We go everywhere together, do transliteracy and me. We read books together, browse the internet, go to the cinema, shop, people watch, enjoy art, listen to Debussy… we do pretty much everything hand in hand, do transliteracy and me!
Extrapolating meaning from a variety of coded signals – from text to hand gestures – is what enables me to do my job, engage in social networking online and know from my partner’s face when it is my turn to do the washing up. It may all sound mundane, but actually, transliteracy is an every day fact of life.
Professionally, I have to be extremely sensitive to different levels of transliteracy. I was introduced to the concept whilst studying on De Montfort University’s MA in Creative Writing & New Media, as it applied to my creative work. Since graduating, I have moved on to create online resources to amplify conferences and convey training courses, which involves considering the transliteracy of my audience so that the resources I produce are intuitive and accessible. I also have to be highly digitally transliterate myself to navigate all the different tools and platforms available when choosing the best ways to present my content. The concept of transliteracy is therefore fundamental to what I do.
For me, if there is some form of mutually understood code to a set of signals, then it constitutes a literacy. This is what allows us to include signing and orality in the definition of transliteracy as: “…the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.”
Unfortunately, the word “literacy” is itself a coded sign, with a whole set of mutually understood connotations and connections that make it difficult for us to separate it from text. The tight-knit relationship with the verb “to read” closely aligns literacy with sight-based activities, whilst our social emphasis on literacy also marks it out as a product of education, rather than an innate or deducible skill. These deep-set cultural ideas about literacy make it difficult to explain transliteracy as the movement across a broad landscape of communication codes including, but also beyond text.
Text is still very much the gold standard as far as literacy is concerned. I nearly cried when I recently heard an academic at a conference explaining that students of the future could be “a-literate”, by which he actually meant “not text-literate”. “Why would students need to be able to write a scientific methodology when they could just video the experiment taking place and upload it? As a record of the methodology it will be more accurate!” he argued. Of course, he was absolutely right, but his choice of language suggests that the lack of text-literacy equals a complete lack of literacy, which is obviously completely contrary to the argument of transliteracy.
My question going forward is whether accepting the notion of transliteracy as the ability to move between types of literacy will enable us to be less prescriptive about what constitutes a “literacy” or will our binding to text-orientated language restrict us? Do we need to alter our definition to move away from the words “reading” and “writing” to be replaced by “comprehending” and “creating” in order to be more inclusive to the less graphical literacies? And how will our understanding of transliteracy inform our practice?