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Democritus – Ancient Greek Theory of Matter

“There are perpetual discussions on the seemingly irreconcilable divide between theory and pedagogy. Many practitioners in the field of language teaching have felt – and will probably continue to feel – that much theory remains too obtuse and inaccessible to be immediately applicable in their classrooms. For other practitioners, the day-to-day realities of the classroom are enough of a juggle, without adding the task of keeping up with current research trends.” (Racelis & Matsuda 383)


Theories…a bit of background in Second-Language Writing:

Tony Silva and Paul Matsuda, in their “Introduction,” in Practicing Theory in Second Language Writing, note that while the term theory has been “widely used,” there is no common understanding of what this means, due to the interdisciplinarity of the field (vii). They posit that within the entire community of scholars and practitioners, there has yet to be “an open and sustained conversation about what theory is, how it works, and, more importantly, how to practice theory” (vii). Theirs is a must read book for anyone interested in how theory and practice align within second-language writing, as each essay explores connections and differences, such as in Dwight Atkinson’s “Between Theory with a Big T and Practice with a Small p: Why Theory Matters” in which he attempts to “rhetoricize his own practice” as a teacher/scholar by suggesting that theory should be delinked from practice.  In this approach, he would use theory as a “speculative approach” whereby it could lead practice, rather than follow  and offer critical approaches that would help “envision our [teachers’] role and place in the wide world” (16).  With this approach, theory and practice would be “combined,” with a “lively dialogue” and theory as the “spark or sometimes…irritant” that moves practice beyond what has always been done.  This reminds me of how lore has often defined practice, and in the absence of applied theory, can become the defacto norm.

Petroglyph – Ancient Astronaut Theory

In the case of second-language writing, it is young in its history, without agreed upon or underlying theories of its own, drawn mainly from composition theory and applied linguistics.  Ryuko Kubota points out that in the last two decades, the field has “made a critical turn” (191).  Critical theories applied to second-language studies, specifically writing, now include contrastive rhetoric, critical applied linguistics (including postmodernism, poststructuralism, and postcolonial studies), as well as cultural studies. Critical contrastive rhetoric, what Kubota notes has moved toward a renaming of itself to intercultural rhetoric, also has implications within second language writing. Examining “how power, knowledge, and discourse are implicated” and pushing rhetoric in this direction, aligns well with one of the theories, I have selected to examine for this week – translingual theory (192-194).


“Languages are not necessarily at war with each other; they complement each other in communication.  Therefore, we have to reconsider the dominant understanding that one language detrimentally ‘interferes’ with the learning and use of another.  The influences of one language on the other can be creative, enabling and offer possibilities for voice” (Canagaragah, “Translingual Practice” 6).

In my PAB posts for #7-8, I provided an introduction to translingualism through four articles, all written by major scholars in the field. Other voices currently writing on translingual theory are A. Suresh Canagarajah, Bruce Horner, Ken Hyland, Min-Zhan Lu, Jackie Jones Royste,  John Trimbur, and Vershawn Ashanti Young, among others.

As I started my reading surrounding translingualism with Paul Matsuda’s article, “The Lure of Translingual Writing,” I approached the topic with more reticence and skepticism than I might have had I read Suresh Canagarajah or Bruce Horner first.  Not having any familiarity with the term or this theoretical framework, I relied on knowing that Matsuda was a respected voice in the field of second-language writing.  He questions the theoretical underpinnings of translingualism as contrasted with the other scholarship I found.   For Matsuda, translingual writing theory “refers to loosely related sets of ideas and practices that have been articulated by scholars” [PAB post #7-8), with a tendency toward “linguistic tourism” and “rhetorical excess” (482, 479). Matsuda points to Suresh Canagarajah as a leading voice in the movement, who writes “[t]here is now a general feeling that theorization of translingual literacy has far outpaced pedagogical practices for advancing this proficiency in classrooms” as “code-meshing poses unsettling questions for pedagogy” (“Negotiating” 41).[1]

Easter Island - Ancient Alien Theory

Easter Island – Ancient Alien Theory

Written as a response article in a themed issue of Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, Alastair Pennycook, Professor of Language Studies at University of Technology, Sydney[2] in “Translingual English” writes “It is not enough just to question monolingualism and argue for multilingualism, since both conceptions emerge from the same context of European-based thinking about language” (30.1). He argues that the “epistemological framework of languages” must change in order to “get beyond questions only of pluralisation” (30.2) to a place where linguistic differences within communities and in how language functions within certain contexts can be appreciated, rather than criticized as “[m]etroethnicity” is being adopted, where “[p]eople of different backgrounds now ‘play’ with ethnicity (not necessarily their own) for aesthetic effect” (30.4).

Within this frame of translingual theory, there is a “move towards an understanding of the relationships among language resources as used by certain communities (the linguistic resources users draw on), local language practices (the use of these language resources in specific contexts), and language users’ relationship to language varieties (the social, economic and cultural positioning of the speakers)” (30.4). Language in this case is based in the social, as an activity, rather than as a form of communication (30.5).

 “understanding of translingual practice can help take us beyond the ugly and simplistic labels of grammar-translation versus communicative language teaching that have reduced English to a language used and taught only in its own presence.” (30.4)

In my interview with Dr. Kevin DePew,[3] translingualism was the critical theory he mentioned as key to the field of second-language writing. He noted that within the field, World Englishes, contrastive rhetoric and the “grammar” debate were all areas that scholars and teachers needed to be aware of and to “raise awareness.” He said that a lot of people have very little linguistic background and do not understand the linguistic realities of how people speak and learn.  This aligns with Matsuda’s views that more linguistic awareness is called for, as Matsuda recommends that scholars and teachers learn “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).

DePew mentioned interlanguage – how people learn a language as important; and that rather than using second-language learning/writing as an add on to a course, that teaching writing through a “trifocal approach” is more realistic. Her suggests looking at writing through the commonalities and differences in how each might be approached: mainstream, ESL and bi-dialectically. He sees the translingual “debate” as a movement to keep watching.  Uncertain of how it might resolve itself – or if it will, he explains that nobody keeps their languages discrete – and that there is a blending of languages going on linguistically.  The problem he sees is that because the movement is “ideological and outspoken” it may overshadow the actual discussion involving second-language writing, with it being another theory vs. practice dichotomy, without clear focus of what to do in the classroom.  When asked what was “next” in second-language writing theory, he responded that it will be interesting to see how the translingual debate plays out. He questions whether it will become more practical – with a move to a more multilingual ESL approach, adding that teachers want it and if everyone can figure it out, “that part of the movement could have wheels.”


Process, Post-Process & Genre Theories

When “teachers look for theory in L2 writing, they find that genre theory has been applied to L2 academic writing contexts perhaps more than has any other, but much of genre theorists’ attention has been on formal features of genres, especially the research article, a genre more pertinent to graduate than undergraduate needs. Far less attention has been paid to how to instill genre awareness—helping novice L2 academic writers learn to independently analyze varying context-specific genre expectations and consider how and why they should (or should not) meet them.” (Belcher 438)

In exploring the beginnings of genre theory in second-language writing, it is necessary to also examine the theory that preceded genre within writing studies, that of process [PAB #7]. Matsuda writes that “[w]riting process research[4] and pedagogies were introduced to L2 teaching in the late 1970s and the early 1980s and became influential among L2 writing teachers” (387).  As process and post-process theories continued to be discussed in L1 classrooms during the 1980s and 1990s, L2 writing research moved to debating process and genre theories, with Matsuda pointing out, that as a “debate,” it was “based largely on misunderstandings and exaggerated claims, construing process and genre as mutually exclusive rather than different aspects of writing—two sides of the same coin” (389).

Genre-based pedagogies entered writing-based classrooms, “as a response to process writing, which, it was felt, did not realistically prepare students for the demands of writing in academic context” (Paltridge 303).[5] Genre and the move to Writing for Specific Purposes (WSP) within second-language writing traces its beginnings[6]  to the work of John Swales, in Aspects of Article Introductions[7]  who introduces genre as a concept, as well as his Creating a Research Space (CARS) framework used with English for Specific Purposes (ESP). His later seminal publications in genre theory include Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings[8] (1990) and Research Genres: Explorations and Applications (2004).

Matsuda, an established scholar in second-language studies, has written on all of the theories mentioned within this paper.  A recent article he co-authored with Juval Racelis, an Arizona State University doctoral student at and instructor, is written as a reflective conversation and provides both practitioner and theorist insight into process and genre-theory within second-language writing. Matsuda notes that “contemporary approaches to genre are not necessarily the same as the prescriptive approach of the past (although genre can be – and has certainly been – taught in simplistic and reductive ways)” (Racelis & Matsuda 389). Christine Tardy supports this assertion in her editorial, “The History and Future of Genre in Second Language Writing,” as she reviews genre theory and pedagogy from Swales to Hyland (PAB #7), as well as other scholarship[9] that has moved to “build richer theories and more flexible pedagogical approaches” (2). Paltridge in his most recent article, “Genre and Second Language Academic Writing,” provides an extremely informative and comprehensive timeline of the history of genre in second-language writing that includes both theory and pedagogical works.[10]

As the history of second-language writing only reaches back to the 1960s [Paper #1], its accompanying theories are reflective of this, borrowing initially from composition and rhetoric. It is with the critical turn two decades ago (Kubota) and the recent advent of translingualism that the field has begun to establish itself theoretically.  As Dr. DePew noted in his interview, whether translingualism establishes itself and lasts will be interesting to observe.



 [1] Canagaragah cites the work of Creese & Blackledge (2010) and Tardy (2011) to support this view.

[2] Cites his own work throughout on global Englishes: Global Englishes and Transcultural  Flows. London: Routledge, 2007; “English as a Language Always in Translation.” European Journal of English Studies, 12.1 (2008): 33–47; “Plurilithic Englishes: Towards a 3-D model.” Global Englishes in Asian contexts: Current and future debates. Eds. K. Murata K. and J. Jenkins. Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2009. 194-207.

[3] Interview, September 24, 2014, Dr. Kevin E. DePew, Associate Professor of English, Old Dominion University.

[4] Further reading on the background and approaches within process theory in Composition Studies can be found in Murray (1972), Flower & Hayes (1981), Faigley (1986), Berlin (1988), Susser (1994), Elbow (1999), and Ferris & Hedgecock (2005), with a move beyond process to post-process articulated in

[5] Paltridge cites Daniel Horowitz (1986). “Process not Product: Less than Meets the Eye.” TESOL Quarterly 20, 445–461. This has also been sourced to most histories writing of the move from process to post-process and genre pedagogies in second-language, as well as L1 writing classrooms.

[6]Other histories of genre theory within second-language writing include Horowitz (1986), Bhatia (1993), Johns (1995) and Hyon (1996).

[7] Swales, J. M. (1981). Aspects of article introductions. Aston ESP Research Reports, No 1. Language Studies Unit, The University of Aston at Birmingham. Republished by University of Michigan Press 2011.

[8] Cited in Google Scholar over 8,497 times as of November 2014.

[9] Current genre scholarship in second-language writing includes Bawarshi & Reiff (2010), Bazerman, Bonini & Figueiredo (2009), Johns et al. (2006) and Paltridge (2014).

[10] Article posted in shared Drive folder. Timeline 306-318.


Works Cited & Further Reading

Atkinson, Dwight. “Between Theory with a Big T and Practice with a Small p: Why Theory Matters.” Practicing Theory in Second Language Writing. Eds. Tony Silva and Paul K. Matsuda. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2013. 5-18.

Belcher, Diane. “The Scope of L2 Writing: Why We Need a Wider Lens.” Journal of Second Language Writing 22.4 (2013): 438-39.

Canagarajah, A. Suresh. “Negotiating Translingual Literacy: An Enactment.” Research in the Teaching of English 48.1 (2013): 40-67.

. Translingual Practice: Global Englishes and Cosmopolitan Relations. New York: Routledge, 2013.

. “The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued.” College Composition and Communication 57.4 (2006): 586-619.

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.

Hyland, Ken. “Genre Pedagogy: Language, Literacy and L2 Writing Instruction.” Journal of Second Language Writing 16.3 (2007): 148-164.

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

Johns, Ann M. “Genre and ESL/EFL Composition Instruction.” Exploring the Dynamics of Second Language Writing. Ed. Barbara Kroll. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003. 195-217.

. “The Future of Genre in L2 Writing: Fundamental, but Contested, Instructional Decisions.” Journal of Second Language Writing 20.1 (2011): 56-68.

Kubota,Ryuko. “Critical Approaches to Theory in Second Language Writing: A Case of Critical Contrastive Rhetoric.” Practicing Theory in Second Language Writing. Eds. Tony Silva and Paul K. Matsuda. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2013. 191-208.

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

Pennycook, Alastair. “Translingual English.” Australian Review of Applied Linguistics 31.3 (2008): 30.1-30.9.

Racelis, Juval V., and Paul Kei Matsuda. “Integrating Process and Genre into the Second Language Writing Classroom: Research into Practice.” Language Teaching 46.03 (2013): 382-393.

Silva, Tony and Paul K. Matsuda, eds. Practicing Theory in Second Language Writing. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2013.

Swales, John. (2001). “EAP-Related Linguistic Research: An Intellectual History.” Research Perspectives on English for Academic Purposes. Eds. John Flowerdew and Matthew Peacock. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 42-54.

Tardy, Christine M. “The History and Future of Genre in Second Language Writing.” Journal of Second Language Writing 20.1 (2011): 1-5.