Composition As Language Excavation

Horner’s suggestion of a translingual approach to composition functions as a means of decolonizing the composition classroom, and reifies people’s opportunity to collaborate on a composition course that’s coadaptive to the needs of students, educational institutions and language itself.

“In this class, you’ll talk and write English.” That was a common refrain from composition instructors throughout my Belizean tertiary education at a junior college, locally referred to as 6th form. In Belize City, the country’s commercial capital, the common vernacular is Kriol, a Creolized English (whether it qualifies as a language or dialect is continuously debated) traditionally based on British English, but now mostly influenced by American English. By taking these courses, I was able to experience the problem of monolingualism within composition courses as described by Bruce Horner in chapter 2 Language’ in his book Rewriting Composition: Terms of Exchange.

In class, we’d say speeches in English, have class discussion in English and struggle through five-page papers in English, many students learning standard English syntax for the first time. Once class was over we resumed talking in Kriol. Most often teachers from Belize and the Caribbean taught me and my classmates, and we didn’t question their rationale for our need to talk English since we already knew we were shaping our mouths and tongues into malformed versions of the mother language. What soon became apparent was that there was little pedagogical reasoning for why we were made to talk English other than its consideration as the language some of us would regularly use in our future academic lives, those some of us being people from well-to-do families for whose future these writing classes conformed to. Kriol occupied the position of a “merely deficient or broken forms of a language” that had great oral character, but was seen to diminish our legitimacy as intellectuals in the United States, England or even the broader West Indies where Belizean Kriol also occupies a secondary status to other varieties.

Horner goes on to say that such a view of non-English languages like Kriol “fail to recognize the logicality, legitimacy, social value and rhetorical efficacy of just such practices and their users” (64), which makes me mourn in non-hyperbolic ways for the current process of decreolization taking place in Belize and other post-colonial spaces wherein Creole is being reabsorbed into their standard variations. This decreolization minimizes the opportunities of looking at the social value of Kriol collaboratively in a composition class, potentially revealing to Belizeans our language’s social value. And since Belize is unlikely to undergo an isolationist stance, perhaps a turn to translingualism in composition can assist in transforming composition classrooms as sites for excavation, cracking into the Kriol syntax to see what remains beneath the imperial veneer.




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