Crafting Multilingual/ Multimodal

Alanna’s analysis of Doreen Patrick’s multilingual multimodality resonates both with current understandings of multilingualism in writing studies (Lu, Canagarajah, Horner, Hawisher and Selfe and others) as well as with theories of multimodality like Kress’ “social semiotic multimodality.”

Mode is meaningful: it is shaped by and carries the ‘deep’ ontological and historical/social orientations of a society and its cultures with it into every sign…Mode offers meaning-laden means for making the meanings that we wish or need to make material and tangible – ‘realizing’, materializing’ meanings.

If I take extreme liberties and give my nutshell version, it’s this: we don’t just use language, genre, discourse, and mode; they are not just tools of production; we are multimodal and multilingual as social beings and once we open the door to that understanding, it results in a never-ending expansion of the social/cultural/sign/symbol makings of meaning. Doreen exemplifies this “I don’t just use multimodal/multilingual; I AM  multimodal/multilingual”  position that Alanna and I find so compelling. Nevertheless, as we call for attentiveness to global language, genre, discourse, and mode we must also take interest in the making, materializing, and crafting.

As we investigate how transnational and multilingual writers use all of their resources to communicate effectively, we necessarily move into the realm of the modes and linguistic resources as means of production. In my Fall 2009 and Fall 2010 Writing and Rhetoric I classes at my institution, I asked my students to work with literacy narratives, first analyzing a selection of contributions to the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives, then composing their own literacy narratives, both in print and multimodal form. In the students’ initial analyses of DALN contributions, many of my students noted a significant, recurring pattern in literacy narratives – they are overwhelmingly narratives of transcendence. This is not unusual in autobiographical narrative (Bruner), but very interesting in terms of how students position themselves and what it is they are overcoming – it is often us – school.

In the narratives of multilingual contributors – the struggle is almost always about finding ways, most often outsides of formal school settings, to achieve an idealized English proficiency with a a focus on language acquisition as literacy. As the level of what Alanna and I are calling “English worry” in these narratives demonstrates – the weight of “native-speaker ideal” shapes these students’ views of their communicative abilities. While anxiety about performance in an another language is never going to go away, that kind of anxiety is distinct from being silenced. What might be most revealing in these coming to English stories are the strategies that students share in their narratives about how they approach dealing with, or “doing” their English. These strategies are social, flexible, resourceful, multilingual, and multimodal.

Today I share the literacy narrative composed by my students Keunho Shin and Cecilia Mijares as examples of what I see as the important connections between multilingual and multimodal composing, working with Canagarajah’s suggestion that  if we need a grammar for multilingual communication or LFE, “it will be a grammar of multimodality.”

Linguistic meaning is created in relation to diverse symbol systems (icons, space, color, gesture, or other representational systems) and modalities of communication (writing, sound, visuals, touch, and body), not to speak of diverse languages. If we need a grammar or rules for this mode of communication, it will be a grammar of multimodality—that is, it will contain rules that account for how language meshes with diverse symbol systems, modalities of communication, and ecological resources to create meaning. (Canagarajah “Lingua Franca” 932)



Multimodal Student Reflections