Linking Literacy and Linguistics

Street’s article “The New Literacy Studies” “[challenges] the great divide in favour of an oral/literate ‘mix'” through an autonomous “ideological” model of literacy (436). Street defines this new ideology as “the role of literacy practices in reproducing or challenging structures of power and domination” (434). He also notes that a crucial part of literacy that has been overlooked in previous articles is that literacy is not a singular, definable concept, but is instead a collection of different literacies that are mixed together and used in various contexts. Similar to other articles that we have read thus far, Street re-emphasizes that when analyzing the ideological model and “cognitive aspects of reading and writing” one must understand that “they are encapsulated within cultural wholes and within structures of power” (435).

When reading this article, there were two key points that really struck me. The first was the fact that Street actually sought to abandon the notion of the great divide by acknowledging the multitude of literacies that go into literacy, while also connecting linguistic theory with literacy theory. As someone who has dabbled in linguistics, I have found it frustrating that previous authors have mentioned the social, cultural, economic, etc. factors that play into literacy practices and theory, but haven’t connected this with the cognitive developments of language acquisition, especially when looking at second language learners. Street clearly states that “I would like to argue that the analysis of the relationship between orality and literacy requires attention to the ‘wider parameters’ of ‘context’ largely underemphasised in Anglo-American linguistics” (440). Culture, social perceptions, privilege, power structures, economics, etc. all play a crucial role in how one acquires language. However, all of these separate contexts hold within them literacies that must be understood in order for one to build a cognitive understanding of how to use language. This is such an important idea. Other, let’s say “social literacies”, play a huge role in our “institutional/professional/academic/whatever literacies”. And this does not exclude oral practices.

For me, Street has shifted the priority of “defining literacy” with what are the factors that play into literacy practices. How do we cognitively interpret or develop these practices? What defines the context in which we utilize these practices? Is it really language that builds literacy? Or do literacy practices ripple into one another to create other literacies?

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