, Cristina Ros i Solé, Jim Anderson and Vicky Macleroy. In this post the editors reveal what readers can expect from the book.

Liberating Language Education emerged from our desire to unite our passion about language, education, and lived multilingualism with our visions of what language education can mean, feel, and look like in times of unprecedented change and uncertainty. This passion is reflected in our personas of ‘the weaver’, ‘the fool’, ‘the traveller’ and ‘the activist’ in the introduction of the book: they illustrate the complexity and richness of language experience and language learning across the lifespan and highlight the entanglements of the personal and biographical with the historical and socio-cultural dimensions of language and language pedagogy.

This kaleidoscopic perspective is amplified by the plurality and heterogeneity of voices and orientations manifested in the chapter contributions. The book calls into question a single and unified approach to language, culture, and identity, dismantling monolingual and prescriptivist discourses of pedagogy that have long dominated language education. Instead, it proposes new ways of understanding language and language education that move beyond rationalist and instrumental perspectives and emphasise locally situated meaning-making practices, messiness, and unpredictability.

These new ways liberate our understanding of language to encompass the full range of semiotic repertoires, aesthetic resources, and multimodal practices. They reimagine language education from a translingual and transcultural orientation, showcasing multiple, alternative visions of how language education might be enacted. The translingual, transcultural and transformative approach to pedagogy that underpins the book rests on the following principles:

  • an integrated and inclusive view of language and language learning
  • challenging binaries and fixed positions between formal/informal learning, school/home literacies, schools/other sites of learning
  • attention to language hierarchies and linguistic and social inequalities
  • a synergetic relationship between language and culture
  • the transformative process of language learning as reconfiguring our existing communicative resources and nurturing new ways of being, seeing, feeling and expressing in the world
  • foregrounding embodied, material and aesthetic perspectives to pedagogy
  • emphasis on learner and teacher agency and making their voices heard
  • supporting multiple ways of knowing and a decolonising stance to knowledge building
  • creating trusting, respectful and collaborative relations in research and shared ownership of knowledge

This critical and creative translingual and transcultural orientation repositions teachers, learners and researchers as active language policy creators in the remaking of language education today.

Vally Lytra, Cristina Ros i Solé, Jim Anderson and Vicky Macleroy

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Dynamics of Language and Inequality in Education edited by Joel Austin Windle, Dánie de Jesus and Lesley Bartlett.

Remaking Multilingualism: A Tribute to Ofelia García

This month we published Remaking Multilingualism edited by Bahar Otcu-Grillman and Maryam Borjian – a book honouring the research and influence of Ofelia García. In this post the editors highlight some of the tributes made by contributors to the volume.

Multilingualism, bilingual education and how it is implemented in schools have often been controversial topics debated by politicians, academics, and educators in the United States and throughout the world. Among many scholars in the field, Professor Emerita Ofelia García has been a leader for 40 years, advocating for bilingualism, multilingualism and true bilingual education, not only for language minorities, but for all, and not only locally, but globally. An essential part of ‘dynamic bilingualism’ introduced by García, translanguaging stands out as a promising approach for the education of emergent bilinguals and constitutes people’s complex language practices in multilingual speech communities.

Remaking Multilingualism: A Translanguaging Approach is a tribute volume celebrating Ofelia García and her lifetime commitment to multilingualism and bilingual education within translanguaging perspectives via the eyes of her colleagues, former students, and friends. Through its collective chapters, the volume covers translanguaging in both its senses, as a discursive practice and as a pedagogical approach. It takes the reader beyond named languages and named nation-states to place the emphasis on us, human beings, the speakers of different languages and the residents of different parts of the world.

Dedicated to Ofelia García for her lifetime commitment to the cause of bilingual education, multilingualism and educational linguistics, the volume includes many tribute statements. Here are some excerpts from the book:

“Ofelia’s name is practically synonymous with translanguaging, that run-away concept that has captured the imagination of so many in the field of bilingual education. This is as it should be – a reflection of both Ofelia’s long and deep scholarship in bilingual education policy and practice and the creativity and imagination she brings to it.”
Nancy Hornberger

“Ofelia continues to challenge me on how to go beyond dichotomies such as research/practice, descriptive/political, or pedagogies/policies, and make more holistic contributions to our field.”
Suresh Canagarajah

“Ofelia García remains steadfast in her lifelong commitment to bilingual education. She refers to the systemic inequalities brought about by the hegemony of English, ‘whiteness’ and colonialism. From her early work she has been, and remains, inspirational in her ability to narrow the gap between theory and practice, engage with practitioners to improve the educational outcomes of students and take on powerful institutions which endorse harmful monolingual ideologies and exclude the everyday practices of bilingual learners. She is fearless in her ability to face resistance, speaking truth to power whenever and wherever she is able. Hers is a recognition that practice must lead theory, and not the other way round. Translanguaging is not merely a description of interactional contact, but an ideological orientation to communication and difference. In her warm, inclusive and engaging manner Ofelia García has reshaped the landscape of bilingual education, second language teaching and learning and education pedagogies more widely. We owe her a huge debt of gratitude.”
Angela Creese and Adrian Blackledge

“Ofelia García’s enormous gifts of intellectuality, brilliance of thought coupled with her profound love for humanity are not the only characteristics of her academic endeavors that have awed and inspired many over the past several decades. Her immeasurable humility, warmth of character, abundant love and her sheltering personality have made her a true mentor, colleague and friend to many.”
Maryam Borjian

“Ofelia’s advocacy is above everything else. Her lifetime work on bilingual education and multilingualism, initially with Professor Fishman, and her translanguaging approach later, have provided the advocacy for those who speak minority languages and the guidance for educators and policymakers who regulate the minorities’ education. I am thankful to her for everything she did for me and others, for every idea she nurtured and pursued and for everyone she inspired to change the world.”
Bahar Otcu-Grillman

“This chapter foregrounds the perspectives of bilingual Latinx adolescent youth in reimagining school and classroom-level language allocation policy in ways that center the language practices and lived realities of youth. At the core, this approach is grounded in Dr. Ofelia García’s conception of translanguaging and dynamic bilingualism (2009), and our shared belief that children’s and communities’ language practices must be at the center of pedagogical and policy decisions. Using García’s theory of dynamic bilingualism, I outline four lessons from youth based on their reported language use and perspectives on bilingualism and translanguaging, then consider the implications of these lessons for language allocation policy, suggesting an approach to language policy that is grounded in both dynamic bilingualism and youth’s lived realities. Just as Dr. García conceived of translanguaging by studying the language practices of communities, the best way to serve multilingual youth is by listening to youth themselves, and letting their perspectives, experiences and language practices guide the creation of more equitable language policy.”
Sarah Hesson

“Both authors are former students of Ofelia Garcia and were also part of the CUNY-NYSIEB team.  Our approach to working with teachers of emergent bilinguals was rooted in the translanguaging pedagogy that evolved from Ofelia Garcia’s work. Over the years, Ofelia fostered spaces for collaboration that engaged educators in reimagining their schools and classrooms. Our work and the work of the teachers that we feature in this chapter are examples of how she inspired educators to open a space in which they could carefully analyze how learning was attuned to emergent bilinguals’ identities and socio-emotional development.”
Ivana Espinet and Karen Zaino

“If the term mentor entails being a counsellor with wisdom and experience, a generous and inspirational collaborator, and a loyal and empathetic friend, then Ofelia García is mentor par excellence.”
Jo Anne Kleifgen

For more information about this book, please see our website

If you found this interesting, you might also like Rethinking the Education of Multilingual Learners by Jim Cummins.

Can a Book Project Be Decolonial?

We recently published Decoloniality, Language and Literacy edited by Carolyn McKinney and Pam Christie. In this post the editors discuss the main themes of the book and how it came together.

Educators in the Global South grapple not only with the stringencies and curtailments of neoliberal economic policies, but also with the deep intersectional inequalities that linger on as legacies of colonialism – summed up by the term ‘coloniality’. In teacher education, the decolonial struggle means working for change within and against deep structural inequalities in schooling and higher education systems: inequalities that are evident in institutional provision, fees, and barriers to access, but are also evident in assumptions about what counts as valuable knowledges and languages.

This book is based on conversations among colleagues that began in response to the intense experiences of campus protests and shutdowns, as university students in South Africa called for free, decolonial education. Our conversations, which extended over several years, grappled with how to prepare student teachers to enter a highly divided and unequal schooling system shaped by coloniality in the Global South, and at the same time work for change. Our key concerns have been to develop a better understanding of the multiple damaging ways in which coloniality shapes the schooling and university experience/environment, and how we as educators might work within the complex dynamics of border conditions in our different practices.

The book reflects on:

  • how teacher educators and educational researchers might grapple with the colonial matrix of power in our daily practice;
  • how we make decisions about what counts as ‘knowledge’;
  • how we teach ‘canonical’ disciplinary knowledge while at the same time challenging this and acknowledging the epistemic violence wrought by the partiality of this knowledge;
  • how we challenge the monolingual myth and enable multilingualism; and
  • how we explore the possibilities and constraints of conducting research and scholarship in times of instability.

As a collective of tenured academics and graduate students, we came together in this project because of the challenges we face navigating multiple ways of knowing and being. The oral mode and embodiment, i.e. physical co-presence, talking, being together and eating with each other (face to face in the same space, even if masked!), feeling, seeing and hearing each other’s affective responses – passion, distrust, anger, curiosity and love – was our starting point. Without this there would be no written texts. Our embodied interaction was also very literate, drawing on a range of disciplinary knowledge (e.g. science education; applied linguistics; literacy studies) as well as our experiences of teaching and learning. To the extent that we needed to turn these interactions into published written form in order for them to count as legitimate academic knowledge, we recognize that the production of a (mostly English) book is itself a legacy of colonialism.

In a recent discussion of the Pennsylvania State University African Studies Global Virtual Forum (hosted by Sinfree Makoni) following a presentation by Bonny Norton, the question was raised ‘can a book be decolonial?’ or ‘can a book project be a decolonial project?’ While Norton asked this question in relation to children’s books produced for the African Storybook project, we believe it is highly relevant for academic publishing as well.

While still questioning whether a book project can be decolonial, or disrupt or delink from coloniality, our collected conversations presented here show some of the approaches and tactics we used collectively and individually to disrupt coloniality in knowledge production and participation, and our attempts to work within border conditions rather than write about them.

During the course of this project, we were joined in conversation by colleagues from Chile, Brazil and Canada whose work resonated in different ways with issues of decoloniality and language in education.  Making South-South connections is the aim of the final part of our book.

Apart from the usual theorized accounts of empirical data, we decided to include a range of genres to show how knowledge is made through different kinds of texts. These include poetry, a photo-essay; short language history narratives; an interview; visual representation of data in comic strip form and dialogues between research participants and the authors as well as amongst authors using call-outs or boxed text. These unconventional genres sit alongside more conventional ones.

How far we managed to delink from coloniality in our book will be up to the reader to decide.

Pam Christie and Carolyn McKinney

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Decolonising Multilingualism by Alison Phipps. You can freely access and download her Short Manifesto for Decolonising Multilingualism here.

Relanguaging Language

This month we published Relanguaging Language from a South African Township School by Lara-Stephanie Krause. In this post the author explains the term ‘relanguaging’.

This book documents a thought experiment. It emerged from a long-term linguistic ethnography with a focus on English classrooms at a primary school in Khayelitsha, a township in Cape Town, South Africa. The thought experiment results in an attempt at a new conceptualisation of language classrooms – and, by extension, of language practices more generally. My methodological approach is unconventional and risky. Being at the school and engaging with the situated linguistic data in detail gave me the sense of overlooking something when applying existing theories of classroom language practices (like code-switching or translanguaging) to the data. This researcher’s intuition pushed me to reconsider existing analytical lenses. My hypothesis became that the phenomenon I observed could indeed not be described via the repertoire of existing theories. I pursue this hypothesis throughout the book and it drives me to develop a fresh analytical lens at the intersection of linguistics, applied linguistics and sociolinguistics. Relanguaging is what becomes visible once this lens is consistently applied.

While translanguaging focusses on flexible and fluid languaging practices, relanguaging is a relational phenomenon. It does not focus either on fluid languaging practices or on institutionally enforced, fixed named languages (nomolanguages). Rather, relanguaging focusses precisely on what is going on in the space that opens up between languaging and nomolanguages. In this particular study, this space is the Khayelitshan English classroom, which I see as constituted by the relationality between fluid, flexible classroom languaging practices and enactments of Standard English. Here, relanguaging is a linguistic sorting practice that is enacted by teachers (and sometimes learners) and that works in two directions:

  • Linguistic fluidity and heterogeneity (classroom languaging) gets sorted out to arrive at a homogenised classroom repertoire (Standard English)
  • Standard English gets reassembled with other linguistic resources into a heterogeneous classroom repertoire (classroom languaging)

Relanguaging therefore conceptualises language teaching not as a progression from a fixed L1 to a fixed L2 but as a circular sorting process constantly sorting out and bringing together again fluid, heterogeneous classroom languaging and Standard English.

Another notable difference between translanguaging and relanguaging is that the latter can make linguistic sorting practices visible. In translanguaging research, the idea of sorting also exists: People are said to sort through their individual repertoires made up of heterogeneous resources (rather than out of separate languages), choosing to actualize the resources most suitable for the interaction at hand. However, the sorting process itself is inaccessible to (socio)linguistic analysis. It remains ‘hidden’ in each individual’s head. By spatializing languaging – relying on the concept of spatial rather individual repertoires – relanguaging brings this sorting practice into the open and makes it accessible to (socio)linguistic analysis.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Assessing Academic Literacy in a Multilingual Society edited by Albert Weideman, John Read and Theo du Plessis.