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Translanguaging and the Power of Linguistic Diversity: Embracing Multilingualism in Discourse.

During a recent conversation with a close friend, who is Polish, the topic of language and its preservation came up. She expressed frustration with the increasing usage of non-Polish words like 'chat' and 'hotdog.' According to her, we should cherish the Polish language for its beauty and uniqueness. While I understand the importance of preserving languages from extinction, I don't necessarily agree with translating everything. Some words in different languages hold meanings that are difficult to capture in English. For instance, the Danish and Norwegian concept of "hygge" signifies a cosy and warm atmosphere that goes beyond a simple translation of "cosy”. It represents a way of life specific to Danish culture.


In his enlightening book "Mother Tongue," Bill Bryson (1996) delves into the fascinating evolution of languages and their tendency to absorb words from diverse linguistic sources, thus enhancing their richness and diversity. Despite its vast vocabulary, English occasionally needs to catch up in capturing the authentic essence and message conveyed by these untranslatable words. This realisation underscores the significance of embracing and appreciating the untranslatable aspects of languages as they contribute to the intricate tapestry of human expression and cultural understanding.


According to Steven Frank (2004), the English language comprises around 500,000 words, with only 171,476 currently in use (and 47,156 obsolete words) and included in the English dictionary. Although this surpasses the number of words in French or German, it falls short compared to languages like Arabic (Inc & Lim, 2022) or Korean (admin, 2023). However, it is important to note that despite this vast lexicon, there are instances where English needs help to capture the precise nuances and depths of meaning found in other languages. This challenge arises due to various factors, including the historical evolution of English, its borrowings from multiple languages, and the complexity of cultural contexts. While English has absorbed words from diverse linguistic sources, the translation process can sometimes be complicated. Some concepts or cultural-specific terms from languages like Arabic or Korean do not have direct equivalents in English. As a result, even with its large vocabulary, English can encounter limitations when attempting to encapsulate the intricate shades of meaning found in other languages.


Translanguaging (Conteh, 2018), blending different languages to express thoughts, has gained significant recognition recently. It challenges the notion of strict linguistic boundaries and encourages individuals to embrace their multilingual identities. By combining languages, people can tap into a broader range of vocabulary, nuances, and cultural references, resulting in a more comprehensive and authentic form of communication. This approach acknowledges that language is not a rigid construct but rather a flexible tool that can adapt to its speakers' diverse contexts and experiences.


As a bilingual individual, I have often found myself navigating between two languages and embracing a dual-language thinking process. Initially, I felt hesitant about openly using this form of communication, fearing that it might be perceived as incorrect or unprofessional. However, my participation in lectures and discussions on translanguaging has empowered me to embrace my linguistic hybridity. I have recognised the value of incorporating elements from both languages in my notes and everyday conversations. This blending of languages allows me to express my thoughts more accurately and enables a deeper connection with my cultural heritage.


In one of the lectures I attended, Geoffrey Nsanja (2018) delved into the topics of identity and identification in research writing. He shed light on the challenges individuals face pursuing a PhD, where they are often expected to commit to a particular academic path and temporarily set aside other linguistic influences. This alignment with Anglicized ways of thinking and expression can partially suppress one's personal experiences and cultural identity. Nsanja emphasised the importance of reclaiming and embracing diverse linguistic and cultural perspectives within academic writing.


Another lecture by Berrington Ntombela (2020) focused on the unique nature of academic English. While it may share similarities with everyday English, academic English has distinct conventions and structures that set it apart. Some argue that learning academic English is akin to acquiring a new language, as it requires understanding formal writing styles, specialised vocabulary, and engaging with scholarly literature effectively. However, it is important to recognise that native English speakers have an advantage in this regard, as they have been immersed in the language since childhood and are inherently familiar with its linguistic intricacies.


Nsanja, in his lecture, highlighted that academic writing is not solely defined by the language in which it is written. At the same time, English may serve as the primary medium, the depth of knowledge, the quality of references, and the rigorous research that defines academic writing. The writer's identity, experiences, and unique perspective are crucial in shaping the academic discourse. Incorporating personal beliefs, cultural insights, and diverse ways of thinking enriches the educational landscape, fostering a broader understanding of complex subjects.


Furthermore, it is essential to acknowledge and appreciate the cultural nuances and untranslatable concepts that exist across languages. For example, "Ubuntu" (Murove, 2012) holds profound meaning in African cultures, emphasising individuals' interconnectedness and shared humanity (Manthalu et al., 2021). While some may attempt to translate Ubuntu as a philosophy of pain, such a definition fails to capture its true essence. Ubuntu is a ‘philosophy of being’, embodying values of empathy, respect, and communal harmony. We can foster a more inclusive and diverse approach to knowledge creation by embracing and celebrating these linguistic and cultural differences.


When we confine our thinking to a single language, we inadvertently limit the expression of ideas to a singular perspective. Language is a vessel through which we convey thoughts, experiences, and concepts. Each language has unique words, grammar, and cultural nuances that shape how we perceive and articulate ideas. By embracing multilingualism and the diversity of languages, we open ourselves to many ways to convey meaning.


In conclusion, recognising translanguaging, acknowledging individual linguistic identities, and including diverse cultural perspectives are crucial in pursuing knowledge. Through this acceptance of linguistic hybridity, the incorporation of personal experiences, and the celebration of cultural diversity, we can enrich academic discourse, promote understanding, and create a more inclusive world that appreciates the beauty and complexity of language.


Bibliography:

  • Admin. (2023, May 1). Which Language Is Richest In Words? Interpreters and Translators, Inc. | Blog. https://blog.ititranslates.com/2023/05/01/which-language-is-richest-in-words/

  • Bryson, B. (1996). The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way (Reissue edition). William Morrow & Company.

  • Conteh, J. (2018). Translanguaging. ELT Journal, 72(4), 445–447. https://doi.org/10.1093/elt/ccy034

  • Frank, S. (2004). The Pen Commandments: A Guide for the Beginning Writer (16267th edition). Anchor.

  • Inc, E. T., & Lim, F. (2022, September 6). Translating the Arabic Language | Eriksen Translations. Eriksen Translations Inc. https://eriksen.com/general/translating-arabic-language/

  • Manthalu, C. H., Chikaipa, V., & Gunde, A. M. (2021). Education, Communication and Democracy in Africa: A Democratic Pedagogy for the Future. Routledge.

  • Murove, M. F. (2012). Ubuntu. Diogenes, 59(3–4), 36–47. https://doi.org/10.1177/0392192113493737

  • Ngubane, N., Ntombela, B. X., & Govender, S. (2020). Translanguaging pedagogy in selected English First Additional Language writing classrooms. Southern African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, 38(2), 142–151. https://doi.org/10.2989/16073614.2020.1771190

  • Nsanja, G. W. (2018). Becoming academic writers: Author identity in a Malawian university [Phd, University of Leeds]. https://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/22373/

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