A little literacy humour from the Queen of England

There’s a position piece on literacy in the twenty first century I read a few years ago and just found again. I really enjoyed that he quotes the Queen (she really can be funny)… the comments on literacy are refreshing too:

“If it’s true, as the Russian writer Isaac Babel once said, that “No iron spike can pierce a human heart as icily as a period in the right place”, then the semi-colon has similar power to disturb. At the very least, it supplies a delicate shade of meaning and a rhythmic function in a sentence that no comma can ever match.

But should we grieve unduly for its passing? Or – to take another example – for the rapidly dissolving distinction between “may” and “might”? Language, written or spoken, is a living thing, always evolving and mutating. Just because Charles Dickens, say, wrote a certain kind of English doesn’t make it the benchmark forever: he was writing at a time when print was king and the electronic media had not yet claimed the throne of mass communication.

Which reminds me irresistibly of Lloyd Jones telling the Queen, when he met her, that had Dickens been alive today he almost certainly would have used a computer. To which Her Majesty glumly replied, “Then we would have had even more of his books.”

…as Australian educationist Ilana Snyder says in her book The Literacy Wars, the term is always value-laden (what you mean by it might not be what I mean by it); and there are many kinds of literacy – oral, visual, technological, occupational as well as verbal.

…More work needs to be done, too, if texting is to be proved deleterious to literacy. Meaning is still paramount in this medium as well. British linguist David Crystal, who lectured in New Zealand two years ago, puts it well when he says that “Although many texters enjoy breaking linguistic rules, they also know they need to be understood. There is no point in paying to send a message if it breaks so many rules that it ceases to be intelligible.”

The true test of literacy is not so much form as meaning. Whatever the grammar or punctuation, if the meaning remains clear, then we probably shouldn’t fuss too much.”

Ref: Denis Welch ‘The L Word: We read and write more than ever. It’s just the meaning of literacy that’s changing’ NZ Listener October 25, 2008, p25 (available online: http://www.listener.co.nz/commentary/the-l-word/)


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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