Finding “Translingual Realities” as an Assignment

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I’ve just been reading Nancy Bou Ayash’s Toward Translingual Realities in Composition: (Re)Working Local Language Representations and Practices (2019). It’s a bit of a struggle for me—fairly dense in places, but I’m very glad I’m reading it. I was drawn to it by the cover (pictured above): who wouldn’t want to turn the page and find out what’s inside?!


The case Ayash makes for “translingual realities” is compelling, based on her own research in Beirut and in Seattle; the book is brimming with examples of translingual practices throughout. Because I know Seattle pretty well, I have especially enjoyed reading about the research conducted there, and one paragraph sparked my imagination in all kinds of ways. It’s long, but I think you’ll enjoy it:

On the walls of one of Seattle’s breakfast locations known for its twelve-egg omelets, the decorative collection of illustrations and accompanying textual descriptions patrons have playfully designed while waiting for their food as they mix languages, Englishes, language varieties, and visualization elements . . . portrays the city’s blending and bending of resources and practices. The flow of customers as they come and go, enter and exit that particular space has significantly expanded that canvas all the way to the restaurant’s entrance where the front door is now covered with graphic and textual creations. Bringing southern barbecue and brew to Seattle’s hip Ballard neighborhood, a counter service joint in a former barbecue wasteland is known not only for its smoky fall-off-the-bone-style ribs but also for the availability of writable chalkboard walls in its restrooms, with customers mobilizing meaning and language resources as they move in and out. At another jam-packed restaurant large enough to accommodate only ten tables, its whiteboard side wall is an open invitation to its primarily Spanish-speaking clientele usually on a one- to two-hour wait to grab black markers, search for blank surfaces, write, and draw on that fluid canvas. Covered with dry-erase paint, the interior walls of this Mexican steakhouse are adorned with Spanish, English, and Spanglish used in an interwoven mix to depict local experiences of and connections with the transnational migration of the culinary gene pool of the northwestern Sinaloa region across the US/Mexican border all the way to the Pacific Northwest region. (105)


Wow, what a scene! I love thinking about these restaurant-goers becoming authors and artists on the spot, mixing it up with languages, dialects, drawings—expressing themselves with fun and evidently with flair. Now I am going to be looking for examples of these open spaces for writing in public places like restaurants, writing that definitely strays outside the “lines” of a page or screen but is not graffiti (or is it?). I can also imagine sending my students out on field trips to gather additional data first hand: I can see them fanning out across San Francisco’s Chinatown or South of Market, around Oakland’s Jack London Square and other places in the East Bay, in search of “translingual realities” and bringing them to class to examine together and to use as a means of understanding translingualism—and not just understanding it better, but practicing it ourselves. And to go further, asking how these translingual realities relate to the writing they are doing in college and to ask how such realities might work to engage and influence that writing.


So thanks to Nancy Bou Ayash for taking me on this ride: I am now looking for “translingual realities” everywhere!


Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.