A TRANSLINGUAL LEAP
In my personal narrative for Project One, I described my multicultural experiences whilst at a boarding school in Singapore and my interactions with peers from different cultural backgrounds, conversing in different languages. Describing my interactions with my Mexican roommate, Itamar with whom I did not share a common language and an instance where I understood the literal meaning of the Chilean term "tresay-tresay" however was unable to understand its contextual relevance when used by my Latino friends, I was able to complicate Cangarajah's outline as through this narrative, raising larger questions relating to whether language may act as a metaphorical "portal" rather than a "barrier" to communication and interaction between people from different cultures and the understanding of other cultures. Suresh Canagarajah in his book Transinlingual Practice mentions, "transnational contact in diverse cultural…domains has increased the interaction between languages and language groups." (Canagarajah 2) thereby perfectly describing my experience while in boarding school in Singapore. Challenging common assumptions, Canagrajah persuades his audience to embrace “translingual practice” which, he believes represents the artiste's own sociocultural in-betweenness, to portray their identities and interests. Encouraging his intended audience, which I assume is a number of multicultural people involved in the field of linguistics, he urges them to "reconsider the dominant understanding that one language detrimentally "interferes" with the learning and use of another" and that influences of one language on another can be creative, enabling and offer possibilities for voice." (Canagarajah 6)
Cangarajah holds the view that “languages are not necessarily at war with each other, they compliment each other in communication.” (Canagarajah 6) However, through the medium of my narrative, I counter this view by questioning how languages can compliment each other in communication when they act as a metaphorical “barrier” to communication. Describing one of my first experiences at boarding school, I narrated my first interaction with my Mexican roommate recounting my anxious and concerned reaction on realizing that we do not share the same language. Indeed, not having a mutual language to communicate in formed a language “barrier” between the two of us, causing us to gravitate away from each other and communicate with people with whom we could communicate in our respective mother tongues; thereby forwarding what Canagarajah describes as a “conventional belief” that “for communication to be efficient and successful we should employ a common language with shared norms.” The metaphorical barrier I created in my text represented the block my roommate and I had against talking to each other and hence, language did actually “interfere” with communication leading to us following a monolingual orientation to communication” (Canagarajah 1). This countered Canagrajah’s notion that it should be reconsidered that language “detrimentally “interferes”” with learning as initially language did “detrimentally “interfere”” (Canagarajah 6) with my learning about my roommate, her background and culture. However, once we both made an effort to communicate we were able to surpass this “barrier” and emerge in a close relationship by the end of the semester. Hence, this led to me speculating on Canagarajah’s view that language does not “interfere” with communication as in my case it did. In my instance with my roommate, language did not only “interfere” with communication but also acted as a barrier, preventing us from forging a relationship. Thereby, indicating that language may act as a “barrier” at times and making me question whether this barrier could always be overcome. I was able to overcome the language barrier between Itamar and myself through our combined efforts however, without those efforts we could have still been following a “monolingual orientation to communication.” (Canagarajah 1) and thereby not allowing languages to “compliment each other in communication.” (Canagarajah 6)
I further my view that language may at times, “interfere” with communication in my Project 1 narrative through my instance when all my Latino friends used the term “tresay-tresay”. Depicting an incident where sharing a mutual language did bring people together however, how the notion of not sharing a mutual language acted as the metaphorical “barrier” as it led to feelings associated with being isolated and disconnected. Narrating an incident when a group of Latino friends would use their common language, Spanish, to bond and make use of the term “tresay-tresay”, I aimed to depict how knowing the literal meaning of a language is not sufficient as although I understood the literal meaning of “tresay-tresay” when translate into English and Hindi, I was unable to understand the contextual meaning of the term. Thereby, countering Canagrajah’s notion that it should be reconsidered that language “detrimentally “interferes”” with learning. Hence, I once again depicted language as a “barrier” to interaction among people from different countries. However, I overcame this barrier by talking to my roommate and asking her to explain the cultural context and background of the term to me. Relating this to Canagrajah’s views which he has portrayed in his text, Translingual Practice I once again questioned Canagarajah’s view that his audience should "reconsider the dominant understanding that one language detrimentally "interferes" with the learning and use of another" as in my case, the use of one language interfered with my understanding of that language as although I knew the literal meaning of the term, I did not understand the contextual meaning of it since it was a term in Chilean-Spanish. Hence, language detrimentally “interferes” and proves as a “barrier” to communication as if I hadn’t asked my roommate to explain the meaning of “tresay-tresay” to me, I would have never known that it was merely a Chilean way of say the “contemporary gesture of saying “wink-wink, nudge-nudge”” and have continued feeling isolated. Hence, this leads to my opinion that languages can act as a barrier to communication unless the barrier is overcome.
Canagarajah holds a resolute view that translingualism aids in fostering relationships and creativity. In the beginning of both anecdotes used in my narrative, I oppose Cangarajah’s notion. However, on delving deeper into my anecdotes I aim to portray language not solely as a barrier but as a barrier that when overcome can as Canagrajah notes, “mutually influence“ (Cangarajah 6) other languages and people. Substantiation for this can be seen when Itamar, my Mexican roommate, learned certain phrases in Hindi such as “Aap Kaisay ho?” and “Mera naam Itamar hai” (Makar 3) which can be attributed to the similar pronunciations among the Spanish and Hindi languages. By narrating instances when they spoke in each other’s languages, the use of translingual conversations and “polyglot dialog” can be noted. The metaphor of language as a “portal” is further developed through the anecdote on the Chilean term of “tresay-tresay” where the revelation of the meaning of a term in a foreign language opened up possibilities for jokes and humor, indeed the “creativity” (Cangarajah 6) Canagarajah believes that can be fostered through translingual interaction. It was the interaction and communication as well as isolationist feelings that rendered me to approach my roommate to understand what the term “tresay-tresay” meant. The learning of the meaning of the term has been compared to the metaphorical opening of a portal to a new culture, interactions and relationships. Hence, although initially depicted as a “barrier”, language has been metamorphosed into a metaphoric “portal” through the course of the anecdotes in the text portraying a slightly complicated view than that followed by Suresh Canagarajah by initially depicting language as a “barrier” but one that when overcome, may act as a “portal”. Recounting that this Chilean term is still used by an Indian, Indonesian and Dutch among other until the present day indicates the extent to which ”translingual language” and ”polyglot dialog” has been spread to people representing different cultures and portraying the truth in Canagarajah’s words, that “the influence of one language on the other can be creative, enabling and offer possibilities for voice.” (Cangarajah 6) as it had led to the creation of a humorous bond among a group of translingual people thereby providing evidence for how language can foster relationships.
Experiencing language hinder as well foster relationships, I have understood how language can act as a barrier or a portal. Cangarajah’s view that “languages are not necessarily at war with each other, they compliment each other in communication” (Cangarajah 6) cannot regarded as false. However, analyzing my experiences, it can be seen that language can act as a barrier, which when overcome can aid in fostering relationships and enable creativity. However, the real question lies in whether these barriers can always be overcome or whether at times it can be inevitable to overcome these language “barriers” and construe language as a “portal”.
Canagarajah, A. Suresh. "Introduction." Introduction. Translingual Practice: Global Englishes and Cosmopolitan Relations. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2013. 1-18. Print.
Makar, Avantika Project 1 Narrative. Atlanta, 2013