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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton August 19, 2015

Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics

Ricardo Otheguy, Ofelia García and Wallis Reid


The concept of translanguaging is clarified, establishing it as a particular conception of the mental grammars and linguistic practices of bilinguals. Translanguaging is different from code switching. Under translanguaging, the mental grammars of bilinguals are structured but unitary collections of features, and the practices of bilinguals are acts of feature selection, not of grammar switch. A proper understanding of translanguaging requires a return to the well known but often forgotten idea that named languages are social, not linguistic, objects. Whereas the idiolect of a particular individual is a linguistic object defined in terms of lexical and structural features, the named language of a nation or social group is not; its boundaries and membership cannot be established on the basis of lexical and structural features. The two named languages of the bilingual exist only in the outsider’s view. From the insider’s perspective of the speaker, there is only his or her full idiolect or repertoire, which belongs only to the speaker, not to any named language. Translanguaging is the deployment of a speaker’s full linguistic repertoire without regard for watchful adherence to the socially and politically defined boundaries of named (and usually national and state) languages. In schools, the translanguaging of bilinguals tends to be severely restricted. In addition, schools confuse the assessment of general linguistic proficiency, which is best manifested in bilinguals while translanguaging, with the testing of proficiency in a named language, which insists on inhibiting translanguaging. The concept of translanguaging is of special relevance to schools interested in the linguistic and intellectual growth of bilingual students as well as to minoritized communities involved in language maintenance and revitalization efforts.


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Published Online: 2015-8-19
Published in Print: 2015-9-1

©2015 by De Gruyter Mouton

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