Reading and writing in English

Bibliographic details

Allington, D. and Hewings, A. (2012). ‘Reading and writing in English’. In: Allington, D. and Mayor, B. (eds.) Communicating in English: talk, text, technology. London: Routledge. pp. 47-76.

Extract in lieu of an abstract

Now that you have looked at how people communicate by talking, it is time to look at how they communicate by writing and reading. Throughout this chapter, we discuss these activities in social and historical terms, showing how writers and readers rely on context to make texts meaningful. We repeatedly draw attention to the literacy practices that people engage in: the ways in which they interact with texts (and with one another, through the use of texts). The concept of the literacy practice was proposed by the anthropologist Brian Street (1984), who used it to emphasise the connection between an individual’s use of written language and his or her social identity. In many societies, for example, adults with young children are encouraged to see it as part of their role as parents or carers to provide the sort of shared reading experience that we see in Figure 2.1 – but this literacy practice is far from universal.

This chapter will also introduce several influential approaches to the analysis of texts. We begin by thinking about written language in terms of signs: forms (e.g. words) that are conventionally associated with particular concepts (e.g. the meanings of words). This approach is known broadly as semiotics and is founded on the work of the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1960 [1916]). Saussure argued that signs are only meaningful because they belong to accepted sign systems. As we shall see, however, understanding texts requires us to consider the purposes for which people use them, and this requires us to think about the genre, or conventional type, of any text we analyse. Moreover, just as the meaning of talk is communicated through gesture and tone of voice as well as through language, the meaning of text is usually communicated in a range of different ways. For this reason, writing is considered here in multimodal terms, with attention to its visual as well as to its linguistic aspects.

Allington and Hewings, pp. 47-48