1st Edition

Oral Literacies When Adults Read Aloud

By Sam Duncan Copyright 2021
    212 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    212 Pages 3 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This is the first book to focus exclusively on an examination of early 21st-century adult reading aloud. The dominant contemporary image of reading in much of the world is that of a silent, solitary activity. This book challenges this dominant discourse, acknowledging the diversity of reading practices that adults perform or experience in different communities, languages, contexts and phases of our lives, outlining potential educational implications and next steps for literacy teaching and research.

    By documenting and analysing the diversity of oral reading practices that adults take part in (on- and offline), this book explores contemporary reading aloud as hugely varied, often invisible and yet quietly ubiquitous. Duncan discusses questions such as: What, where, how and why do adults read aloud, or listen to others reading? How do couples, families and groups use oral reading as a way of being together? When and why do adults read aloud at work? And why do some people read aloud in languages they may not speak or understand?

    This book is key reading for advanced students, researchers and scholars of literacy practices and literacy education within education, applied linguistics and related areas.

    List of illustrations



    Chapter 1 Introduction

    Part 1

    Chapter 2 The Reading Aloud in Britain Today (RABiT) project

    Chapter 3 The questionnaire: Surveying contemporary reading aloud

    Chapter 4 Mass Observation

    Chapter 5 The interviews and recordings

    Part 2

    Chapter 6 Family, friends and lovers: Community, domesticity, intimacy and mediation

    Chapter 7 Working life

    Chapter 8 Religion

    Chapter 9 Literary life: Production, performance, experience and the Wordhord

    Chapter 10 Solitude: Aloud alone

    Chapter 11 Oral reading and education

    Chapter 12 Conclusion



    Sam Duncan is an adult literacy researcher and teacher educator at the UCL Institute of Education. She has a background in adult literacy and community education and teaches on a range of education, literacy and research-related modules. Sam is the author of Reading Circles, Novels and Adult Reading Development (Bloomsbury, 2012) and Reading for Pleasure and Reading Circles for Adult Emergent Readers (NIACE, 2014). She has just completed an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Fellowship to research contemporary adult reading aloud practices across Britain.

    'Revealing too many details in this reviewwould spoil the pleasure for future readers. However, in ‘Family, Friends and Lovers’, the author describes the intimacy of oral reading and recalls how a participant in a pilot study had noted: ‘it feels like you are being given a bit of a gift when somebody reads to you.’ I wrote this down in my notebook because it resonated so deeply. Reading aloud in all its guises is a gift: a gift to ourselves when engaged in solitary reading aloud practices, a gift to others or a gift that we receive. The publication of ‘Oral Literacies: When Adults Read Aloud’ will ensure the visibility of this practice. The book is very accessible and is essential reading for anyone wanting a greater understanding of contemporary literacy practices. 'Oral Literacies is a rich exploration of the complex nature of reading and writing as mobile, embodied and multimodal. Duncan provides both detailed documentation and nuanced analysis of the wide range of social practices involved in reading aloud that are too often overlooked in literacy research. She complicates the seeming paradox of the concepts in the title to demonstrate the interanimating relationships of speech and text across daily life.'

    Research and Practice in Adult Literacies journal, vol 105


    'This book is rare in that it focusses on an area of literacy studies that at first glance seems familiar, but which in fact has been remarkably under researched.'

    Jamie D. I. Duncan, Lancaster University, Book and New Media Reviews, Spring 2021


    'Oral Literacies: When Adults Read Aloud by Sam Duncan argues for a closer look at literacy in the everyday lives of adults, calling for attention to the often-ignored role of voice and ear in how we experience texts of all kinds. The latest in the Routledge Literacies series, this book is a welcome and refreshing contribution to our understanding of contemporary literacy practice, presenting us with a richly textured account of the role of speech in everyday interactions with text.'

    Susan Jones, Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education, July 2021


    'One of the joys of Duncan’s style is that it invites sharing and reflection. For me, at least, this book did not just succeed in expanding and building an important argument about a set of overlooked practices, but in bringing these experiences to life in the imagination – and voice – of the reader.'

    Cathy Burnett, Literacy UKLA, 2021