Mapping the Landscape

For the purposes of this exhibit, we draw from the work of our own students’ submissions to the DALN, not as a matter of convenience, but rather as a purposive or purposeful selection (Patton) of information-rich narratives, which allows us to reflect on various layers of meaning. Pavlenko argues through her research on autobiographical language learning narratives that: “autobiographical narratives are cultural institutions and social productions, they function as genre and reflect literary conventions, social norms, and structures of expectation of the place and time in which they are told” (175).  As the teachers who requested or assigned these particular narratives, we are in large part responsible for the “expectations” of our students’ responses. We are able to take advantage of this fact for the purposes of this exhibit as we make transparent the context of the production of pieces.  We understand this is a perspective not available to all who utilize the DALN, but we feel we can best get at the kinds of questions we should be asking of that public space from a position in which we are most contextually aware.  We know these particular students personally and have had the opportunity to discuss how the ways in which they position themselves in their narratives might reflect the social, cultural, and political contexts (or landscapes) of their lives. Additionally, as their teachers/guides/interviewers/facilitators for their DALN submissions, we are keenly aware of the settings where these narratives were produced and the audiences for which they were produced.

Guiding our analysis of these five multilingual literacy narratives most globally is the concept of literacy landscapes, drawn from recent sociolinguistic research on “linguistic landscapes.” We see multiple parallels between interrogation of linguistic landscapes, or “linguistic objects that mark the public space” and the multilingual markers of L2 literacy narratives (Ben-Rafael et al. 7). As the metaphor of vision in our title implies, we broadly conceive that our analysis offers an illustration of what multilingual literacy narratives represent as a collective on the DALN. Just as scholars mapping linguistic landscapes look for linguistic markers in public spaces, we explore the common signs in the students’ literacy narratives, noting how have they marked, in the public space of the DALN, their literacy and language learning experiences. We seek “common” patterns in multilingual contributions (or at least those of our students), but as well, by borrowing and evoking “landscapes,” we draw on the ways a landscape is composed of a multiplicity of the parts – seeing the forest for the trees, as it were, as well as cataloging the trees that compose the landscape.

Scholars studying linguistic landscapes recognize the “elusivity” inherent in such research and, as such, carefully warn that their illustrations are not an accurate representation of the full range of the “linguistic repertoire” of a population but that they can illuminate the linguistic nature of a particular geographic space (Ben-Rafael et al. 7). Likewise, we acknowledge the messiness and complexity inherent in the search for common patterns in these narratives while sifting through a multitude of overlapping factors, layers, and contexts of meaning. For the purposes of this exhibit, we are interested in our students’ public—DALN—representations of their literacy stories, but we take care to stress that we are not conducting a study of language acquisition. Instead, like linguistic landscape scholars, we wish to analyze, highlight, and discuss what we find in the “landscape” of these narratives in order to analyze what our students can tell us about the nature of multilingual literacies. We approach our first layer of analysis through the identification of trends in content and production strategies across all five of the student-produced narratives.

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