Translanguaging again

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(This morning's post offers a bit of mostly-lexicographical follow-up to "Translanguaging", 5/4/2018…)

The verb "to translanguage", glossed by Wiktionary as "To make use of multiple languages in a single discourse", apparently emerged several decades ago in discussion of language policy and education in Wales, and has been widely used since then, both as a verb and a noun, in publications on language instruction. A separate coinage seems to have occurred in naming "The Translanguage English Database", documented in this 1994 paper and published in 2002 by the LDC and ELRA. (My memory is that this collection was originally referred to as "The Terrible English Database", with the name later changed to preserve the TED acronym while avoiding the offensively evaluative adjective…)

The participle "translanguaging", which Wiktionary glosses somewhat oddly in its nominal form as "The dynamic process whereby multilingual language users mediate complex social and cognitive activities through strategic employment of multiple semiotic resources to act, to know, and to be", seems to have become even commoner in the literature indexed by Google Scholar.

Despite their relatively widespread usage, neither of these words has had its (metaphorical) "Word Induction Ceremony", at either the Oxford English Dictionary or Merriam-Webster.

You can read more about translanguaging in Margo Gottlieb, "To Translanguage or Not To Translanguage?", CAL Blog 10/27/2021, and in Marybelle Marrero-Colón, "Translanguaging: Theory, Concept, Practice, Stance… or All of the Above?", Center for Applied Linguistics 2021. That's where I learned about the Welsh connection:

In its basic form, translanguaging is a theory of language practice. And, as in any theory applied to practice, translanguaging offers a principled choice between competing interpretations (Wei, 2018). Originally, the term translanguaging was devised to describe a specific bilingual language pattern of use by Welsh students. Cen Williams (1996), coined the term as a pedagogical term to describe the natural ways that bilinguals (multilinguals) use their languages in their everyday lives as they make sense of their bilingual worlds. From this perspective, translanguaging represents a holistic and dynamic view of bilingualism with language practices shifting from context to context and relationship to relationship (Baker & Wright, 2017). In recent years the concept of translanguaging has been receiving recognition in the field of education, especially by those that believe that individuals naturally use their known languages to amplify their learning (Baker & Wright, 2017; Garcia & Wei, 2014; Williams, 1996). 

In the 2018 post on this topic, I wrote that

From my outsider's perspective, "translanguaging" looks a lot like the view of "code mixing" that I associate with (for example) work about usage in Hong Kong, like Brian Chan Hok-shing, "Code-Mixing in Hongkong Cantonese-English Bilinguals: Constraints and Processes", CUHK Papers in Linguistics 1993, or Joyce Y. C. Chan, P. C. Ching, and Tan Lee, "Development of a Cantonese-English Code-Mixing Speech Corpus", InterSpeech 2005. For that matter, some work labelled "code switching" in fact covers similar material, e.g. discussion of the SEAME collection of Mandarin-English "code switching" speech in Singapore and Malaysia (here and here).

The basic terminological difference seems to be that "translanguaging" is rooted in Educational Linguistics, which is more separate from other flavors of linguistics than you might have guessed. Linguistics is a Protestant discipline, where pressures of doctrine, geography, and ethnicity tend to result in a hierarchical proliferation of more-or-less-organized group identities. As in other areas, this has both good and bad aspects.



  1. Haamu said,

    November 10, 2021 @ 11:57 am

    Yikes. I feel like we'd all be better off if this sort of thing were delegated to a Department of Coinages staffed by poets.

  2. Michal Moszczynski said,

    November 10, 2021 @ 3:07 pm

    I think the sociology of academic neologism is itself an incredibly fascinating phenomenon, but I do this all the time with my parents between Polish and English and I always understood it to be 'code switching'

  3. Rick Rubenstein said,

    November 10, 2021 @ 4:41 pm

    And of course, if you switch languages in order to make use of more-specialized words when referring to someone who has undergone a gender transition, that's transtranslanguagelanguaging.

  4. Chas Belov said,

    November 10, 2021 @ 5:37 pm

    I primarily translanguage when talking to myself, mixing in Cantonese and Spanish (so, Spanglish, Cantlish, Spantonese, and I'm not sure what to call the mix of all three).

  5. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 11, 2021 @ 9:33 am

    I'd say "translanguaging", though not beautiful, is easier to understand for outsiders than "code switching" or "code mixing", since "code" is used much more often in other senses.

  6. Robert Coren said,

    November 11, 2021 @ 10:42 am

    When I was a kid in New York City, I took piano lessons with a woman who had been born and raised in Vienna; occasionally my lesson would be interrupted by phone calls from her mother (also in NYC), which would result in a conversation in German (a language in which I was entirely ignorant at the time) with the occasional English word or phrase ("cottage cheese", "42nd Street shuttle") thrown in.

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