The Cultured Word: Cultural Background. Bilingualism, and the School Library

By Agosto, Denise E. | School Libraries Worldwide, January 2001 | Go to article overview

The Cultured Word: Cultural Background. Bilingualism, and the School Library


Agosto, Denise E., School Libraries Worldwide


Research indicates that cultural background creates a framework through which people view, interpret, and assign meaning to texts. This article presents the major research related to, and the major issues underlying, cultural background as a framework for textual meaning-making, bilingualism, and literacy development. This article also considers why these issues are important to school librarians and offers suggestions for making multicultural materials central aspects of school library collections and curricula.

Introduction

Reading is a highly individual experience; each person experiences texts' in a unique manner. Although other factors also influence the construction of meaning from texts, research indicates that cultural and linguistic background creates a framework through which people view, interpret, and assign meaning to texts. For this reason, an understanding of the relations among cultural background, bilingualism, and literacy is crucial for school librarians. This article considers the major research related to, and the major issues underlying, cultural background as a framework for textual meaningmaking and literacy development and the importance of these issues to school librarians.

Cultural Background as a Framework for Meaning-Making

It is important for school librarians to realize that students' cultural backgrounds affect their interpretations of all of the library materials with which they interact. Each time a person reads or listens to or views a text of some type, he or she relates it to his or her "wider social and cultural formations and categories" (Giroux, 1987, p. 177). For example, speakers of different languages are likely to have dissimilar interpretations of a movie scene in which an entire family is speaking loudly at once. Both a Midwestern US English-speaker and a Costa Rican Spanish-speaker would probably share the objective interpretation that the scene shows five people of various ages speaking simultaneously. The two speakers' interpretations of the characters' feelings, however, would probably differ. To the English-speaker, the scene would probably indicate familial discord, because many English-language cultures consider interrupting and not listening to other speakers to be rude. To the Spanish-speaker, the scene would probably indicate familial harmony because many Spanish cultures consider vocal frequency and volume to indicate social comfort and general happiness. Similarly, if two students, one native to the US Midwest and one native to Costa Rica, were listening to their school librarian read a picture book aloud, each would interpret the story differently based on their different cultural backgrounds.

Not only does cultural background help to determine the messages a person extracts from a text, it also helps to determine the facility and accuracy with which she or he extracts those messages. Steffensen, Joag-Dev, and Anderson (1979) asked a group of college students from the US and another group from India to read one letter describing a typically American wedding and one letter describing a typically Indian wedding. Participants read the letters from their native countries considerably more rapidly, and they were able to recall the native letters with significantly more detail and accuracy than the non-native letters. These results indicate that readers understand more easily and more fully texts depicting aspects of their native cultures. Consequently, students are likely to comprehend library materials that reflect their native cultures better than those that reflect other cultures.

Cultural Background and Literacy

Cultural background also exerts a strong influence on the concepts of literacy and literacy education, concepts crucial to the mission of the school library. Most standard dictionaries indicate that the term literate means being able to read and write. However, such a definition is both simplistic and exclusionary, for concepts of literacy vary from culture to culture (Ferdman, 1990; Vandergrift, 1995), and many concepts of literacy include abilities other than reading and writing. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Cultured Word: Cultural Background. Bilingualism, and the School Library
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.