Exploring translanguaging?

by Jessica Bradley, TLANG Project

The interdisciplinary approach which draws from language research and visual and creative methods, the diversity of methods, and the expertise of the team means we can make a clear and valuable contribution to the project theme of community futures and utopia. A superdiverse society denotes a mobility and movement of people. We believe that the exploration of notions and ideas around ‘welcome’ presents an important interpretation of utopia. The connections between ‘utopia’ and ‘welcome’ are central to this project: we want to feel ‘welcome’ when we travel, when we move neighbourhood, when we move country, when we meet new people. What is it that makes us feel ‘welcome’? How can we explore these ideas with language and creative practice?

Linking to and leading from TLANG, which focuses on multilingualism and translanguaging, allows us to reach wider and more diverse audiences to both engage and to further develop and interrogate our research aims and outcomes. This also enables us to contribute to the broader Connected Communities themes of developing arts and humanities-centred research in and with communities.

The original funding call asked for projects that could build on existing research that is being funded by the AHRC. The TLANG project (funded under its Translating Cultures theme – see website here: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tlang/index.aspx) is investigating how people communicate across languages and cultures. The project is being led by Professor Angela Creese at the University of Birmingham.The researchers are conducting ethnographic research in four cities across the UK – Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds and London – across four case studies: business, heritage, sport and law.

Our interest is in translanguaging practices, or how people make meaning using their communicative repertoires. (For a useful and comprehensive introduction to translanguaging see Ofelia Garcia and Li Wei’s book, Translanguaging: Language, Bilingualism and Education (2015)). There are also an increasing number of working papers on the TLANG website in which you can read more about the initial research findings (see here: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tlang/working-papers/index.aspx) and about translanguaging practices in superdiverse cities. We are adding to these working papers throughout the project. Four working papers from the first case study – business – are there currently, alongside a growing body of work which is emerging from our research, developed and written by members of the team.

A starting point for the TLANG project in terms of how we are thinking about translanguaging is how people ‘make meaning through linguistic signs accessed from diverse sources’ (http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/tlang/methodology/index.aspx). Li Wei describes translanguaging as being ‘both going between different linguistic structures and systems, including different modalities (speaking, writing, signing, listening, reading, remembering) and going beyond them.’ (2011: 1223, my italics). Our ‘Utopias’ project therefore explores translanguaging through developing understandings of how people consider ‘welcome’ to be in contemporary ‘utopia’, using different arts practices as a way to facilitate but also to communicate people’s ideas and stories.

How will the participants use silk paintings to consider ‘welcome’? Will the paintings be created with words, with symbols, with pictures? What kind of conversations will arise over the course of the workshops around these themes? We will start to talk about what ‘welcome’ means, and how we can consider ‘welcome’ in a utopian sense. How do we want to be welcomed when we travel? When we move location? When we move country, city? When we leave everything and start somewhere new? A composer will come to two of the workshops and lead a song and composition session, in which she will use vocals to explore the idea of ‘the city’. This links again to our TLANG research, which takes place in superdiverse wards in four UK cities. What are the sounds of the city? Where do we feel welcome in the city? The composer will work through these questions using sounds and vocal improvisation. How can we consider translanguaging practices in a setting of this kind? How can we capture, document and consider the moving ‘between’ different modalities?

We start, therefore, with many questions. No doubt we will find more questions across the process. We hope to find new ways of exploring these questions, and new ways of interpreting the answers. We also hope to build on this initial project and find new collaborations, new research avenues and new questions


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