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The world and language

My digression for the week and apology for the length – but as with all topics this term, both new and interesting are a lethal combination and I want my blog to continue to be useful to me in my studies…thus a bit more verbose than even previous posts.  Selecting articles for this week’s theories in second-language writing was the most difficult of the term as it was a bit like falling into a rabbit hole. Every article led to two more that “had” to be included, with names, terms and references that were all aha moments.  All looked important, but all could not be covered in these last two PAB posts.  I am going to miss these posts!  I have had the chance to explore second-language writing without having to commit to a narrow research focus – perusing the literature and amassing an entire folder (bordering on hoarding) of “must reads.” But alas, just like Alice, I did have to return to real life and settle on this week’s articles – albeit, four articles, but identified within two theories: genre and translingualism…well, actually genre by way of process and post-process.

 Hyland, Ken. “Genre-based Pedagogies: A Social Response to Process.” Journal of Second Language Writing 12.1 (2003): 17-29.

Hyland, Ken. “Genre Pedagogy: Language, Literacy and L2 Writing Instruction.” Journal of Second Language Writing 16 (2007): 148-164. doi:10.1016/j.jslw.2007.07.005

Hyland and Genre Theory

“Genre refers to abstract, socially recognized ways of using language. It is based on the assumptions that the features of a similar group of texts depend on the social context of their creation and use, and that those features can be described in a way that relates a text to others like it and to the choices and constraints acting on text producers” (21).

“Genre theory seeks to (i) understand the ways individuals use language to orient to and interpret particular communicative situations, and (ii) employ this knowledge for literacy education” (22).

Ken Hyland’s articles on genre pedagogy in 2003 and 2007 reflect his even longer publication history, with over 10 published articles on just this topic.[1] In his 2003 article, “Genre-based Pedagogies: A Social Response to Process,” he outlines how genre theory can “complement process views” in second-language writing “by emphasizing the role of language in written communication” (17). He posits that genre theory offers “explicit and systematic explanations of the ways language functions in social context” that “represent the most theoretically developed and fruitful response to process orthodoxies.” While process methods in writing have had “a major impact,” Hyland maintains that they have not resulted in improved writing due to approaches “rich amalgam of methods [that] collect around a discovery-oriented, ego-centered core which lacks a well-formulated theory of how language works in human interaction” (17).

Throughout the article, genre theory and approaches are offered as not just complements to process, but as ways to save writing from it.  Process is offered as “decontextualized skill” with “little systematic understanding of the ways language is patterned in particular domains” that “disempower teachers and cast them in the role of well-meaning bystanders” (19-21). While Hyland stresses that he is not out to “condemn process approaches,” it is evident from this article, that he favors genre theory in the writing classroom for the ways it offers a “socially informed theory of language and an authoritative pedagogy grounded in research of texts and contexts” (18). With processes approaches, inherently lacking as a complete theoretically-sound writing pedagogy, genre is its “social response” (27).

Hyland points to three schools of genre theory: 1) New Rhetoric Approach, influenced by post-structuralism, rhetoric and first language composition; focusing on the “relationship between text type and rhetorical situation.” 2) ESP Approach, that looks at genre as “a class of structured communicative events” within discourse communities and a shared purpose. 3) Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), known as the “Sydney School,” this approach “stresses the purposeful, interactive, and sequential character of different genres” through lexico-grammatical patterns and rhetorical features (21-22).

Assumptions and concepts Hyland points as essential to genre theory are that “writing is dialogic,” discourse community is a “powerful metaphor” central to “joining writers, texts and readers in a particular discursive space” and are not “overbearing structures which impose uniformity of users” (23).

While most of Hyland’s article focuses on the broader understandings of genre theory, he does connect it specifically to second-language writing as a way to “acknowledge that literacies are situated and multiple” whereby “writing cannot be distilled down to a set of cognitive processes.” For second-language writers this allows for them to “gain access to ways of communicating that have accrued cultural capital” and make “the genres of power visible and attainable” (24).  Addressing critics to genre theory in second-language writing, Hyland offers that failure “to provide learners with what we know about how language works as communication denies them both the means of communicating effectively in writing and of analyzing texts critically” (25).

In practice, genre can offer practices as well as views about writing, with a more supportive structure for teaching. Hyland notes that the theoretical basis for pedagogy using a genre approach is from Vygotsky, who emphasized “interactive collaboration between teacher and student” and a supportive environment that utilized scaffolding, with the teacher as an authority (26).

Hyland (2007) outlines key principles of genre-based theoretical teaching:

  • Writing is a social activity
  • Learning to write is needs-based
  • Learning to write requires explicit outcomes and expectations
  • Learning to write is a social activity
  • Learning to write involves learning to use language


Map of World

Map of World

Horner, Matsuda and Translingual Writing

Horner, Bruce, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and John Trimbur. “Opinion: Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Approach.” College English 73.3 (2011): 303-321.

Matsuda, Paul K. “The Lure of Translingual Writing.” PMLA 129.3 (2014): 478-483.

Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster and John Trimbur are current scholars within the field of translingual writing. In their 2011 opinion article, they outline an alternative to the inadequacies they see in the “traditional ways of understanding and responding to language differences.” With a translingual approach, the focus shifts from “barrier to overcome” in language differences, to “resource for producing meaning” (303).

They point to other scholars and the CCCC declaration of “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” for the rights of students to use their own “varieties of English” (discussed earlier in Paper 2). In recognizing a translingual approach, they acknowledge that it is an ongoing discussion, one these authors started at a 2009 Symposium at the University of Louisville.  They note that this article,

“is neither all-inclusive on the issues it does address, nor the final word. We have developed this piece because we believe it is far past time for the issues it addresses to be engaged more aggressively in our field, and we hope to open a much-needed conversation that will be continued in many places, in many genres and forums, from many different points of view—with an eye toward change in the conceptual, analytical, and pedagogical frameworks that we use here” (315).

By arguing for the fluidity of languages, translingual approaches “questions language practices,” asking “what produces the appearance of conformity, as well as what that appearance might and might not do, for whom, and how” (304). With translingualism, there is no “standard” English, described as a “bankrupt concept” by the authors. Rather the varieties of English, as well as other languages, are looked at by way of what “writers are doing with language and why” (305).

“Traditional approaches to writing in the United States are at odds with these facts. They take as the norm a linguistically homogeneous situation: one where writers, speakers, and readers are expected to use Standard English or Edited American English—imagined ideally as uniform—to the exclusion of other languages and language variations” (303).

Power, and “dominant ideology” are mentioned throughout by Horner et al. as writers using a translingual approach would “negotiate standardized rules in light of the contexts of specific instances of writing” (305). The authors list three points that translingualism argues for:

1) honoring the power of all language users to shape language to specific ends

2) recognizing the linguistic heterogeneity of all users of language both within the United States and globally

3) directly confronting English monolingualist expectations by researching and teaching how writers can work with and against, not simply within, these expectations. (305)

Set against two historical approaches to teaching language differences, 1) the traditional approach – that seeks “to eradicate difference in the name of achieving correctness” and 2) tolerance—distanced from the first by “codifying” changes in language and “granting individuals a right to them.” Horner et al points to this as more tolerant on the surface, but segmenting language use to “assigned social sphere[s]” (306).

“A translingual approach requires that common notions of fluency, proficiency, and even competence with language be redefined” (307).

“A translingual approach rejects as both unrealistic and discriminatory those language policies that reject the human right to speak the language of one’s choice” (308).

“Taking a translingual approach goes against the grain of many of the assumptions of our field and, indeed, of dominant culture. At the same time, it is in close alignment with people’s everyday language practices” (313).

 “It seems that translingual writing has established itself as an intellectual movement” (Matsuda 478).

Following Horner et al’s article text is a list of teacher-scholars who “have seconded the project outlined,” and while Matsuda’s name appears on the list; in subsequent articles, he has questioned a translingual approach.  For Matsuda, translingual writing theory “refers to loosely related sets of ideas and practices that have been articulated by scholars”[2] and in his most recent article on the topic, he interrogates the movement’s tendency for “linguistic tourism,” stressing that for it to move from the current “rage among scholars,” that it needs to move beyond “intellectual curiosity” and that the field of writing studies as a whole needs to “recognize the problem and to engage with issues surrounding language differences more critically” (483). Matsuda recommends learning “more about language—its nature, structure, and function as well as users and uses” and to “develop a broader understanding of various conversations that are taking place—inside and outside the field” (483).

“I am happy to see the enthusiasm. At the same time, I am often puzzled by the zeal with which some scholars and teachers approach a concept that they do not fully understand. More problematically, some scholars seem to use translingual writing not for its intellectual value but for its valorized status” (Matsuda 479).

“Graduate programs in rhetoric and composition need to take more seriously, and be more ambitious in making use of, what is now all too often treated as a token second language requirement of its graduates” (Horner 308).

[1] Xiaoli Fu and Ken Hyland (2014) “Interaction in two journalistic genres: a study of interactional metadiscourse;” (2013) “Genre and Discourse Analysis in Language for Specific Purposes;”  (2011) “Genre in teaching and research: an approach to EAP writing instruction;” (2009)  “Genre analysis;” (2008) “Genre and academic writing in the disciplines;” (2002)  “6. Genre: language, context and literacy; (1992) “Genre Analysis: Just another fad?;” (1990) “A genre description of the argumentative essay.”

[2] The scholars Matsuda points to within his article as current voices in translingual scholarship are A. Suresh Canagarajah, Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, Jackie Jones Royster and John Trimbur, and Vershawn Ashanti Young. Matsuda acknowledges that while he has been “implicated in this movement,” he considers it to be a “work in progress” (478-479).