Literacy Development in a Multilingual Context: Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Literacy Development in a Multilingual Context: Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Literacy Development in a Multilingual Context: Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Literacy Development in a Multilingual Context: Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Synopsis

During the past decades, literacy has gradually become a major concern all over the world. Though there is a great diversity in both the distribution and degree of literacy in different countries, there has been an increasing awareness of the number of illiterates and the consequences of being illiterate. However, literacy is no longer seen as a universal trait. When one focuses on culturally-sensitive accounts of reading and writing practices, the concept of literacy as a single trait does not seem very feasible. A multiplicity of literacy practices can be distinguished which are related to specific cultural contexts and associated with relations of power and ideology. As such, literacy can be seen as a lifelong context-bound set of practices in which an individual's needs vary with time and place.

This volume explores the use of literacy outside the mainstream in different contexts throughout the world. It is divided into four sections. Section 1 presents an anthropological perspective--analyzing the society and the individual in a society. Section 2 presents a psychological perspective--focusing on the individuals themselves and analyzing the cognitive and affective development of young children as they acquire literacy in their first and second languages. Section 3 presents an educational perspective--highlighting the variations in educational approaches in different societies as well as the outcomes of these approaches. Section 4 summarizes the studies presented in this volume. Both theoretical issues and educational implications related to the development of literacy in two languages are discussed. An attempt is also made to open up new directions in the study of literacy development in multilingual contexts by bringing these various disciplinary perspectives together.

Excerpt

Stefan M. Pugh University of St. Andrews

This is a contrastive study of the acquisition of first-language (L1) literacy among two minority population groups: immigrant Finns in Sweden and native Karelians in Russia, two ethnic groups that are similar in some respects, but very different in others. The main similarity between them lies simply in the fact that the minority L1 and majority second language (L2) in each case belong to the same language families: Finnish and Karelian are Finno-Ugric languages, whereas Swedish and Russian are Indo-European. The two groups differ, however, in their social, economic, historical, and political situations. What follows is essentially a brief historical description of the experience of Finns in Sweden, as the educational and linguistic aspects of their position in Swedish society have been amply discussed and documented (although not necessarily explicitly in reference to literacy); as a known entity, therefore, they can function here as a control group against which we can better evaluate the situation in Karelia. Observations regarding the Karelians are naturally also historical in the first instance, as they have had a difficult linguistic history that must be understood before we can begin any discussion of their present-day acquisition of L1 literacy. In the end, these observations will be somewhat speculative, as Karelians are now in the process of leaving the bounds of the sociolinguistic milieu that has evolved over the past 70 years of Soviet rule, and the centuries of Russian rule preceding the revolution.

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