Explore the Linguistics of Literacy
Project Leaders: Prof. Mark de Vos & Ms Kristin van der Merwe
The Postgraduate Strategic Early Literacy Imperative in the Linguistics of Literacy
Join our exciting research group on the linguistics of literacy. Our research project (entitlted Linguistic and social partnerships in foundation-phase learning in languages in Africa) looks at issues in literacies from a linguistic and psycholinguistic perspective. A lot of our research looks at how literacy `works’ in languages indigenous to South Africa – although we also work with other languages too. If you are interested in exploring literacy using linguistic analytical and methodological perspectives then read about the trend-setting research that our students have done.
Students, researchers and their cutting-edge research
A number of energetic and talented students and researchers are discovering new insights in how the mechanics of literacy “works” in Africa and in African languages.
- Kristin van der Merwe (PhD Fellow and Co-project-leader): The use of Blissymbolics in facilitating reading and writing in alphabetic orthographies with children with intellectual impairments
- Caroline van der Mescht (Post Doctoral Fellow):
- Jenny Katz (Masters): An analysis of foundation phase reading material that explores how phonological awareness and lexical development is encoded in teaching materials.
- Kelly Shiohara (Masters): How an e-learning intervention improves comprehension and reading speed.
- Kim Millard (Honours): The differences between reading isiXhosa and English using eye-tracking.
- Maxine Diemer (Honours & Masters): Developing and field-testing a test suite for phonological awareness in isiXhosa and exploring the phonological awareness of isiXhosa learners in the Eastern Cape.
- Sian Rees (Masters): Developing and field-testing a test suite for morphological awareness in isiXhosa and evaluating the importance of morphological awareness for isiXhosa foundation phase learners.
- Tracy Probert (Masters): Developing and field-testing a test suite for lexical recognition in isiXhosa and Tswana and examining lexical recognition strategies and their interaction with LOLT.
- Stefan Savic (PhD): A detailed study of lexical aspect in isiXhosa and detailing how aspect interacts with pragmatics in the understanding of texts.
- Candice Grobler: Comprehension of implicit meaning by isiXhosa and English Foundation phase learners
We are also proud of having an active and sustained programme to introduce undergraduates to the principles of research as part of curriculum transormation. Our third year students have been an integral part of our literacy project since its inception. It is vitally important to introduce students to the idea that knowledge is constructed by people in contexts and that our research and teaching can be integrated to provide knowledge that is responsive to our African context. Correspondingly, these underpinnings encourage students to make a significant contribution to the field.
Although ANAs show language-conditioned problems in reading comprehension and
decoding ability, most South African research focuses disproportionately on (a) English
and Afrikaans and (b) macro approaches to literacy rather than formal and
psycholinguistic analyses of reading. Obviously African languages are structurally and
typologically different to English and Afrikaans; reading strategies required for the
mechanics of reading are necessarily different and should be supported by languagespecific
pedagogies. We argue for research programmes that situate reading pedagogy
within the language-specific spaces defined by Linguistic approaches to understanding
(a) orthography, (b) cognitive reading skills and models and (c) indigenous, languagespecific
norms and resources.
Abstract: Word recognition is a major component of fluent reading (Aaron et al. 1999, Holm & Dodd 1997:199, Invenizzi & Hayes 2010) and involves an interaction of language structure, orthography and cognitive skills. This study examined reading strategies in isiXhosa and the transfer of these strategies to an additional language, English. IsiXhosa was chosen because of its agglutinative structure and conjunctive orthography. The results support the contention that reading strategies and cognitive skills are fine tuned to particular languages. Skills transfer occurs to a limited extent when the language of first literacy uses a transparent orthography, but is less predictable when the language of first literacy uses an opaque orthography. This study emphasizes that literacies in different languages present readers with different structural puzzles which require language-particular suites of cognitive reading skills.
This study presents guidelines for a linguistically founded language specific measure of phonological awareness in isiXhosa.
Tracy Probert. Effects of Orthography and language of literacy: Transfer of word recognition strategies amongst isiXhosa/English bilinguals. RASA Grahamstown September 2014.
Maxine Diemer. Language-specific assessment of phonological awareness in isiXhosa. RASA Grahamstown September 2014.
Maxine Diemer. An exploratory study of phonological awareness in isiXhosa. Annual meeting of the Linguistics Society of Southern Africa (LSSA/SAAAL/SAALT). Wits 2014.
Tracy Probert. Transfer of word recognition strategies from a transparent to an opaque orthography. Annual meeting of the Linguistics Society of Southern Africa (LSSA/SAAAL/SAALT). Wits 2014.
Mark de Vos and Jenny Katz presented a workshop on the linguistics of literacy at the annual conference of the LSSA/SAALA/SAALT at WITS.
In this exploratory study, 22 Grade 3 bilingual Xhosa and English speaking children were administered a category fluency task to obtain samples of their vocabularies in each of their two languages. The children were asked to name as many items as they could pertaining to particular categories. Unlike most studies which impose time limits for category fluency tasks, no time limit was imposed for these children. This study aims to contribute to the normative data of first language Xhosa speaking children who have English as a second language.
What does Len Lanham’s legacy mean in 2014?
This paper will reflect on some of the linguistic dimensions of the problem and chart a research programme for the linguistics of literacy. Being programmatic, it will outline current research on the issue and identify areas where more research is needed.