Literacy as a Human Problem

Literacy as a Human Problem

Literacy as a Human Problem

Literacy as a Human Problem

Excerpt

Leonard Bloomfield, one of the first scientific linguists in America, claimed that writing was not language at all, but "merely a way of recording language by means of visible marks." Bloomfield's notion that ordinary spoken language is a fit subject for scientific study -- more fit, indeed, than printed English -- was a radical departure from the tradition in which English as it was used by careful writers was considered the norm, and varieties of spoken English were regarded as deviations or corruptions. And though this new perspective is now axiomatic in the fields of dialectology, sociolinguistics, and theoretical grammar, its application to lexicography and to the teaching of composition is still a matter of considerable controversy. The controversy is growing old, but as this volume will show, no less lively. It has spread from scholars and journalists to include parents, schoolteachers, legislators, and the courts.

If the essays seem disparate, it is because the collection is not limited to a single viewpoint or methodology. It includes journalists as well as academicians, and among the academicians, some who are more interested in the applications of scholarship and others who are more interested in theory or in the interpretation of historical data. In this respect the collection reflects the range of the controversy, a range that is both valuable and inevitable. To understand the nature of literacy, its benefits, and its often unperceived costs, we will have to take each perspective on its own terms, not expecting the journalist to provide references or case studies and not allowing the scholar to do without them.

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