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Anti-racist translingualism: investigating race in translingual scholarship in US Writing and rhetoric studies over the past decade

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Pages 52-65 | Received 14 Oct 2021, Accepted 21 Nov 2022, Published online: 05 Dec 2022


In this exploratory study, we adopt corpus linguistic methods to quantify, contextualize and investigate race in translingual scholarship in US writing and rhetoric studies over the past decade. Results indicate that while race is mentioned minimally in the corpus, in instances where it is mentioned many scholars pay attention to intersectionality, language, colonial history, and power relations. Additionally, while there is a large representation of international students and newly-arrived immigrants in translingual scholarship in US writing and rhetoric studies over the past decade, domestic multilingual writers of color remain underrepresented. Situating translingualism in greater anti-racist initiatives, we discuss research and pedagogical implications that call for joint efforts from translingual scholars and practitioners to strive for linguistic justice and anti-racist translingual practices.

Translingualism is an orientation to understand the plurality, complexity, and dynamics in languaging practices (Horner et al. Citation2011). It captures the dynamic processes in which languagers draw upon their rich communicative repertoires for identity negotiation and idea expression (Canagarajah Citation2011). As a theory, translingualism supports the value for additive multilingualism, embracing ‘the deployment of a speaker’s full linguistic repertoire without regard for watchful adherence to the socially and politically defined boundaries of named (and usually national and state) languages’ (Otheguy, García, and Reid Citation2015, 283). As a pedagogy, translingualism advocates for students’ rights to use their rich linguistic resources in oral and written communication to ‘reframe the problem of language diversity by emphasizing respect for the home linguistic practices of minoritized students’ (Flores and Rosa Citation2015, 150).

In US writing and rhetoric studies, this concept has started receiving substantial research attention since the publication of Horner et al.’s (Citation2011) manifesto ‘Language Difference in Writing: Toward a Translingual Turn’ in College English. At the time of its publication, the paper was endorsed by fifty other prominent scholars in the field. Since then, there has been a proliferation of research on translingualism to advocate for culturally, racially, and linguistically minoritized students in university writing classrooms and beyond. Under the translingualism paradigm, boundaries of named languages are disrupted, as they are considered socially invented ‘constructs of nation-state building and colonial expansion to support an ideology of racial, class, and gender superiority in multilingual societies’ (García and Kleifgen Citation2020, 556). As languagers shuttle across different languages, they are not simply touring around distinct linguistic features (Gonzales Citation2018; Zhang-Wu Citation2021a). Instead, they are navigating unequal powers as a result of nation-state and colonial governmentality (Makoni and Pennycook Citation2007; Rosa and Flores Citation2017).

Parallel to racial inequalities as a result of the European colonial project, languages are by no means neutral; they are closely related to the hierarchical orders created by colonial histories, positioning European languages as superior and non-European languages as inferior (Mignolo Citation2009). Mignolo (Citation2000) argues, while multilingualism and translingual practices are the lived reality, individuals are very often ‘suppressed by monolingual ideologies and monotopic hermeneutics’ (228). From a raciolinguistics perspective (Flores and Rosa Citation2015), which approaches language issues from the critical perspective of race, such monolingual ideologies are often deeply associated with whiteness and ‘white language supremacy’ (Inoue Citation2019, 352) and therefore must be explicitly debunked in academic literacy practices (Ayash Citation2016, Citation2020).

Flores and Rosa (Citation2019) openly call for the need to bring race into language studies, arguing that given the colonial histories it is nearly impossible to discuss literacy without touching upon the issues of race and power. They sharply point out, ‘white speaking subjects are afforded the opportunity to engage in language practices that are unmarked or even celebrated while racialized speaking subjects are policed for engaging in similar language practices’ (148). In response to Flores and Rosa’s (Citation2019) call, we examine what race is doing in the context of tertiary-level translingual scholarship in writing and rhetoric studies by exploring:

  1. How is race mentioned in translingual scholarship in five major scholarly journals in US writing and rhetoric studies and applied linguistics published in the past decade?

  2. Based on the findings to the first research question, what are some research and pedagogical implications?

Centering race in translingualism

Given the interconnectedness of language, race and power, simply teaching linguistically minoritized students the language of power (i.e. English) does not automatically empower them; nor does it eradicate unequal power relations in relation to colonial histories. Creating a friendly environment which allows linguistically minoritized students to code-mesh their home languages into English does not necessarily lead to translingual practices, since multilingualFootnote1 writers may feel too powerless to translanguage (Ayash Citation2016; Zhang-Wu and Brisk Citation2021). Even when students incorporate translingualism, code-meshed texts alone do not necessarily empower linguistically minoritized students and facilitate their identity negotiation (Matsuda Citation2014). To avoid merely code-meshing for the sake of sprinkling ‘social-justice-flavored seasoning here and there to spice up the main dish of standard English’ (Zhang-Wu Citation2021b, 129), it is important for translingual scholarship to explore beyond linguistic diversity and situate language difference into the greater sociopolitical and sociohistorical structure to examine its intersectionality with race, colonial histories, and power relations (Alim and Smitherman Citation2012; Baker-Bell Citation2020; Kubota Citation2020).

Translingual scholarship has the potential to function as one form of anti-racist work as translingualism works to disrupt standing colonial legacies inherent within the boundaries of our languages. As a result, translingual work is not only complementary with but dependent on the inclusion of anti-racist efforts. Due to the embodied nature of language, the investigation of language difference necessitates the study of racial difference. Yet, using critical race theory to analyze 100 studies on multilingual students’ languaging practices, Mitchell (Citation2013) has found that ‘there is no story about race’ and ‘English-is-all-that-matters’ (339). In other words, despite calls to integrate race into language studies (Flores and Rosa Citation2015, Citation2019), race is largely overlooked across empirical and conceptual studies and multilingual students’ dynamic languaging practices are often not considered valuable assets but rather deviations from ‘standard’ English. Because multilinguals are often seen as raceless and English-deficient (Zhang-Wu Citation2021c), they are denied the opportunities to access quality education and become multilingual and multiliterate beings with unique cultural and historical backgrounds.

While there is consensus that language is indeed not neutral and is instead embedded in long colonial histories (Mignolo Citation2009) so, too, is race. If we prioritize linguistic difference over the study of race, we risk perpetuating colonial legacies and reifying racist practices embedded within our languages. In overlooking racial differences within linguistic differences, both individuals and institutions become susceptible to perpetuating racial inequalities because we are incapable of seeing them. As Angela Davis famously stated, ‘In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist’ (as cited in Kendi Citation2017, 429). In the field of US writing and rhetoric studies, some research has been conducted to examine rhetorical representations of Black women in science (Jones and Medina Citation2021), coding literacies among African Americans (Byrd Citation2020), and translation practices among racially and linguistically minoritized students (Gonzales Citation2018). Joining existing efforts in justice-oriented initiatives in US writing and rhetoric studies, we aim to center race and power within the context of language difference to forward anti-racist work within translingual scholarship.


As multilingual women of color engaged in justice-oriented teaching and research in the field of writing and rhetoric studies, we adopted an insider-outsider research positionality (Dwyer and Buckle Citation2009) in this study. Our research interests, racialized identities and lived experiences with translingualism have naturally positioned us as insiders in examining and interpreting the data. To ensure that our discussions were guided by results from our corpus analysis instead of our impressions, we followed Kessen’s (Citation1991) recommendation to simultaneously adopt an outsider identity by being transparent with our data analysis and avoid bringing our lived experiences into specific racial categories to skew our analysis (details see below).

The corpus for this study includes articles that (1) focused on writing and rhetoric studies in the US context, and (2) mentioned translingualism (including searched terms such as: translingual, translanguaging, translingualism) from January 2011 and January 2021 from the following peer-reviewed scholarly journals: College Composition and Communication (CCC), College English (CE), Research in the Teaching of English (RTE), Journal of Second Language Writing (JSLW) and TESOL Quarterly (TQ). We intentionally chose to exclude our target journal for research dissemination, International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, to minimize any conflict of interests.

This timeline was selected because 2011 is when translingualism began picking up momentum in the field of US writing and rhetoric studies (see Horner et al. Citation2011 in College English). While these five journals by no means represent an exhaustive list of scholarship in writing studies and applied linguistics in the United States, we chose to focus on these ‘mainstream’ journals to build our corpus due to their disciplinary relevance, influence, and focus. CCC, CE, and RTE are among the official publications of the US National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Among them, CCC and CE target teacher-scholars who are interested in research and pedagogy in writing and rhetoric studies. As the flagship research journal of NCTE, RTE is disseminates scholarship on English education broadly defined. JSLW is an influential, international journal on multilingual writing research. Finally, TQ is the flagship journal of the TESOL International Association, publishing high-quality research on English teaching and learning.

Once our target articles were downloaded from these journals, we converted them into txt files and removed all works cited to not skew the corpus linguistics results. By removing the works cited, we exclude titles with the word ‘race’ in them to avoid inflating our results and instead preserve the articles that have actual discussions of race in text. is a summary of our corpus information.

Table 1. Corpus description.

Once this corpus was constructed, we uploaded the corpus into AntConc, our chosen software for computational textual analysis and broke our analyses into two phases. The goal of Phase 1 was to quantify and contextualize race, while Phase 2 sought to understand how multilingual writers were described. The tools we used included overall word frequencies, n-grams, collocations, and concordances.

Word frequencies

The word frequencies assist in inductively viewing what patterns occur across the entire body of work that we analyzed. For example, we noticed the context of this work exists primarily in the academy: students (6994x), teachers (2100x) and academic (1624x).


n-grams demonstrate recurring sequences of words by pulling either one word to the left or right of the searched term (for example, see ). We analyzed lemmatized versions of ‘race’ (race, races, racism, racialize, racialized racist, racists, racial). We did not use specific racial categories because studies can introduce research participants’ and students’ races as demographic information without actually discussing race (Prendergast Citation1998). Additionally, we did not want to inadvertently exclude groups by naming particular races.

Figure 1. Example of n-grams.

A screenshot of examples of n-grams in which clusters such as “race and” and “race theory” and their corresponding ranges, frequencies and ranks are shown.
Figure 1. Example of n-grams.


Collocations measure the relationship between words via mutual information values (MI). MI values are statistical measurements that show the level of association between two words by taking five words to the left and five to the right of the searched term to create a probability based on how frequently certain words continue to exist close to the searched term. A word that continuously appears close to the searched term with a frequency greater than random chance is referred to as a collocate. For example, in our corpus, the searched word ‘race’ is dependent on the collocate ‘class’ with an MI value of 8.43. This means that ‘race’ and ‘class’ are mutually dependent, therefore providing information on how the original searched term ‘race’ is being used in context. The MI values for the ‘race’ collocates in our dataset ranged anywhere from 1.92 (signifying a dependency between the two terms, although a relatively weak dependency) and 13.74 (signifying a relatively high dependency). The higher the MI value, the higher the dependency is between the two words. Thus, this tool showed us the contextualization of the previous word frequency and n-gram results. below provides MI value descriptive statistics for each of the searched terms in our dataset. To demonstrate the relatively high or low importance of each MI value, percentile ranks are provided for each collocate. For example, ‘immigrant’ is a collocate of the searched term ‘multilingual*’ with an MI value of 6.78 and a percentile rank of 82.60. This percentile rank communicates that the word ‘immigrant’ is more closely associated with the term ‘multilingual’ than 82.6% of other collocates in our dataset. In other words, the percentile rank provides additional information on the relative standing of the MI value.

Table 2. Descriptive statistics for searched terms.


Lastly, we viewed concordances to further contextualize our search terms at the sentence level to view how the terms are appearing in individual texts. The concordance results communicate the surrounding n words around a particular query which provides information related to not just what words are used, but how they are used (for example, see ).

Figure 2. Example of concordances.

A screenshot of examples of concordances to show how race is used in text. For instance, it may frequently appear together with other keywords such as age, class, and sexuality.
Figure 2. Example of concordances.

The aforementioned corpus linguistics tools afforded us to view inductive results and patterns that occurred across our corpus and nuanced results such as context and sentence construction. These corpus linguistics methods, which help us understand many texts at once, were then paired with close reading analysis to gain deeper insight as to the deployment of race within our corpus. We found the pairing of distant reading with close reading as important components of this study so that we may provide multifaceted views of our data (Jänicke et al. Citation2015).


Phase 1: Quantifying and contextualizing race

In Phase 1, we pay special attention to the use of race through frequencies and collocations to understand how often the term is discussed and in what contexts. Our results suggest race is minimally used within translingual scholarship as race was mentioned 552 times out of a corpus of 1,131,894 words equaling a total of .04% of the corpus. Beyond frequency, to understand how the term appeared in the texts and what words tend to be associated with the concept of race, we conducted collocation, concordance, and close reading analysis.

Our collocation analysis showed that race does not appear as an isolated term (see ). Instead, it tended to appear with other social identity categories such as gender (10.88 MI), class (8.43 MI), ethnicity (12.07 MI), and sexuality (11.78 MI). After viewing these collocation results, we sought to capture granular context down to the sentence level, so we pulled concordances to understand how terms related to race appeared in narrative form. We found that while race is not mentioned often, when it is mentioned, it appears in the context of other social identities, confirming the collocation results:

Excerpt A:

The semiotic engagements embedded in the texts, then, embody other reified attributional differences – racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender, class. (Wang Citation2019, 388)

Excerpt B:

A translingual approach to transfer might continue to alter the lens of inquiry in this way, turning attention toward the racial, gendered, institutional, economic, and class-based components of linguistic diversity. (Leonard and Nowacek Citation2016, 262)

Table 3. Race collocates – social identities.

While it is encouraging that these excerpts are considering social identities in the context of linguistic diversity, the brief inclusion of race alongside these various terms can deter from having meaningful discussions, particularly when race is mentioned infrequently and only in this fashion throughout the text. Instead, the excerpts suggest a larger trend of using race as a ‘diversity buzzword’ without further engagement. Discussions of race should be integrated in the larger social context as shown in these examples, like situating race in discussions of class and gender inequality; however, these uses of race could unpack the term so that it does not function solely as a catch-all difference term. Alternatively, we found examples of race being used in the context of other social identities with deeper engagements that reflect on unequal power. Some articles unpack race within the context of power, coloniality and social hierarchies, for example:

Excerpt C:

Power-laden social, linguistic, and racial hierarchies saturate the lives of Latinxsin myriad ways, primarily through the “coloniality of being” (Mignolo Citation2000), where Latinx children’s lived experiences, schooling, and languages are surveilled through restrictive policies. (de Los Ríos and Seltzer Citation2017, 56)

In addition to race appearing near other social identity categories, we found that race was primarily used in the context of schooling (see ). Race had a close association with words such as school (8.24 MI), curriculum (7.64 MI), and assessment (6.67 MI). This finding indicates a specialized application of race that is unique to classrooms. While this result may be somewhat skewed since our corpus consists mainstream journals in language and education, discussing race in schooling contexts without further contextualizing classroom-level racial issues in society may limit the complex nature of how racial difference continues to follow students and their various languages and dialects as they move through the world. Since both race and language are socially invented constructs (Flores and Rosa Citation2015), our findings highlight the importance to think beyond race and languaging as topics of investigation merely within the classrooms.

Table 4. Race collocates – contexts.

Encouragingly, we found that the terms ‘power’ and ‘structural’ had relative medium to high MI values and percentile ranks indicating a connection with the term race. Upon closer investigation via concordances that pull sentence-level discussions of the searched term, we found various examples that confirm how race and power are being used:

Excerpt D:

[R]acism and other forms of racial prejudice … are being taxonomized based on a set of socially constructed differences and by how such differences are being further operationalized for control and domination. (Mao Citation2019, 334)

Excerpt E:

It means not being afraid of taking responsibility for confronting cultural memories of the past and for recognizing our own culpability in the maintenance of hierarchies, institutional racism, and other forms of injustice. (Mao Citation2019, 340)

These excerpts approach race within the larger context by discussing difference in the classroom and beyond. They encourage readers to recognize the continuing maintenance of social inequities and our role in this process. We offer these excerpts to show how race can be used holistically in a way that is studied beyond a category for research, beyond a catch-all diversity term, and beyond the classroom context. Delgado and Stefancic (Citation2017) remind us that ‘race and races are products of social thought and relations’ which are socially invented and manipulated by various contexts and factors (8). Indeed, race is a complex social construction that cannot be reduced to a single setting or an identity category for research.

Phase 2: Who is the multilingual writer?

In Phase 1, we analyzed how frequently race is discussed as well as how the term is used in our translingualism corpus. In Phase 2, we turn our attention to representations of the multilingual writer as an extension of our study on race. While previously viewing the race concordances in Phase 1, we noticed a great representation of international students throughout our corpus with a simultaneous under-representation of domestic students. Specifically, we found that ‘domestic’ occurred 35 times while ‘international’ occurred 551 showing a prioritization of international students. Indeed, it is possible that given the somewhat loose definition of ‘domestic’ (i.e. some may consider ‘domestic’ based on current citizenship status while others focus on migration histories), researchers may choose to use alternative expressions instead, partially contributing to its low occurrence. Yet, our finding indicates that translingualism is more likely to target international students, while domestic students are often considered less in need of multilingual teaching practices. This frequency observation of international and domestic students in Phase 1 informed our approach for Phase 2 which is to analyze how terms such as ‘multilingual,’ ‘accent,’ and ‘ELL,’ and ‘ESL’ operate in translingual scholarship. These terms were recurring throughout the concordance results. Our research question for these terms are extensions of our exploration of race. When it comes to institutional data, international students are often categorized as raceless non-resident aliens (Zhang-Wu Citation2021c). We argue that an emphasis on international versus domestic status oversimplifies the complex issues of race and unequal power for both international and domestic students. Moreover, an over/under-representation may overlook the linguistic complexity among domestic students, especially those who are racially minoritized, despite their lived experiences juggling race, power and translingual practices (Baker-Bell Citation2020; Gonzales Citation2018).

Upon further investigation of specific terms, we found ‘accent’ to be associated with international people: Korean (12.33), Indian (12.6), British (12.23), and Chinese (10.15). These collocates all had higher than average relative association to the searched term ‘accent’ with percentile ranks ranging from 59% to 81% meaning that these international collocates were more closely associated with the term ‘accent’ than 59% to 81% of other collocates in our dataset. What is also telling is what terms did not appear in the context of accent and ‘domestic’ was one of them while ‘American’ and ‘local’ had low collocation frequencies of 3 and 1 respectively as shown in .

Table 5. Multilingual collocates.

Similar patterns occurred when we analyzed terms such as ‘ESL,’ ‘ELL,’ and ‘multilingual.’ Specifically, the highest occurring n-gram for ‘ESL’ was ‘ESL immigrants’ occurring 41 times and the top n-gram for ‘multilingual’ was ‘multilingual immigrants’ occurring 36 times. breaks down these n-grams with specific association levels and frequencies to better understand what terms are closely related to the idea of the multilingual writer in translingual scholarship. The recurring theme is a focus on international multilingual writers and speakers which overlooks domestic students. This implies that various communities like Black and Indigenous Peoples who have been in North America for generations are further marginalized with their multilingual complexities overlooked. Moreover, the association of the term ‘accent’ with particularly Asian countries (see ) further stigmatizes linguistic difference and generalizes students from these regions within an ‘accented’ deficit discourse narrative (Lippi-Green Citation2012), leading to linguistic racism (De Costa Citation2020; Dobinson and Mercieca Citation2020; Dovchin Citation2020) and raciolinguistic micro-aggressions (Corona and Block Citation2020).


To understand how race operates in translingual scholarship, in this study, we have explored the use of race in translingual articles from five mainstream scholarly journals in college composition and applied linguistics published in the past decade. Our study was conducted in two phases. In Phase 1, we sought to quantify and contextualize the use of race and, in Phase 2, we explored various multilingual terms to understand who the multilingual writer is in translingual scholarship. The first phase of our study informed the second which explored terms that arose in the race concordance and frequency results from Phase 1.

In Phase 1, echoing the results from Mitchell (Citation2013), our findings indicate that race is discussed minimally in translingual scholarship; race and all of its lemmatized versions is mentioned .04% out of the entire corpus. When we investigated the context in which race is mentioned, we found that race tends to travel with terms such as ‘gender,’ ‘sexuality,’ and, ‘class.’ In some instances, we found that race was written alongside other social identities as a catch-all diversity mechanism that did not go beyond a surface-level mention of race. While acknowledging the importance of discussing race in a contextualized manner and paying attention to intersectionality (Crenshaw Citation1991), it is worth noting that merely bundling race with other ‘diversity buzzwords’ without addressing the issues of power and inequity may reduce race to a social identity box. Alternatively, we also found and highlighted various texts that discuss race in complex and intersectional ways. These texts provide rich and meaningful pathways to contextualizing race, which paves way for critical investigation of the role of race in translingual scholarship.

While race is mentioned quite minimally in our corpus, we found that in those instances where race is discussed, scholars have taken the time to situate the concept in relation to power, coloniality, the social world, and its inequities. For example, de Los Ríos and Seltzer (Citation2017) situate race in the context of linguistic and racial hierarchies that affect the language practices of Latinx students in a multitude of ways, particularly through restrictive academic policies. Similarly, Mao (Citation2019) reminded readers that language contacts are ‘never free of fragmentations, incongruities, or even ruptures, and they are always imbued with a process of becoming and haunted by racialized whiteness or hierarchical polarity’ (340). These findings echo critical lenses from raciolinguistics which ‘explores how the linguistic practices of racialized populations are systematically stigmatized’ (Rosa and Flores Citation2017, 623). While we are positive that studies like these have made race visible in translingual scholarship by discussing this concept in meaningful ways, we also note that authors of such research are likely those from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds (i.e. authors with last names such as Alim, Mao, Gonzales, Flores, García, Aneja etc.). To prevent minimizing translingualism into an ‘alienating theory for some scholars of color’ (Gilyard Citation2016, 284) and to combat white language supremacy, concrete actions must be taken from both white and racially minoritized alike (Inoue Citation2019).

In Phase 2, we found a large representation of international students and an under-representation of the local or domestic multilingual writer. The very fact that the top n-gram for ‘multilingual’ was ‘multilingual immigrants’ occurring 36 times and the term ‘multilingual’ occurs frequently with expressions that signal mobility (i.e. ‘transnational,’ ‘immigrant,’ ‘international,’ and ‘travelling’) have indicated that within the corpus, translingualism is often (unintentionally) portrayed as an exotic practice owned and delivered by foreign individuals. This is a dangerous pattern, as it denies the nature of translingualism as a practice of all individuals, multilingual and ‘monolingual’ speakers alike (Horner et al. Citation2011). In today’s superdiverse world defined by global mobility, everybody is to some extent multilingual or exposed to linguistic diversity (Blommaert Citation2013). This finding presents an opportunity for translingual scholarship to engage more deeply with local students who also have complex multilingual practices like their international counterparts. While the translingual practices among newly-arrived immigrants and multilingual international students are interesting and important to explore, it is also crucial to pay research attention to the dynamic multilingual/multiliterate practices and meaning making by domestic people of color who are continuously racialized and dehumanized socially, economically and academically (Rosa and Flores Citation2017).

When it came to our searched terms ‘ESL,’ ‘ELL,’ and ‘multilingual,’ we found words such as ‘international,’ ‘migrant,’ ‘transnational,’ and ‘immigrant’ all had higher than average relative association indicating a strong relationship with concepts of multilingualism. Even more, we found terms relating to internationalism to be strongly associated with the idea of ‘accent’ with especially high MI values and percentile ranks for Asian regions in particular while ‘domestic’ had zero association. Our findings again echo key aspects in raciolinguistics – racialized populations’ languaging practices are constantly compared against ‘standard’ English norms and consistently stigmatized (Rosa and Flores Citation2017). Yet, what is ‘standard’ English, and who owns it?

The so-called ‘standard’ English is an invented construct created to preserve the privilege of the ruling class instead of a neutral, objective category; it is a living language, always changing in order to adapt to the needs of the so-called ‘mainstream’ (Flores and Rosa Citation2015). For instance, by analyzing the usage of the word ‘tweet’ over the past 15 years, Zhang-Wu (Citation2021b) demonstrates how tweeting as a human activity evolved from being considered grammatically incorrect to a well-accepted mainstream practice. Since there is no stable definition of ‘standard’ English and everybody has an accent regardless of their identity markers as foreign or domestic (Lippi-Green Citation2012), translingualism must be seen as a concept relevant to everyone, regardless of their multilingual/monolingual or domestic/international statuses.


While our study is limited by its focus on US-based articles from five of the many mainstream scholarly journals in the past decade, it has never been our intention to conduct an exhaustive landscape review of every relevant publication in the field. Instead, we strive to make sense of translingual scholarship presented in five of the high-impact journals in the field to conduct a preliminary exploration to see how race is mentioned in US writing and rhetoric studies and what we can learn from the patterns we have discussed. Based on our findings, we present some implications for research and pedagogical practices.

Implications for research

Exploring how race is mentioned across the five high-impact mainstream journals in the field over the past decade has enabled us to quantify and contextualize race in translingual scholarship. This deepens our understanding of the urgency to decenter and ‘destabilize’ English (Makoni and Pennycook Citation2007, 21), to challenge the zero point of English (Mignolo Citation2009) and to acknowledge the humanity and lived experiences of culturally, socially and linguistically racialized individuals. Yet, to put linguistic justice into practice, much more effort is needed to move from ‘doing only the talking’ to ‘doing the doing’ (Kubota Citation2020, 168).

As shown in our corpus, discussions of race in translingual scholarship over the past decade tend to happen in academic settings, which is not a surprising result given the nature of the five journals our study draws upon. While agreeing that focusing on snapshots of classroom interactions can provide vivid examples of how racialized students draw upon all linguistic resources available in their communicative repertoire to negotiate their identities and make meanings, we echo Poza’s call for translingual scholarship to ‘look beyond single exchanges and learning activities to the broader patterns of interactions over time’ (Poza Citation2017, 120). How are racialized individuals negotiating their linguistic rights across time and space? Specifically, since it remains unclear whether translingualism will benefit minoritized students in nonacademic settings (Canagarajah Citation2011), how are they performing translingual practices as they shuttle from academic to professional and other social contexts? Multilinguals should be given the tools to understand the implications of racialized linguistic practices, including who is celebrated for code-meshing, code switching, and translanguaging and who alternatively may be policed for these same practices (Flores and Rosa Citation2019). We want to empower multilinguals to view their language differences as assets while also preparing them to recognize the intersection between racial and linguistic prejudice.

Our corpus analysis indicates that when race and translingualism are occasionally meaningfully discusses together, the authors of these articles tend to have names revealing their identities as culturally, racially and linguistically minoritized scholars. Yet, anti-racist work should be the work for everyone as the burden of undoing white supremacist practices should not continuously fall on the shoulders of scholars of color (Inoue Citation2019). Since discussing race together with language is in essence a form of anti-racist and decolonial effort (Flores and Rosa Citation2015), all translingual scholars need to join the conversations to put race, power, and social justice at the center of their work. Race is a fundamental component of the colonial matrix of power (Quijano Citation2000). When we engage in translingual practices, we are navigating unequal powers as a result of nation-state and colonial governmentality (Makoni and Pennycook Citation2007; Rosa and Flores Citation2017). Therefore, according to the definitional crux of translingualism, translingualism necessitates anti-racism.

Something worth noting is that while race is found to be discussed minimally based on our analysis of five mainstream journals over the past decade, cutting-edge work in promoting anti-racist translingualism is indeed promisingly present in smaller, independent journals in US writing and rhetoric studies (e.g. Composition Studies; Composition Forum). Yet, it is concerning that shunting such important work to the margins into non-mainstream journals or separate edited collections may further undermine the anti-racist potential of translingual research.

Finally, while it is important to encourage more researchers to join the conversations to promote anti-racist work, nothing can be done without the consensus and collaboration from practitioners. Beyond exploring students’ translingual practices, more research is needed to use survey, interview, and ethnographic methods to understand their instructors. How do teachers interpret the role of race in translingual teaching and learning? What are some challenges and needs when they strive to implement translingualism? How can institutions better support instructors to join the force to implement anti-racist translingualism?

Implication for teaching

Some may consider translingualism a choice to be made and a risk to be taken by multilingual students (e.g. Lu and Horner Citation2013; Schreiber and Watson Citation2018). Yet, translingual practices hardly occur naturally with white English supremacy (Inoue Citation2019) still rampant in society. Faced with the pressure to conform to ‘standard’ English, multilingual students may feel too powerless to adopt their agency to translanguage (Zhang-Wu and Brisk Citation2021). Under the strong grip of the zero point of English (Mignolo Citation2009), teachers must explicitly include discussions of race, language and power into teaching and learning around translingualism to empower students.

Referring to teachers as ‘classroom language policymakers,’ Tian and Shepard-Carey (Citation2020) have argued that teachers have ‘a primary role’ in cultivating a translingual stance and implementing translingual pedagogy (1139). When race is not frequently discussed in recent ‘mainstream’ translingual scholarship, as suggested by our findings, it is urgent for teachers to address race explicitly when discussing and implementing translingualism to support and empower students through innovative projects such as critical translation (Ayash Citation2020) and linguistic portrait (Zhang-Wu Citation2021b).


In this study, we adopted corpus methods to explore how race is mentioned in US translingual scholarship in five mainstream scholarly journals in writing and rhetoric studies and applied linguistics published in the past decade. Although our corpus is limited by its size and scope and is by no means exhaustive, it does provide a snapshot of translingual scholarship patterns over the past decade in several mainstream journals. While race is discussed minimally in these mainstream journals, we do recognize that important topics on race and translingualism have received increasing research attention in some other venues. As discussed earlier, some cutting-edge anti-racist language research is emergent in non-mainstream independent journals in US writing and rhetoric studies (e.g. Composition Forum, Composition Studies). These initiatives highlight the importance for more mainstream venues to center anti-racist translingual work.

The significance of our study is three-fold. First, by using both close and distant reading methods, we highlight the advantages of using corpus linguistics in translingual scholarship as this approach grants us the ability to view our data in multidimensional ways. Second, by quantifying, contextualizing, and investigating how race is mentioned in translingual scholarship over the past decade using corpus linguistic analysis, we point out the need to make race more evident in translingual scholarship. Lastly, based on our findings, we discuss concrete implications for research and teaching to make translingualism an effort to all researchers and teachers alike.

Mignolo (Citation2000) has pointed out that while multilingualism and translingual practices are the lived realities in the world, the languaging practices of racialized individuals are constantly ‘suppressed by monolingual ideologies and monotopic hermeneutics’ (228). While translingualism is an empowering way to capture and acknowledge the multilingual reality of the world, discussions around translingualism must go beyond surface-level linguistic differences. Since named languages are socially invented ‘constructs of nation-state building and colonial expansion to support an ideology of racial, class, and gender superiority in multilingual societies’ (Flores and Rosa Citation2015; García and Kleifgen Citation2020, 556), research and teaching of translingualism need to go hand in hand with meaningful discussions of race and unequal power relations to ‘answer critical questions about the relations between language, race and power’ (Alim, Rickford, and Ball Citation2016, 3). Turning to the racial realities of people as they shuttle across various embodied languages and codes is a step towards reaching an anti-racist translingual norm in the classroom and beyond.

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No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

Additional information

Notes on contributors

Qianqian Zhang-Wu

Qianqian Zhang-Wu is an Assistant Professor of English and Director of Multilingual Writing at Northeastern University. Her research focuses on multilingual writing, translingualism and transnational students' languaging experiences.

Cherice Escobar Jones

Cherice Escobar Jones is a PhD candidate at Northeastern University studying rhetorics of race at the intersection of language, writing, and health. Her research explores how rhetorics of race within medical writing have historically and continue to impact our notions of difference with special attention to representations of Black women in science.


1 In this article, we adopt the term “multilingual” to refer to all communicators with diverse linguistic resources. In other words, “multilinguals” may include individuals who use multiple languages (e.g., Chinese, English, French) as well as those who communicate in different varieties of one single language (e.g., African American Vernacular English).


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