Yesterday morning, we learned about the complementary school system in the UK – specifically in Leicester. Arvind Bhatt told us how these schools function as multilingual social spaces maintained by communities, mostly in urban areas. These autonomous institutions serve as meeting places for children and adults, where they socialize as bilingual learners. The questions addressed by Arvind Bhatt’s research group include: what are the linguistic features of the schools, what sort of multilingual practices take place, and what are the literacy practices. This introduction was followed by a joint talk by Angela Creese and Adrian Blackledge. They presented the concept of translanguaging, defined by García (2009) as “multiple discursive practices in which bilinguals engage in order to make sense of their bilingual worlds.”
To situate this concept, they mentioned the related notions of code-switching, superdiversity, and bilingualism. They claimed there to be two perspectives on language: that it exists, and that it doesn’t exist. They support the latter claim, but also posit that these two views are compatible. According to their presentation, language can exist ideologically, but does not exist linguistically.
I took this as a great opportunity to ask my nagging question lingering since the first day. Namely: what is the definition of language within your approach (i.e. “language does not exist”)?
Coming from a more cognitivist background, one of the definitions I usually have that language is an intricate network of patterns that sometimes overlap and compliment each other. Each language has a certain repertoire of these patterns and there isn’t necessarily a universal repertoire for all languages. While I can agree that language is a universal property common to all humans, it is difficult to understand how boundaries between languages as such don’t exist (e.g. Persian vs. English vs. Chinese).
Adrian Blackledge refused to answer the question, but Angela Creese picked up the argument and said that language boundaries as defined by nations don’t exist, but that she is fine with language being a system of signs. However, if language is a system of signs (or constructions, if we use a more contemporary term), then English clearly differs from that of Bengali, for example.
Although defining our notion of language seems crucial to the study of multilingualism, the issue was brushed over and I wasn’t given a chance to formulate my next question. At the end of their presentation, they got back to the notion of bilingualism and gave a quote from García (2009:5) who says: “Bilingualism is not simply two separate monolingual codes, nor are languages bounded autonomous systems.” This is neither a definition nor is it a claim that bilingualism or separate languages don’t exist. In fact, in this view, bilingualism is something (again, undefined in the presentation today) that is different from monolingualism. This would probably involve two different systems of codes, which would need to be defined as two languages. However, we did not have time to elaborate on these subjects.
Furthermore, they spoke of having translanguage as a ‘target language’ in the classroom. What would be the consequences of using translanguaging as pedagogy? While exploiting the linguistic resources available to all students in a particular language class would be beneficial, it is difficult to predict how this type of language would develop. There is a wealth of studies done on pidgins and creoles which originate from two linguistic systems and none of these were discussed.
We will check in again at the end of the week to give highlights. Up til now, this week has been a great opportunity for us to get together and unite our otherwise divergeant backgrounds.