Register  Login  Active Topics  Maps  

On the "literate" in polyliteracy

  Tags: Polyliteracy
 Language Learning Forum : Lessons in Polyglottery Post Reply
Zwlth
Super Polyglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5073 days ago

154 posts - 320 votes 
Speaks: English*, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Arabic (Written), Dutch, Swedish, Portuguese, Latin, French, Persian, Greek

 
 Message 1 of 5
28 August 2011 at 9:19pm | IP Logged 
In another thread that has grown far too contentious and rambling because posters refuse to remain focused on the specific point it was addressing, Sipes23 posed a very good question. I am starting a new thread to answer it because it deserves to be highlighted and over there it will just get lost in the flood. Here it is:

sipes23 wrote:

1. Why is polyliteracy the domain of Great Works of Literature? Am I less polyliterate because I read the news in Spanish instead of Cervantes? Why? Again, polyliteracy looks like it should be defined as "able to read many languages." That said, I understand what Arguelles is driving at when he uses the term. I respect what he's up to, but my hackles raise when he uses the term that way. I know: he invented the word.


While the "literate" in polyliteracy might sound as if it could be referring to literacy in any old sense, it does not indicate simply knowing your ABC's in a variety of tongues. No, the "literate" in polyliteracy, like the "literate" in literature, refers to writings of quality, i.e., classics, Great Books, or at any rate high-brow writings as opposed to middle-brow or low-brow material, belles lettres as opposed to fiction. Why? Because that is what the term was specifically coined to cover. So, what are you if you read the news in Spanish, French, and German instead of Cervantes, Racine, and Schiller? You are a polyglot. You are practicing polyglottery, not polyliteracy. Polyglottery already inherently includes being "able to read in many languages." Polyglots have always been perfectly happy living without the term "polyliteracy," so what would make them want or need to take this term and use it in a sense other than what it is meant to cover?
4 persons have voted this message useful



sipes23
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
pluteopleno.com/wprs
Joined 4717 days ago

134 posts - 235 votes 
Speaks: English*, Latin
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Greek, Persian

 
 Message 2 of 5
29 August 2011 at 2:47am | IP Logged 
I see your point. I don't like it. I suspect we will have to agree to disagree. I'll spell out my thinking:

I'll concede that "polyliteracy" has a technical sense that is much shorter than saying "reading great literature in
original languages." Where I disagree is that it has no more than that technical sense. The word strikes me as too
useful of a concept to be so limited.

Mind you, polyliteracy is a notion I had never really given much thought to before I heard Prof. Arguelles use it a
few weeks ago. I never gave any thought to the notion of reading stuff, whatever the brow-level, in other
languages as being anything remarkable, despite doing it myself. Maybe not common, but certainly no more
remarkable than rebuilding cars as a hobby. I like the classics. I like well-crafted poetry. I like reading them in
their original language, even if it means substantial effort for me to read Neruda in Spanish than English. It really
is that much better of a reading experience. So I am not disputing the actual practice as a bad thing: I do it to my
limited abilities.

I think we would agree that the fact that I can identify a pharmacy or restaurant from French signage doesn't
make me literate in French. I can no more read a newspaper in French than Chinese: sure, I might be able to
extract some content from the French, but that's not really reading it. Same for Greek. I'd actually be really
puzzled as to what τράπεζα might be, until I saw the ATM—despite knowing what the word means in Ancient
Greek (table, if you're curious). I've got a nice anchoring in Ancient Greek, but modern Greek is a dangerous land
of false friends and unknown words. I'm not vaguely literate in Modern Greek despite knowing the alphabet. So
clearly, literacy isn't the same as knowing the alphabet and applying some sort of pronunciation, nor is it the
same as being able to pick out works here and there.

The disagreement, as I understand it, is in the middle. I do not speak Ancient Greek in any sense of the word. I
barely speak Spanish. But I read original works in both. My Spanish is such that I get world news at El Pais
(though it would be mistaken to say that's the limit of what I do with Spanish). I also read Latin. I tend to favor
stuff that isn't high literature. Pliny's Natural History is not belle lettres. Nor the Satyricon. Nor Gesta
Romanorum. The only way any of these could be mistaken for a classic is by virtue of their age. My English
reading is also quite scattershot. By my count, I am at least functionally literate in four languages. I put that skill
to use. Now that I have a term for it, I would call it polyliteracy.

Again, I do not disparage what Prof. Arguelles is doing. I am in awe of his accomplishment. He is a scholar who
shares his work with the world at YouTube—something missing from scholarship generally. He seems like an
outstanding teacher. I'd bet large sums of money he is undervalued as a scholar. Quite possibly an interesting
friend to those who know him. Nevertheless, something bothers me about his use of the word polyliteracy.
Maybe it's bristling against a perceived elitism packaged in its application to Great Works of Literature and
nothing else ever. Maybe it is a reaction against shackling a clever word to a narrow definition. I don't know. I can
only tell you my reaction.




5 persons have voted this message useful



jimbo
Tetraglot
Senior Member
Canada
Joined 6141 days ago

469 posts - 642 votes 
Speaks: English*, Mandarin, Korean, French
Studies: Japanese, Latin

 
 Message 3 of 5
29 August 2011 at 3:17am | IP Logged 
sipes23 wrote:
Nevertheless, something bothers me about his use of the word polyliteracy.
Maybe it's bristling against a perceived elitism packaged in its application to Great Works of Literature and
nothing else ever. Maybe it is a reaction against shackling a clever word to a narrow definition. I don't know. I
can only tell you my reaction.


I don't see what there is to be upset over.

1. The definition of "Great Works of Literature" is open-ended and ever growing. Feel free to make your own
list.

2. The out of copyright works can legally be obtained for free on the Internet or from low priced publishers. All
it takes is motivation, not a stack of cash, to read through these works. Why should motivated people be
derided as being elitist?

3. You're always free to make up your own word to describe the concept. Post it on this forum, I'm sure some
people share your interest.
2 persons have voted this message useful



Zwlth
Super Polyglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5073 days ago

154 posts - 320 votes 
Speaks: English*, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Arabic (Written), Dutch, Swedish, Portuguese, Latin, French, Persian, Greek

 
 Message 4 of 5
30 August 2011 at 12:09am | IP Logged 
Sipes23, you don't need to sell your Latin preferences so short. Even though the works you like might not be classics proper (i.e., established masterpieces), high-brow (overtly intellectual), or even belles lettres (artistically written), they qualify as Great Books on other grounds, and this not merely their age. A work can be a Great Book even if it lacks the above qualities if it is nonetheless a culturally significant text, i.e., widely read over the centuries and thus influential in forming the mindset of the civilization or time period. All three texts you mention are very important in this regard. Want to know what the Romans knew about how the world works? Read Pliny, for his encyclopedia formed all that people knew for centuries and centuries. Want to know how most people actually lived under the Roman Empire? Read Petronius. Want to know the source of stories and inspiration for Boccaccio, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and many others? Go back to the Gesta Romanorum. The stuff you like is literature despite its rough quality, and all three works deserve to hold the places they do on Great Books lists.
1 person has voted this message useful



sipes23
Diglot
Senior Member
United States
pluteopleno.com/wprs
Joined 4717 days ago

134 posts - 235 votes 
Speaks: English*, Latin
Studies: Spanish, Ancient Greek, Persian

 
 Message 5 of 5
07 September 2011 at 7:24pm | IP Logged 
Zwlth wrote:
Sipes23, you don't need to sell your Latin preferences so short.


I guess I was trying to make a point in my own bull-headed way. Believe me, I know what I'm reading. I've spent too
many working (and non-working) hours dealing with it not to.


1 person has voted this message useful



If you wish to post a reply to this topic you must first login. If you are not already registered you must first register


Post ReplyPost New Topic Printable version Printable version

You cannot post new topics in this forum - You cannot reply to topics in this forum - You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum - You cannot create polls in this forum - You cannot vote in polls in this forum


This page was generated in 0.2344 seconds.


DHTML Menu By Milonic JavaScript
Copyright 2024 FX Micheloud - All rights reserved
No part of this website may be copied by any means without my written authorization.