Translanguaging and Public Service Encounters: Language Learning in a Library


Friday, March 6, 2020, 11am – 12pm, 104 Van Hise Hall


This presentation explores the information desk of a city library as a site for language learning. Using a linguistic ethnographic approach, the interactions between a customer experience and information assistant and the many library users who approach her information desk were analysed. Findings are that in addition to providing information about library resources, information desks are sites at which bits and pieces of different languages are taught and learned.  Such language teaching and learning episodes created interactions of inclusion and welcome which went far beyond purely transactional information.  Rather, language-related episodes created moments of human contact and engagement which were upheld through the translanguaging practices of interactants, the disposition and workplace competence of library staff, and the spatial ecology of the information desk.

Furthermore, the presentation contributes to ongoing theoretical debates about translanguaging by noting that normativity and pressure towards uniformity are as much part of languaging processes as creativity and flexibility.  Our definition of translanguaging recognizes the opposing pull of ‘centrifugal’ and ‘centripetal’ forces (Bakhtin, 1981).

The talk ends by asking what schools, and language education, might learn from public libraries in creating arenas which maintain communitarianism, diversity of expression, and the development of civic skills.