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Shifting the Paradigm: Towards a Translingual Rhetoric of Writing

Suresh Canagarajah, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor, Penn State University
Maria Jerskey, Associate Professor, LaGuardia Community College/CUNY
Dorothy Worden, Writing Instructor, Penn State University

Scholars in rhetoric and composition have increasingly critiqued the monolingualist assumptions governing their disciplinary discourse and pedagogical practice and have called for in their stead a rhetoric of translingual writing. This paradigm shift has been fueled by rapid 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. This workshop generates alternatives to the deterministic and essentialized orientations to texts and writers that have characterized traditional writing scholarship as we move toward identifying, cultivating, and practicing a rhetoric of translingual writing.

The monolingualist paradigm assumes 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. By shuttling between theory and practice, participants in this workshop will move beyond notions that each language is informed by rhetorical assumptions belonging 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. We will do this by:

  • exploring the integral relationship between language practices and writing practices in precolonial, non-western local communities as well as post-modern, contemporary social life
  • parsing out the assumptions underpinning a monolingualist paradigm and considering the implications of a shift to a translingualist paradigm
  • generating new ways of defining rhetorical constructs that reflect a translingual perspective--including coherence, persuasiveness, originality, audience, and ethos
  • examining and creating a range of texts that can serve as models for translingual writing

The workshop also addresses pragmatic challenges to translingual writing by considering:

  • What we need to understand about translingual writing: What strategies do “translanguagers” adopt to help readers/listeners interpret their language choices? What choices do they face in codes and conventions in their text production? What considerations help them resolve their choices? What composing or cognitive stages characterize the production of translanguaging?
  • What we need to resolve about translingual writing in formal learning settings: What place is there for monolingual writers in translingual pedagogies? What place is there for translingual writing in the educational contexts where writing is a high stakes activity? Even if teachers permit translanguaging in face to face interactions for classroom interactions (i.e., group work, teacher/student conversations), how do we permit it in the kinds of writing where students’ performance is assessed?
  • What we need to consider in moving toward a paradigm of translingual writing in teaching practices: Does translanguaging need to be taught or just practiced? Is there a place for error or mistakes in translanguaging? What are the implications of translingual proficiency for social and educational success for multilingual students? Would this competence help or hinder them in their educational and professional prospects?
  • What we risk in a translingual writing paradigm: How do students themselves relate to “translanguaging” or translingual writing? What would a translingual writing paradigm imply for heritage language users?

Co-leaders and participants will communicate prior to the workshop using a digital platform such as PBWorks or GoogleGroups. Participants will be asked to prepare and post responses to selected articles from Cross Language Relations in Composition (Southern Illinois University) edited by Bruce Horner, Min-Zahn Lu, & Paul Kei Matsuda, Translingual Writing in Academic Contexts (Routledge) edited by Suresh Canagarajah, and translingual texts from Dohra Ahmad’s anthology, Rotten English (W.W. Norton). Participants will be encouraged to post on our digital platform (or bring with them) examples of student writing, writing assignments, syllabi, and writing program mission statements that might serve as exemplars or challenges to translingual writing.

Finally, participants will have the opportunity to develop, present, and receive feedback on their own research questions on translingual writing. The digital platform will remain an active resource after the workshop.

Questions should be directed to Maria Jerskey at

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