The Continua of Biliteracy

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Örebro universitet KOIIA I Jenny Rosén

Nancy Hornberger (2003) Continua of Biliteracy

In her text, Hornberger brings together the theoretical field of bilingualism and literacy by introducing the concept of biliteracy. Bilitaracy can be defined as “any and all instances in which communication occurs in two (or more) languages in or around writing” (2003:35). One of the central questions of her text is it whether and how literacy is on language has an impact on the acquisition of literacy in other language (2003:4). In order to make the complexity of biliteracy visual, Horberger uses different models, including the opposites of different continuum on three levels (Hornberger 2003:6-7).

1) The continua of biliterate contexts, including oral – literate, monolingual – bilingual and macro – micro. 2) The continua of bilaterate development in the individual, including oral – written, L1 – L2 and production – reception. 3) The continua of biliterate media, including divergent scripts – convergent scripts, similar structures – dissimilar structures and successive exposure – simultaneous exposure.

Later on, Hornberger develops her model by adding the level of context including minority – majority, vernacular – literary and contextualized – decontextualized (2003:37-39).

Another development in her model is the attention paid to the power and status given to one of the pairs’ opposites included in her model. In her first article she writes “those opposites represent only theoretical endpoints on what is in reality a continuum of features “(2003:5) not recognizing the fact that one end of the continua is constructed as the norm while the other end as the deviant. In her later work, drawing the literature on critical pedagogy, critical literacy and CDA, the notion of power relations in the continua model is made more explicit (2003:38). The emerging focus on power is not only limited to pointing out privileged positions in the continua, but also to emphasize that these privileged positions can be changed through critical reflections by the actors involved. One such way is to pay greater attention to agency and voice to oral and bilingual interaction on the micro level in order to make the learners believe that they have the rights to speak in the language and that it is not owned by someone else (2003:40,42).

The model of biliteracy is, as already mentioned, developed from the fields of bilingualism and literacy. Although the model includes different levels, it is important to keep in mind the intersection between them and that development in one continuum draws on features from the entire continuum (2003:15). It is the interrelatedness of the continua which makes it possible to see the potential for positive transfer across languages and literacies (2003:25). In her later article, Hornberger argues that the more the learning contexts allow learners to draw on all point of the continua, the greater the chances for their full biliterate development (2003:37).

1) Context of biliteracy The importance of context has mean recognized both by linguists such as Hymes (SPEAKING) as well as one of the first researchers of New Literacy, Brian Street, who introduced an ideological model of literacy which assumes that meaning of literacy depends upon the social institutions in which it is embedded (Hornberger 2003:8). The New Literacy movement has emphasized literacy not as a decontexutalized skill but as a social practice in a specific context. Therefore, literacies should be seen as multiple and socially constructed (2003:45). As well as literacy(ies), biliteracy is constituted by its context of use. By reviewing the research done in the fields of bilingualism and literacy, Hornberger argues that any particular context of biliteracy is defined by the intersection of the three continua presented above (2003:9). On a macro level, unequal power relations usually make up the context of biliteracy, as one or several languages are given a higher status (official language, language of education) than others. Moreover, literacies can also change regarding their functions in society, such as with the Vai people in Liberia (see Goody 1987) (Hornberger 2003:11). Hornberger argues that changing the societal context lead to changing in biliteracy configurations (2003:11) pointing out that the context including the power relations in it is never stable or static. On the microlevel, the uses of literacies is dependent on situational factors such as the role of public writers, traditional and modern uses of literacies in and outside of school, memorization and oral recitation (2003:11). The relevance of oral and literate makes up the second opposite pair in regard to context. As shown by Heath, the oral-literate continuum should not be seen as oral versus literate cultures, as there is a close relationship between the oral and written language, but rather as a question of which literacies are acknowledged in the education system and other official arenas. Since literacies are not equal in society, the standardized schooled literacy is usually made out of a specific group in society and not a neutral norm. Regarding the monolingual – bilingual continuum, the important distinction seems to be less in the difference of languages than in the difference in contexts, functions and use (2003:13). For the individual, this means that she/he does not posses two complete sets of functions and uses for each language but, instead, they switch according to specific functions and uses in the same way as monolinguals switch styles (2003:13-14). This brings us to the issue of code-switching, which for some is seen as a strategy or fault of an individual not fully mastering the language(s). Although code-switching is still stigmatized, several researchers such as Rampton has pointed out that code-switching should not be considered to be a deficit but seen as a representation of a highly competent, context specific language use (2003:14).

2) The continua of bilaterate development in the individual On this level, Hornberger takes her point of departure in the theories of communicative competence, focusing on the knowledge and ability of individuals for appropriate language use in the communicative events they may find themselves in any particular community in a given context (2003:15). In language didactics, the assumption has for a long time been that the development of receptive skills precedes the development of productive skills as well as oral skills preceding the written ones. As other researchers on bilingualism, also Hornberger questions such an order of learning, arguing that development occurs along a continuum and cannot be seen as linear (2003:16). Moreover, scholars in the New Literacy movement emphasize the intersection between oral and written language instead of two separate developments. In regard to L1 and L2, what was earlier on seen as interference between the languages should be instead understood as a creative application of L1 knowledge to L2 and that the stronger the foundation and continuing development of L1, the greater the potential for the L2 development (Hornberger 2003:19). The knowledge transferred from L1 to L2 is mainly in the form of strategies and processes. However, whether the use of such strategies and processes should be regarded as either interfering or scaffolding depends on the goals of writing. If the aim is to bring the writing of the ESL students as close to the standard norm as possible, then such transfers are considered negative. But if the aim of the students writing is to communicate his/her identity through the text, the transfer may be considered in more positive light.

3) The continua of biliterate media The media through which one communicates cannot be separated from the context and the appropriation of different mediums does have an impact on the individual development of biliteracy. In the field of bilingual research, a distinction between simultaneous and successive bilingual language acquisition has usually been made, while later research has focused more on the systematic use of languages than age of acquisition (Hornberger 2003:23). Other researchers did point out the difference between learning a language that has a similar or dissimilar language structure than L1. This question sheds more light upon the difference between multilingual, multidialectal, pidgin and creole settings (2003:24).

4) The continua of content Adding content to the continua, Hornberger wants to include the kinds of meanings expressed in particular bilitarate contexts during particular aspects of biliterate development through specific biliterate media (2003:50). Hornberger emphasizes the importance of contextualized whole texts/ discourses that gives voice and agency to minority discourses and activities and vernacular genres and styles (2003:62). Knowing two languages also means knowing two cultures and so biliteracy becomes closely linked to bicultural literacy (2003:50). In this part of the continua, the intersection of school knowledge and personal knowledge is central in regard to minority and majority as well as the autonomous and ideological perspective on literacy (2003:51-52). From this perspective, thinking critically about literacy and language cannot be done without taking into consideration the content which is related to discourses. As discourses are multiple and not equally available to all, critical literacy is the ability to put together and contrast different discourses as well as to see how competing discourses frame and re-frame various elements. From a minority – majority perspective, it is important to pay attention to the discourse or possible ways of being in the world, made available to language minority readers (2003:55).

In her article Multilingual Language Policies and the Continua of Bileteracy: An Ecological Approach (2003), Nancy Hornberger discusses the continua of biliteracy model in relation to language ideology, politics and planning. During a time of increasing globalisation the one language – one nation ideology is no longer the only one available (if it ever was so). Globalization weakens the nation state both from the outside through transnational processes but also from within by ethnic and social fragmentation (2003:317, 319). Other competing ideologies are those of language as a resource and language ecology. Language ecology can be defined (as by Haugen) as “the study of interactions between any given language and its environment”, the environment being both psychological and sociological (Hornberger 2003:320). The language ecology captures a certain understanding of languages such as living and evolving in an eco-system along with other languages (language evolution), interacting with their socio-political economic and cultural environments (language environment) and becoming endangered if there is an inadequate environmental support for them vis-à- vis other languages in the eco-system (language endangerment) (2003:323). The continua of biliteracy can be seen as an ecological model, situating research, teaching and language planning in a multilingual setting (2003:323). As well as the language ecology metaphor, the continua of biliteracy is based on a view of multilingualism as a resource. Moreover, Hornberger argues that the themes of language ecology presented above are included in the model as it provides a heuristic for addressing the unequal balance of power across the languages and literacies (2003:323).

In addition to the arguments made by Davies concerning the myth of the native speaker, the critique presented by Rampton can be seen as valuable. Rampton suggests that instead of thinking and categorizing in terms of native and mother tongues speakers we should think in terms of expertise, affiliation and inheritance, where expertise had to do with the speakers skill, proficiency and ability to operate with a language while affiliation and inheritance are two different socially negotiated routes to a sense of allegiance to a language such as identification with the values, meanings and identities the language stands for (Hornberger 2003:58, Rampton 1995:336-44).

En viktig fråga som Hornberger tar upp inledningsvis i sin text är huruvida en elev som har svårigheter att läsa en text på ett ”främmande” språk ska ses som ett läsningsproblem eller ett språkproblem (2003:4). Jag ställer mig kritisk till om det går att särskilja dessa. Detta handlar i grunden om huruvida vi ser läsning endast som en teknisk förmåga, där det handlar om att avkoda, vilket i sådana fall skulle kunna innebära att vi särskilde läsproblemet från språkproblemet.