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Applied Linguistics Review

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Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics

Ricardo Otheguy / Ofelia García / Wallis Reid
Published Online: 2015-08-19 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2015-0014


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.

Keywords: translanguaging; code switching; named languages; idiolects; language education and assessment


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About the article

Ricardo Otheguy

Ricardo Otheguy is professor of linguistics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in the Ph.D. Program in Linguistics and the Ph.D. Program in Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages. His theoretical work is in sociolinguistics, language contact, and sign-based linguistic analysis; his applied work is in the teaching of Spanish to U.S. Latinos.

Ofelia García

Ofelia García is professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in the Ph.D. programs in Urban Education and Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages. Her most recent work has focused on the potential of translanguaging in language education contexts, and particularly in bilingual education.

Wallis Reid

Wallis Reid holds a doctorate in linguistics from Columbia University. For thirty-three years he taught at Rutgers University in the Graduate School of Education. His interests are in linguistic theory and sign-based linguistic analysis.

Published Online: 2015-08-19

Published in Print: 2015-09-01

Citation Information: Applied Linguistics Review, Volume 6, Issue 3, Pages 281–307, ISSN (Online) 1868-6311, ISSN (Print) 1868-6303, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/applirev-2015-0014.

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