The idea of literacy is a topic who’s definition stays the same throughout time, and space. Literacy is defined as reading the word, and reading the world. This definition is applicable to almost anywhere in the world. Whether you are a mechanic working on a car, or you are a student in Greece reading a book, this definition of literacy holds true. So of course there has to be guidelines for literacy, right? This definition- nay, this idea, just can’t exist, right? It has to have some defining guidelines. Well, just like most things, literacy is made and created by a society, to benefit a society. Thus, it rings true that literacy is different in different societies and cultures to benefit said society and/or culture.
There I was. Staring at this indecipherable, new language. The inscriptions on the glass bottle read strange new words to me that I tried to pronounce. “Jus”, I say to myself, sounding out the words. “It’s pronounced Joo,” a lady next to me said. She had light brown skin and wildly long curly hair. She was wearing a yellow shirt, with blue jeans. I assumed she was around mid 20’s to early 30’s because she didn’t look that old. That or she aged really well. I also assumed she was from the area since she had a slightly weirder accent than mine. The pronunciation of the vowels was slightly… off. She talked as if English was her second language, that’s the best way to describe it. “Thank you”, I say. She smiles and leaves the aisle, taking the dark red colored juice bottle with her. The juice and water aisles were always interesting to me because in America, they were always the same. They had the same items, the same layout, and the same shelf that was too high for anyone to reach. The supermarket was slightly colder than the outside, and the outside was how you would expect Canada to feel during December. As a 6 year old, a new country really is new. All the streets, and signs, and buildings look foreign to you. Back to the store. The floors were a square design with the occasional tile here and there being colored brown. The lights at the ceiling had a soft yellow light. To my back was a wall of water bottles and Gatorade bottles, and to my front was a variety of different glass juice bottles. The inscription was in French, and I knew this because of my past knowledge. My past knowledge being the wars between France and Canada, and the resulting language barrier between me and this juice. In the past, I’ve read books in French and English, regarding the different wars both countries have had. Sitting in the middle of the aisle, staring at the bottle, I felt like a detective, figuring out a clue that would lead me to a discovery.
As I stood there staring at this puzzle, it soon occurred to me that this bottle was in French, because the people there spoke French. I know, huge discovery. Well it was, for a 6 year old. Looking back on this memory, the reason I was so confused as to what the bottle said, and I had to figure out what it said was because of the conflicting dominant culture of Canada, and the subculture of America. The literacy of a culture or society, is shaped to whatever needs needs to be filled by that literacy. In other words, literacy for a culture isn’t the same consistently through cultures. An example of this is shown through my experience in the little juice situation explained above. The quote, “People evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances.”, said by James Baldwin, really builds onto my previous point. The languages of Canada, aka French and English have been used interchangeably and in tandem in order to better help the people that live there. If the languages there on the juice bottle had been a language such as Albanian, where the majority there did not speak that language, it would have not benefited the people that live there. Therefore, naturally, it would have changed. The interpretation of this is quite literal, as the literacy, in this case, language, changes to match the needs of the citizens. The citizens read both French and English, so the words and descriptions are written in both languages. In conclusion,the definition of literacy is the same throughout cultures and societies, however, the idea and concept of literacy changes throughout cultures and societies consistently changes to match whatever the society or culture needs. Whether this change is shown through ethics, morals, social norms, or more bluntly, language, things are read differently and understood differently. In the case of my Canadian experience, as well as