Academic journal article College English

Conditions of (Im)Possibility: Postmonolingual Language Representations in Academic Literacies

Academic journal article College English

Conditions of (Im)Possibility: Postmonolingual Language Representations in Academic Literacies

Article excerpt

The study of language difference and its complex negotiation in academic literacy learning and development is certainly not new, but it has gained a renewed scholarly visibility at local and transnational levels,1 accentuated by globalized communication technologies, changes in migration patterns, and the linguistic heterogeneity of literate individuals and their resources. While the language resources of literate individuals are becoming more mobile and fluid, drawing on and tapping into these resources in productive ways remains fraught with tensions, since such attempts get refracted through a monolingual structuring principle and regulated by the monolingualism of academic gatekeepers. For instance, Guillaume Gentil describes the struggles of Québécois university students in sustaining literacies in English and French amid English-dominated ideological structures. Gentil observes that regardless of students' favorable dispositions toward the language resources that they bring with them to specific literate situations, English-only demands impinge on their individual language choices and practices in their coursework. Specifically, one of his participants chose to constantly compose "in English even to Francophone professors despite his commitment to biliteracy and the institutional provision for French submission" (455), thereby showing awareness of "the rules of the game" in an "English-dominated playing field" (456).

An earlier example of experiences of difficulties in upholding strong commitments to making meaning amid a deeply entrenched monolingualist ideology of the oneness of English and its predefined forms and meanings is that of the writer of the nonidiomatic construction "can able to" in Min-Zhan Lu's composition course ("Professing"). Deliberating over proper revision practices for her idiosyncratic structure, the Chinese writer from Malaysia was faced with the dilemma of conforming to standardized usages while capturing meanings at variance with a hegemonic Western stance toward transcendental individual power that her idiosyncratic coinage invoked (Lu 454). Equally intriguing, Suresh Canagarajah, whose work has made considerable headway in calling for pluralizing English and its instruction, acknowledged the difficulty of breaking from English-only monolingualism's stranglehold on his composing practices by admitting to "playing it safe" and "censoring even the slightest traces of Sri Lankan English" in his own scholarship ("Place" 613). The persistence of such felt tensions toward language difference among literate individuals from various locations and walks of life demonstrates the strong grip monolingualist representations of language-as rigid, stable, and internally uniform-have over their language resources and practices.

Examining the "retroactive effect[s]" (131) of language representations on practices, French linguist Louis-Jean Calvet reminds us in Towards an Ecology of World Languages that

[c]oexisting with these practices there are representations-what people think about languages and the way they are spoken-representations that act on practices and are one of the factors of change. They produce in particular security/insecurity and this leads to types of behavior that transform practices. (242; emphasis in original)

In essence, Calvet argues that in situ practices and their dynamic relationship with their surroundings, or what he terms their "ecolinguistic niche" (24, passim), depend crucially on representations as themselves practices with the potential to influence subsequent ways of acting in communicative situations. Language representations, therefore, help mold and considerably modify users'/learners' linguistic actions, as they attempt to bring their language resources and the ways in which they are used into line with their judgments on and attitudes toward these (131). Consequently, Calvet argues that language representations2 are the principal and critical force shaping the degree of both language stability and change (151), since they produce (in)security concerning "the form of languages (how people speak, how one should speak), the status of languages (what one should speak, the 'legitimate language') and their function as markers of identity (what characterizes community)" (139). …

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