The Emperor's Old Clothes: Linguistic Diversity and the Redefinition of Literacy
This paper explores facets of the juxtaposition and the concomitant traffic between 'standard' and 'non-standard' language in academic discourse within the remit of the diglossic speech community of Greek-speaking Cyprus. The generally acknowledged aim of literacy learning is the cultivation of a decontextualized, abstract and hence cognitively demanding system of representation and classification of information leading to successful hypothesis formation and thus yielding access to theoretical knowledge as the ultimate desideratum in terms both of cognitive development and of social empowerment (Ong 1990, Wells 1999). Diglossic speech communities are particularly revealing in this respect, as they are the prime loci in which literacy and academic language skills may simply translate into proficiency in a non-native variety and they can thus provide a largely non-obscuring environment in which the phenomenology of academic language and/or discourse may be redefined and re-delimited (Cummins 2001, Wells 1999).
In this context, the present case-study examines aspects of the linguistic practice of groups of final-year undergraduate students of the University of Cyprus. The ethnomethodological analysis of the data reveals a complex picture, on the basis of which it can be argued that linguistic and/or metalinguistic awareness extends to awareness of the mediating and (re-)contextualizing role of language in the production of meaning. The use of dialect to signal inability to negotiate the intricacies and obscurities of theory and to link theoretical knowledge with the universe of personal experience can be explained not only as emblematic of particular sociolinguistic identities, but, crucially, as an attempt to convey a strong meta-message about making visible and incorporating in academic discourse alternative processes of meaning-making, in which the center of meaning may shift or meanings may be produced collectively.
Stavroula Tsiplakou (Cyprus)
Department of Education
University of Cyprus
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)