Transliteracy and Me

Holdinghands2 We go everywhere together, do transliteracy and me.  We read books together, browse the
internet, go to the cinema, shop, people watch, enjoy art, listen to Debussy…
we do pretty much everything hand in hand, do transliteracy and me!


Extrapolating meaning from a variety of coded signals – from
text to hand gestures – is what enables me to do my job, engage in social
networking online and know from my partner’s face when it is my turn to do the
washing up.  It may all sound
mundane, but actually, transliteracy is an every day fact of life.


Professionally, I have to be extremely sensitive to
different levels of transliteracy. 
I was introduced to the concept whilst studying on De Montfort
University’s MA in Creative Writing & New Media, as it applied to my
creative work.  Since graduating, I
have moved on to create online resources to amplify conferences and convey
training courses, which involves considering the transliteracy of my audience so
that the resources I produce are intuitive and accessible.  I also have to be highly digitally
transliterate myself to navigate all the different tools and platforms
available when choosing the best ways to present my content.  The concept of transliteracy is
therefore fundamental to what I do.


For me, if there is some form of mutually understood code to
a set of signals, then it constitutes a literacy.  This is what allows us to include signing and orality in the
definition of transliteracy as:
“…the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools
and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and
film, to digital social networks.”


Unfortunately, the word “literacy” is itself a coded sign,
with a whole set of mutually understood connotations and connections that make
it difficult for us to separate it from text.  The tight-knit relationship with the verb “to read” closely
aligns literacy with sight-based activities, whilst our social emphasis on
literacy also marks it out as a product of education, rather than an innate or
deducible skill.  These deep-set
cultural ideas about literacy make it difficult to explain transliteracy as the
movement across a broad landscape of communication codes including, but also
beyond text. 


Text is still very much the gold standard as far as literacy
is concerned.  I nearly cried when
I recently heard an academic at a conference explaining that students of the
future could be “a-literate”, by which he actually meant “not text-literate”.  “Why would students need to be able
to write a scientific methodology when they could just video the experiment
taking place and upload it?  As a
record of the methodology it will be more accurate!”
he argued.  Of course, he
was absolutely right, but his choice of language suggests that the lack of
text-literacy equals a complete lack of literacy, which is obviously completely
contrary to the argument of transliteracy.


My question going forward is whether accepting the notion of
transliteracy as the ability to move between types of literacy will enable us
to be less prescriptive about what constitutes a “literacy” or will our binding
to text-orientated language restrict us? 
Do we need to alter our definition to move away from the words “reading”
and “writing” to be replaced by “comprehending” and “creating” in order to be
more inclusive to the less graphical literacies?  And how will our understanding of transliteracy inform our

6 thoughts on “Transliteracy and Me

  1. Do we need to alter our definition to move away from the words “reading” and “writing” to be replaced by “comprehending” and “creating”

    I was going to say, yes, I think we probably do, but actually the word/concept ‘reading’ makes transliterate sense to me: the idea of reading images, signs, body language, minds/thoughts, etc. It’s the term ‘writing’ that is perhaps more problematic. In many ways ‘creating’ is a good replacement for ‘writing’ but it carries more rarefied connotations then ‘writing’. ‘Communicating’ might be another alternative but that seems too workaday. I wonder if we need to replace the duality of reading and writing with a kind of trinity – reading, communicating and creating?

  2. I agree, Christine, “read” is a very broad word and encompasses a lot. We have the word “interact” in there as well of course.
    My observation is that aside from music scores, “reading” does not really apply to “orality” – it is really connected with visual literacies. I’m just aware that although most of the literacies we look at and think of are visual, there are literacies that do not rely on sight at all, so it is more difficult to apply the word “read”. We probably need to find a way of addressing this, although you’re right, the word “read” probably needs to be in there. Not sure what the answer is…. :-s

  3. Kirsty and Christine, I also raised this issue in my recent post here. I feel that the word “read” is more than adequate and that the research field transliteracy is (at least currently) in, reading is aligned with the act of interpretation rather than statically bound to letters.
    I’m curious about the conference you recently attended. Do you have details about it? About what was the speaker presenting (the one who said a-literate)? I’m curious to know the context.
    “Why would students need to be able to write a scientific methodology when they could just video the experiment taking place and upload it? As a record of the methodology it will be more accurate!”
    Also as I re-read this quote (and by re-read I also mean reflect/interpret) I wonder about the placement of the word “just.” This seems to imply that the speaker understands video as a straight-forward almost “Realist” device; “recording” the Truth. Of course there might be other questions posed because of a video transcription rather than a written one. The speaker also seems to evade the educational premise of writing about a methodology in terms of understanding the steps involved and reflecting on the practise rather than doing without any reflection.

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