Anybody who has made the rounds at academic conferences know that new buzzwords come into and go out of fashion fairly regularly. As I made the rounds this year one of the buzzwords was translanguaging. Considering that I spent my graduate school career under the mentorship of Ofelia Garcia, one of the pioneers in introducing this term to educational linguistics, this was especially exciting for me.
Yet, the more presentations I went to, the more worried I became. The term no longer seemed to have the political edge it did when I was first learning about it as a graduate student. At first I assumed that I had become so acclimated to the term that it no longer felt revolutionary to me in the ways that it did before. But the more I heard, the more I realized that it was, in fact, being used in ways that were disconnected from the larger political struggles where I always situated the term.
Below is my attempt to reconnect translanguaging to these larger political struggles. I am not in any way suggesting that this attempt is the definitive attempt at defining translanguaging. Indeed, it is only when a concept is given a static definition that it truly loses its revolutionary potential. Instead, I offer some general comments based on my observations about how translanguaging has been taken-up at academic conferences to encourage an on-going dialogue about how we conceptualize the term in educational linguistics.
- Translanguaging is not simply a research method but rather part of a larger political struggle of linguistic self-determination for language-minoritized populations. The biggest concern that I have with the way that translanguaging has been taken up at many academic conferences is that people often use the term to describe the language practices of language-minoritized communities without situating these practices within larger political struggles for linguistic self-determination. Translanguaging research should not attempt to objectively describe the language practices of language-minoritized communities but rather should attempt to analyze the ways that these language practices are marginalized by the larger society. This should be activist-oriented research that seeks to work in solidarity with language-minoritized communities in resisting this marginalization.
- Translanguaging is not the same as code-switching. I have seen many presentations where the term translanguaging is used but where the underlying assumptions of the nature of the language practices continue to be informed by research on code-switching. While it is true that both terms are used to describe the same linguistic practices they start from two different premises. Code-switching presupposes the existence of discrete languages which are, in fact, socio-historical constructions that have been used to marginalize bilingual language practices that do not fit neatly into these discrete languages. Translanguaging historicizes the creation of these linguistic boundaries and examines the ways that language-minoritized communities take-up, resist, and are marginalized by these socio-historical constructions.
- Translanguaging is not advocating for additive bilingualism. I have also attended many presentations where the term translanguaging is used alongside calls for additive bilingualism. However, translanguaging offers an explicit critique of additive bilingualism that is not being taken into account. Those of us who utilize translanguaging as a framework should engage with this critique in ways that seek to understand how additive bilingualism may be complicit in the marginalization of language-minoritized communities.
- Translanguaging does not describe new language practices associated with globalization. Many presentations that I have seen make either explicit or implicit connections between translanguaging and the increased mobility and “super-diversity” associated with globalization. This connection is problematic for two reasons. For one, it erases the long history of translanguaging practices among language-minoritized communities. Secondly, it glosses over the fact that translanguaging practices have historically and continue to exist in communities that are quite segregated. It also emphasizes mobility and diversity in ways that gloss over the increased immobility and segregation of many racialized communities in the U.S. and worldwide.
- Translanguaging offers a new framework for understanding all language practices. In many conference presentations, translanguaging is presented as the language practices of the Other–as something exotic or more complex than the bland monolingual White middle class norm. Yet, in actuality, translanguaging offers a new framework for understanding the language practices of all people. Everybody, whether they are positioned as monolingual, bilingual, or multilingual has to negotiate the socio-historical construction of languages, dialects, registers, etc. and often do this in ways that deviate from the arbitrary linguistic boundaries produced by these socio-historical constructions. Rather than seeing language-minoritized communities as objectively deviating from these socio-historical constructions we can seek to understand why these communities are positioned as deviant while White middle class communities who engage in similar language practices are not marked a deviant in this way.
This is just my first attempt at developing principles for translanguaging research. Please feel free to share other principles or comments about the ones that I propose in the comment section.