April 11, 2017
David Bloome, Ohio State University
Increasingly I see scholars using the term “languaging.” It is a term that I have also used (Bloome and Beauchemin, 2016). The more I read, the more it seems to me that we have different locations for the term. Sometimes those differences reflect our different intellectual histories; but, I also think that there may be some important issues in the use of “languaging” that need some discussion. Thus, what I am hoping to do here is begin a conversation on how the term “languaging” is being used and what intellectual work we are trying to accomplish through our use of “languaging.”
It seems to me, that one set of uses of “languaging” is derived from the term “translanguaging” as found in the scholarship of Suresh Canagarjah, Ofelia Gracia, Angela Creese, Adrian Blackledge, Cen Williams, among others, who have focused attention on bilingualism and multilingualism. Canagarjah (2011) describes the translanguaging this way:
“A neologism, [translanguaging] has come to stand for assumptions such as the following: that, for multilinguals, languages are part of a repertoire that is accessed for their communicative purposes; languages are not discrete and separated, but form an integrated system for them; multilingual competence emerges out of local practices where multiple languages are negotiated for communication; competence doesn’t consist of separate competencies for each language, but a multicompetence that functions symbiotically for the different languages in one’s repertoire; and, for these reasons, proficiency for multilinguals is focused on repertoire building – i.e., developing abilities in the different functions served by different languages – rather than total mastery of each and every language.” (p. 1)
In my view, what is key in Canagarajh’s definition above is the construct that “languages are not discrete and separated, but form an integrated system for them.” As I see it, if this construct is viewed as essential to a view of language use, language learning, and language teaching, etc., then discussions about whether learning additional languages are additive or substractive are non-sequiturs. That is, such a definition of translanguaging calls into question the notion of distinct, separate languages supplanted by a notion of language as inherently multiple as reflected in local languaging practices (the ways in which people use language systems). It is in this sense that translanguaging goes beyond the construct of code-switching. That is, the issue does not lie at the surface level (e.g., using words and phrases from multiple languages), but rather goes to underlying conceptions of what constitutes people’s use of language whether in everyday life, in academic domains, and elsewhere. As well, at least as I see the theoretical implications of this definition of languaging, there are implications for how personhood is defined.
A second view of languaging derives from the use of that term in the scholarship of Norman Jorgenson. Jorgenson’s scholarship is widely cited in European scholarship in sociolinguistics, multilingualism, and the study of language use in society more general; however, it is my experience that Jorgenson’s work is less visible in U.S. based scholarship. Building on the scholarship of Fishman, Rampton, Gumperz, Bauman, and others, in his 2004 article Jorgenson uses examples of what some would call stylizations through multiple language use to make an argument for a languaging perspective. Distinguishing languaging from similar constructs such as code-switching, Jorgenson writes:
The conclusion to this is that we are all languagers, and what we do when we use the uniquely human phenomenon of language to grasp the world, change the world, and shape the world is languaging [p. 13; original emphasis]
Later in that manuscript, Jorgenson plays out some of the theory-building implications of languaging.
We use language which is a uniquely human facility in ways which are intricately integrated. It is of less importance that some people only understand some of what one can produce with language. There are always others who can understand the other things that one can do with language. The term languager is not my idea, it was floated by Rajagopalan during his presentation at the conference of language and social psychology in Cardiff in July 2000 (Rajagopalan 2001, however, does not refer to the term). After we have established firmly that we are all languagers, and therefore more similar than different, we can discuss differences, but they are all of secondary importance. (p. 19)
Jorgenson’s prime emphasis on the use of linguistic variation, language play, and various linguistic means of creating “a feeling of togetherness” (p. 20), sharing fun (p. 21) or its opposite, creating borders, rejecting requests for social bonding, and relegating people to the periphery (p. 21), background language systems in favor the actions (uses) people take with language toward each other.
Jorgenson’s concept of languaging has been taken up by a series of scholars interested in the educational and institutional treatment of immigrant and refugee populations in Europe (see Madsen et al., 2015). Part of what this work shows is how languaging is intimately connected to the structuration of power relations at multiple levels from the face-to-face to the institutional and nation-state.
A third perspective on languaging derives from the work of Alton (Pete) Becker. This is where I first encountered the term languaging. In a brief 1991 essay, Becker contrasts structuralism in linguistics with a languaging perspective. Becker writes:
Try thinking of it this way: assume that there is no such thing as Language, only continual languaging, an activity of human beings in the world. Children hear particular bits of languaging. Having robust (if as yet unplanted) memories, they mimic and repeat the particular bits, and they gradually learn to reshape these particular little texts into new contexts. They learn text-building. They develop a repertoire of imperfectly remembered prior texts and acquire more and more skill at recontextualizing them in new situations. (p. 34). It is a skill learned over a lifetime, not a system of systems perfected in infancy.
Becker continues and near the end of the article writes:
In summary, then: not all linguists see the task of theory as relating meanings and sounds, for to put ‘meaning’ outside language is to presuppose in one’s description and explanation the very condition which languaging creates. If there is no ‘meaning’ outside languaging, then languaging is not ‘expressing’, ‘representing’, or ‘encoding’ anything, and the need for all those structures vanishes. In their places are strategies for reshaping particular remembered texts into new contexts. (p. 35)
Not so hidden in the passage quoted above nor in that article is a theorizing of the centrality of particularity to an understanding of language; language not as a phenomenon frozen in time but as a human process in time. In a chapter titled “Language in particular: A lecture” (1986), Becker discusses in more detail the shift from language to languaging and the centrality of particularity to such a shift. He writes:
You will notice that I shift from the word “language” to the word “languaging.” That is one of the easiest ways I know to make the shift from an idea of language as something accomplished … to the idea of languaging as an ongoing process. … a movement away from language as something accomplished, apart from time and history, to language as something that is being done and reshaped constantly. That is why we can never run out [of sentences] because old language (prior text) is always being reshaped to present needs. It’s always being created. (p. 25)
Although not referenced in his chapter, throughout I was reminded of Bakhtin’s and Volosinov’s discussions of language; every utterance being a reflection and refraction of what has gone before, of the impossibility of taking a word out of context, and of the inherent connection between a word on its place in time, history, and social situation.
I am not sure what to make of these three “locations” of “languaging.” There is, of course, the shared challenge (sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit) to structuralist views of language and a movement toward what I would call a social practices view of languaging. There is also what seems to me an ontologically shift from what Geertz labeled a “laws and instances ideal of explanation towards a cases and interpretations one” (1980, p. 165). It also strikes me that these locations of languaging challenge definitions of personhood that are limiting and hierarchically structured around language, culture, and history. Yet, it strikes me that there is something more to all of this “languaging.” Perhaps there is an opportunity here to use the construct of languaging to foreground and value the particularities of the everyday lives of “ordinary” people.
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Becker, A. L. (1991). Language and languaging. Language & Communication, 11(1-2), 33-35. < http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/027153099190013L >
Becker, A. (1988) Language in particular: A lecture. In D. Tannen (ed.) Linguistics in context (pp. 17-35). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Bloome, D. & Beauchemin, F. (2016). Languaging everyday life in classrooms. In Literacy Research: Theory, Method, and Practice. Vol. 62, 152-165.
Canagarajah, S. (2011). Translanguaging in the classroom: Emerging issues for research and pedagogy. Applied linguistics review, 2(1), 1-28. < https://www.degruyter.com/downloadpdf/j/alr.2011.2.issue-1/9783110239331.1/9783110239331.1.pdf >
Creese, A., & Blackledge, A. (2010). Translanguaging in the bilingual classroom: A pedagogy for learning and teaching?. The Modern Language Journal, 94(1), 103-115. < http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-4781.2009.00986.x/abstract >
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Gumperz, J. J. (1982): Discourse Strategies. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Jorgensen, Jens Normann. (2004). Languaging and languagers. Languaging and Language Practices, 5-23.
Madsen, L. M., Karrebæk, M. S., & Møller, J. S. (Eds.). (2015). Everyday Languaging: Collaborative research on the language use of children and youth (Vol. 15). Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG.
Rampton, Ben (2001): Language Crossing, Crosstalk, and Cross-disciplinarity in sociolinguistics. In Nikolas Coupland, Srikant Savangi & Christopher N. Candlin (eds), Sociolinguistics and Social Theory. (pp. 261-296) London: Longman.
Williams, C. (2000) Bilingual Teaching and Language Distribution, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 3:2, 129-148.