A biliteracy agenda for genre research

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A biliteracy agenda for genre research



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     Journal of Second Language Writing 20 (2011) 6?C23

     A biliteracy agenda for genre research

     Guillaume Gentil

     Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

     Abstract Most research on the development of genre knowledge has focused on genre learning in either a ?rst language (L1) or a second language (L2). This paper highlights the potential of a biliteracy perspective on genre research that combines insights from literacy and bilingualism in order to examine how multilingual writers develop and use genre expertise in more than one language. From a theoretical point of view, the theorization of genre and genre knowledge in composition studies has developed relatively independently from the theorization of language and language pro?ciency in second language studies. It is argued that conceptually untangling the interrelated nature of genre, writing, and language expertise is a prerequisite for understanding multilingual genre learning. Research on genre learning and genre variation across languages and within multilingual communities is then reviewed to shed further light on the interrelationship between genre and language knowledge empirically. Pedagogical implications for better addressing the needs of multilingual writers are suggested. # 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

     Keywords: Biliteracy; Multilingual genre learning; L1/L2 writing development; Writing expertise; Common underlying pro?ciency; Second language pro?ciency; Communicative competence

     Introduction A few years ago, the guest editor to this special issue volume offered a state-of-the-art review of 60 empirical studies that have investigated how writers learn genre in a ?rst language (L1) and second language (L2) (Tardy, 2006). While the review compared L1 and L2 genre learning, it is noteworthy that almost all works cited focused on either L1 writers or L2 writers. Searches of the bibliographical databases with keywords such as ????multilingual/bilingual,???? ????writers/writing/written,???? and ????genres???? yielded several hits, but in many cases, the descriptor ????multilingual writers???? was used as a preferred equivalent for L2 or

    English-as-a-second-language (ESL) writers. While the label ????multilingual???? may better highlight the research participants?? rich linguistic repertoire, it proved somewhat misleading given that the focus of the studies retrieved was primarily on L2 (and mostly ESL) writing development. The lack of research on multilingual writers who

    learn genres in more than one language appears to be symptomatic of what Matsuda (1999, 2010) calls a ????disciplinary division of labour???? between (?rst language) composition and second language studies. Because the latter did not focus on written language and the former did not concern itself with L2 writers, it became apparent in the 1960s that the needs of ESL writers in American postsecondary institutions were not being served. This prompted the emergence of L2 writing studies at the intersection of, or as a ????symbiont of,???? composition and second language studies (Matsuda, 1999). Efforts have thus been made, or called for, to integrate a second language perspective into rhetoric and composition and vice versa. While L2 writing studies aim to address L2

     E-mail address: guillaume_gentil@carleton.ca. 1060-3743/$ ?C see front matter # 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


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     writers?? needs speci?cally, they still leave out the needs of writers who must write alternatively in two languages or more, often reading (or speaking) in one language and writing in another. I have argued elsewhere that the division of L1 and L2 language studies results in institutional practices and arrangements that compartmentalize educational resources away from multilingual writers (Gentil, 2005, 2006). In this paper, I argue that such a division also constrains theory building in genre research, and I outline the potential of a biliteracy perspective for understanding genre learning in two languages or more. The simplest de?nition of biliteracy is ????the conjunction of literacy and bilingualism???? (Hornberger, 2003, p. 3). A biliteracy perspective on the study and teaching of genres thus attempts to combine insights from research in literacy and bilingualism in order to shed light on how multilingual writers develop and use genre expertise in more than one language. Literacy is meant to include the linguistic, cognitive, and sociocultural dimensions of reading and writing. Biliteracy is used here to refer to both bilingual and multilingual literacy, even though it may be more accurate to subsume bilingualism under multilingualism rather than the other way around (Jessner, 2006). The term ????multiliteracy???? is avoided to limit confusion with the pluralized notion of ????multiliteracies,???? a concept introduced by the New London Group (1996) to emphasize multimodality and multiculturalism in the context of (primarily monolingual) English literacy education. A biliteracy perspective has the potential to shed light on two key questions that may not have received due attention in genre research. The ?rst is pedagogical: How can we help multilingual writers draw on the genre knowledge they have learned in one language when they write

    in another? The answer to this question hinges on a second, more theoretical question: How does genre knowledge intersect with writing expertise and language knowledge? While the relationship between the development of genre knowledge, writing expertise, and language knowledge need not be of central concern when the focus is monolingual writing, teasing this out is at the core of our understanding of multilingual writing development. This is because the more genre knowledge may be found to be language speci?c, the more multilingual writers are likely to have to relearn genres in each language. Conversely, the more genre knowledge may be found to be a ????common underlying pro?ciency???? (Cummins, 2000), the more it may be acquired in one language and used in another. To address these questions, this paper will ?rst consider theories of genre knowledge, writing expertise, and language knowledge, and then review research on genre use and genre learning across languages. While few studies have examined multilingual writing development from a genre perspective, research into genre variation across monolingual communities and, more interestingly, within multilingual communities will also be considered to help relate genre and language knowledge. The implications of such research for theory building and pedagogy will be drawn with a view to addressing more effectively the learning needs of multilingual writers. Genre knowledge and language knowledge: theories One unintended consequence of the disciplinary division of labour is that the theorization of genre and genre knowledge in composition studies has developed relatively independently from the theorization of language, language pro?ciency, and communicative competence in second language studies. Tardy??s (2009) integrated model of genre knowledge provides a framework for conceptualizing the relationship between genre and language knowledge from the perspective of L2 writing studies. This model will be compared to models of second language pro?ciency. Genre knowledge: from a textual to a social view Traditionally genres were thought of as kinds of texts or text types, such as letters of recommendation, newspaper articles, recipes, and the like. Since the mid-1980s, however, a broader, sociological view of genre as social action has been advocated. In a widely cited essay associated with this view, Miller (1984) de?nes genres as typi?ed responses to recurring social situations. Text-types, then, are but the by-products of a typi?cation process: They are socially recognized, stabilized-for-now typi?ed forms that result from repeated social practice, and yet they also serve as resources that help structure future social practice. The genre analyst??s attention, so the argument goes, should therefore be focused on the action that a genre carries out and the social situation it is part of, rather than on its formal features. This shift in perspective has major implications for the conceptualization of genre knowledge. As Tardy (2009) points out, if

    one adopts a ????thoroughly rhetorical view???? of genre as social action, genre knowledge must include much

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     Fig. 1. Integration of genre knowledge. Reprinted from Building Genre Knowledge by Christine Tardy. (C) 2009 by Parlor Press. Used by permission.

     more than an understanding of text forms. Rather, it must integrate all the kinds of knowledge that are necessary to perform the genre. Speci?cally, Tardy (2009) identi?es four dimensions of genre knowledge: formal, process, rhetorical, and subject-matter knowledge (see Fig. 1). Formal knowledge includes the lexicogrammatical conventions of the genre, the structural moves that are common to the genre, and the modes and media through which the genre may be communicated. Process knowledge refers to the procedural practices through which a genre is carried out, including the composing processes for written genres. Rhetorical knowledge ????captures an understanding of the genre??s intended purposes and an awareness of the dynamics of persuasion within a sociorhetorical context???? (Tardy, 2009, p. 21). Finally, subject-matter knowledge is the more or less specialized content knowledge that is necessary to write or speak about something. Although Tardy (2009) cautions that the hypothesized knowledge domains are meant to ????merely serve a heuristic purpose???? rather than represent ????any kind of epistemic reality???? (p. 20), there is some indirect empirical evidence for the modular or componential nature of genre knowledge. This evidence is indirect because I am not aware of research that has examined the modularity of genre knowledge speci?cally. However, several strands of research on bilingualism and biliteracy point to the modularity of mind and language. In a recent review on the subject, Francis (2008) views modularity as the degree to which a complex ability (such as the ability to understand and produce academic discourse) can be broken down into relatively specialized, autonomous, yet interconnected components such as dedicated knowledge structures and processing mechanisms. While Fodor??s (1983) early formulation of a modular mental architecture has been subject to debate, the introduction of the basic idea of modularity to the study of bilingualism proved useful, affording opportunities for examining the internal structure of, and interaction between, language and thought. An in?uential model of modularity in bilingual education is Cummins?? (2000) hypothesized distinction between a common underlying pro?ciency (CUP) and the language-speci?c aspects of academic performance. Based on considerable evidence that children in bilingual education programs need not relearn much of the subject-matter knowledge, numeracy skills, and problem-solving and literacy-related abilities they have acquired

    in one language as they use another language, Cummins (2000) posits that many of the academic and cognitive abilities that underlie academic performance are not language bound. He refers to these underlying abilities as the CUP. Research on exceptional bilingualism and bilingual mental representations further supports the idea that conceptual and linguistic structures are relatively autonomous and yet interact (Bhatia & Ritchie, 2004; Francis, 2008). If this is so, then it is

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     likely that formal knowledge and subject-matter knowledge are relatively independent components of genre knowledge. In the ?eld of second language writing, research on the interrelationship between L2 pro?ciency and writing expertise further points to the distinctive natures of process knowledge and formal knowledge. Cumming (1989) showed that the problem-solving behaviours of second language writers are independent of spoken L2 pro?ciency but relate directly to the writing expertise they have developed in their ?rst language. Speci?cally, writers assessed to have developed composing expertise in their ?rst language were found to be able to draw on such expertise to the extent that they were not limited by their command of lexicogrammatical resources in a second language (see also Baba, 2009; ?ä Manchon, Roca de Larios, & Murphy, 2009; Sasaki, 2002; Sasaki & Hirose, 1996). Within-subject comparisons of summarizing, composing, and revising strategies in two languages further suggest that these strategies are mostly used in similar ways in both languages but vary with people??s levels of writing expertise in their mother tongue (Albrechtsen, 2008; Arndt, 1987; Cumming, Rebuffot, & Ledwell, 1989; Hall, 1990; Jones & Tetroe, 1987; ?ä Pennington & So, 1993; Schoonen, Snellings, Stevenson, & van Gelderen, 2009; Whalen & Menard, 1995). Interestingly, relatively advanced bilingual writers have been shown to make strategic use of their L1 for managing some of the more cognitively demandingaspects of composing an L2 task, such as the planning of the task and the solving of discourse and rhetorical problems, even when their pro?ciency was high enough to allow relatively ?uent ?ä formulation directly in the L2 (Manchon et al., 2009). While bilingual writers remain dependent on their formal knowledge of the language of composing for text generation, they may advantageously resort to a stronger language (typically but not necessarily their L1) for handling the more procedural and conceptual dimensions of writing, as this stronger language allows for deeper levels of processing. Together, these studies suggest that many of the cognitive skills associated with the procedural aspects of writing are part of an underlying composing competence or CUP which, once developed in one language, can be used

    in another. Although they do not assess process knowledge and formal knowledge as components of genre knowledge speci?cally, researchers typically ask bilingual writers to undertake different writing tasks. For instance, participants in Cumming??s (1989) study were asked to write an informal letter, a summary of a booklet, and an expository argument. Successful performance on each writing task thus assumed familiarity with the corresponding genre both at the process and the formal levels. Writing expertise in the L1 was assessed in part through writers?? self-reported familiarity with these genres, and it is likely that the expert writers whose L2 writing performance was deemed superior were able to apply the genre knowledge they had developed in their L1 (French) when composing in the L2 (English). Writing expertise in Cumming??s (1989) study appears to be a global, composite construct that is assessed through self-reported professional writing expertise, holistic rating of L1 compositions, and ????self-ratings of abilities to write in French in a variety of common situations???? (p. 87). Such a global construct may con?ate various aspects of writing expertise which a genre perspective can help tease apart. Indeed, in reviewing research on the linguistic and cognitive demands of foreign language writing, Schoonen et al. (2009) conclude that ????one of the major challenges in writing research is the assessment of the core construct itself, ??writing pro?ciency?????? given that ????generalizability of scores across tasks is generally low???? (p. 96). They add that ????task effects,???? among which they speci?cally include ????genre familiarity,???? ????often contaminate the assessment of a writer??s linguistic writing pro?ciency in research???? (p. 78). Perhaps one of the potential contributions of genre-oriented approaches in future L2 writing research is precisely to contribute to more cognitively oriented approaches by shedding light on the nature of writing pro?ciency and its variability across genre-speci?c writing tasks. A central question is the extent to which one??s writing expertise intersects with one??s genre repertoire. Genre repertoire may be de?ned based on Gumperz??s (1971) concept of verbal repertoire as the range of genres that an individual?ªor a community?ªowns. Writing expertise may thus be a function of both the depth and the breadth of one??s genre knowledge. For some writers, the expected expertise may be a high level of competence in a very small range of specialized genres; for others, it may be a more moderate level of competence in a broader range of genres. A related question is the extent to which writing expertise can be demonstrated through an unfamiliar genre. In other words, would the expert writers in Cumming??s (1989) study have been able to demonstrate their writing expertise in their L2, had they been asked to cope with unfamiliar L2 genres? On the one hand, one could expect that if asked to write in an unfamiliar genre, highly skilled writers

    might approach it in ways that, in contrast to less skilled writers, do demonstrate their expertise. On the other hand, one could also expect that while highly skilled writers may cope better than less skilled writers with unfamiliar genres, their overall performance is more likely to be less satisfactory than that


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     of skilled (or not so skilled) writers who are familiar with the genre at hand. The underlying issue is how much writing expertise can be abstracted as a cognitive skill from the genres called upon by speci?c contexts of writing. Arguably, writing expertise may at least in part refer to an underlying cognitive competence that re?ects a writer??s ability to engage with a novel writing situation. We may call it rhetorical ?exibility, resourcefulness, or ingenuity. In many studies and situations, however, writing expertise is assessed against quality expectations for the ?nal product, so a writer??s resourcefulness may be little valued. Ultimately, a genre approach to writing expertise may call for a situated perspective that examines how the social recognition and valuation of writing expertise hinges on genre expectations that vary with social, historical, and cultural contexts. To revisit Cumming??s (1989) study from this perspective, the question arises as to whether the so-called expert L1 writers would have been as able to demonstrate their writing expertise in their L2 had expectations with regard to the realization of the genres they were asked to perform been markedly different in their L1-medium and L2-medium discourse communities. In the Canadian context of the study, the genre-related expectations of the French and English raters may well have been similar. However, in other crosslinguistic con?gurations, greater cultural differences in genre expectations may complicate the evaluation of writing expertise across languages (for a discussion, see Ortega & Carson, 2010). The following analogy, although not perfect, may help illustrate this point: Would the talent of a good French chef be of any use and value in a Thai restaurant? However exquisite it may be, a boeuf bourguignon will not satisfy a customer who ordered a beef curry. That said, if a French chef can adapt her repertoire of culinary techniques and recipes, then she may learn to satisfy expectations for Thai cuisine more quickly than someone with no culinary experience whatsoever. She may even be able to demonstrate a superior culinary expertise that blends the best of Thai and French cuisine in novel ways?ªon the condition that she can ?nd a restaurant, or market, that celebrates fusion cuisine. Similarly, the extent to which a writer will be able to build on her writing expertise across linguistic and cultural contexts may depend as much on her own ability to transfer, adapt, and innovate with genres crosslinguistically as on her ?nding a context

    that will validate what she can do. To my knowledge, research on the interrelationship between writing expertise and language pro?ciency, or more speci?cally, the cognitive and the linguistic dimensions of L1 and L2 composing, has not paid much attention to such complicating factors as the breadth and depth of genre repertoires and cultural variations in the genre expectations against which writing expertise is evaluated. Nor has this line of research examined the modular nature of genre knowledge directly, taking genre as a context rather than an object of study. This research does, however, provide indirect evidence for the relative autonomy of formal and process knowledge within genre knowledge. If to know a genre means to know both which composing strategies and which language resources are most appropriate for it, then one may know the composing strategies in one language but be unable to exploit them without command of the language in which the genre must be realized in a particular context. As for rhetorical knowledge, the fourth dimension in Fig. 1, Tardy (2009) acknowledges that it has great potential to overlap with both formal and process knowledge (p. 21), and so it is less clear the extent to which its hypothesized nature as a distinct component of genre knowledge can be con?rmed empirically. Arguably a potentially more clear-cut distinction is that between knowledge of discourse organization beyond the sentence level and knowledge of lexicogrammar, both of which are part of Tardy??s (2009) formal knowledge. The successful realization of a genre requires the knowledge of systemically available, socioculturally preferred, and strategically advisable patterns of lexis, grammar, and discourse organization. Earlier contrastive research inspired by Robert Kaplan (1966) assumed that rhetorical patterns of discourse organization are ????unique to each language and culture???? (Connor, Nagelhout, & Rozycki, 2008, p. 1) without distinctions being made between linguistic and cultural in?uences. In a Sapir-Whor?an manner, language was viewed as largely determinative of preferred cultural thought patterns so that ways of writing were believed to be intrinsically linked to the language in which they were expressed. More recent intercultural rhetoric research suggests that the relationship between organizational patterns and language systems is a complex one (see, e.g., Hirose, 2006). Research on parallel genres?ªgenres that develop in response to similar exigencies in two languages or more?ªsuggests that discourse knowledge and lexicogrammatical knowledge may be two relatively independent modules of genre knowledge, a point to which I shall return. Last, a component of genre knowledge that does not ?gure prominently in Tardy??s (2009) model but that is arguably worth adding is that of metaknowledge?ªthe explicit understanding of speci?c genres and of genre as a concept. Such metaknowledge has been shown to develop as writers learn to analyze genre exemplars (see, e.g., Cheng, 2007), and

    it can be hypothesized that such knowledge is equally part of a writer??s CUP: Once a writer has acquired the ability to pay

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     attention to generic features and to verbalize her understanding of genre and genre variation in one language, this ability should be available for use while composing or analyzing genres in another language. In sum, Tardy??s (2009) integrated model of genre knowledge provides a useful framework for conceptualizing the relationship between genre knowledge, language pro?ciency, and writing expertise both theoretically and empirically. To tease out this interrelationship further, Tardy??s model will now be compared to models of second language pro?ciency. Language pro?ciency: from grammatical to communicative competence Much theorization on the nature of language pro?ciency has been spurred by language assessment specialists given their need to ground language tests on well-de?ned constructs. An example of an earlier and in?uential attempt to assess second language pro?ciency is provided by Carroll??s (1975) large-scale comparative study of the teaching of French as a foreign language in eight countries. Underlying Carroll??s test battery is a skills model of language pro?ciency in which pro?ciency is for the most part assessed ????globally,???? through performance in the four skills of reading, listening, speaking, and writing, rather than ????discretely,???? through the knowledge of particular items of vocabulary, morphology, or syntax. However, such a skills/component model of L2 pro?ciency has been criticized for failing to clarify how skills and knowledge are related, and for reducing language knowledge to lexicogrammatical accuracy at the sentence level (Bachman, 1990, p. 82). Hymes??s (1972) call to broaden Chomsky??s notion of grammatical competence has inspired efforts to

    reconceptualize L2 pro?ciency as a communicative competence in a second language. As Harley, Allen, Cummins, and Swain (1990) argue: In the area of language teaching . . . the predominant emphasis until recently has been on the teaching of grammar. The implicit conception of language pro?ciency, as it has been operationalized in second language classrooms, has entailed viewing pro?ciency as little more than grammar and lexis. The recent movement toward communicative language teaching has been associated with a broader view of language that includes not only its grammatical aspects, but also the ability to use language appropriately in different contexts and the ability to organize one??s thoughts through language. (p. 7) While the need for an expanded conception of language pro?ciency has generally been agreed upon, exactly what such a communicative competence entails has been subject to various interpretations. In their original framework, Canale and Swain (1980) considered two dimensions in addition to grammatical

    competence: sociolinguistic competence and strategic competence. Canale (1983) separated out discourse competence (referring to rules of coherence and cohesion) from sociolinguistic competence (referring to sociocultural rules). Bachman (1990) and Bachman and Palmer (1996) have identi?ed slightly different components, and have also re-organized and renamed them over the years. A detailed comparison of these models need not be of concern here. Rather, at issue is where genre knowledge ?ts within this expanded view of second language pro?ciency. To examine this, I willfocus on Douglas??s (2000) model of speci?c purpose language ability, which itself draws closely on Bachman (1990) and Bachman and Palmer (1996). Douglas (2000) de?nes speci?c purpose language ability as a kind of communicative language ability in a speci?c context of language use or ????target language use (TLU) situation.???? He hypothesizes that this ability results from the interaction of language knowledge with background knowledge by means of strategic competence (see Fig. 2). The distinction between strategic competence and language knowledge follows Hymes??s (1972) argument that communicative competence is ????dependent upon both (tacit) knowledge and (ability for) use???? (p. 282). Strategic competence represents the ????mental capacity for implementing the components of language knowledge in contextualized communicative language use???? (Bachman, 1990, p. 84). Speci?cally, it includes the ability to assess the communicative situation, to set a goal on how to respond to it, and to plan and monitor this response. It involves choosing, retrieving, and organizing what elements of language knowledge and background knowledge are available and required to reach the established communication goal. Language knowledge itself is broken down into four components: grammatical knowledge (which includes knowledge of vocabulary and phonology as well), textual knowledge (i.e., knowledge of cohesion rules and of rhetorical or conversational organization), functional knowledge (Bachman??s 1990 illocutionary competence or

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     Fig. 2. Components of speci?c purpose language ability. Reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press from Assessing Languages for Speci?c Purposes by Dan Douglas. (C) 1999.

     understanding of how language forms relate to language functions), and sociolinguistic knowledge (understanding of appropriate ways to use language in speci?c contexts). Where does genre knowledge ?t in? In his original formulation, Bachman (1990) does not use the concept of genre but draws on Swales??s (1988) earlier conceptualization of ????discourse domain???? as the conventions that characterize the language used by discourse communities for speci?c functions, such as

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