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Protean Shapes in Literacy Events 3711

how, for whom, and with what results are individuals in different social groups
of today's highly industrialized society using reading and writing skills? How
have the potentialities of the literacy skills learned in school developed in the
lives of today's adults? Does modem society contain certain conditions which
restrict literacy just as some traditional societies do? Ifso, what are these fac-
tors, and are groups with restricted literacy denied benefits widely attributed to
full literacy, such as upward socioeconomic mobility, the development of logi-
cal reasoning, and access to the information necessary to make well-informed
political judgments?
The Literacy Event
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The LITERACY EVENT isaconceptual tool-useful in examining within particular 6
communities of modern society the actual forms and functions of oral and
literate traditions and co-existing relationships between spoken and written
language. A liter .s an occasion in which a piece of writin is inte-
gralto the natur .ci ants' interactions and
ea , 1978}.
;: In studying the literacy environment, researchers describe: print materials 7.:
~" available in the environment, the individuals and activities which surround ~
~: .. print, and ways in which people include print in their ongoing activities. 4_fu-
r eracy eye'*"Can...1henbeviewed as any action sequence. involving one or more .,'
to: persons in whiGh the roduction and/or comprehension of print plays arole
f(. (Anderson, Teale, Estrada 1980:59). There are r es or eoccurrence 0 1-
~. eracy events, just as there are for speech events (Hymes, 1972). Characteristics
r of the structures and uses of literacy events vary from situation to situation. In
t addition to having an appropriate structure, a literacy event has certain inter-
~1' actional rules and demands particwar interpretive competencies on the part of
~:: participants. Some aspects of reading andlor writing are required by at least
r: one party, and certain types of speech events are appropriate within certain
t , literacy events. Speech events may describe, repeat, reinforce, expand, frame,
~, or contradict written materials, and participants must learn whether the oral or
~, written mode takes precedence inliteracy events. For example, infilling out an
~ application form, should applicants listen to oral instructions or complete the
~ L ~form? On many occasions, an interview consists of participating orally with
W someone who fillsout aform based on the oral performance, and access to the
~:ywritten report isnever available to the applicant in the course of the interview.
;Oral comments often contradict the usual assumption that written materials
':areto beread: You don't have to read this, but you should have it.
:;;"": Thehaving of something in writing is often aritualistic practice, and more 8
;6ftenthan not, those who hold the written piece are not expected to read what
they have. In other cases, the actual reading of the piece of written material
;!haybepossible, but not sufficient, because some oral attestation is necessary.
:A, church congregational meeting may be an occasion in which all must read
~theregulations of applying for aloan or agrant for church support (this isusu-
:~-llL. _j _ . 1 1 . ., .. .. ..-
1372 Chapter 3
must orallyattest that they "haveread and approved the regulations. On oth
occasions, the written material must be present, but the speech event takes pr
cedence. A Girl Scout comes to sell oookics at the door; she passes out afo.ld
asserting who she is, to which troop she belongs, and to which project h
fund will go. After handing over this piece of paper, the Girl Scout talks abo'
the cookies and the project which the sale will benefit. Few individuals res
the folder instead of listening to the Girl Scout. Here, the speech event tak
precedence at the critical moments of the interaction. It is important to. kno
what the framing situations for literacy events are in avariety of contexts, 1
situations may differ markedly from each other and may, in fact, contradi
such traditional expectations of literacy as those taught in school or in jc
training programs. For example, ways of asking clarification of the USES
written materials are often far more important in dailyout-of-schoollife the
are questions about the content. What will be done with forms submitted
the Department of Motor Vehicles after an accident is of asmuch consequen
as, ifnot more consequence than, the actual content of the forms. Thus it m.
be hypothesized that examination of the.contexts and uses of literacy incor
munities today may show that THERE ARE MORE LITERACY EvENTS WHICH CA
Furthermore, the traditional distinctions between the habits of those chs
acterized as having either oral or literate traditions 'may not actually exist
many communities of the United States, which are neither non-literate nor-fu]
"literate. Their members can read and write at least at basic levels, but they ha
little occasion to use these skills as taught in school. Instead, much of the
daily lifeisfilled with literacy events inwhich they must know how to use ar
how. to respond inthe oral mode to written materials. In short, descriptions
the concrete context of written communication which give attention to soci
and cultural features of the 4mmunity as well as to the oralIanguage st
rounding written communications may discredit any reliance on characterizii
particular communities as having reached either restricted or full developme
of literacy or ashaving language forms and functions associated more with tl
literate tradition than with the oral, or viceversa.
The Community Context
Sometesting of these ideas is possible from data collected in aPiedmont cor
rnunity of the Carolinas between 1969 and 1979, The community, Trackto
is aworking-class all-Black community, whose adults work inthe local text:
mills and earn incomes which exceed those of many public school teachers
the state. Alladults in this community can read and write, and all talk enth
siastically about the need for their children to do well in school. Ethnograpl:
work inthe primary networks within the community, the religious institutior
and work settings documented the forms and functions written and spob
language took for individual members of Trackton. The literacy eventwas tl
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