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Authenticity and Legitimacy in Multilingual Second Language Acquisition (SLA)

After problematizing the authority of the native speaker in second language acquisition research, applied linguists are now questioning the very notion of standard national language as an appropriate object of study (Canagarajah 2007, Cenoz & Gorter 2010). More important than learning the elements of one whole symbolic system, they argue, is the necessity of learning to move between languages and to understand and negotiate the multiple varieties of codes, modes, genres, registers and discourses that students will encounter in the real world. It is also necessary to take advantage of the increasingly multilingual composition of language classes and to draw on the students’ multilingual competences, even if they are learning one language. Moving between languages, however, not only requires a symbolic competence that still needs to be operationalized in the traditionally monolingual communicative language classroom (Kramsch 2008), but it raises questions about the authenticity and the legitimacy of the multilingual speaker. Ilan Stavans was brutal about it: “Language makes us able to fit into a context. And what is there to be found in the interstices between contexts? Not silence – oh, no. Something far less compelling: pure kitsch.” (Stavans 2001:250). To what extent do L2 learners have to be concerned about kitsch, inauthenticity, and imposture in our late modern era or have these notions become irrelevant now that “the native speaker is dead”?
After surveying current conceptions of multilingualism in applied linguistics, this paper will explore the new faces of authenticity and legitimacy, and ultimately trust in the use of language in multilingual contexts.
Canagarajah, Suresh. 2010. Codemeshing in academic writing: Identifying teachable
strategies of translanguaging. Modern Language Journal 95:3, 401-417.
Cenoz, Jasone & Gorter, Durk. 2010.Introduction to the Special Issue. A holistic
approach to multilingual education. Modern Language Journal 95:3, 339-343
Kramsch, Claire. 2008. Ecological perspectives on foreign language education. Language
Teaching 41:3, 389-408.
Stavans, Ilan. 2001. On Borrowed Words. A memoir of language. New York: Penguin.
Questions / Prompts:
This presentation speaks to the following questions/prompts:
- How does multilingualism interact with other symbolic systems?
- How have multilingual phenomena over the past two decades outpaced or otherwise challenged the theories we have developed to account for SLA? What new categories of analysis may be necessary to account for them?
- Have methodological norms in SLA research enabled and/or excluded specific modes of inquiry into multilingualism?
- How do glossodiversity and semiodiversity respond differently to the demands of capital?
- In what ways might multilingual phenomena be considered to be embodied?
- How does multilingualism look in teaching practice?
Further Reading
Kramsch, Claire. From communicative competence to symbolic competence. Modern
Language Journal 90, (2006) 349-353.
Kramsch, Claire and Whiteside, Ann. Language ecology in multilingual settings:
Towards a theory of symbolic competence. Applied Linguistics 29 (2008), 645-671.
Wei, Li. Multilinguality, multimodality, and multicompetence: Code-and modeswitching
by minority ethnic children in complementary schools. Modern Language Journal
95:3, (2011), 370-384.

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