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Toward a Rhetoric of Multilingual Writing

  Toward a Rhetoric of Multilingual Writing

Suresh Canagarajah (Penn State University)
Maria Jerskey (La Guardia College)
Jay Jordan (University of Utah)
Xiaoye You (Penn State University)

Scholars in rhetoric and composition have increasingly critiqued the monolingualist assumptions governing their disciplinary discourse and pedagogical practice. The monolingualist paradigm constitutes the following assumptions: that writers acquire rhetorical competence one language at a time; that rhetorical proficiency is made up of separate competencies for separate languages; that texts are informed by rhetorical values that are separate for the different languages in which they are composed; and that only one rhetorical tradition can provide coherence for a text at a time. Such criticism is motivated by developments in globalization, new media literacies, and postmodern perspectives that have called attention to the transcultural flows of people and texts and to the hybridity and fluidity characterizing language. In keeping with this shift in paradigm, scholars now prefer to refer to second language writers as multilingual writers. The former term reifies the separation of rhetorical proficiency, the imposition of so-called native speaker norms, and notions of deficiency that fail to represent the rhetorical complexity of multilingual writers. These realizations build upon the criticism against deterministic and essentialized orientations to texts and writers that have been addressed in second language writing scholarship. Scholars have critiqued the notions that each language is informed by rhetorical assumptions that belong to a specific culture; that writers are conditioned by their cultures to appreciate only the rhetorical values they come with; and that it is difficult for writers to adopt a rhetorical mode practiced in a community outside their own.

Moving toward a rhetoric of multilingual writing, participants in this workshop will shuttle between theory and practice as they explore new ways of defining rhetorical constructs such as coherence, persuasiveness, originality, audience, and ethos that relate better to multilingual writers. To this end, they will engage in activities such as the following:

  • Respond to scholarly texts that problematize rhetorical constructs in the light of multilingual writing;
  • Analyze classroom writing of multilingual students to theorize their challenges and possibilities;
  • Interpret exemplary texts of advanced multilingual writers who practice new rhetorics in English; 
  • Design research projects that will develop a balanced perspective on the rhetorical challenges and possibilities for multilingual writers;
  • Explore pedagogical strategies that will facilitate effective English academic writing among multilingual students;
  • Propose curriculum and policy changes for schools and universities as they struggle to make a space for the rhetorical resources multilingual students bring to classrooms.

The workshop leaders will provide resources for a historical and theoretical understanding of the teaching of second language writing in English; outline the complex identities and statuses of multilingual writers in US colleges and universities; and offer case studies of English writers from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Participants are encouraged to bring with them examples of student writing that pose interesting questions for rhetoric and brief personal responses to a selected reading that will be distributed before the workshop.

For inquiries, please contact Suresh Canagarajah:

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