This special issue has been a journey, founded in an acknowledgement shared by many within multiple disciplines that the notion of ‘trans-’ has been gaining momentum and visibility within an increasingly globalized world. Terms abound: transnational, transcultural, translocal, transpatial, transmodal, translanguaging, and translingual, to name just a few that bear on global and local communications, understandings, and interactions. ‘Trans-’ can be understood to mean crossing borders or boundaries, and this move toward a ‘trans-’ disposition signals the need to transcend the named and bounded categories that have historically shaped our thinking about the world and its inhabitants, the nature of knowledge, and communicative resources. Thus, from a ‘trans-’ perspective, we must consider movement across nations and cultures, spaces and places, modes and semiotic resources, and autonomous named languages. Yet if we destabilize discrete labels and categories, how do we understand human communications and interactions? In fact, these terms with the ‘trans-’ prefix at once advocate for the appreciation of fluidity and flexibility seen in contemporary society and underscore the very existence of categories, borders, and boundaries that are called into question. How should we grapple with this tension between innovations and traditions, and account for spatial and temporal relationships that shape our communicative acts? In what ways does the notion of ‘trans-’ advance our research and educational endeavors, or present challenges? How does it relate to or differ from other terms that have been introduced to describe seemingly similar phenomena? How does it align with, diverge from, and/or complicate theoretical and applied domains in our field? These questions were the impetus for this journey. Our journey began as we planned a colloquium for the 2016 annual conference of the American Association of Applied Linguistics, where the authors of the four main articles in this issue presented earlier versions of their work. Our aim for the colloquium was to bring together researchers working in different applied linguistics paradigms, research areas, and world regions to weigh divergent, as well as convergent views on the recent ‘trans- turn’ in applied linguistics. This aim remains the same for the current issue, while the authors’ arguments and data analysis have evolved since then in response to audience questions at the colloquium as well as subsequent dialogs in the field. Thus, the four articles in this special issue, a mix of conceptually driven pieces illustrated with empirical data and data-driven pieces with full theorization, consider a variety of ‘trans-’ perspectives, including their theoretical origins and empirical applications. The first two articles articulate two major ‘trans-’ frameworks that have been widely taken up within the field of applied linguistics to date: translanguaging (Li Wei) and translingual practice (Suresh Canagarajah). They provide a thorough overview of each distinct conceptualization with the introduction of illustrative examples extracted from everyday Chinese and Chinese Singaporean language use, and from professional communication among international STEM scholars in an American university, respectively. The third article represents a dialectic relationship between the conceptual and empirical, as it explores transmodalities in digitally mediated transnational communications between youth living in communities of poverty in various global locations (Margaret Hawkins). The fourth article, on the other hand, is a more empirically driven study that examines experiences of American learners of Yorùbá studying abroad in Nigeria vis-à-vis the recent ‘trans-’ literature, including translingual and transcultural competence as discussed in the 2007 Modern Language Association (MLA Ad Hoc Committee on Foreign Languages 2007) report (Junko Mori and Kazeem Sanuth). Thus, in addition to showcasing theoretical and methodological diversity among studies that embrace ‘trans-’ perspectives, the four articles present interactions and communications taking place in diverse geographic areas (Asia, Africa, and the USA, as well as transregional interaction enabled by technology), settings (community, workplace, school, and online), and across and among different language, cultural, and age groups. These articles are followed by two response articles that critically evaluate them through two distinct lenses: conversation analysis that has increasingly engaged in the analysis of embodied practices (Johannes Wagner) and critical theories that stress historicity and subjectivity in the understanding of humanities (Claire Kramsch). These response papers also add European perspectives to the discussion. Together, we hope that this issue will engender further exploration of and healthy debate over the questions posed above. THEMES AND ISSUES At heart, a move to ‘trans-’ in applied linguistics signifies the act of languaging as an always on-the-spot dynamic assemblage and negotiation of resources for meaning making. Rather than focusing on a particular named or namable language, it positions actors, or authors, and their fluid and creative adaptation of a wide array of semiotic resources at the center of its inquiry. The resources they have to draw on are a product of their sociohistorical trajectories through a multitude of interactions across space and time. Their accumulated resources, or their communicative repertoires, are available to be configured as needed. And how this array of resources, when designed in a specific configuration, are received, understood, and responded to is dependent on the accumulated resources, and attendant meanings, of all interactants in a specific exchange or communicative act. This much, we think, the authors in this issue would agree on, although they articulate their perspectives in unique ways and from diverse (and sometimes contradictory) viewpoints. Despite the differences, however, there are robust and consistent themes and issues that transcend the individual contributions. We highlight some of these here. What is, and is the role of, language? A primary contribution of a ‘trans-’ perspective to language is the attention that it draws to language as non-static and non-monolithic; that is, it dispels the notion of languages as named entities. Thus languages (e.g. Swahili, German, Gujarati, and so on) become destabilized (Makoni and Pennycook 2007; García and Li 2014), or, in the words of Makoni and Pennycook (2007) languages become continuously ‘disinvented and reconstituted’. Li (2018) draws attention to the ‘creative and critical dimensions’ of the ways in which language users transcend labeled languages to mix and mesh codes. Language labels are tied to nation/state and other geographical boundaries, and implicated in historic relations of dominance and control, and stakeholders have various but significant investments in maintaining specifically identified and named ‘languages’ (Mori and Sanuth, 2018). Canagarajah (2018) issues a call to ‘abandon the traditional notion of separately structured languages’, yet acknowledges, as do Mori and Sanuth (2018), that named languages carry real and material consequences in the world. However, language is shifting and fluid, such that even a named language takes on different forms, as it moves across spaces, time, and usages, and integrates with multiple semiotic resources in various communicative acts and exchanges. The matter of this integration, or entanglements, of language with other semiotic resources is a common thread throughout these articles. Authors point to sociohistorical repertoires of semiotic resources that humans acquire and leverage for meaning making in interactions, noting that language is ‘one component of repertoires of resources’ (Hawkins 2018: 55–77). And it is, in part, the ‘emplacement’ of these resources in situated contexts that shapes the meanings they carry. Are ‘trans-’ perspectives theories of cognition, or theories of practice? This question, perhaps, reflects larger and long-standing debates in the field; here they come to the foreground. The debate, it appears, is between a perspective of language acquisition and use as individual, subject to human cognition, control, and agency, and a perspective of language acquisition and use as social, subject to meaning-making processes and practices in social interaction, or a ‘distributed cognition’ (Cole and Engestrom 1993, Canagarajah, 2018). This is central to understandings of ‘trans-’ perspectives on communication as well. Both perspectives are visible in the articles in this issue. Li Wei considers translanguaging as a theory of practice, and engages in rich discussion of tensions between theory and practice (ultimately connecting the two through a ‘practice-theory-practice’ model). Yet he simultaneously discusses languaging in individual terms, addressing ‘the language of thought’ and neural drives as he proposes ‘the translanguaging instinct’ (Li 2016, 2018), which he posits, ‘drives humans to …. achieve effective communication’ (Li 2018: 24–25.). Canagarajah, conversely, claims that ‘spatial repertoires may not be brought already to the activity by the individual but assembled in situ, and in collaboration with others, in the manner of distributed practice’ (Canagarajah 2018: 61). Hawkins, perhaps less directly, sees ‘the act of meaning making as having reflexive (or in Bakhtin’s sense, dialogic) productive, receptive and negotiated interactional components’ (Hawkins 2018: 55–77), thus squarely locating meanings as made between people in arcs of communicative practice. And Mori and Sanuth (2018) locate translingual competence and translingual dispositions within an individual, discussing individual ability to ‘grasp meaning’ and use language resources, and yet acknowledging that how individual learners are positioned in a society also affects their development. Clearly individuals matter in interactions—their acts and understandings and representations carry semiotic weight—yet communication goes beyond the individual, as messages, meanings, and understandings are created on-the-spot in every interaction, with contexts and resources fully implicated, as they are created, encountered, and negotiated between people. If, indeed, we take a socially situated, fluid, and collaborative approach to understanding languaging and interacting, what then is the role of human agency and conscious, deliberate decision-making? For Li Wei, languaging is primarily an agentive practice. He claims that multilinguals explicitly coordinate their language resources in orchestrating messages, and ‘consciously construct and constantly modify their socio-cultural identities and values through social practices such as translanguaging’ (2018: 23), whereas Suresh Canagarajah (2018) and Margaret Hawkins (2018) (following theories of the material as explicated by Barad 2003, Latour 2005, and others) de-center human agency, and in fact suggest that objects and other semiotic resources have agency in shaping messages, meanings, and understandings. Canagarajah articulates the role of authorship in his analysis of scholarship in the STEM fields; someone may take the lead in design, but what is ultimately produced is a distributed practice, co-constructed through a coordination of people, objects, ideas, and resources. Not resolved, clearly, is the relationship between cognitive and social dimensions in a ‘trans-’ perspective on languaging and communication, and the role of human agency. What is, and is the role, of context? For the investigation of languaging as social practice, how to capture the ways in which multifaceted, multilayered contexts intrinsically intertwine with acts, actors, and outcomes is a central concern. Contexts and interactions mutually shape one another in ever-changing configurations, to the extent that ‘boundaries between text and context are permeable’, in Canagarajah’s words (Canagarajah 2018: 31–54). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminds us of ‘the danger of a single story’ (https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story); the concept is no less applicable here than in her stunning narrative. There is no ‘single story’, rather there is a complex web of interrelated concepts and features that together constitute a ‘trans-’ approach. We have discussed conceptualizations of language, context, cognition, and agency as mutually constitutive, and touched upon some of the features that factor into communicative acts. A theory of languaging, however, must transcend individual factors, to offer a holistic description of communication and meaning making. Here, the metaphor of an ecology (Kramsch 2002; Hawkins 2004; Van Lier 2004; Creese and Blackledge 2010; Hawkins and Cannon 2017) is suitable to encompass the multitude of phenomena and factors that shape meaning making in human interaction. Articles in this issue approach these dynamics through different nomenclature. Li Wei offers ‘translanguaging spaces’, claiming, ‘Translanguaging creates a social space for the language user by bringing together different dimensions of their personal history, experience and environment, their attitude, belief and ideology, their cognitive and physical capacity, into one coordinated and meaningful performance’ (2018, 23). Canagarajah offers the overarching concept of spatiality: ‘Treating spatiality as significant means understanding every practice as situated, holistic, networked, mediated, and ecological, thus integrated with diverse conditions, resources, and participants’ (2018: 33). Hawkins, focusing on transnational (digitally mediated) communications, discusses place, space, and flows, saying, ‘context, then, comprises the multimodal artifact or assemblage itself, the local, translocal and transnational places, spaces and conditions of multimodal interactions and meaning making, and the histories and trajectories of modal resources and engagements’ (2018: 64). The specific situated context (with its attendant historical and geopolitical features) within which interactions take place shapes meanings made within them, as illustrated by Mori and Sanuth’s exploration of indigenous language learning in a postcolonial context (2018). Contexts, thus viewed as ecologies, comprise all of the multilayered and sedimented features of messages, local places, movement across places and spaces, historical trajectories, and sociocultural specificities that constitute the environment of interactions and communications, as well as beliefs, subjectivities, and ideologies operant within them. Criticality in ‘trans-’ perspectives: Transgression and transcendence All of the articles in this issue acknowledge relationships between named languages and relations of power, as discussed above. Discrete languages are embedded in social, cultural, and geographical contexts and histories that shape their forms and trajectories, as they reify attendant values and beliefs through their usage. Language policies and use reflect ideologies around what the language is, who uses it, when, how, with whom, and for what purposes. All languaging is contextual, and therefore subject to and shaped by the prevalent sociocultural, sociohistorical, and sociopolitical forces inherent in the specific context of use, resulting in unequal access to languages, unequal status between languages, and unequal power relations between language users. Indeed, Mori and Sanuth illustrate this point through their close examination of a specific postcolonial context (Nigeria), where the indigenous language (Yorùbá) takes a backseat to English, as English ‘overshadows the mastery of local languages in the minds of parents, school children, teachers, and ministry officials’ (2018: 83). The common thread in all four articles is the promise of ‘trans-’ perspectives—moving beyond named language categories—to transgress existing relations of power, and to transcend inequity. Li Wei calls for a ‘translanguaging space’, discussing education in particular, and claims that people’s movement beyond language systems can, ‘generate new configurations of language practices (and) challenge and transform old understandings and structures. In so doing, orders of discourse shift and the voices of Others come to the forefront… (2018: 24)’ Canagarajah, too, points to the transgressive nature of translingual practice, stating, ‘“trans” indexes ‘transformation’ and challenges understandings of language as regulated or determined by existing contexts of power relations (2018: 32)’. He notes, too, its ability to push back against inequalities: ‘The translingual practice of the international scholars suggests that they appreciate the value of language diversity and subtly act against dominant policies and discourses (2018: 48)’. Hawkins positions transmodalities within transformative discourses, claiming that, ‘relationships of power and privilege infuse all contexts, and affect what can be done, communicated and learned within them (2018: 63)’ and affirms that ‘transmodalities references transcendence and transgression, where inequitable relations of power can be dismantled and reconfigured, affording equal access, value and representation to all participants in transmodal interactions (2018: 65)’. Thus there is general agreement on the hopeful promise of ‘trans-’ perspectives for contributing to more equitable relations; yet it is Mori and Sanuth who address implications at an actionable level. Concerned with language learning in contexts where: ‘speakers of English are trying to learn a language that is threatened by the hegemony of English (2018: 80)’, they call for critical analysis (by learners) of situated language use in context, to raise awareness of issues of inequity and oppression. We feel that critical reflection is an important component of the theory–practice debate in our field. TRANSDISCIPLINARITY AND APPLIED LINGUISTICS At the beginning of this journey, when we were assembling ‘trans-’ terms used to describe various elements of communicative acts, ‘transdisciplinary’ was not on our list. However, as the journey continued through numerous exchanges of earlier drafts, transdisciplinarity, which has been discussed both as the tradition and aspiration of the field of Applied Linguistics, manifested itself as a source of excitement, as well as challenge.1 While all of the contributors to this issue identify themselves as applied linguists (at least situationally), they have different orientations to or relationships with Applied Linguistics as a ‘named field’. As stated earlier, the advocacy for transcending the named and bounded categories does not necessarily dismiss the sociopolitical power that both determines and is determined by names and labels. This tension shapes our understanding of the field of Applied Linguistics. Among the authors are those situated in academic units that bear the label of Applied Linguistics (Li Wei and Canagarajah), Education (Hawkins), (named) Foreign Languages (Mori, Sanuth, Kramsch), and Communication (Wagner). They draw concepts and methods from various disciplines, including linguistics, anthropology, cultural studies, education, geography, philosophy, psychology, and sociology, at times transforming the concepts and methods as necessary to address applied linguistic issues. While signifying the richness of the field, this transdisciplinary endeavor makes it challenging to identify what are shared/unshared, or new/conventional ideas within the field of Applied Linguistics, composed of diverse constituencies coming from different subfields, who identify themselves with different sets of surrounding disciplines. Li Wei in this issue stresses, ‘Applied linguistics has borrowed many different concepts and methods from other disciplines… Yet we own very few theoretical concepts and analytical methods of our own’ (2018: 10). He then proposes translanguaging as an example of an ‘applied linguistic theory of language practice’ (Kramsch 2015: 456). The assertion of the label gives rise to the power of the named field, and may help position Applied Linguistics as a contributor rather than a consumer. Such a move, however, may also come with a risk of creating an imagined, but not actual unity among those who have been drawn into the field from diverse backgrounds, or a risk of creating an unnecessary boundary between the field and surrounding disciplines. The balance between the formation of unity as a named field versus the recognition of diversity within it also becomes an issue as we consider educational implications that ‘trans-’ perspectives can offer. For instance, Wiley and Garcia (2016: 59) point out, ‘A translanguaging policy would go a long way in bringing down the barriers between foreign language education and bilingual education because it gives equal footing to all language practices and considers their complex interrelationship’. As illustrated in the current issue, however, sociohistorical, geopolitical, and institutional contexts create different dynamics that alter experiences of learners. Thus, pedagogical applications of ‘trans-’ perspectives must be explored with both excitement and caution. We realize that this special issue poses more questions than it answers. But if the materials presented here will generate further engagement and discussion on ‘trans-’ perspectives among its readers, we consider we have accomplished our goal. NOTE Footnotes 1 The 2015 special issue of this journal, entitled “Definitions for Applied Linguistics,” the introduction to the Modern Language Journal’s centennial issue, entitled “A transdisciplinary framework for SLA in a multilingual world”, as well as the 2017 annual conference of the American Association of Applied Linguistics, whose theme was “Transdisciplinarity in Applied Linguistics,” all refer to this phenomenon. Conflict of interest statement. None declared. REFERENCES Adichie C. N. ‘The danger of a single story,’ available at https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story Barad K. 2003. ‘ Posthumanist performativity: Toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter,’ Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28: 801– 31. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Canagarajah S. 2018. ‘ Translingual practice as spatial repertoires: Expanding the paradigm beyond structuralist orientations,’ Applied Linguistics 39: 31– 54. 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(ed.). 2002. Language Acquisition and Language Socialization: Ecological Perspectives . Continuum. Kramsch C. 2015. “ Applied linguistics” a theory of the practice,’ Applied Linguistics 36: 454– 65. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Kramsch C. 2018. ‘ Trans-spatial utopias,’ Applied Linguistics 39: 108– 15. Latour B. 2005. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory . Oxford University Press. Li W. 2016. ‘Multi-competence and the translanguaging instinct’ in Cook V., Li W. (eds): The Cambridge Handbook of Multi-Competence . Cambridge University Press, pp. 533– 43. Li W. 2018. ‘ Translanguaging as a practical theory of language,’ Applied Linguistics 39: 9– 30. Makoni S., Pennycook A.. (eds). 2007. Disinventing and Reconstitution Languages . Multilingual Matters. Mori J., Sanuth K. K.. 2018. ‘ Navigating between a monolingual utopia and translingual realities: Experiences of American learners of Yorùbá as an additional language,’ Applied Linguistics 39: 78– 98. MLA Ad Hoc Committee on Foreign Languages. 2007. ‘ Foreign languages and higher education: New structures for a changed world,’ Profession 2007: 234– 45. CrossRef Search ADS Van Lier L. 2004. The Ecology and Semiotics of Language Learning: A Sociocultural Perspective . Kluwer Academic. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Wagner J. 2018. ‘ Multilingual and multimodal interactions,’ Applied Linguistics 39: 99– 107. Wiley T., Garcia O.. 2016. ‘ Language policy and planning in language education: Legacies, consequences, and possibilities,’ The Modern Language Journal 100: 48– 63. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS © Oxford University Press 2018
Applied Linguistics – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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