(Re)considering Literacy and Linguistic Diversity in a Multicultural Society.

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Clara M. Chu, Professor and Department Chair (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/

Abstract: Literacy has traditionally been conceptualized as functional literacy, which is generally defined as the ability to read and write in the majority language. However, this concept has been challenged (Chu 1998, 1999) within our contemporary societies, that are multicultural, multilingual, global and technological. Research has shown that job prosperity and health correlate with the ability to read and write in the national language(s) and to use information and communication technologies (ICTs). Nevertheless, for societies to thrive, I call for a reconsideration of the traditional definition of literacy and a re-imagining of literacy in multicultural communities. Traditional definitions of literacy recognize neither an individual?s literacy in nondominant languages nor differences in literacy levels when engaged in different social circumstances; for example, a sociologist is typically less literate at a physics conference than a sociology one. Literacy is problematized in order to challenge any classification of ethnolinguistic minorities as the “Other,” or “illiterate” (in the dominant language), that then, disenfranchises them. To engage linguistic minorities or others in developing their literacy skills, they cannot continue to be disenfranchised in libraries, education institutions or in wider society and they need to be involved in defining, developing, and using their own literacy. This paper addresses the question: What is literacy and linguistic diversity in a multicultural society? Diverse concepts of literacy from a critical perspective will be examined and a holistic model of literacy is proposed. My Ecological Model of Literacy as Engagement and Transformation defines literacy as the activity of engaging with agreed-upon signs for communication, understanding, and action in an organized, socialized environment. It validates the notion of multiple literacies and literacy as situational and temporal, promotes literacy as an evolving and self-actualization process, and shifts the literacy dialogue from a discourse of skill sets to a discourse of power.

Additional Information

International Federation of Library Associations and Institutes (IFLA) Section on Library Services to Multicultural Populations, 15–17 August 2007
Language: English
Date: 2007
Linguistic diversity, Multiple literacies, Transformation

Email this document to