A potential synergy arises from the confluence of multi- (or trans-) modality, and trans- (or multi-) linguality. These areas of concern have emerged contemporaneously—at least within the context of modern composition studies—partially, in response to changes in the means and identities of people in communication practices worldwide. In important ways, these changes challenge compositionists to rethink what composition entails.
However, despite the common points of origination, discussions of modality have remained largely separate from discussions of translinguality, to the impoverishment of both. We find this situation to be most interesting and worthy of exploration. In our preliminary observations—which will be explored in more detail in a later publication—we make the following observations:
1. Recent world-order changes in communication practices and environments—especially, but not solely those that are digital in their nature—call attention to ideologies elided by the supposed “norm” of a single, uniform (“standard”) language or mode (hereafter referenced as “SLMN”).
2. These same changes bring to awareness the presence of communicative practices in the past that SLMN ideology has suppressed.
3. Emergent communicative practices are themselves materially different from past, and other, communicative practices in ways that challenge both “SLMN“ ideologies and the practices now identified (ideologically) as SLMN.
We resist any understanding that statistically standard language practices are singular either in their linguistic or modal forms, and we resist the understanding that statistically standard is the linguistic or modal equivalent of normal. This ideological formation is two sided and doubly dangerous.
As we explore these observations, it seems ultimately problematic to distinguish between language and modality. Dominant conceptions of language offer a highly attenuated, restricted sense of all that goes on in the activity of “language acts” (a.k.a. communicative acts). Kress (2000) acknowledges this in calling language multimodal (p. 186), vs. thinking of language as itself a discrete mode. Conversely, it seems appropriate to recognize modalities as a feature of language. Given this, it no longer makes sense to treat language, whether as writing or speech or both, as apart from the “multimodal” (see Calvet 21-22).
We need to be wary of the power of monolingual-ist, monomodal-ist, dispositions to distort our sense of the practices under consideration. This danger manifests in two ways: the tendency to view practices not marked as either multimodal or multilingual as SLMN; conversely, the tendency to conflate practices marked as either multimodal or translingual with multimodal/translingual dispositions, when their non-SLMN character may be more apparent than real.
Second, and paradoxically, we also need to recognize the effect of specific material social environments on dispositions toward language(s) and modalities. As we’ve already suggested, the emergence of changes to communicative practices—most obviously, the development of digital communication technologies and global communicative networks, and less obviously, the increasing traffic of (exchanges and changes to) peoples and language practices—have contributed to the increasing visibility of, and questions about, language and modality.
The “new” communicative practices, as they are often described—those that dominant dispositions lead us to recognize as different—also force a re-evaluation of and change to those communicative practices that we see and experience as simply natural, the norm.
In light of all this, rather than understanding modality and linguality in terms of fixed (“defined”) categories and practices, we pose the following questions of definition as more productive in bringing out the dialectical relations between dispositions and practices with language and modality:
- What are the material social conditions of composing possibility for the deployment of language and modality (including available and competing dispositions toward and training with these)?
- How are modality and language deployed (or might they be deployed) in this composition? To what end? Demanding, or expecting, what kinds of work? How does such deployment work on and with the conditions of its composition, distribution, and reception?
- In what ways do our current analytical categories of modality and language need to be revised to accommodate differences in the ways this composition engages these?