Literacy and the differential value of knowledge

In today’s world, “literacy” is strongly associated with competence: the ability to read and write is the pre-condition for the acquisition of all kinds of knowledge and skills. The basic rule of thumb is: “No literacy, no education.”

A comment on last week’s post “Literacy – the power code” questions this ubiquitous connection between literacy and competence, and asks about other ways of learning: what about the son of a shoe-maker who learns by observation and participation? Or the daughter of a carpenter who is similarly apprenticed into the trade? Even without literacy, are they not competent and educated?

They sure are! There can be no doubt that it is possible to achieve an education, to become competent and to gain wisdom by learning from your elders and without engaging in literacy-mediated learning.

However, in a world that has a literacy fetish, as ours does, this kind of education and knowledge becomes devalued. Where knowledge and competence associated with literacy are highly valued, knowledge and competence associated with traditional ways are simultaneously discounted.

In fact, the elevation of literacy-associated knowledge over other forms of knowledge has long been a part of colonial projects.

Consider the ways we think about our relationship to the land on which we live: you might live on a plot of land or in a house and take good care of it; you might make sure it is maintained well and is a good place to live; you might tend to the plants and animals who live there; and you might make sure it will be a good place to live that provides shelter and food not only for yourself but also for your children and generations to come.

To be able to do that surely makes you a competent person and a wise and good human being. But what if you do all that but don’t hold a title to the land? If you don’t have a piece of writing that says this plot of land and this house is yours? You might not be able to do any of these good things and, even if you do, your efforts will not be much valued by society.

Now let’s consider the opposite case: you hold a title to a plot of land – i.e. you have a piece of writing that says the land is yours – and you go about destroying the land: you despoil its natural resources, exterminate the plants and animals, poison the water and generally ruin it, also for your neighbors and for those who come after you. While this sounds despicable, it happens all the time and, by and large, as a society we approve of such practices because there is that piece of paper that confers ownership and all kinds of associated property rights.

Our contemporary belief in the power of a piece of writing – the title deed – devalues all other ways of relating to the land on which we live, as is well-illustrated by the idea of terra nullius: the idea that, prior to European settlement, Australia was “a land belonging to no one”.

Terra nullius became one of the legal and moral justifications for the British colonization of Australia: the assumption was that the continent had not belonged to anyone until Europeans “found” it. While Aboriginal people had obviously lived in Australia prior to 1788, they were not seen as having a right to the land between Governor Bourke’s 1835 proclamation of terra nullius and the first successful native title claim in the Mabo case of 1992.

One of the indicators why Aboriginal people supposedly did not have a right to their land lay in the fact that they did not have any written ownership records or title deeds. Instead of recording their ownership of the land in written title deeds, Aboriginal Australians had a spiritual relationship to the land which they communicated through stories and songs, as the Papunya School Book of Country and History explains:

When the Tjulkura [= white people] came to Australia, they did not recognise that, between them, different groups of Aboriginal people owned all the continent. Because there were no pieces of paper saying which people belonged to which country, white people decided that the land was terra nullius. […] The Tjulkura did not understand that Aboriginal people had been recording their ownership of their country in songs, stories, dances and paintings since the time when law began.

To Europeans, knowledge recorded in and transmitted via “songs, stories, dances and paintings” seemed primitive and barbaric: in short, worthless.

That only literacy-mediated knowledge has value is, in this case, obviously a self-serving fallacy. However, it is easy to overlook this fallacy in our literacy-obsessed world. Imagine if we routinely thought about the human relationship to the earth not as one of ownership but as one of custodianship. Maybe some of the ecological disasters of our time could have been avoided if we were not so fixated on the power of written documents to establish knowledge and competence? And if we were less keen to discard and ignore all other forms of knowledge?

Can you think of other examples where forms of knowledge and learning that are not mediated through literacy are being devalued in favor of knowledge and learning that are associated with literate practices?

Further reading

If you want to read more about the colonization of Australia as a project that has partly been about imposing British ways of seeing and discarding Aboriginal ways of seeing, you might want to check out Chapter 3 of the newly released second edition of Intercultural Communication. A flier with a discount code is available here.

Author Ingrid Piller

Dr Ingrid Piller is Professor of Applied Linguistics at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Ingrid’s research expertise is in the fields of intercultural communication, bilingual education and the sociolinguistics of language learning and multilingualism in the contexts of migration and globalization.

More posts by Ingrid Piller
  • Tricia

    This post quickly brought to mind the latest Filipino independent film I watched as part of the Cinemalaya Festival in Manila. “Ang Guro Kong Di Marunong Magbasa” (My Teacher Who Doesn’t Know How to Read) by Perry Escano shows the sad plight of children in Mindanao who are forced to carry arms instead of books because of the incessant fights between the military and rebel groups in the area. The story highlights the heroism of Aaquil, a no-read-no-write farmer who takes up the challenge of teaching the children in their barrio with a little help from the “smarter” kids who know how to read. But this advocacy is quickly arrested when Aaquil is held hostage by the rebels, and his students take up arms to fight the people who are keeping them from their dream of having a decent education. This story, which is inspired by true events, affirms the prevailing idea in the Philippines that literacy–particularly, the ability to read and write–is the key to success. Those who are willing to sacrifice their life in pursuit of this ideal are hailed heroes.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/5043ee23dc4126e4e1cd74c84751c992e4fbd74ed6befbaada92994ae9c49b53.jpg

  • Nhung Nguyen

    This article reminds me a concept that I have encountered before when I taught an English course for my Vietnamese students: the “oral contract”. Its definition states that an agreement between individuals can be made and legally recognized by spoken words. It is also noted that this kind of contract may not have any legal effect in many cases. To be honest, I have never had an oral contract in my life and I support the predominance of written documents in most of our social practices due to the sense of security it brings to us.
    However, in terms of knowledge recognition, I totally agree that literacy fetish can lead to some social irrationality. For instance, the government in my country has been struggling with the disappearance of many national traditional trade villages and the dying of several ancient hereditary crafts. Obviously, in the modern society where knowledge mediated through literacy is highly appreciated, holding an official certificate, degree or diploma is more attractive to young people than spending time learning difficult skills passed down orally through generations.

  • Wonghoi

    Dear Ingrid,
    It is a very thoughtful post about how knowledge and learning are devalued under some particular cases of literacy practice. When you mentioned Aboriginal people in Australia, their history seems to be pretty tragic. They did not have an legal or written ownership records only because they have not developed their own writing system. When I was in secondary school, I have studied a short article The Last Lesson by Alphonse Daudet in Chinese class when I was in secondary school. This essay is about how French is taken away by German people from their classroom. In this essay, the teacher finally wrote “VIVE LA FRANCE” on the blackboard to remind their students shall not forget about their mother language. Imaging that a nation’s literacy’s skill has been entirely deprived by another invasion of a new language, and we could sentence this nation’s orginal language to death. Similar case happened to the three northeast provinces of China from 1931 to 1945, those three provinces is a part of Japan, and the Chinese people in there, which is also taught by Japanese. The question is how we could hold a title to our “Land”, and how we could claim to the world that this “Land” is mine. The only way to achieve this is to create our own langugage, and more importantly language is a part of our own cultural recognization. Only by writing letters and characters, the history could be recorded.

  • S. J. L.

    In my opinion, literacy has been a tool to justify human being’s greed. When Columbus arrived at North America, Europeans called the continents of North and South America ‘The New World’. Although there were people who had already lived and developed their own civilization, the Europeans regarded the continents as the new place. This is because, in the view of the Europeans, there were no evidences to prove the native people’s the right of the land. Of course, the Native Americans, including Inca Empire, had their own system to display their possessions. However, the Europeans ignored because of their greed to take over the land. Therefore, the Westerners claimed the Americas as ‘terra nullius’ and drove out the native people who originally settled down throughout the American contents. So the above examples are enough indicators of literacy as the device to justify human desire.

  • 44285736

    Civilization holds its progressive growth to basically the fundamental development of writing over the centuries has we have covered in our lectures form the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Romans and to recent empires in the later part of common era (BCE) like the Ottomans. Great Empires have risen in human history because they have developed a superior writing method that has helped them to administer their empires. Their government and public system were able to function because of their sophistication in their writing. Did this empires survive? I don’t think so, they rose and fell and history has its own way of repeating itself. They felt behind archeological evidence of their past that we can study and appreciate. Why did the empires fall? In my opinion if one culture becomes too dominant then it becomes too greedy. The superiority of the culture is envied by all that in the long run it losses it taste. For instance, in during the roman empire Latin was the envied language to learn, but slowly it died away. In this modern world English is the language that many people wan to learn but will it survive or die as did Latin. If English becomes the dominant language of trade and commerce in the world, it is in human nature for people to revolt and form smaller groups identifying their own language to give meaning to their existence and belonging has becoming part of a bigger group. Naturally there are called separatist or fundamental groups. Why do we have so many groups like this going against America and rest of the Western culture. It is because of the dominance of the written culture. For instance McDonald and Coco Cola are Multi-National Companies. They are billion dollar companies operating all around the world. The dominance of this companies is seen as westernization and bullying of once culture over the other. So, with it is attached the language so if English is to be dominant language, leftist would say it’s its imperialism of once culture over the other. And so with it comes greed and power, eventually empires collapse. Take the current situation between North Korea and USA. Yes its is an international crisis but at the end it a case of a war between who has the superior language and culture. Is it the English speaking nations or another Non-English speaking nation. Which culture is more superior, which culture is more powerful, which culture can exploit more resources, which culture can exploit the poor directly or indirectly. These are the empires that become more competent in their society through the development of their writing system that their pride is the collapse of their society. Is the recent development of Trump versus North Korea a phenomenon of political superiority. Becoming Literate is good but it comes with cost of life’s and environment. Look at what literate human beings have done to the planet in the last 400 years. Global climate change, wars, famine, ice melting, pollution to air, water and sea. Where will it lead to in the next 400 years to come? I better be a simple life that is environmentally friendly.

  • salmat

    I agree there is a strong connection between written language and power, particular in relation to legal documents. The great irony to me, however, is that so many ‘lay people’ cannot understand legalese, thereby requiring them to employ the services of a lawyer to make sense of their important documentation. This allows the legal profession a great deal of power and prestige – which they are unlikely to voluntarily divest anytime soon!
    In terms of another example of learning which is being overtaken by written language, I have noticed a significant difference in the maths homework that my children complete in comparison to the work I did as a child. Long gone are the stencils with numerically based equations to be calculated. All maths problems now seem to be ‘problem-based’ (even from years 1 and 2), which require the children to read several sentences to identify the correct mathematical operation to use (either plus, minus, multiplication or division). Although this is great practice from the perspective of applying their learning to real-life problems, I can’t help but think of children who are struggling with reading, or come from a non-English speaking background, who may have traditionally found solace in the non-linguistic nature of mathematics, but can no longer do so.

  • 44285736

    Literacy the power code. Yes I agree it is a means to an end in this modern societies. Roman saying ” Knowledge is power”, In what means do you acquire power. Power is something you posses that gives you an edge above others. What is that edge? I do agree to a certain degree. The means to power has we have learnt in the last three lectures is writing. The secret to power is writing. All sorts of writing, Chinese, Greeks, Arabic, etc. In history a society with a developed writing system has advantage edge over other societies or civilisation. Writing has shaped the society to what we commonly say ”civilisation” or civilised society. On the contrary is a society without writing is a barbaric society or uncivilised. So from this civilised societies have the comparative advantage of writing to those without writing. Though the aboriginal society were great painters they never developed a writing system and when the whites arrived they had this comparative edge. ”Terra Nullius” a land belonging to know one, though the native aboriginal lived in Australia 40-50 thousand years, even before the pyramids of Giza was constructed, even before the Phoenicians invented the alphabet, before the Romans build the colosseum and even before Great Britain become great. So what was the edge that they did not have in this vast land called Australia, a writing system. If they had it, it would be a different Australia when the British arrived. But did they need a writing system? No they did not, they survived along with the nature. The salient point is that those civilised empires rose but perished, so did their writing. The empires become so consumed with power of knowledge of writing that they became greedy. A literate nation is a nation of consumption, knowledge burns the desire to know more and have more. In the effort to know we are consumed by time making it the centre of life. So, a literate person is a person with less time for self and more time to gain power. Learning is a process of gaining power and that comparative advantage over another. So this gives you a sense of competency in life. So knowing how to read and write is positive tool to have over others. However it does not make the illiterate incompetent, more so less educated because they are different types of acquisition of knowledge as the Aboriginals have shown us through their survival in Australia. It requires certain skills and perfection of these survival skills that they learnt from observation. Having said that, in this modern society, reading and writing is vital but in certain places and traditional or native societies in the third world it is not necessary.

  • MeganLouise

    I find this article so interesting! It addresses a topic and issue that is so important and also quite frustrating at times, depending on what side of the fence you are looking at it from. As a student who is still in the process of finishing my studies, it is frustrating when a job may require some sort of tertiary qualification (be it a TAFE diploma or a university degree), and disregards any previous experience had, or knowledge of the profession, purely because you don’t have a little piece of paper saying that you are officially “qualified”. This is an example of written literacy knowledge on a larger scale, but there are also smaller scale examples. A close friend of mine is a performer in musical theatre, a profession where an official “degree” is not a necessity, and to be good in this field of work you can progress by hard work, practice and training that does not require traditional ways of learning (such as being in a classroom, etc).
    Overall I think that the value placed on needing an official literate learning of knowledge/skills is all dependent on the field in which the learning is taking place.

  • Bindu pokhrel

    Dear Ingrid,
    I found this topic to be quite relevant to this age, as the definition of literacy has significantly changed over time. Being literate is now not only limited to just being able to read and write, it has become more complex. The term is observed with a broader perspective and people even associate it to the fluency in language with analytical skills and other competencies such as knowledge of modern technologies.
    If one is capable enough of doing things correctly, what else do we need? I mean, ultimately if the goal is to get the job done in most accurate ways.
    I totally agree with you that even though you are competent enough, nobody accepts that you are a professional unless you present a document to support yourself. There are many skills I also have gained in different traditional ways but unfortunately that do not count much.

  • Julie

    Thank you for very fascinating points and examples in the article, Prof. Ingrid. They have made me think about an example where non literacy-mediated forms of knowledge and learning might have been devalued. It is the story of people from a minority group whose broidery is known as very unique and special. While those people have learnt and gained good skills in such broidery, they were required to show evidence that they were literate or they could not get recruited for some broidery-related jobs in the city. Actually they are not asked to be specialized in what they are doing, but still need to prove that they have completed their high school diplomas, for example.

  • Dhanisa Kamila

    In most remote and secluded areas of Indonesia, on which are usually inhabited by various tribes or people of the forest, the literacy level is still very low. Many of them do not have the knowledge of how to read and write, and many people from a “luckier or better” area of Indonesia (or big cities) really pity this situation and try to teach them regular school subjects. However, little did many people know, these tribe people are actually well educated. They learn many things about the forest and survival lesson through stories, songs, and practical skills their ancestor taught them. Still, this knowledge were devalued by big cities people because these forms of knowledge are considered primitive, not like economic, English and other common subjects that are actually, in my opinion, are only useful for city people and almost useless for these tribes. The forest is their home, and their stories, songs and practical skills are what they actually need in order to survive in the forest, not in the cities, and even though their knowledge are not highly mediated through literacy, it should be valued equally in order to preserve their cultures.

  • ALEXANDROS BINOS

    This article has made me think differently about literacy. I always considered literacy as the ability to read and write. It made me think about the success of ancient civilisations such as the Greeks and Romans who laid the foundations of contemporary western civilisation. The Greeks and the Romans were predominately illiterate – only the elite in many cases could read and write and this was for political gains and power. However, no one can doubt the ancient Greeks’ and Romans’ competencies and legacies across countless disciplines. Many ancient Greeks were illiterate but were extraordinary critical thinkers. Incompetent? Surely not!

  • Dwitiya Nugrahaeni

    I strongly agree with the idea that some forms of literacy are meant to limitedly acknowledge ownership rather than custodian. This purpose now has shifted to economic interest as well. The access to literacy practices have been widely misused to send away traditional people, who do not have anything to “hold on to”, from their lands to build factories or privatised plantations for mass-production of goods such as palm oil. Their hereditary beliefs in taking care of the land are viewed as old-fashioned. Even they are convinced that those beliefs would not benefit them economically or raise their social status at all. Here, literacy is also glorified as one symbol of someone’s quality in the society. It is sad to think that these people are basically competent and knowledgeable in their own “land” with their own standard but they have to struggle to be another type of competent and knowledgeable in lands that are not theirs and standards that sometimes are not made for them.

  • JZzzz

    One example I think of where forms of knowledge and learning that are not mediated through literacy are being devalued is a traditional nursery rhyme passed down orally generation by generation in my hometown. It tells stories of national heroes along the Chinese history in a rhyme way, which serves as an interesting history briefing to the children. However, with the development of mass media, nowadays children are no longer attracted to this kind of nursery rhyme in front of all the animations, games on electronic devices. As a result, the way passing down knowledge and learning knowledge by rhyme is dying out, although it did contribute to the literacy among general public in the old days.

  • Dee

    An example I can think of is when we write essays or papers for university. The research we draw upon has to be referenced and the references are all associated with particular and exclusive literary practices. In subjects such as history this can devalue the knowledge and life experiences of people that have lived through certain events but are not in a position to publish work that can be considered as a relevant reference. In this case it is difficult to reference some indigenous histories. Indigenous histories and experiences are devalued as a consequence of such practices. As are the experiences of other marginalized groups in society that are excluded from the learning and knowledge associated with traditional literary practices.

  • MB24

    Salmat, I note since at least the late 1980’s the plain English movement has had an impact on the language of the law. In Australia, the Law Reform Commission of Victoria’s 1987 report entitled ‘Plain English and the Law’ marked a milestone for the advancement of plain English in the law. One of the ongoing challenges for drafters of the law is how to express complex policies clearly. The sheer volume of law is also driving a demand for plain English in the law because of the administrative burden of the law. Those whom administer many of our laws also need to understand the law especially when responding to questions from the public or other government agencies. This later point was likely influencial in Obama’s Plain Writing Act of 2010. That said, there is still a great deal of work to do to improve the accessibility of the law to lay people.

  • Jo.

    In the case of intangible heritage recognition, the role of literacy to mark ownership is very important, all the while ethically questionable. There are many forms of cultural or ethnic performances, which have been handed down through generations, on the verge of disappearing just because they are not recorded or recognised on paper. Once they are “discovered” and noted down, they have a higher chance to be preserved. Indeed, words put weight onto the existence of these abstract forms of knowledge. However, such written words usually reflect the interpretation of the “authorised people” rather than the indigenous’ actual voice. Interestingly, the legitimacy of such interpretation is rarely questioned. Similar to “terra nullius”, the right literacy in the right context allow people to claim ownership to other forms of knowledge by framing and shaping them in the way they deem fit. Although this may seem unharmful, such overuse of literacy is in fact an exploitation of resources, which would lead to the reduction of the ways we perceive the world. A concrete consequence is that people who never really experience a certain art form but have read about it may think that they already “know” that art form. Since they “see” it, they “own” it!

  • EM

    Hi Dee,

    I think this is a great example of how while written literature may equal power, it may not always be the most ethical or the most inviting, inclusive form of research, and that marginalised groups are vastly excluded from the literature which in turn may devalue their history that could add quite a lot of raw experience to the mix. While there are many research articles written from a white-Australian point of view (and of course there is nothing wrong with that), it would also be extremely worthwhile to somehow reference Indigenous Australians through another channel, as they do not put as much importance or power in the written word – for as long as they have been in Australia, oral traditions have been of the utmost importance to them. Imagine if our society put more emphasis on the spoken word – I would love to be able to somehow incorporate that into an essay.

  • Meera Panthee

    Dear Ingrid Piller,
    Having read your article and discussion in the classroom, I have actually acquired the concept and meaning of literacy in a broader spectrum. There are in fact, a lot of such instances in my country, Nepal where knowledge and learning are devalued when it is not mediated through literacy. Basically people in the countryside consume some naturally available herbs in the form of medicines as these are all year-long practices and they cure the diseases indeed. On the other hand, people who are really conscious of their health and understand the medicinal values prefer allopathic medicines which in fact use the same herbs as the ingredients. This shows the latter too are attracted towards the consumption of these herbs following their processing. To our dismay, this is devalued comparing the homeopathy with allopathic medicines as the latter is based on specific study and formulation. I think the only way that procures power to the former would be systematic preparation and documentation prior to their supply.

  • rajni jaishi

    This article raises a thought-provoking issue which our society grapples with, at present. I have encountered many such situations in day to day life in different towns and cities I have been to. Some of them are personal experiences related to family members too. Just as the article vividly points out how a legal document holds umpteen value and persons with real skills acquired without a legal certificate for it are devalued. A real life situation I recently encountered is a man who did not speak English that well was an excellent operator of a machine at a pharmaceutical industry, which he had done for almost a decade but the newcomers with an engineering degree are given preference over him to do other sophisticated tasks in the factory. The irony is that sometimes he needs to teach them how to work on the machines and to execute other complicated tasks. But he himself cannot expect to be promoted or any incentives.

  • Mustaqim Haniru

    The example that i can think of is the common culture and perception that exist in some workplaces in Indonesia, which highly regard individuals’ competence based on the recorded proof. Individuals’ expertise is normally disregarded if it is not supported by certificate, acknowledgment, or degree, which oftentimes inhibit people from having better job or position in a company or institution. Hence, there is a growing number of institutions, which currently provide training, short course, or degree and offer certificate of completion or participation that could not be afforded by some people due to limited capital and time constraint. As the result, these type of individuals could not obtain better job or further their career prospect despite their competence level and long-time experience as well as shifted intention of some people to enroll in certain course for merely obtaining certificate instead of enhancing their competence level.

  • Reem

    Dear professor, Piller and everyone,

    In the modern world, when we talk about knowledge or learning, we immediately include in these concepts ‘literacy’ that often borders with competence. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the ancient Arab tribes strengthened their authority and spread the unique culture. Until now, there are hugely revered age traditions. This fact explains the great influence on people, how they learned and conveyed knowledge which in turn affected the present situation in the kingdom. It is well-known that some individuals in the country are illiterate. Today, this issue is still solving at the state level, which requires the involvement of different programs and impacts on the population. “The Saudi education system has faced considerable international and local changes in recent years” (Elyas & Picard, 2010). This fact has increased the popularity of the study of English and general education programs that extend and include compulsory literacy study. At the same time, trade and crafts are also one of the main wages of the population, which is why the government takes its way for improving vocational training.Many people in the country are going to work in this sector. All in all, literacy affects the country, people, society and can have different consequences.

    Thanks.

  • Deepak BHANDARI

    when I think about literacy I remember about the film named “God must be crazy”. In this film the lifestyle and the knowledge of the tribal people who live in the dense forest of Africa is shown. Their encounter with the modern world and invention is shown in a very funny way. They are surprised and shocked to see the discoveries made by the modern man. But, there is another side of the story, too. The modern man who is proud to be literate and knows to read and write do not have the knowledge which is lying in the nature. The tribal group who do not know how to read and write have unlimited knowledge about the nature and are aware about the mysteries related to it through observation. They have passed their knowledge from one generation to another generation through observation without any script, class and book. Therefore literacy cannot be defined as knowing how to read and write only but it can be explained as the knowledge which we can get through observation and experience.

  • HANIFA RAHMAWATI

    Hi Tiya,
    Thanks for your comment. I like the points you’ve made as for the suggestion for keeping the e-documents in case lost, but with the devices humans don’t need to have when they’re reading a book, I’m just thinking that a book is also a technology that’s pretty much the same as a device in terms of the functions for this matter. That might have something to do with prestige, but e-books nowadays are also very much possible to be sold online to acknowledge the right of authorship, in my opinion.

  • YUYANG SHE

    I do agree that there is a strong connection between literacy and competence. In modern societies, literacy-associated knowledge is evaluated by written documents acknowledged by separate authorities. The power lay behind simply “claims” one`s competence, which is understandable in this efficiency-oriented society. It is especially obvious to notice when one has to show all the certificates, qualifications and other documents as he manages to find a job or apply for certain positions. The actual ability and other forms of knowledge which take time to demonstrate are discounted at the first sight. This is the reason why the debate between exam-oriented education and all round development education is so heated.

  • Min Wu KIM

    This article reminds me of my experience as a homeroom teacher in a public secondary school in South Korea last year. There was a girl I was in charge who had psychological issues, originated from the experience of being bullied at a primary school and exposed to the violence from her parents. Her mental state was very unstable and that made it hard to form a close relationship with her classmates who even tried to get close to her first. As the girl kept saying about ‘death’ and ‘suicide’ in everyday conversation, I, as a homeroom teacher, and a consultant of student’s behaviour took super care of her, letting her to come and say whatever she wanted to say. I tried to be on her side to support her mentally. However, though I spent countless hours on caring her, I found that I had no written version of our conversation, which got me in trouble when she disappeared during the school hours and a vice-president of the school asked me what I had done for her to keep this from happening. Everybody around me, including co-teachers and students, knew the endeavour I made but that didn’t mean a proof that I tried to keep her on a right track. This experience helped me notice that we value writing more than other modes of literacies in our social practices. Fortunately, she returned without any harm and became a university student majoring in social wellbeing, though.

  • Yeji LEE

    I totally agree with the idea that the ability to read and write is the most important prerequisite for the acquisition of different kinds of knowledge and skills. In our real life, there are hundreds thousands of so-called ‘certificates’ that prove a person’s ability and it always requires the act of reading, listening, writing, and sometimes even speaking. It is not limited to the linguistic competence. Even driving license, for example, can be acquired by those who should be able to read and write, because there is also a written test as well as pratical driving test. We are living in the world with power of literacy. However, as shown in the example of Aboriginal people in the article, it should be assured that other kinds of competence can be exist aside from the literacy.

  • Kyungmin Lee

    I cannot agree more with the strong relationship between written language and power. As one of participants of diverse kinds of communities, I always have to prove myself as a qualified one by providing relevant document. Most people who need to be hired and want secure jobs are required to write a resume and a cover letter, in organised and fairly typical ways. If the individual applicants fail to construct those forms, they are not likely to get any opportunity to have job interviews. That is why many proofreaders for academic writing can easily earn money in some countries, for which I would like to cite Ingrid’s word, ‘literacy obsessed world’. The ongling trend of heavy zeal for obtaining power of literacy proficiency do not seem to be stoppable as long as human being seeks for betterment in life.

  • zhao valencia

    I can totally relate this topic to what I have read before, a book about the cultural invasion and assimilation in Tibet, China. As a matter of fact, far more Chinese variations are now on the edge of extinction, due to the nature that they are only handed down in the form of saga or legend stories, without a well-developed semantic or written system, let alone some dialects scattered in diverse rural areas. It is true that the promotion of standardised mandarine plays a positive role in improving civilian education as well as the enhancing the connection of the whole race, lingua-diversity cannot be overlooked, for every segments of language represents a piece of history and an element of culture.

  • Hayu Austina

    Thank you for bringing this topic. It reminds me to some people that I know who studied IT and pursue careers in IT sector. To get a better job, they can not only depend on their university diploma. It will be privilege for them to finish a specific IT certification program and hold the certificate. Even though learning through experience is valued by the companies who will recruit them, they need to prove their skills and attach that proof in their resume. Therefore, a certification program and the final certificate is like getting a ticket to enter a community of practice and the individuals need to nurture their knowledge within that community for their professional development.

  • swati sharma

    Need and instincts prompts human and animals alike to evolve ways and means for survival. In this quest homosapiens have entered an era of computorisation, artificial intelligence , algorithms etc. The beggining of the journey searched for the shelter food and protection from the dangers. Stone age thinkers invented tools, no body taught them any engineering, college workshops how to give a desired shape to the pottery , weapons etc. No schools advised them how to sow and reap. These great ancestors paved the way of todays literati or literacy.

    In a way the literacy of the past is the father of todays literacy. Society is obsessed for literacy, doesnt know actual meaning education , competence. Literacy can not be defined or confined to any particular belief or methodology. Its spectrum and scope is far beyond the reach of universities , college and modern research institutes.

  • Xi Yang

    I am totally agree with the idea that language is related to power, particularly written languages. It is a common phenomenon in our society that you have to possess the required documents in order to to be employed. Sometimes, you feel like the employers are valued more on your certificates and documents rather than the employee’s actual working experience and working skills. One of the example is my personal experience, several years ago I applied for a job to teach speaking for a language center which mainly offer PTE exam preparation course. The interviewers said that I demonstrate good speaking skills and my score of speaking is good, however my writing skills is not good as the other skills (reading, listening and speaking), therefore they asked me to take the test again to obtain a higher score for writing and also the CELTA certificate, and then they’ll consider employ me.

  • Such an interesting point! In German there is only one translation equivalent for “fiddle” and “violin” (“Geige”) and I remember trying to figure out the difference between what I thought were two different instruments when I read “Little house on the prairie” (where dad often plays the fiddle) … up until now I thought they were somehow different instruments expect that the difference somehow escaped me … your explanation makes much more sense. Thanks! Ingrid

  • Luc Belliveau

    When I asked him, my grandfather told me the difference is “You don’t spill beer on a violin.” I don’t think the differentiation exists in French either, and the similarity between the words (“violon” and “violin”) is probably where I got confused when talking about it in English! I wonder if there are other distinctions like this for musical instruments in other languages. In this case it seems to fall along the same lines as the pig/pork distinction in English, so it seems to be a result of the influence of the French language on English courtly life.

  • MB24

    Further on the emergence of a specific literacy, Xanthaki (2013) writes on the recent emergence of legislative drafting as a sub discipline of law. Are we then to equate the emergence of such a sub discipline as simultaneously an emergence of a specific literacy. Perhaps the better question is, what exactly is the criteria for a specific literacy? Taking the certificate of title as an example, we may allege that a person literate in legislative practices would read the certificate differently to a person illiterate in such practices. The difference lies in the assumed knowledge brought to the certificate’s reading.