Thursday, January 27, 2011

Topic: Language Differences and Writing

Question: What is the real world of English in 2011?

Answer: Quote. “Growing numbers of U.S. teachers and scholars of writing recognize that traditional ways of understanding and responding to language differences are inadequate to the facts on the ground. Language use in our classrooms, our communities, the nation, and the world has always been multilingual rather than monolingual. Around the globe, most people speak more than one language. Indeed, they speak more than one variation of these languages. In addition, these languages and variations are constantly changing as they intermingle. The growing majority of English speakers worldwide—including substantial numbers within the United States—know other language, and, through interaction, the Englishes they use vary and multiply.”

Quote: “Traditional approaches to writing in the United States are at odds with these facts. They take as the norm a linguistically homogeneous situation: one where writers, speakers, and readers are expected to use Standard English or Edited American English—imagined ideally as uniform—to the exclusion of other languages and language variations. These approaches assume that heterogeneity in language impedes communication and meaning. Hence the long-standing aim of traditional writing instruction has been to reduce ‘interference,’ excising what appears to show difference.”

Comment: The authors argue that the use of Standard English does not lead to clarity in meaning.

The authors use the term “translingual” to describe acceptance of the many varieties of English and reject the belief that using Standard English will help to achieve clarity in meaning.

What is maddening about this article is its conclusion. The authors pose the perfectly understandable question about how acceptance of translingual writing would be dealt with in the classroom and use weasel words in reply. Here’s the question: “I’m intrigued by the notion of taking a translingual approach, but I don’t know how to do it. Where can I of go for help?”

Answer: “Taking a translingual approach goes against the grain of many of the assumptions of our field and, indeed, of dominant culture. At the same time, it is in close alignment with people’s everyday language practices. While we’ve found the works listed in the selected bibliography that follows to be helpful in thinking through why it is important to take a tanslingual approach, and what it might mean to do so, we don’t claim expertise, nor do we believe it necessary to first acquire such expertise before taking up the important work that is called for. Instead, we believe we can all, teachers and students alike and together, develop ways of taking up such an approach by changing the kind of attention we pay to our language practices, questioning the assumptions underlying our learned dispositions toward difference in language, and engaging in critical inquiry on alternative dispositions to take toward such differences in our writing and reading.”


I prefer to define what we call Standard Edited American English as the degree to which in writing we avoid the conversational aspects of spoken English in order to achieve precision in expression. In short, avoid needless repetition of words; use the subject of the sentence rather than “there” or “it”; make clear reference for the demonstrative pronouns; substitute precise words for the verb “get,” and its cousins “getting,” “got,” etc.; and do the same for the noun “thing”; use parallel structure, the active voice rather than passive and avoid problems like dangling modifiers. All these conversational characteristics undermine the clear and precise expression of Standard, Edited American English. RayS.

Title: “Opinion: Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach.” Bruce Horner, et al. College English (January 2011), 303-321.

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