I reblogged this from a Tumblr I made for one of my graduate seminars. It reflects my anxiety about allowing students to use their own linguistic practices in the classroom.
I was extremely suprised and pleased to see that Dr. Serviss assigned us “Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach” from January 2011’s College English. An encounter with a stranger at the Bedford Party led me to attend a panel on World Englishes and Code-Switching. In attendance: Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, and Vershawn Ashanti Young, who, as panel moderator, actually read from this very opinion piece as he discussed the particulars of code-meshing (the concept of “meshing” as identified by Young is the literal combining of parts and elements of multiple languages/dialects together in a composition). The stranger we met was Richard Nettell of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He gave a very interesting talk (albeit five minutes) about how we should look at pidgin as a distinctive language with its own rules and conventions, rather than just a hybrid of two different languages. Formal code-meshing I guess.
At dinner we had an engaging conversation about language. Dr. Nettell’s background is in linguistics, a subject traditionally touchy about what constitutes “proper” and measured language use. Throughout our conversation, he was emphatically suggesting to us that we should let students write in whatever language they want in their writing. As long as we can suitably understand what they’re saying, they might as well use the language that they’re most comfortable in, the language used in their other composing practices. He said a lot of other things too (mostly about the pointlessness of certain parts of the conference; an idea which this blog entry will not explore), but this was the major gist of our discussion. I thought that this was well and good, but I didn’t know what it meant to me, a new teacher of composition. So I asked him what to do:
“So…how do I start respecting my students’ uses of language in the classroom. What should I do?”
He gave me two pieces of advice:
1. Make your students include some sort of clause at the end of their papers about how they acknowledge that they have the freedom to use the language most comfortable and accessible to them, and that their grade will be based only on the merit of their ideas, and
2. Prove to your students that you respect translingual writing practices by engaging in code-meshing in your own graduate seminar papers and other written works. (He might have said “walk-the-walk” but I might have made that up.)
I had a lot of thoughts about what he said. They came in a stream in my mind, and I think many of them were addressed by the College English article. Here was my stream of consciousness, so far as I can remember:
-My grad professors won’t approve of code-meshing in my writing.
-Wait, maybe my comp professors would
But what codes am I “meshing?” I only speak one language
-No, I have the “language” of popular culture, the type of writing I do informally on the web and my academicized writing.
-But what I do is nothing compared to students meshing SWE with AAVE or Spanish or whatever else they speak
-I think my students would dig a translingual approach to writing seeing as how they might be stigmitized by their Southern dialects in the future
-I suppose I shouldn’t be so annoyed at my students when they write me emails without capital letters or punctuation
-But really, I could never turn in a seminar paper with my “multiple” languages
Ok, so out of this mess of thoughts, I think the authors do a good job of addressing some of these concerns. Yes, I do speak multiple “languages” as I engage in a number of writing practices all requiring a different type of writing. Yes, I should be “develop[ing] ways of taking up [translingualism by] changing the kind of attention [paid] 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” (313). I’m obviously getting this questioning thing down.
But in terms of “walking the walk” and being a good model to students, I don’t think the article covers that idea sufficiently enough. We don’t see a lot of models of translingual writing in our field; if we do, they’re not looked upon as being normative. The opinion article was written by four scholars, all with distinctive lingual practices. Yet each of them had to eschew these differences in favor of a language (very formal, full of voice yet voiceless) that could best negotiate all of their voices. Surprise! It happens to be SWE they write in. So, how do we “walk the walk” as scholars? That seems unclear, and problematically so, because as the article and Dr. Nettell have so emphatically suggested, it is our responsibility as instructors to both welcome and embrace these open language practices.
So, of course, I’ve been obsessively thinking about my language. I write handwritten endnotes on essays in letter form. I typically catch myself using shorthand like b/c for because and @; however, that’s my shorthand language, and I should be acknowledging this fluidity…right? Anyway, I’m not worrying about it anymore, and just letting the shorthand fly. I am, however, a little less confident about code-meshing in my graduate papers…