Linguistic Justice, Translingualism, and the Lived Experience of Language: “the Unraveling of What Once Felt Intact”

Anna Habib

Advisor: Michelle LaFrance, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: Susan Lawrence, Terry Zawacki

Horizon Hall, #4225
March 15, 2024, 02:00 PM to 05:00 PM


The field of Writing Studies has consistently responded to national calls for justice and equity at critical historical junctures with Students Right to their own Language (SRtoL) in 1974, the translingual turn in 2011 and linguistic justice in 2020. These theoretical frames and pedagogical approaches have critiqued standard language ideologies and drawn attention to explicit and implicit linguistic bias and discrimination in our teaching and assessment practices. While these positions speak truth to power and give rise to important, critical stances against systemic injustices, they have not yet fully accounted for the embodied experiences of students with diverse linguistic repertoires. To that end, this dissertation argues for a phenomenological expansion of translingualism and linguistic justice, one that explores the impact of trauma on what sociolinguist, Brigitta Busch, calls the “lived experience of language.”

Institutional DEIA discourse frames diversity as a value-added for universities, a marker of cosmopolitanism and/or a preparation for the transnational marketplace; and, translingualism and linguistic justice have shifted the disciplinary conversation from a deficit view of linguistic diversity to one that positions it as an emblem of multicompetence and cross-cultural dialogue. Complicating these popular discourses of diversity, this dissertation focuses on the invisible stories that multilingual or translingual students carry with them–stories of displacement, forced migration, war, or political upheaval. The project invites a closer consideration of linguistic memory and a better understanding of how experiences with trauma and displacement give rise to what the author terms linguistic freeze and linguistic liminality, both states that can have a significant impact on students’ relationship to language and their subsequent engagement with writing instruction. Specifically, to invoke the complex lived and embodied dimensions of the linguistic repertoire, the author--herself a child of the Lebanese civil war--experiments with the epistolary form (ie. letters to friends, family and students with trauma experiences) as a method for counterstory. The resulting phenomenological frame challenges institutional master-narratives of DEIA and linguistic diversity, deepens the field’s aspirations for a translingual orientation and foregrounds the lived and embodied experience of learners.