Abstract The ‘trans-’ perspectives offered in this special issue are heady stuff. Post-structuralism (philosophy) meets the digital age (electronics), meets globalization (economics), and meets translingual practice (linguistics) to create a perfectly utopian or placeless space for future exploration. I want to first add my voice to the excitement generated by this trans-perspective, and then examine more closely the ways in which its dominant spatial metaphor gets declined across each of the papers, and finally raise a word of caution against the current engagement with space and the concomitant neglect of time and history. I end with a plea to bring back historicity and subjectivity into our applied linguistic enterprise. 1. BREAKING AWAY Reading these four articles together made my head spin. Not to be constrained any more by textual conventions, syntactic forms and norms, nor anything that might localize you, identify you, ‘pin you down to an organ, an organism or a gene’ (Li 2017), as belonging to any kind of root or soil—such is the dream of the restless internaut and of those who invented computer technology. It stimulates the imagination, facilitates the proliferation of meaning, and opens up vast spaces to explore. We feel we are entering a ‘post-humanistic world’ of endless possibilities (Pennycook 2016). Li’s excitement at the ability to recover the unity of meaning in different guises is palpable. Translanguaging reveals the deep relations that have always been there between codes, modes, and modalities but have been occulted by the artificial borders set up by nation-states, disciplines, professions, and linguists. It does away with the excesses of individualism and moves us toward a ‘linguistics of participation’ (Li 2017), of human solidarity in interaction and communication with others, an intensely stimulating prospect. While Li theorizes the breaking down of the traditional boundaries between linguistic systems, Canagarajah focuses on the movement from structuralist representations to ‘mobile, expansive, situated, and holistic practices’ (Canagarajah 2017). His discourse is one of electronic circuit boards and digital networks: ‘Language works with an assemblage of semiotic resources, artifacts and environmental affordances in specific settings to facilitate communicative success’ (my emphasis). In the spatial orientation he gives to both the theory and the practice of language use, Canagarajah sees meaning as ‘emergent in relation to the diverse assemblages as an ‘ensemble’ (Kress 2009) that shapes each other’. The metaphor is a connectionist one that sounds familiar to ecologically minded applied linguists and adapted to the baffling complexities of our times. Competence, on this view, is strategic emplacement—a metaphor that faintly echoes the post-modern notion of ‘subject positioning’ evoked by scholars in philosophy and cultural studies but without their psychoanalytic and hermeneutic subtexts. It also echoes the symbolic competence proposed by Kramsch (2011) but without the theory of symbolic power and ethical responsibility that underpins it (see Kramsch and Zhang 2018: Ch. 6 and Ch. 9). One senses that the traditional English language itself (‘place’? ‘position’? ‘competence’ as contextual appropriateness?) has difficulty capturing the new trans-perspective. The two illustrative articles by Hawkins and Mori/Sanuth give a good sense of the changed landscape of language and literacy education under these new trans-conditions. Like Suresh Canagarajah, Maggie Hawkins discovers spatiality as the principle common to computer screens, Facebook pages, websites, and new literacies. Spatiality is also the principle underlying the locally produced digital videos made by school children in Western Uganda and globally shared with literacy students at a Midwestern US site. The push to cross national borders and to break down the boundaries between symbolic systems and semiotic modalities opens up exciting new horizons; it injects new meanings into everyday literacy practices. Hawkins’ study documents the emergence in those students of what she calls a ‘critical cosmopolitanism as a construct’ that accounts for ‘aspects of morality and ethicality in the forging of human relations and understandings through translocal and transnational engagements and communications’ (Hawkins 2017). Here the discourse is one of messianic universality and moral philanthropy. The article by Junko Mori and Kazeem Sanuth presents some challenges to these utopian spaces. The teaching of Yorùbá as a foreign language in the USA might satisfy the monolingual nationalist orientation of the US government to have Americans learn an ‘authentic’ African language by funding their study abroad, but life in Nigeria features the multilingual realities of a global economy: most Nigerians today speak and write primarily in English! Learners of Yorùbá must now, like sociolinguists, learn to recognize and adapt to the predominantly pidgin culture of Nigeria. They are expected to break away from purely structural features of the language, resort to hybrid communicative practices, and participate with others in emergent, ‘active, generative and agentive’ spaces (Canagarajah 2017). But wait… In this new trans-dispensation, do words like communication, participation, emergence, and agency have the same meaning that they used to? Are these terms, which were used in structuralist times, appropriate to describe the post-structuralist realities of our day? Communication, participation, and agency used to refer to speakers and other social actors who crossed linguistic borders with a great deal of effort to express, interpret, and negotiate intended meanings that were sometimes incommensurable, to share meanings that were often incompatible with one another, and to act in ways that sometimes flouted linguistic norms and social conventions at great risk to their social identity. If, in the new translingual utopia, meanings emerge from mobile, expansive, situated assemblages of communicative resources, then these terms have, they too, freed themselves from their conventional meanings, and we have entered indeed a ‘post-humanist world’ of spaces, processes, and practices, not humans, that interact with one another. 2. SPATIAL METAPHORS Let us look at the way each of the authors describes these processes. The metaphors they use show the trans- to be alternately the work of individuals (Li Wei), autonomous processes (Canagarajah), contextual structures (Hawkins), or (dis/en)abling infrastructures (Mori/Sanuth). In Li’s paper, the focus is on language users engaging with their environment ‘across one’s life span, across the life course’, ‘having access to multiple linguistic, semiotic, cognitive ‘resources’, and ‘resemiotizing’ them within a ‘Translanguaging Space’. For these language users, to transcend language systems is to go beyond language systems, to work across the divides. The multi- as in ‘multilingual, multisemiotic, multisensory, multimodal resource’, and multicompetence indexes quantitative accumulation, abundance of goods and resources over biological or historical development or qualitative transformation. All these metaphors are metaphors of space over time. They evoke mobility, visibility, and an instrumental, holistic vision familiar to Internet users in our digital age, not the limited understandings that human speakers have at various times in their lives due to environmental or institutional constraints. Canagarajah’s paper explores this panoptic vision further with his concept of spatial repertoire. Learning and using languages in a post-structuralist perspective means engaging in practices that are ‘situated, holistic, networked, mediated, and ecological, thus integrated with diverse conditions, resources, and participants … Spatiality helps consider how multiple resources mediate and co-construct activities as an assemblage’ (Canagarajah 2017). Several aspects of Canagarajah’s statements are noteworthy here: Practices move and expand; spatial repertoires afford resourceful communication; resources mediate and co-construct activities. All these inanimate objects have agency (In this post-structuralist perspective, should we even make the distinction between animate and inanimate? But then can we still make the distinction between agency and non-agency?). Even space has agency: Canagarajah talks of space as ‘active, generative and agentive … vitalist, self-generating and self-regulating’. Time, in the form of temporal processes, is expressed in terms of space (ex-pansive practice, strategic em-placement). While this discourse does mention time in such expressions as ‘spatiotemporal scales’, collocations as ‘in space and time’, and temporal processes as in ‘emerging understandings’, it does not really consider history, or the passing of time. In Canagarajah’s vision, ‘space includes time’ as in Bakhtin’s chronotope; space and time are seen as ‘interacting, layered and dynamic’—again spatial metaphors. Historical time is not only expressed in terms of space; it has been collapsed into what Blommaert called ‘layered simultaneity’ (Blommaert 2005: 237), but a simultaneity that Canagarajah has emptied of the ‘metaphysics of presence’ of structuralist times (Canagarajah 2017). While Blommaert’s post-modern metaphor attempted to capture both space and time, Canagarajah’s post-structuralist metaphor seems to evacuate historical time. Priority is given to visibility, a ‘space of appearance’ (Butler 2016: 14), that risks excluding ‘those who are, through coercion, fear, or necessity, living outside the reach of the visual frame’ (ibidem). This vision does not include the biologically developing and aging language user whose subjective experience of growing and aging is quite different from the way the researcher or the computer screen sees him or her. In Hawkins’ paper we find again a plethora of spatial metaphors this time focused on the contextual structure of the ‘repertoire’ and the ‘trajectory’. First, language as repertoire. As in the Canagarajah paper, we find in Hawkins ‘repertoires of resources in meaning-making…, a view of language use as fluidly leveraging, integrating and negotiating a variety of semiotic resources in the act of meaning making’ (Hawkins 2017). But repertoire is conceived here mainly as a discourse structure attached to a context, not the result of a sociohistorical process that limits a user’s choice of structure. John Gumperz is quoted as the originator of the concept of verbal repertoire: a repertoire … provides the weapons of everyday communication. Speakers choose among this arsenal in accordance with the meanings they intend to convey (Gumperz 1964: 137) but Gumperz was careful to add that the choice of verbal repertoire is subject to grammatical and social restraints, Ultimately it is the individual who makes the decision, but his freedom to select is always subject both to grammatical and social restraints. Grammatical restraints relate to the intelligibility of sentences; social restraints relate to their acceptability. (Gumperz 1964: 137–8) In a post-structuralist perspective, one would expect the choice of spatial repertoire to be equally subject to the historical constraints imposed by language as a social institution, as I discuss in Section 3 below. The second main metaphor in this article is that of life as a trajectory. Human life is seen as a linear process of accumulation of resources along a linear timeline: ‘Repertoires expand over a life-time as people move through different phases and spaces’ according to the ‘place- and space-based nature of forms of language’ (Hawkins 2017). Repertoires are ‘the accumulation of semiotic resources people have access to and can leverage in communication always embedded in sociohistorical trajectories’. Despite its qualifier ‘sociohistorical’, a life span is imagined here as a purely spatial trajectory that does not include such biological and mythical transformations as shape-shifts, fractals, transsubstantiations, and other metamorphoses that human beings experience not only in fairytales but also in the real lives of butterflies, children, and teenagers living educational or religious experiences. Indeed, the video discussed in the case of Western Uganda children is not about their religious experiences, but only about their visible, cinematically representable social behaviors as children dancing, chanting, praying, etc. What is discussed here are ‘modes, languages and material objects’, ‘production/assemblage, reception and negotiation’ (Hawkins 2017), not invisible educational or spiritual transformations across these children’s life span. The paper by Junko Mori and Kazeem Sanuth also uses spatial vocabulary but in a somewhat more complex way. As learners of Yorùbá ‘navigate’ between a monolingual ideal Nigeria and its translingual realities, the authors quoting Canagarajah talk about ‘aligning semiotic resources with social and environmental affordances’ and of ‘alignment between cognitive, social and physical contexts’ in a contact zone in which ‘modernist notions of ownership, territoriality and autonomy’ are replaced by ‘hybrid and fluid semiotic resources gained from contact with other languages and cultures’ (Mori and Sanuth 2017). But behind all this, hybridity and fluidity stand the dis/enabling infrastructure of the funding agency that has made access to these resources both possible and impossible, as I argue below. The article documents the tension between on the one hand a Fulbright study abroad program, funded by the US Department of State, conceived as ‘immersion’ of Anglophone Americans in ‘the field’ seen as an ideal and ‘purely homogenous Yorùbá society’, and, on the other hand, a post-colonial and neoliberal context in which Nigerians and American students of Nigerian descent ‘mix and mesh’ English and Yorùbá. The response of Anglophone Americans, like their sponsors at the US State Department, is to try and develop ‘parallel monolingualisms’ that include ‘Yorùbá immersion spaces’ to prevent the ‘overwhelming spread’ of English (Mori and Sanuth 2017). But those very immersion spaces also prevent Anglophone learners of Yorùbá from learning how to mix and mesh Yorùbá and English the way authentic Nigerians do. The article ends with the following recommendations: ‘The kind of criticality and creativity identified as part of a multilingual speaker’s competence entails their awareness of cultural and historical meanings behind the lexical and grammatical items used as part of their repertoires’; ‘Approaches in foreign language education need to be adjusted to the sociohistorical and geopolitical factors surrounding each language’ (Mori and Sanuth 2017). Sociohistorical context is seen here to lie outside the linguistic structures and to constitute, so to speak, their constraining infrastructure. Despite the spatial metaphors used in this article, we witness a retrenchment from a post-structuralist view and a return to the familiar confrontation between a history-based nationalist discourse of linguistic purity and normativity, and a space-based globalist discourse of translingual hybridity (Kramsch 2014). The article puts a damper on the spatialist euphoria of the previous papers, by reminding us of the ambiguous power of institutional structures that on the one hand fund American students to go to Nigeria to study Yorùbá and on the other hand make it impossible for them to learn Yorùbá because of their relentless promotion of English in that country. It reminds us that what separates people is not their individual practices in social space, but their experiences in the historical time of their institutions. 3. REMEMBERING HISTORY At this point it seems necessary to remind ourselves how much our applied linguistic discourse has been affected by the digital age in which we live and that has changed not only our ways with words but the way we talk and write about these changes. Again and again, we have seen that our spatial metaphors have a way not only of subsuming time as in a footnote but of translating time into space, history, and memory into spatiality and visibility. With space comes not only emancipation from arbitrary and constraining structures but also the panoptic control afforded by a computer technology that forgets nothing, forgives nothing, and seems to offer immortality but only on its own terms. The price we seem to pay is the change in our language itself: from Time as mortality, vulnerability, and forgetfulness we have entered an age where time is conceived as movement in and across space—as ‘the ebb and flow of daily practices’, as the ‘rapidity of online exchanges’, and as the ‘movements of semiotic resources and artifacts’ (Hawkins 2017). This is the time of the pinball machine, which assumes permanence of the identity of the pinball across trajectories, networks, and flows. Pinballs never get old, never get sick, and never suffer from loss of memory or loss of hope. What is described here is truly a ‘post-humanist’ world that Pennycook has recently described as follows: A posthumanist applied linguistics does not assume rational human subjects engaged in mutually comprehensible dialogue; the multimodal and multisensory semiotic practices of the everyday include the dynamic relations between semiotic resources, activities, artefacts, and space. No longer, from this point of view, do we need to think in terms of competence as an individual capacity, of identity as personal, of languages as entities we acquire, or of intercultural communication as uniquely human. Posthumanist thought urges us not just to broaden an understanding of communication but to relocate where social semiotics occurs. (Pennycook 2016: 2) While it is right and just to question the dubious and arrogant distinction made by modernists between mind and body, humans and nature, and the ideational and the material, as applied linguists we are reminded that language is not only a social semiotic that brings humans and other inhabitants of the planet together but an historical institution that we have constructed precisely to deal with the ethical, legal, and political aspects of our life together. As an institution language ensures continuity, mutual intelligibility, and understanding, but it also preserves our uniquely human capacity to embrace both the thrills of space and the vulnerabilities of time. As Judith Butler, discussing the paradox of linguistic vulnerability and resistance, argued recently, ‘both dependency and vulnerability are part of the performative account of agency’: We are called names and find ourselves living in a world of categories and descriptions way before we start to sort them critically and endeavor to change or make them on our own. In this way we are, quite in spite of ourselves, vulnerable to, and affected by, discourses that we never chose. (Butler 2016: 24) In the trans-perspective adopted in this special issue, one could say that both humans and non-humans are ‘dependent on infrastructural conditions and legacies of discourse and institutional power that precede and condition [their] existence’ (Butler 2016: 21). In that sense, in any trans-perspective on language theories and practices, a post-structuralist focus on Space must be supplemented by a post-modern concern with Time.1 Any reflection on the trans-turn in applied linguistics would do well to be infused with the reflections going on in the humanities about post-modernity’s ‘time-space compression’ (Harvey 1989: 240), and the way the news and social media warp our sense of time and make us live in an eternal present (Barney 2004; Butler 2016). Without a humanistic sense of history, the wide open spaces of our translingual practices could easily be turned into ‘societies of control’ (Deleuze 1992). NOTES The Canadian political theorist Harold Innis (1951) was the first to identify the space-biases of digital networks. Citing Innis, Darin Barney wrote: ‘On the basis of his sweeping history of Western civilization, Innis concludes that the cultural conditions attending monopolies of knowledge biased toward temporal continuity differ substantially from those biased toward spatial expanse. Societies with time-biased monopolies of knowledge—typically ancient societies—tended toward modesty of scale; localized attention, decentralized, personified political authority; personalized exchange relations; religiosity; celebration, tradition, and custom as practical, living embodiments of collective memory; nonspecialization; and community. Societies with space-biased monopolies of knowledge—mostly modern Western societies—tend toward grossness of scale; dislocated, cosmopolitan attention, centralized, rational-bureaucratic political authority; impersonal commercial exchange relations based on the abstract forms of money and commodity; secularism; spectacle and consumption; specialization, and individual freedom and autonomy… Innis’ view was that healthy societies are those that manage a balance between time-bias and space-bias’ (Barney 2004: 35–36). REFERENCES Barney D. 2004. ‘The vanishing table, or community in a world that is no world’ in Feenberg A., Barney D. (eds): Community in the Digital Age . Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 31– 52. Blommaert J. 2005. Discourse: An Introduction . Cambridge University Press. Butler J. 2016. ‘Rethinking vulnerability and resistance’ in Butler J., Gambetti Z., Sabsay L. (eds): Vulnerability in Resistance . Duke University Press. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Canagarajah S. 2017. ‘ Translingual practice as spatial repertoires: Expanding the paradigm beyond structuralist orientations,’ Applied Linguistics 39: 31– 54. Deleuze G. 1992. ‘ Postscript on the societies of control,’ October 59: 3– 7. Gumperz J. J. 1964. ‘ Linguistic and social interaction in two communities,’ American Anthropologist 66: 137– 53. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Harvey D. 1989. The Condition of Postmodernity . Blackwell. Hawkins M. R. 2017. ‘ Transmodalities and transnational encounters: Fostering critical cosmopolitan relations,’ Applied Linguistics 39: 55– 77. Innis H. A. 1951. The Bias of Communication . University of Toronto Press. Kramsch C. 2011. ‘ The symbolic dimensions of the intercultural,’ Language Teaching 44: 354– 67. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Kramsch C. 2014. ‘ Teaching foreign languages in an era of globalization: Introduction,’ Modern Language Journal 98: 296– 311. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Kramsch C., Zhang L.. 2018. The Multilingual Instructor . Oxford University Press. Kress G. 2009. Multimodality: A Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication . Routledge. Li W. 2017. ‘ Translanguaging as a practical theory of language,’ Applied Linguistics 39: 9– 30. Mori J., Sanuth K. K.. 2017. ‘ Navigating between a monolingual utopia and translingual realities: Experiences of American learners of Yorùbá as an additional language,’ Applied Linguistics 39: 78– 98. Pennycook A. 2016. ‘ Post-humanist applied linguistics,’ Applied Linguistics 2016: 1– 18. © Oxford University Press 2018
Applied Linguistics – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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