Thursday, May 17, 2007

More thoughts on transliteracy

Returning to the attributes of Transliteracy debated at the Colloquium on Tuesday, I wonder if it is better to see the qualities associated with this concept, less as defining properties and more as commonly associated communicative features. To recap, the attributes are:

The ability to use and understand a range of tools
Something about
collective behaviour
Awareness of historical/cultural context
Sense of
embodiment / lifeworld
Multimodal sensibility

I have started to think of this in terms of a medical metaphor. Some syndromes, as I understand it, are diagnosed on the basis of a cluster of symptoms. So, for example, Kallman's syndrome may involve a decreased of sense of smell, bone abnormality, decrease in sex hormones affecting development during puberty (don't ask me why I know all this!). So it is possible to have Kallman's syndrome with some, but not all of the symptoms manifesting themselves. In terms of transliteracy, this might translate as some of the features being present while others are not.

In turn this begs the question of which properties are then essential (and hence defining) of transliteracy and which are not. In linguistics, it is common to distinguish between core and optional properties. This means that you can reach a 'baseline' or minimal definition where you decide that a certain property must be present in order to categorise say a word class or a genre in a particular way. Hence for narrative, a minimal definition might be that offered by Labov, as two temporally sequenced clauses where the events in the report match that of real world events. However, debates about narrativity rage about the many varied other properties that many narratives exhibit, and the extent to which a text is perceived as demonstrating narrativity varies considerably (see Ryan 2006 for an excellent discussion of this).

I wonder if we can use this principle to distinguish between core and optional qualities of transliteracy, hence refining, clarifying or confirming the current working definition. So, for me, multimodal sensibilty would be essential, as would the ability to move between tools or platforms of communication. It seems to me hard to think of examples of transliteracy that would not invoke either of these features. On the other hand, while collective behaviour is typical, it is not definitive of transliteracy (as you can be transliterate on your own, and collective behaviour need not be transliterate). The same is true, I think of the contextual awareness and lifeworld/embodiment, both of which seem to me to be facets of the same thing and closely related to the more essential properties of multimodal sensibility and using different communicative tools.



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