Last week during our chat, participants were kind enough to entertain five questions my new crew of grad students in a content area literacy course had posted on their first night of class. For our first evening’s class, we had read Guy Deutscher’s 2010 New York Times article “Does Language Shape How You Think?” In the article, Deutscher retold and then challenged the rise and fall of Whorf’s theories about the tight relationship between our language and our thoughts. He offered several gems to think about:
[I]f different languages influence our minds in different ways, this is not because of what our language allows us to think but rather because of what it habitually obliges us to think about.
When your language routinely obliges you to specify certain types of information, it forces you to be attentive to certain details in the world and to certain aspects of experience that speakers of other languages may not be required to think about all the time. And since such habits of speech are cultivated from the earliest age, it is only natural that they can settle into habits of mind that go beyond language itself, affecting your experiences, perceptions, associations, feelings, memories and orientation in the world.
This week, the same class will be reading an article detailing Heath‘s landmark study on the languages and literacies of Trackton and Roadville—otherwise seemingly similar towns, but within which very different language and literacy practices emerged. So, although Deutscher’s article deals mainly with Language (with a big “L”), the idea that languages and literacies differ and influence how we experience, express, understand and feel about our world applies to the languages which emerge and distinguish themselves within our communities and social spaces.
So, feel free to entertain any of the questions I’ve posted below, including a follow-up one from a #literacies regular @JRRockwall.
But based on Twitter retweets and favorites, for next week we’ll focus on the following question posed by a future dance teacher and a future dance teacher:
The grad students discussed how eye-opening that one article was for them, and how much potential they could see in having others have the same realization. Among other things, during last week’s chat, we discussed the challenge of talking across the divide of those practicing contemporary literacies and those who abstain or are otherwise restricted from the devices, communities and practices of contemporary literacies.
So, for this week, let’s learn from each other:
- How were you introduced to the idea of literacies vs. literacy?
- Does this knowledge make a difference to you in your daily life?
- What ways do you introduce others to the idea that our language and literacy practices differ?
- And to make sure we are not experiencing group think…How are languages and literacies similar?
Find the Chat Archive here…and continue the conversation below!
And for interest’s sake, here are the other questions. Feel free to tweet a response to any of these with the hashtag #literacies. I and my students will be grateful!