Translanguaging as a theory of language: some conceptual and methodological considerations

Li Wei (University College London)

The notion of Translanguaging has, in the last ten years or so, attracted a considerable amount of attention in the applied linguistics community. On the whole, it has been accepted as a useful pedagogical approach to language education, particularly bilingual education. Its significance as a theoretical concept, especially as a theory of language, remains controversial. Some question its added value compared to the more established concepts such as code-switching. In this presentation, I focus on Translanguaging as a theory of language and discuss the theoretical motivations behind the concept and the methodological challenges in its application to real data. I contextualise Translanguaging in the debate over the Modularity of Mind hypothesis and the multilingual language users’ Multi-Competence. One particular aspect of multilingual language users’ social interaction that I want to emphasize is the multi-modal and multi-sensory nature. Drawing examples from everyday social interactions amongst the Chinese and Polish diasporic communities in Britain, I aim to show what can be gained by adapting the Translanguaging approach rather than the traditional code-switching approach, as well as how the notion of Language can be handled in empirical analyses from a Translanguaging perspective. In doing so, I respond to some of the criticisms levelled by theoretical linguists against the notion of Translanguaging and point out the muddles in the logic of arguments hitherto presented. In the meantime, I also highlight the necessity to bridge the artificial, and ideological, divide between the socio-cultural and what’s been called the ‘cognitive’, approaches to dynamic multilingual practices.