Power, literacy engagement, and polyphonic identities: Translanguaging in a Tanzanian community library
Powerful monoglossic ideologies in Tanzania have resulted in the pitting of Kiswahili and English in antagonistic opposition to each other, and the muting of the 130+ local languages in educational spaces. Cheche Community Library in northern Tanzania explores community-driven alternatives to rigid either/or discourses of language education by creating a translanguaging space which celebrates and expands children’s diverse linguistic resources. This paper details a critical action research study examining the impact of various multilingual pedagogies on power relations, literacy engagement and identity negotiation. These multilingual pedagogies include writing, reading, storytelling, singing, reading aloud, and games, all of which encourage translanguaging, with a focus on Maa (Maasai language), Kiswahili and English. The study’s participants were a combination of Maa-dominant and Kiswahili-dominant multilingual children. The findings show how specific uses of translanguaging destabilised entrenched power hierarchies between different languages and their speakers, and opened up space for all learners to position themselves with agency. Translanguaging practices also enriched literacy engagement and facilitated the affirmation and negotiation of participants’ polyphonic identities. This paper appeals for translanguaging to be embraced in mainstream schooling, and calls for the continuing development of translanguaging theory and educational models which speak directly to African realities.