Decline of Vocabulary; Good or Bad?

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petermc61
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Re: Decline of Vocabulary; Good or Bad?

Post by petermc61 » Wed Jan 10, 2018 8:37 am

It’s actually not easy to get consistent literacy data for the USA. A relatively recent report by the (US) National Centre for Education Statistics compared US literacy level changes between 1993 and 2002. They use a number of sub-factors to define literacy and a number of competency bands. Of interest though, over that period most, if not all, measures of literacy actually improved. A typical rate of illiteracy was around 14%.

If you look at other reports that look at long term literacy changes worldwide (for example look at ourworldindata.org and search for literacy) you see a consistent improvement in literacy worldwide since 1800 and a similar trend in the USA since 1850. I am certainly not saying this is the only report on this topic one could find, but it includes many citations and links to the various data sources (including Excel spreadsheets from other organisations) that it reports on.

My admittedly cursory searches did not find ANY information or statistics from reputable sources that indicates a long term decline in US literacy. The opposite, in fact.

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Re: Decline of Vocabulary; Good or Bad?

Post by petermc61 » Wed Jan 10, 2018 8:44 am

Rasputin wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 8:24 am
Nine times out of ten the explanation for provocative claims of this kind is in the definition of terms - it beggars belief that that literacy levels are higher in the US today then they were a century ago, if we are talking about the percentage of the total population who can basically read and write, but I would guess that is not the definition that this Gatto character was using. He may have been talking about the vocabularies of those who can read, for instance - I wouldn't be surprised if they are smaller today than a century ago... so it all depends on what we mean by a decline in literacy levels.
Did you mean to say it beggars belief that illiteracy levels are higher now?

Denian referred to literacy. The most common definition of that is the ability to read and write. It does not relate to the vocabulary of the better educated.

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Re: Decline of Vocabulary; Good or Bad?

Post by Rasputin » Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:44 am

Yes, good catch (I think I actually meant to say that literacy levels were lower - same thing).

I would agree that that is a commonsensical definition, although "the ability to read and write" is pretty vague. I don't think that means it is safe to assume that it is the definition used by Gatto, though - that was my point, in fact.

I seem to remember a report that concluded that some ridiculously high percentage of children in the UK had been abused. It was a shocking figure and I don't mean to make light of the subject at all, but things took on a different complexion when it emerged that the researchers had defined abuse to include things like getting a stern look from a teacher or being kept home as punishment for bad behaviour.

It seems that practically everybody reaches an age where they are determined to say that everything is in terminal decline, at which point they start redefining terms to make the data fit their view. It is difficult to set limits on this. If you are saying that you cannot define literacy in a qualitative way, so that a person with excellent command of a wide-ranging vocabulary is regarded as more literate than someone who can just about spell his name, then I disagree - but it's academic really until we know what definition Gatto was actually using. It was just an example to illustrate my point, which was that he will have defined literacy in some wacky way.

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Andrew Fryer
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Re: Decline of Vocabulary; Good or Bad?

Post by Andrew Fryer » Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:02 am

There's functional literacy then critical literacy then rhetorical literacy, according to one model, in an ascending scale of ability to "read".
(read, as defined by a cultural theorist, that is)

In my opinion the West's major problem is that it is teaching that functional literacy is literacy, when I don't believe it is.
There is not enough critical literacy in the west.

Functional literacy means just enough literacy for you to be able to function in your society.
In a simpler society functional literacy just required you to read and write your name, perhaps read a simple rent document, although perhaps notaries did that for you and advised you, and you put your mark on it.

Today's Western world is far more complex. People can do far more than just read and write their names, but I deny that makes them more than functionally literate, even if they have read Dostoyevsky. It is possible to read such books without getting anything out of them.
Our world is awash with media propaganda that is conning people every day. University undergraduates are not automatically taught critical literacy.
Anyone who buys or reads a tabloid or any other politically motivated newspaper is likely to be only functionally literate.
Last edited by Andrew Fryer on Wed Jan 10, 2018 7:48 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Decline of Vocabulary; Good or Bad?

Post by petermc61 » Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:12 am

Andrew Fryer wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:02 am
Anyone who buys or reads a tabloid or any other politically motivated newspaper is likely to be only functionally literate.
Anyone? Really? Maybe they just like to be amused.

That’s a pretty bold assertion.

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Re: Decline of Vocabulary; Good or Bad?

Post by Andrew Fryer » Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:14 am

petermc61 wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:12 am
Andrew Fryer wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:02 am
Anyone who buys or reads a tabloid or any other politically motivated newspaper is likely to be only functionally literate.
Anyone? Really? Maybe they just like to be amused.

That’s a pretty bold assertion.
Now here's an interesting question - did you skim over those words "likely to be" that I put there deliberately as a test?

I don't profess to be particularly rhetorically literate, but you see how many traps could have been set by someone who was?

I simply wanted to state my view, but if it had been worth it (it isn't worth it on such a forum) a lot of interesting work could have been put into my post.
1975 Calatayud y Gisbert, Yamaha CG131S.

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Re: Decline of Vocabulary; Good or Bad?

Post by petermc61 » Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:21 am

Andrew Fryer wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:14 am
petermc61 wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:12 am
Andrew Fryer wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:02 am
Anyone who buys or reads a tabloid or any other politically motivated newspaper is likely to be only functionally literate.
Anyone? Really? Maybe they just like to be amused.

That’s a pretty bold assertion.
Now here's an interesting question - did you skim over those words "likely to be" that I put there deliberately as a test?
No, not at all. I’m literate. :D

The reason I said it was a bold assertion is I don’t know of evidence supporting it.

I would not have taken exception with a comment along the lines of, ‘It is more likely that a reader of a tabloid will have a lower level of literacy than a reader of a broadsheet’. I think that comment is more likely true. (Please notice all the words I use. But there are no traps.) :wink:

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Andrew Fryer
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Re: Decline of Vocabulary; Good or Bad?

Post by Andrew Fryer » Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:24 am

But let's not try to be too clever - I was on the cusp of discussing politics, and so my language was severely hampered by this forum's constraints.
You now know my view on literacy, at least. It will have to rest there.
1975 Calatayud y Gisbert, Yamaha CG131S.

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petermc61
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Re: Decline of Vocabulary; Good or Bad?

Post by petermc61 » Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:26 am

Andrew Fryer wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:24 am
But let's not try to be too clever - I was on the cusp of discussing politics, and so my language was severely hampered by this forum's constraints.
You now know my view on literacy, at least. It will have to rest there.
Just having some fun. I thought you were too having a little play with the language. Sorry if I misjudged what I thought was a bit of light-hearted teasing both ways.

Your comments on the different forms of literacy were useful, so thanks.

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Re: Decline of Vocabulary; Good or Bad?

Post by Andrew Fryer » Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:49 am

You can read it all in Wikipedia. There may be other models. Their exact details probably wouldn't interest me.
My starting point is that there is definitely insufficient critical literacy in the West. If anyone doubted that, I'd just laugh at them.

The question is then if someone is not critically literate, are they literate or functionally literate?
The thing is, functional literacy is an insult, so it has been rebranded as literacy by the West which wants to assert that it is superior to the East, but you don't eliminate a phenomenon by rebranding it.

But flattery is important - tabloids flatter their readers. They tell them they are intelligent and they believe it.
Then the tabloid tells them their arse is on fire and they go and sit in a puddle.
1975 Calatayud y Gisbert, Yamaha CG131S.

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Re: Decline of Vocabulary; Good or Bad?

Post by gitgeezer » Wed Jan 10, 2018 12:13 pm

Among a group of twelve old men in a retirement home, in Trollope's "The Warden," "Bunce" stands highest because he's the only one who can sign his name. "Job" stands second highest by merely claiming that he can sign his name.

"It would have been a great thing to have had the signatures and marks of all the twelve injured legatees; but this was impossible: Bunce would have cut his hand off sooner than have signed it. … Bunce's friends were as firm as himself, and as yet only six crosses adorned the document. It was the more provoking, as Bunce himself could write his name legibly, and one of those three doubting souls had for years boasted of like power, and possessed, indeed, a Bible, in which he was proud to show his name written by himself some thirty years ago—"Job Skulpit;" but it was thought that Job Skulpit, having forgotten his scholarship, on that account recoiled from the petition, and that the other doubters would follow as he led them."

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