background image

INTRODUCTION

This webtext explores the intersection of language negotiation and multimedia in the classroom through the use of closed captioning. After reading and viewing the introductory piece to the right, you can navigate the content in whatever order you choose using the buttons below the screen. Hover over each button for a descriptive title of each content section.

Design by Shyam Sharma

Introduction: Theoretical Background

Theorizing the diverse linguistic resources of global and local communicators and valuing the negotiations involved in cross-language and intra-language "code-meshing" are important conversations in our field at this moment (Canagarajah, 2006; Horner, Lu, Royster, & Trimbur, 2011; Horner & Trimbur, 2002; Inoue, 2011; Lu, 1994, 2004; Young, 2004). These conversations respond to the diverse language practices of students by considering the ways we can value and build on language difference in our classrooms.

In particular, Bruce Horner, Min-Zhan Lu, Jacqueline Jones Royster, and John Trimbur (2011) distilled the wisdom of scholars on multilinguality to generate a theory of translinguality that underscores the value of language difference (both within and across languages) as a resource rather than merely a right. They point out that traditional approaches to writing instruction "assume that heterogeneity in language impedes communication and meaning. Hence, the long-standing aim of traditional writing instruction has been to reduce 'interference,' excising what appears to show difference" (p. 303). In a translingual approach, by contrast, the focus shifts from engagements with supposed "correctness" to questions such as, "What might this difference do? How might it function expressively, rhetorically, communicatively? For whom, under what conditions, and how?" (pp. 303-304). As the authors of this translingual statement point out, the considerations of rhetorical effect implicit in a translingual approach put more, not less, emphasis on understanding standards; at the same time, a translingual approach

does mean that we need to recognize the historicity and variability of standards, which change over time, vary across genres, disciplines, and cultures, and are always subject to negotiation (and hence, change). We can and should teach standards, but precisely as historical, variable, and negotiable. This will help to demystify (and lessen confusion among students about) what these standards are, and will make students feel a greater sense of responsibility as writers for the writing practices they engage in. (p. 311)

I argue alongside these authors that understanding and valuing multiple language resources and choices is a valuable skill for students entering a global knowledge market. I believe, as Bruce Horner and his co-authors (2011) said, that "what is increasingly needed, and even demanded, is the ability to work across differences, not just of language but of disciplines and cultures" and that "translingualism teaches language users to assume and expect that each new instance of language use brings the need and opportunity to develop new ways of using language, and to draw on a range of language resources" (p. 312). I also believe that closed captioning might be a way to explore these principles and goals in the classroom. Hence, this webtext builds on this translingual theory by considering the intersections between multilingual and multimodal pedagogies (see, e.g., Street, 2007).

In "The New Literacy Studies and Multimodality," Brian Street (2007) advocated for a New Literacy Studies approach to both multilingual and multimodal pedagogies on the grounds that both issues involve an expansion of our sense of English and demand new pedagogies in response to this expansion. In particular, Street drew on Gunther Kress's (2003) work to argue that the project of English as fostering deliberative and critical discourse about texts can be applied to the new senses of language use involved in both multimodal and multilingual communications.

Closed Captioning as a Language Practice

The classroom activity described in this webtext is my attempt to think through the ways that the multimodal nature of closed captioning as a language practice could intersect productively with a translingual approach to language.┬áPart of rhetorical awareness for a globalizing citizenry is an acknowledgement of the complexity of language choices—even and especially in contexts where language is seemingly transparent, standard, unquestioned.

Closed captioning is a striking example of a site of language use that is (mis)represented as a straightforward and unmediated transcription of language, when it is actually a complex and political translation with complicated ties to monolingual English-Only language politics (Lueck, 2012; Horner & Trimbur, 2002). Although closed captions are usually considered to be a transcription of the audio track, and transcription is assumed to be a matter of transparent rendering of language from one medium to another, captioners actually make significant rhetorical decisions about how voice, identity, language(s), and meaning are represented on the screen. Whose voice does the captioner mark as accented? When does one standardize speech to make it more readable, and what values and assumptions are operating in that choice? How are non-standard varieties of English and non-English languages represented when the captioner does not know the language in its original and is advised not to translate it to standard English?

Noticing and understanding these choices is an engaging and memorable way to get even self-identified monolingual students to understand the possibilities and power of language resources and textual representation. By transcribing audio tracks, students can interrogate their own assumptions about language and the unmarked priority afforded to standardized English monolingualism in the writing classroom.

This webtext, then, argues that closed captions of television and film can be used to highlight for hearing students the complexity and rhetorical significance of language choices and textual representation. I argue that even so-called monolingual writers and speakers engage in complex language negotiation—akin to, if not commonly named, translation (see Steiner, 1975)—that is made visible through such multimodal activities. In using closed captions to distance "monolingual" language users from their own discursive resources and assumptions, this activity sought to elucidate the ways in which all language is contingent and translated. While most folks understand difference in language in terms of glossodiversity and ignore semiodiversity, Pennycook (2010) wants to bring attention to the semiodiversity accomplished in iterations of the seemingly same. In translations, the glossodiversity is assumed; monolingualists would want to eliminate semiodiversity, whereas translingualists would want to acknowledge its inevitability: In the case of captioning, the words on the screen produce a different meaning than the heard words (and having both simultaneously produces yet more diversity in meaning). In drawing attention to semiodiversity in translation and meaning, then, I argue multimodality can affect cross-cultural relations and (dis)positions for our students. The unique affordance of using video captions in the classroom is that it disrupts students' usual academic reading or viewing experiences and helps them reconsider the "naturalness" of standardized English.

play icon
record icon
pause icon
stop icon
eject icon