Paul Kei Matsuda is perhaps the most recognizable scholar addressing second language writing issues today. He is Associate Professor of English at Arizona State University, where he also serves as Director of Writing Programs. He is founding chair of the CCCC Committee on Second Language Writing and of the Symposium on Second Language Writing, which began as a biennial gathering of second language writing scholars, but which has grown into an annual international event. He is editor of the Parlor Press Series on Second Language Writing, and he has edited or co-edited numerous collections and special issues. A prolific and award-winning author as well, Paul's widely cited work has appeared in College Composition and Communication, College English, Composition Studies, Computers and Composition, English for Specific Purposes, International Journal of Applied Linguistics, Journal of Basic Writing, Journal of Second Language Writing, and Written Communication. He is consistently invited to give talks, lead workshops, and teach courses in the US and abroad. In 2007, Paul was a visiting scholar at Nagoya University in Japan and at the University of Hong Kong.
Editor's note: Please check out Paul's list of publications on his beautiful webpage at: http://matsuda.jslw.org/research.html
How do you address the topic of “diversity” in your scholarship, teaching, and service?
When people hear the word “diversity,” they may think of categories that are now highly conventionalized—race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, political views, etc. The term has been appropriated widely and its meaning has become somewhat diluted, but many of the original issues and concerns that prompted people to recognize, celebrate and covet diversity still remain relevant today. At the same time, many of the same issues that were invisible in the early discussion of diversity continue to be overshadowed by visible categories of diversity. I’m thinking particularly of language issues, of course.
Over the years, the effort to increase the visible diversity on campus has also intensified the issue of language diversity, although institutions for some reason don’t often recognize them as closely-related issues. For decades, U.S. institutions of higher education have been finding ways to compete for visible diversity by experimenting with admission procedures, by creating financial incentives, and by recruiting more aggressively in certain communities to increase visible diversity on campus. Many of these students come from diverse language backgrounds that are distinct from traditional students. At home, they may speak a variety of African American Vernacular English; a contact variety of English commonly referred to as Tex Mex or Spanglish; Appalachian English; or another language altogether—be it native American languages or languages, like English, that came from other continents as people migrated into this country.
U.S. colleges and universities have also been competing for international students who benefit institutions tremendously. Many of those students represent the best and brightest from all over the world. Many of them contribute to the visible diversity and enhance the international flavor of the campus. They would bring foreign capital—they are required to demonstrate that they have sufficient financial means to fund their entire course of study and cover the cost of living. They pay full tuition because they don’t qualify for many scholarships and financial aids. At state institutions, they usually pay the out-of-state rate because they are not considered residents even when they pay full taxes in the state. They also maintain full-time status because their visa status requires it. They also bring cheap (and legal) labor to campus because they are not allowed to work off campus due to visa regulations.
At school, these students may speak English with a distinct accent that is commonly (though sometimes erroneously) associated with their race and ethnicity. They may also speak their “own” varieties of English or languages among students from similar linguistic backgrounds. Or they may code-switch to a variety of spoken English that is familiar to the dominant language group in an effort to fit in, which can mask the level of linguistic diversity on campus as well as the struggle they go through as they try to write in the dominant variety of English they are not familiar with. Some of them—especially if they are Caucasian (a term some White students have never heard of)—may be able to pass as a native speaker of the dominant language; others may actually be native speakers of the dominant variety and people still perceive an accent—just because they look Asian.
How do I address these issues in my scholarship, teaching and service?
In my scholarship, I have been pointing out the lack of attention to language issues in U.S. higher education and particularly in rhetoric and composition studies, and suggesting ways to expand the field. To this end, I’ve written historical articles showing the ways in which the field has been responding to the presence of language differences in the contexts of first-year composition ( “Composition”; “Myth”; “Situating”), basic writing (“Basic”), and Writing across the curriculum (Matsuda and Jablonski, “Beyond”). I have also suggested specific ways in which the field as a whole and writing programs might think about and respond to the presence of language differences productively (“Alternative”; Matsuda and Silva, “Cross”). I’ve also edited books and special journal issues to provide resources and to further the conversation about language differences and their implications (Politics; Second Language Writing in the Composition Classroom; Second Language Writing Research).
Language issues also figure prominently in my teaching. In first-year writing courses, I try to raise the awareness of the positionality of the variety students are often expected to use and learn in U.S. higher education. I have also taught a theme-based first-year writing class where the focus was language issues of various kinds, such as different views on grammars, second language acquisition, language policy, and language teaching. In linguistics courses, I also invite students to think of not just the linguistic structures and changes but also of the historical and political aspects of language development and their symbolic functions.
At the graduate level, I have been incorporating language issues into core courses—such as composition theory, the history of composition, and research methods. I have regularly assigned readings on language issues, inviting students to try on a new theoretical lens and to reexamine the business as usual point of view. I have also been teaching a graduate course on second language writing on a regular basis to provide an opportunity to dig deeper into those issues.
In all of these cases, I try to avoid the in-your-face approach to diversity, which, in my opinion, only threatens students and puts them on the defensive; this does not lead to productive conversations or intellectual developments. Instead, I introduce those issues gradually—exposing students to new and intriguing issues, inviting them to explore the new territory, challenging them to think critically about their own assumptions, and providing additional resources to them for further exploration.
As teachers, we often recognize the need to be patient and to give students some space in order for them to grow. But we also know that, when it comes to issues that are near and dear to us, it’s difficult to be patient—to overlook a slight hint of apathy or resistance. I try to think of it this way: It’s all about treating students with the respect they deserve while facilitating their learning and personal growth. It’s easier said than done, I know. But the result is definitely worth the effort.
I also believe in service. (It’s a dangerous thing to admit, I know.) But in order to influence the field and to bring important issues to light, it’s not enough to be publishing or teaching.
I started by serving as a secretary for the CCCC SIG on Second Language Writing, which Tony Silva created in 1995. I took over the SIG and chaired it for a few years. In the late 1990s, I also started a series of workshops at CCCC, starting in 1998, and I continued to be involved in it until just a few years ago. But all of these efforts seemed rather temporary and uncoordinated; to remedy the situation, I spoke with Victor Villanueva, who was the CCCC chair at the time, about creating a committee on second language writing, which happened in 1998. The committee developed a Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers for CCCC, and coordinated various activities at CCCC, including workshops, SIG meetings, and an open meeting, where people discussed the status of second language writing at CCCC and developed plans for the following year.
At TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.), I served as the chair of the Nonnative English Speakers in TESOL (NNEST) Caucus. Although people are increasingly uncomfortable with the dichotomy between native and nonnative English speakers (or users, as I would prefer to call them), the perception of the difference remains, and what some people call the native speaker myth—the undue privileging of the native speaker in language studies—still persists. In North American higher education, there are many English writing teachers who are themselves multilingual users of English; in the world, there probably are more English teachers who are nonative English users than those who are native English uses (though this is ultimately a false binary). It is important to raise the awareness, and sometimes the best way to do that is to create a movement rather than to talk about it in publications (although that also helps, too).
I am also active at the American Association for Applied Linguistics, where I have been engaging in conversations on writing, among other issues, to emphasize the importance of interdisciplinary understanding and cooperation. In this context, my job is to raise the awareness of the vast amount of knowledge that has been developed in rhetoric and composition, to enhance the study of writing in applied linguistics as well as to help applied linguists provide their insights more effectively to rhetoric and composition specialists.
My involvements are not limited to these national and international organizations. In the late 1990s, I felt the need to create a space for people who specialize in second language writing (because neither CCCC nor TESOL provided a space for highly specialized discussion of second language writing issues), and with Tony Silva, created the Symposium on Second Language Writing. The first meeting in 1998 was successful, and we decided to make it a biennial event. In 2007, we had our first symposium outside North America, and we also made it an annual event. This year, it is being held in June 2008 at Purdue University, and in November 2009, it will be taking place at Arizona State University.
I also edit a book series on second language writing, published by Parlor Press. This series also addresses the same issue I was trying to address when Tony and I created the Symposium—to create a space where second language writing specialists could speak to other specialists in the field.
My service efforts are not just limited to second language writing. Because I define myself broadly as a bona fide rhetoric and composition specialist as well as an applied linguistics and TESOL specialist, I get invited to work in many different capacities for various organizations and publishers—in evaluating manuscripts, serving on various committees, and participating in special initiatives like this blog. These activities are not as highly valued as research and teaching are, but I still take them seriously. As I have explained in one of the book chapters (“Coming”), I do what I do not because they count toward tenure and promotion but because I want to make a difference in the field—or in the world. Being involved also helps me better understand my fields as well as people in them; it also creates more opportunities to participate in meaningful conversations about issues that matter. I hope this piece will also generate a lot of interesting discussion and, more importantly, action.