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Introduction to Translingual Writing

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What is Translingual Writing?

Translingual writing is a pedagogical approach and linguistic disposition proposed by a group of writing scholars at the beginning of the 2010s (Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, John Trimbur, Samantha NeCamp, and Christiane Donahue). The translingual writing approach invites students coming from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds to acknowledge and negotiate the various languages and rhetorical styles they bring into their writing.

A translingual approach to writing and teaching writing recognizes the linguistic differences in student texts as a resource. Variations in students’ writing are a strategic and creative choice, rather than a barrier or error. Linguistic differences usually appear as code-switching, which is the use of more than one language within a single passage, adoption of an imported concept in its original language, or application of grammatical, structural, or rhetorical conventions from another language.

The Tenets of Translingual Writing

A translingual approach to writing and teaching writing aims to acknowledge and challenge a monolingual ideology currently guiding the design of writing programs and curriculum in the U.S. In 2016, Min-Zhan Lu and Bruce Horner articulated seven tenets for a translingual approach to writing and teaching writing:

  • Language (including varieties of Englishes, discourses, media, or modalities) is performative: it is not something we have but something we do;
  • Users of language are actively forming and transforming the very conventions we use and social-historical contexts of use;
  • Communicative practices are not neutral or innocent but informed by and informing economic, geopolitical, social-historical, cultural relations of asymmetrical power;
  • Decisions on language use are shaping as well as shaped by the contexts of utterance and the social positionings of the writers, and thus having material consequences on the life and world we live in;
  • Difference is the norm of all utterances, conceived of as acts of translation inter and intra languages, media, modality during seeming iterations of dominant conventions as well as deviations from the norm;
  • Deliberation over how to tinker with authorized contexts, perspectives, and conventions of meaning making is needed and desired by all users of language, those socially designated as mainstream or minority, native or first, second, foreign speakers, published or student writers;
  • All communicative practices are mesopolitical (the intermediate space between global and local, social and personal) acts, actively negotiating and constituting complex relations of power at the dynamic intersection of the social-historical (macro) and the personal (micro) levels (Lu & Horner 208).


Here are some key moments in the scholarly development of the translingual approach in composition studies. Please note that the scholars included here are not necessarily representative of this intellectual movement. Scholars whose translingual orientation related to other disciplines are excluded. This is only one, simplified narrative of how translingual writing developed, but in reality, origins are always more complex than a timeline.

1994: Min-Zhan Lu demonstrated what she termed a “multicultural approach to style” that foregrounds student writers’ agency in transforming discursive norms with idiosyncratic styles (447). She attempted this by “asking students to explore the full range of linguistic choices and options, including those excluded by the conventions of academic discourses” (447).

2002: Bruce Horner and John Trimbur identified “a tacit language policy of unidirectional English monolingualism” and argued that it “has shaped the historical formation of U.S. writing instruction and continues to influence its theory and practices in shadowy, largely unexamined ways” (594-595).

2006: Suresh Canagarajah introduced World Englishes theories into composition studies, and proposed a model of “code meshing” that allows students to “strive for competence in a repertoire of codes and discourses” and “shuttle between communities in contextually relevant ways” (“The Place” 592-593). In the same year, he proposed a negotiation model that stressed multilingual writers’ agency and the process of languaging (“Toward” 2006).

2011: Horner, along with NeCamp, Donahue, Lu, Royster, and Trimbur, published two articles in CCCand College English, respectively, in which they proposed a translingual approach that “sees difference in language not as a barrier to overcome or as a problem to manage, but as a resource for producing meaning in writing, speaking, reading, and listening” (“Language Difference” 303). The historical sketch of the evolution of translingual writing suggests to whom translingual writing matters and in what context it is practiced.