One year ago I lost my father. He passed away while visiting family and friends… returning home to… South Africa. At that time, I had not been back to Durban in 37 years. Continue reading
Recently, a friend of mine returned from a five-minute walk down the street and commented, casually, about having been catcalled several times on her way back to the café in which we were studying. She was clearly annoyed by it, said something about it being a sign of the arrival of Spring and that she’d have to start wearing sunglasses and earphones again when she was walking in public. Continue reading
Weaving through a tapestry of pedestrians, pylons, Peugeots, and police officers, I find myself contemplating Montréal’s sisyphèsque construction schedule and wondering whether Camus was properly cited in the city planning documents. Rue Jarry is a zoo at the best of times, but now we’re down to one lane and I’m praying that my rusty bike chain and the crusty driver behind me can make it through the next few minutes without snapping altogether. We approach a red light, so I catch my breath while several young families hustle and bustle into the shops and restaurants that decorate the street. Now it’s green, so on y va, and I swerve into sun-soaked Parc Jarry, the site of some of the best basketball and translanguaging Montréal has to offer. Continue reading
BILD is very happy to welcome Melissa J. Enns as our latest guest blogger. Melissa is a graduate student in McGill’s Master of Arts in Second Language Education program. Prior to entering the program, she taught ESL at an academic prep school in Saskatchewan. Her thesis research will center on bridging the gap between research and practice. She authors a language education blog, Ramblings of a Linguaphile. With an undergraduate degree in linguistics and Spanish, she is fascinated by all aspects of language, language acquisition, and language teaching.
In her discussion of translanguaging in Kolkata, Dr. Mela Sarkar beautifully said, “If one is prepared to be linguistically adventurous, I don’t see why there would be any limit to the number of places where one can feel local.”
Interestingly, that is something I have recently been thinking about a good deal. Upon arriving in Montreal last August, my linguistic self-perceptions were promptly turned upside down, as I suddenly found myself in a place where there was no prestige associated with speaking a second language. Instead, bi- and multilingualism are so normal that it felt it would be unusual if I didn’t speak at least two languages. Moreover, I quickly discovered that Spanish seemed to be the “wrong” second language to have here. I found myself insecure about speaking better Spanish than French, particularly when my basic French was most often acknowledged with a swift “Montreal switch.”
Bengali, properly called Bangla, is the language of Bangladesh and of the Indian state of West Bengal. It’s one of the languages I would have grown up speaking if my parents had settled in India in the late 1950s. They planned to. After I was born in Kolkata (Calcutta until 2001), my father looked hard for a faculty post in an Indian university, one that would have made it possible to raise a family of half-and-half children in India with his Ukrainian-Canadian wife (my Manitoba Ukrainian family appeared in this blog a while back).
My father, in the end, did not succeed in finding the right kind of academic job in India. He and my mother, both plant geneticists, wound up at the University of Toronto. In the 1960s, couples who brought different languages of immigration to their union were not encouraged to bring their children up bi- or trilingually. So my sisters and I grew up monolingual in English, the colonial language in which my parents had met, married and settled. There was Core French at school, of course. No French immersion in Toronto then, not yet. I heard Ukrainian quite often from my mother when she spoke to her family on the phone and every summer when we visited; I heard a bit of Bengali, more rarely, from my father, when he chatted with other expatriates, usually also academics who had made the big move to Canada. No phone calls to India in the 1960s, except in cases of dire emergency. It would have been prohibitively expensive.
I neither spoke nor understood any Bengali until my early twenties, when I was able to spend a couple of extended visits with the family in Calcutta in 1980 and 1983. I also lucked into a couple of university courses in Bengali around that time, in Paris of all places, which helped a lot with the grammar. Bengali is an Indo-Aryan language, descended like Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, and a host of others from Sanskrit. Related therefore, albeit distantly, to Latin, Greek, and all the other Indo-European languages. Occasionally a word leaps out that, across the millennia of linguistic separation, is identical to one I know. “Tooth” is dent, as in French. Luggage is malle. But the odd chance similarities don’t help at all with the rapid to-and-fro of everyday family communication. There are more verb endings than you can shake a stick at, not to mention a huge, rich vocabulary. There is a colloquial level of language and a literary level. In our family, there is even a dialect divide. Our branch of Sarkars are Hindu from the eastern part of Bengal, now Bangladesh. The Bangla spoken there is very different from standard Kolkata Bengali, and some of my older relatives still slip into usages that crossed over with them after Partition in 1947. It isn’t obvious without special knowledge that “Ki koitasay?” means the same thing as “Ki bolchay?” (“What is she saying?”, something my elderly aunts asked constantly about their rather puzzling Canadian niece when we met as adults in the 1980s).
There is also something I hadn’t thought about much until a recent visit back to Kolkata. I have a word for it now; I didn’t in the eighties. Translanguaging! Speakers of Bangla, like speakers of all Indian languages as far as I can make out, translanguage constantly between Bangla and English, quite often with bits of Hindi or some other Indian language sprinkled in as well. After spending six weeks being surrounded by family members of all ages who spoke English to me (mostly) and Bengali to each other (mostly), I am more convinced than ever that, as Ofélia Garcia and Li Wei maintain in their 2014 book, translanguaging goes beyond code-switching and is different. It works at all levels and registers; different admixtures of languages (or “languages”) are differently appropriate depending on context. But being a comfortable translanguager in Kolkata, or for that matter in Montreal, is part of what makes a person “local” (BILD member Emmanouela Tisizi has spoken eloquently to this idea of locality and belonging).
So in Kolkata, in Bengali and English, as in Montreal, in English and French, figuring out a translanguaging style that fits in with the local practice (as Alastair Pennycook might say) is the best way to start feeling that one really belongs. If one is prepared to be linguistically adventurous, I don’t see why there would be any limit to the number of places where one can feel local. In answer to the rhetorical question posed by Emmanouela in her last BILD post, no, there isn’t such a thing as too much linguistic pluralism!
García, O., & Li Wei. (2014). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Pennycook, A. (2010). Language as a local practice. London: Routledge.
‘‘It is not my idiosyncrasy to be ironic or sarcastic but my diagnosis would be that politicians are rather cryptoplethorists. Although they emphatically stigmatize numismatic plethora, they energize it through their tactics and practices. Our policies have to be based more on economic and less on political criteria. Our gnomon has to be a metron between political, strategic and philanthropic scopes. Political magic has always been antieconomic (…). I apologize for having tyrannized you with my Hellenic phraseology. In my epilogue, I emphasize my eulogy to the philoxenous autochthons of this cosmopolitan metropolis and my encomium to you, Kyrie, and the stenographers.’’ (Zolotas, 1959).
When economist professor Xenophon Zolotas delivered his now famous speeches in English using solely Greek words (except for articles and prepositions) to address the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, he met with immediate success. His inventive strategy proved ideal for communicating his positions on economics, while advocating the richness of the Greek language and demonstrating its influence on perhaps the most widely spoken language, English. Indeed, his stylistic choice could be seen by some as a so-called deviation of standard norms of English, although it is in fact both perfectly understandable and culturally relevant. And though in the context of an oral speech, employing this language was thought of as innovative and appropriate, it is hard to imagine such a unanimously welcoming reception for a paper written entirely in this style. This becomes all the more apparent when someone advocates for the use of Vernacular African American or a creole language, for instance, as being appropriate for all contexts, including writing in formal education.
Such attitudes are closely linked to people’s language ideologies, that is, their overt and covert beliefs about language. Irvine has defined language ideologies as ‘‘the cultural system of ideas about social and linguistic relationships, together with their loading of moral and political interests’’ (Irvine, 1989, p. 255). Indeed, when exploring language ideologies, there are social and cultural aspects to consider, but perhaps most importantly, there is also a political dimension that needs to be addressed (Holliday, 2008). Indeed, language ideologies are very powerful, in that they both reflect and yield power relations. They can be used (and often are used) to maintain and perpetuate social power and domination in the name of ‘‘common-sense notions about the nature of language in the world’’ (Rumsey, 1990, p.346). What becomes essential, therefore, is to critically reflect on the reasons behind people’s reluctance to accept so-called non-standard varieties as appropriate, even (or, perhaps, especially) in formal contexts.
From a sociolinguistic perspective, these varieties are seen as perfectly appropriate for all contexts, and it is (rightly) claimed that they should not be censored merely for not adhering to so-called standard norms. This de-centralizing view can help all of us reconsider our own ideologies and can potentially empower so-called non-standard language speakers. However, it also raises a whole new set of questions. How should texts written in such languages be assessed? Are such languages error-free? And even: Why not just stick with standard English?
These are the kinds of questions that do not have clear-cut answers, but are exactly the kinds of questions that we should be asking in today’s more and more globalized world. The movement of people inescapably leads to language contact and this, in turn, leads to the revelation of people’s ideologies and attitudes towards other ethnic, cultural and linguistic groups. No, non-standard varieties are not error-free, but assessing them needs to account for the realities of their speakers. Whether something is acceptable in a creole language or not, needs to be determined by the community that identifies with and uses this language, and not by outsiders who try to evaluate it based on their own experiences, criteria and (standardized) tests. Languages and cultures are inextricably tied with one another, and thus setting limits on the ways people can use to express themselves (both orally and in writing) means setting limits on their cultures. It also means supressing these cultures and languages, to ensure that the ones that are already dominating on all cultural, economic and political levels will continue to do so.
Yes, affirming alternative linguistic varieties requires new criteria for assessment, new tests, and more teacher training. No, this is not a simple task, but it is feasible. In a global community that is constantly changing and moving, we cannot afford to stay still. Educators need to recognize all students’ linguistic repertoires as resources for knowledge and must work to affirm their identities as learners and as citizens. Only then will they be truly empowered. So, what do you think? Is there such a thing as too much linguistic pluralism?
Holliday, A. (2008). Standards of English and Politics of Inclusion. Language Teaching, 41(1), pp. 119-130.
Irvine, J. (1989). When talk isn’t cheap: language and political economy. American Ethnologist, 16(2), pp. 248-267.
Rumsey, A. (1990). Wording, Meaning and Linguistic Ideology. American Anthropologist, 92(2), pp. 346-361.
Zolotas’ speeches – Retrieved from http://www.cs.toronto.edu/~themis/ewords/zolotas.html
The importance of storytelling and narratives has been brought up several times in various BILD posts. Further inspired by some panel presentations at the recent Metropolis conference in Montreal, I’d like to continue this conversation, though approaching the issue from a different angle. I want to take a step back from the practical implications as discussed in the previous posts and move, perhaps to a more theoretical level, highlighting the two constructs of integration and investment. Continue reading