In my personal narrative describing my experience in Japan, I explored the relationship between languages with common ancestors and how they differentiate from each other. But in the very end of the book, I raised a question: “what will happen when language begin to merge with each other”. Canagrajah, in the introduction part of his book Translingual Practice, offered an approach in studying the language of immigrants and individual families with multiple culture background. My personal experience agrees with his approach and analyze, that translingual practice does happen in some special situation. But if we shift our perspective from micro to macro, we can find that sometimes the translingual practice goes beyond individual levels to Social levels. In Ivy Liu’s narrative A step forward, she mentioned her experience in a migrant city in China that speak both Chinese and Cantonese. She and her friends, though cannot speak Cantonese initially, gradually emerged in to the Cantonese-Chinese bilingual culture. It is an outstanding phenomenon that in a certain place that more than one language plays similarly or equally dominant roles in people’s communication. People in this culture need to know both language because there is a consensus to use both languages. In this essay, I would like to use Ivy’s narrative, Canagrajah’s research along with my personal experience to further analyze the phenomenon of translingualism.
Canagrajah defined a new term translingual practice. Different from the classic monolingual orientation, translingual practice means “communication transcends individual languages” and
“communication transcends words and involves diverse semiotic resources and ecological affordances.” (ˆ1) He highlighted an important idea that “language are not necessarily at war with each other; they complement each other in communication.” This challenge the classic view that how languages should be used, that we should use a single language in one setting, follow all the rules and grammars of that language features, and use its vocabularies without simply borrowing other languages. In the light of this idea, different language should not interfere each other, as an old Chinese saying “井⽔水不犯河⽔水”(The well water does not intrude into the river water.) The translingual
practice, in contrast, combine the elements from different languages to express an idea, as Canarajah said “Texts and talk don’t feature one language at a time.” Canarajah stated that there is not always a fixed rule in translingual practice as how to combine two or more languages together, in grammar or vocabulary.(ˆ1) Differed from multilingualism, translingualism is not simply add two languages into each other. Two or more languages are used together and they are actually influencing each other, creating an unique and dynamic relationship between them.
Canagrajah explored the translingual practice by analyzing people in special background. Specifically he provided several examples of people who has to deal with different cultures with languages. He analyzed the hybridization of languages in these individuals’ work. One’s culture can usually influence the way he speaks, and when he learns another language, his old language and culture can very likely affect how he use the new language. It is a very nature trend for those people to combine those languages together. In an example of a conversation happened in an immigrant family in East London, the teenager Rajani used both English and Tamil in his dialogue with his family. He fluently switch between two languages, and sometimes even combine them into one sentence to express an idea. In Canagrajah’s view, it is a very common practice of translingualism and the way of combining two
languages varies each time. There is a great flexibility in how two languages can be hybridized, as long as it effectively progress the communication between people. And when the context changes, the way people hybridize the languages also change seamlessly. It is a very nature way to communicate if one know both languages very well and he can choose the best way he can express the idea.
If we shift our perspective from individual’s practice in translingualism into a social phenomenon, there is more interesting things happen. Let’s take a look into Ivy’s narrative. Shenzhen, a young immigrant city in the Southern part of China, is made of populations from different part of China. Due to the fact that it is in Guangdong, or Canton (in Cantonese) Province and near the border of Hongkong SAR, most people there can speak Cantonese, which is a dialect of Chinese but sometimes defined as a separate language. A huge number of immigrants from inner parts of China bring other dialects to Shenzhen, and the education ministry of China regulates all schools to teach in Mandarin. So it is an interesting facts that most people in Shenzhen can speak both Cantonese and Mandarin. Ivy’s experience states that lacking the knowledge of either language can result in having a difficult time in understanding others. The society, as a whole, is very used to use two languages to communicate. But differ from the translingual practice of individual, the translingual practice in the society as a whole is more limited, or not as flexible as individuals’. As Ivy states, that in schools teacher use Mandarin in class but after school students tend to communicate in Cantonese. If we see how Cantonese and Mandarin are used in Shenzhenes’s life, there is an equilibrium between the languages. In some more official situation, the equilibrium shifts to Mandarin while in conversation between friends it shifts to Cantonese. If one can’t understand Mandarin well, he will have troubles in studying and working; if one don’t know Cantonese, he may have a difficult time in communicating with friends. In a place that has a special multicultural background like Shenzhen, it is necessary to know both languages.
But not everyone is an expert in languages, and some people don’t interact and learn both language from the very early age. Like Ivy, people who don’t know both languages very well face two choice: either experiencing the difficulties in language barrier, or jump out of the comfort zone to learn the new language. Ivy was raised in a environment that most people speak Mandarine, so she didn’t know anything about Cantonese. It is not problematic until she started her primary school and found all people around her speaks another language. In the first, she felt uncomfortable with it, and recalled the unhappy experiences with Cantonese in Hongkong, she chose to avoid Cantonese. She only hang out with those friends who only can speak Mandarine to stay in her comfort zone, until one day she found one of her friends is actually learning Cantonese. She started to learn how to jump out of the comfort zone and accept the new language, and gradually she learned Cantonese and make friends with others. Thankfully it is not very hard for Mandarine speakers to learn Chinese, but think the big difference between Ivy’s life before and after she accept to learn Cantonese. She had a very hard time when she chose not to emerge in the culture of multilingualism by only speaking Mandarine and respond no to Cantonese, but she made lots more friends after she opened her mind to accept the new language and learn to speak it. We can see that the ability of speaking language can greatly affect how one fit into one culture. In a culture of multilingualism, the lack of ability in either language can result in difficulties in communication with others.
Canagrajah view translingualism as an individual’s active practice when people in a conversation master more than one language. They take component from both language and make free and flexible combination at their will. Ivy’s experience, however, give an alternative approach in understanding translingualism. When a society as a whole engage in a translingual practice, it may form a consensus and agreed by people. Therefore, the flexibility of combining them is reduced, and to some extent, the
combination fixes as a new way of speaking. If we go a little bit more south from Shenzhen into Hongkong, we’ll find people there have a different way of combining languages: they tend to use Mandarin, Cantonese and English together. Some word are always express in English while some others are always expressed in Chinese. Therefore a new kind of hybridization form between languages. In fact, sometimes it looks like a new languages which has fixed expressions drawn from both Chinese and English.
Like the Chemistry we have different hybridization to form bonds orbitals, there are also multiple ways to hybridize languages. When analyzing in a macro level, different hybridization has totally different characteristics. Therefore, translingual practice is far beyond a simple and random practice to speak two languages in the same sentence.
Canagrajah, Translingual Practice
Ivy Chen, A Step Forward
Yiyang Zhao, Literacy Narrative: a story in Japan