Overview Textual-Visual Podcast Narrative Resources About Me

Review of Toward Translingual Realities in Composition: (Re)Working Local Language Representations and Practices, by Nancy Bou Ayash

Review by Yasmine Romero

Rethinking and Reconceptualizing How We View Languaging

Chapters 1 and 2 of Nancy Bou Ayash's (2019) Toward Translingual Realities in Composition tackle how languaging is viewed in three ways (mono, multi, and trans), the ideologies and attitudes attributed to these views, and how translingualism can lead to rethinking and reconceptualizing writing as an agentive, semiotic, and socially complex act. In what follows, I combine textual and visual cues to present my understanding, reflection, and critique of the first two chapters.

Light pole with posted speed limit sign of 25 MPH and yellow CAUTION sign that reads, modified intersection head. In the background are mist-covered mountains overlooking houses and palm trees.
Traffic Sign in Mānoa, Hawai'i

Language Ideologies

A Summary of Bou Ayash's (2019) Discussion of Language Ideologies
Approach Connections Goals Models/Images
Monolingual Unidirectional Single, standardized language Linear arrow/black box
Multilingual Multidirectional with limitations Switching from one language to another to communicate Islands/switches
Translingual Multidirectional without limitations Drawing upon multiple meaning-making sources to communicate Banyan trees/road traffic/cables


In Chapter 1, monolingual models, as Bou Ayash (2019) states, are "unidirectional" and perpetuate idealistic views of language. Unidirectional means one movement, such as the black box theory of language learning in Chomskyan linguistics where speakers or listeners receive input, it goes into a little black box, and then it comes out as output for that speaker or listener. The question in these kinds of models is: What happens in that little black box?

For generative linguists, it's the language acquisition device (LAD) that creates connections with our "innate" universal grammar, which is what generative linguists are still figuring out. For rhetoric and compositions folks who use monolingual ideologies and models, standard language does the LAD's job in that it sets a precedent for writers, and that precedent is worked towards, engaged, and practiced. It may even be shown as a linear arrow, progression going upwards if and only if a student takes feedback, improves habits, and conforms to said expectations and structures. There is also an emphasis on languages being separated by difference, and that this difference cannot be interfered with by other languages, situations, and more.

In this way, other languages are sacrificed for a single, standardized language, which is usually in the hands of those in power. A single, standardized language is an ideal; it can be an ideal that speaker-writers in power can force upon others; it can also be an ideal that speaker-writers must conform to to pass classes, to be considered a good student, to be considered a speaker of English (and I should add that race, gender, and socioeconomic status among other factors shape these ideals as well). This idealism leads to problematic steps in the writing classroom and beyond, and Bou Ayash shows how multilingual models do the same thing:
The focus should not be on the degree of adherence to or deviation from a fixed set of abstract language standards and conventional forms in student writing as much as on the rhetorical, material character of their practices, their chosen meanings, and complex decisions while negotiating, like all the rest of us, varied affordances and constraints in local writing ecologies. (p. 55)

Multilingual models see multiple languages as resources, but as separate resources that must be switched on and off depending on time, place, and other speaker–writers present. Bou Ayash compares the multilingual model to an archipelago, where different islands are languages, and you jump from one to another to respond to diverse rhetorical situations.

Such models privilege the concept of code-switching and condemn code-meshing or code-mixing; these models also reproduce notions that non-English languages cannot be academic, and specifically non-Western varieties of English (Canagarajah, 1999).

Translingual models, on the other hand, resolve some of these issues, according to Bou Ayash. They focus on interaction and negotiation. These models also bring attention to the multiple semiotic or meaning-making resources that are drawn upon throughout language use. Further, they embrace that experience is part and parcel of language interaction, and that as we interact with one another, we accomplish goals through language. Our ability to adapt, change, and understand our languaging situations is highlighted more than what is "innate" or what is "turned off and on." We do not have a switch, things are much blurrier than they seem; they are much more interconnected.

To further illustrate her point, Bou Ayash shares three models: the Banyan Tree Model, the Moving Traffic Model, and the Chaotic Arrangement of Overhead Electricity Cables Model. I actually find that these models resonate with me more, especially the Banyan Tree Model, since I have lived in Saipan and currently reside in Hawai'i.

Large banyan tree in the middle of a fenced-in yard. Weather is bright and sunny.
Banyan Tree in Mānoa, Hawai'i

The Banyan Model emphasizes the organic and interconnected ways that language emerges. Language is not bounded because it sprawls out, with the main trunk supporting the ever-growing roots. This description resonates with me because I think it shows not only the dynamic nature of language, but also that the history of a language gives it growth, and that growth is changing and constantly trying to fit itself into everyday practices, or spaces in the earth or up in the canopy of leaves.

Major highway is the center of the photo, with businesses and city housing as a backdrop. Behind these buildings is a mist-covered mountain, and the weather is gray.
Traffic in Monterrey, Mexico

The Traffic Model is less organic than the Banyan Model, and it is a model that pops up throughout Bou Ayash's text. I also find myself using this model when conceptualizing languaging because I feel it accounts for the expectations across multiple lanes of traffic, and that each vehicle waits, passes, or pulls off to the side depending on what is happening to the flow: Are people crossing? Is there an accident? Is there construction? I do feel that this model is much easier to visualize, too, because there are clearer boundaries, but decisions and negotiations for space, for moving are constant.

Inside cabling and connectors of a gaming keypad. Colors of the cabling range from green to red.
Cables Inside a Gaming Keypad

The Cables Model attempts to capture the organic, interconnecting nature of the Banyan Model, yet the model shows how power dynamics can impact who gets what cable and why. To contest these dynamics, this model also accounts for the agency of individuals arranging cables in certain ways, omitting other cables, avoiding dangerous cables (or not), and/or borrowing cables to support their own (electrical) needs. Borrowing here is not in a negative sense, but in a shared resources sense, which makes the Cables Model incredibly focused on speaker–writers' agency in comparison to the Traffic Model and the Banyan Model.

While all three models have their strengths and weaknesses, it is important to address that by innovating and building other ways of conceptualizing languaging; then we can start breaking down and resisting the ideologies presented in Chapter 1 that continue to persist in our classrooms, profession, and everyday lives.


My interpretations of Bou Ayash's arguments are twofold: I find her reconceptualizing of translingualism compelling and her critiques of the other models matching my own as a teacher–scholar. I do think that this kind of approach puts the onus on teacher–scholars to facilitate change. I am not saying that teacher–scholars should not be pushing for changes to how language is viewed at their institutions and within their classrooms, but the question of labor when many writing teachers are overworked and generally serving in adjunct roles makes the question of labor far more complicated.

Being in a tenure-track position, I can certainly vouch for this kind of approach and push for these kinds of changes to happen at the programmatic level, but there is always pushback because of financial concerns or standardization or language ideologies that are a result of colonialism and imperialism.

Bou Ayash does not, at least in these opening paragraphs, give me an idea of what I can do as a teacher–scholar within the bigger picture of the institution. She does touch on that later, but combating ideologies that are problematic can most certainly start in the classroom, or local spaces, but they do need to be carried through to global spaces, that is, institutional and administrative spaces. Further, those in positions of power can and should support these changes, but, again, that takes labor, funding, and time.

I am also always thinking about the question of "what happens beyond the classroom" in the back of my mind. These kinds of models are helpful in showing students how else they can think through languaging and what it accomplishes. For instance, one of my students responds to the alternative way of thinking through errors or problems in Bou Ayash's text (p. 37):

These "mistakes" that may be viewed by a person's own local language ideologies should be viewed as assets in your individual understanding. So maybe we should be focusing on intent? Maybe think about why the author chose to write a sentence in a certain way? Does it mean something else according to the writer's language ideologies? These are types of questions we should maybe be aware of when looking at different pieces of writing. (Anthony)

As Anthony shows, students in my course who are teachers step back and reevaluate their assumptions, how those assumptions came to be, and what to do about those assumptions with this new knowledge and/or new perspective. While some of my students have gone on to accomplish amazing things like asking students to translate between Pidgin and English in their classrooms and reflect on their steps for these translations, I wonder about other students who are not in the education sector? I wonder how these kinds of ideas could be put into action in other sectors—business, health sciences, aloha 'āina communities, technology, and more. How can we secure funding that treats languaging as something agentive rather than just a standard to compare and contrast students to? In the face of affirmative action falling apart (as well as its critiques from before), how can we ensure that there is a way to support changes like these?

Mural depicting a mountain, a wall of rocks, two trees, and a line of children sillouettes, holding hands.
Mural in Pu'uokapolei, Hawai'i. The Hawaiian, "No Kākou Ke Kuleana," translates as "it is our responsibility" (Scott Kaua Neumann, personal communication, 2023).


How to get students and administrators invested seems to be the touchstone I keep returning to, that is, how to make translingualism matter beyond the theoretical. How to present another perspective on language that allows other speaker–writers to make their own decisions? How to present translingualism in such a way that is accessible to the public and not just academics?

Perhaps: having a talk about definitions of languaging rather than this is the right or wrong language definition, which is what I think Bou Ayash accomplishes in naming the strengths and weaknesses of the mono- and multi- approaches to language. However, she does not provide any critiques of the translingual model, which was documented by Paul K. Matsuda (2013), as well as by other rhetoric and composition scholars. Why is a bigger question.

When thinking through these two chapters as a teacher of writing, I see that building discussions of languaging—including having students take ownership of knowing what these different perspectives on languaging are and encouraging them to make language decisions for themselves—is a pathway that supports critical pedagogy. Translingualism is slowly becoming what is considered the norm; however, the critiques of its catch-all-ness catch up quickly (Gilyard, 2016).

For me, then, I think presenting this information in my courses has been successful, and students' investment in learning how each other positions themselves towards languaging supports them in making decisions as they move beyond the classroom. What is missing, for me, is data from students who are not English or education majors. What do they think? How might they use this knowledge in other sectors?

For administrators, creating opportunities to have these kinds of discussions can emerge in talks of assessment and course design and in building opportunities for underrepresented students and languages and voices. In my own experience, with the help of colleagues, we are building a scholarly journal for undergraduate students who come from Indigenous and mixed-race backgrounds. In this way, we're drafting a language statement, and the process in and of itself involves multiple drafts, feedbacking stages, and approval.


Notes on Chapter 1 of Bou Ayash's (2019) book

Chapter 1 Notes

  • Quotations
    • "Language representation practices, I argue, need to be fully integrated into and taken seriously for a rigorous understanding of and productive intervention in the nature and workings of local language ideologies in the teaching and learning university-level writing (p. 22): we need to address language representation in our curricula.
    • "Teaching writing from a monolingual ideological orientation to language eschews alternative language and literacy practices that emerge in he writing clssroom as arguably interfering with and hindering a presumably tension-free, unidirectional flow of knowledge and linear progression toward a static, unquestioned endpoint, that is, an ideal state of (near) native-like command" (p. 28): my students engaged this idea of "unidirectional flow"; what are alternative language and literacy practices (Bou Ayash, 2019, answers in later chapters)
    • "Teacher–scholars who wish to refine intellectual engagements and labor with translingualism need to resist the urge and popular demand to rush into postulating a specific set of identifiable, unified, and stabilized, prescribed teaching practices and activities" (pp. 39–40): translingual orientations open up more paths than foreclose
  • Key Points
    • Language Representations (p. 21)
    • Ecological approach (p. 21)
    • Table 1.1: Distinctions among mono-, multi-, and translinguality in writing instruction (p. 25)
    • Meso-political action (p.36)
  • Major Takeaways
    1. clearly delineates between mono-, multi-, and translingual orientations;
    2. establishes working definitions that Bou Ayash (2019) will use to interrogate data;
    3. and tackles the debate between multi- and translingual orientations.
Notes on Chapter 2 of Bou Ayash's (2019) book

Chapter 2 Notes

  • Quotations
    • "We need to resist the temptation to continue to represent ourselves (hence our disciplinary labor) as invested with an institutional responsibility to rescue the language of the academy from all the assaults it is being and has been subjected to. Instead, it is our professional responsibility to participate in helping current and future generations of college/university writing students recognize and experience the fact that their actual labor of putting language into active use in writing is 'always taking place translingually' or that, as Trimbur (2016, 226) further explains, 'we are all—students, teachers, literary writers—constantly negotiating [with varying degrees of effectiveness] multiple languages, conventions of writing, and linguistic loyalties'" (p. 58)
  • Key Points
    • Metaphors for translingualism
      Banyan Tree Model (p. 44)
      Moving Traffic Model (pp. 45–47)
      Overhead Electricity Cables Model (pp. 47–50)
    • Transdirectionality (p. 49), this concept moves beyond unidirectional, towards up, in, and around directionality
    • Key reconceptualizations
      (1) Language Competence in Writing as Performative (pp. 51–53)
      (2) Language Standards and Conventions as Regulated, Sedimented Practices (pp. 53–55)
      (3) The Logic of Language Errors in Writing as Collaborative Social Achievement (pp. 55–58)
      (4) Writerly Agency and Reader Engagement as Dynamic Co-Writer-Reader-ship (pp. 58–60)
      (5) "Involves a series of co's: cooperation, collaboration, co-contribution, and co-coparticipation, co-construction," that is, "overcoming probable hurdles and breakdowns together to establish meaningful and consequential literate transactions" (p. 60)
  • Major Takeaways
      1. New, innovative models of language learning that encourage writers to innovate their own,
      2. Actively reconceptualizes agency, performativity, error, and standard to account for collaborations,
      3. Forefronts nonhegemonic ways of knowing translingualism (languaging and writing for that matter too).