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Subject Linguistics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


Mastery of reading and writing skills. The term is used in a number of different senses by researchers in different fields. This diversity of meaning is obscured by the fact that they all have to do with linguistic communication in written form. The following three senses should be distinguished according to whether literacy is seen as an individual, a social, or a linguistic phenomenon. Literacy conceived as the ability to read and write is investigated by psychologists and educationalists. The objects of research are individuals as they learn and utilize written language skills. The opposite of literacy in this sense is illiteracy . Rather than signifying an absolute contrast, both these terms refer to graded notions that may apply to individuals in varying degrees. Written language skills may be mastered only partially or, after having been learned, may degenerate for lack of use. Moreover, individuals are affected by literacy practices in their environment. An illiterate in a literate environment is more affected by medial and communicative properties of written language than an illiterate who is completely disconnected from literate communication practices. The notion of ‘functional literacy’ is intended to account for such differences and help conceive of literacy as diverse and graded rather than a uniform skill with a clearly defined threshold. What amounts to being functionally ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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