1st Edition

Representations of Language Learning and Literacy How to Read Literacy Narratives

By Elena West Copyright 2024
    214 Pages 7 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Representations of language learning and literacy, also known as “literacy narratives”, are a staple of literature. They tell stories of conflict that illuminate the sociocultural dynamics whereby we learn to speak, read, and write. Yes, they tend to be read as stories about the “powers” of language and literacy – the power to make someone “human”, to form identity, and improve one’s social status. This book introduces the “literacy narrative approach”, a methodology for the study of literacy narratives that accounts for the conflict that pervades them. It achieves this by focussing on how the texts represents the interactions between writing and other semiotic modes (multimodality).  

    Sitting at the interface between theory and practice, it provides three practical applications of the literacy narrative approach and, in the process, develops a theoretical perspective for thinking about language learning, literacy, and communication as they are practised in the real world.

    List of Figures




    Introduction: Representations of language learning and literacy and the demise of the powers of verbal language

    1. Victor’s story

    2. The long life of the powers of language

    3. A paradigm for language-based conflict and the role of literacy

    4. The status of representations of language learning and literacy in literature and literary criticism

    5. The rationale of the practical applications and a word about terminology

    6. Overview of chapters

    Chapter 1. Three approaches to the study of representations of language learning and literacy

    1.1  The language learner approach


    1.2  The translation approach


    1.3  The literacy narrative approach



    Chapter 2. Intersemiotic conflict in Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of memory

    2.1 Positioning Rodriguez as a Chicano

    2.2 Rodriguez’s controversial view of the world: “the private” versus “the public”

    2.3 The competing logics of Hunger of memory

    2.4 Intersemiotic conflict in Hunger of memory

    2.5 Hunger of memory reworded 


    Chapter3. The letter kills, singing gives life: literacy and multimodality in Diego Marani’s Nuova grammatica finlandese

    3.1 Diego Marani and Nuova grammatica finlandese

    3.2 The reception of Nuova grammatica finlandese: from tragic story about language and identity to cannibalistic pulp fiction

    3.3 The competing logics of Nuova grammatica finlandese

    3.4 Imagined communities: setting the scene for an allegorical novel about essay-text literacy and nationalism

    3.5 The letter kills, singing gives life


    Chapter 4. Illiteracy, class, and multimodality in Vincenzo Rabito’s Terra matta

    4.1 Literacy, class, the classroom, and literature: a changing correlation?

    4.2 The typescript: style, materiality and rabitese

    4.3 Terra matta and the rewriting by Einaudi

    4.4 The reception before and after the publication: an “old” typewriter and a “primitive” peasant locked in a room

    4.5 Terra matta’s literacy narrative: a resourceful learner familiar with essay-text literacy and foreign languages

    4.6 The typescript as a multimodal literacy narrative


    Conclusion: Strategies for reading literacy narratives and future directions



    Elena West has recently completed a PhD in Modern Languages and Translation at the University of Bristol. She has taught academic writing skills in UK universities and Italian and French in Adult Education. She is a member of the British Academy’s Early Career Researcher Network

    "Representations of Language Learning and Literacy reminds us that literacy narratives powerfully reveal the systemic institutional forces shaping our experiences  learning to speak, read, and write. West offers historical and comparative views of literacy narratives, beginning with the case study of eighteenth-century "feral child" Victor of Aveyron and examining culturally diverse examples from Richard Rodriguez's Hunger of Memory and Vincenzo Rabito's Mad Land. In a moment marked by increasing book bans and calls to restrict "woke" curricula, West's book is a must-read for teachers and scholars committed to developing responsive and mindful approaches to literacy instruction."

     —Dr. Ben McCorkle and Dr. Michael Harker, Co-Directors, The Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives