According to UNESCO, “793 million adults – most of them girls and women – are illiterate. A further 67 million children of primary school age are not in primary school and 72 million adolescents of lower secondary school age are also missing out their right to an education.”

So what can you do to help? Lots of things!

You can read a story to a youngster you know. You can volunteer with Frontier College, your local library or other organizations that offer literacy training. You can donate money to a literacy program: at Oxfam Unwrapped, $22 will buy 8 books that will help kids around the world learn to read and $50 will help send a girl to school. Or you can simply take the book, magazine or paper you’re reading right now out in the world and be seen having a wonderful time!

So help celebrate UNESCO’s International World Literacy Day, you verbivores! You celebrate it a little bit every day, don’t you?

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Recommended Read

Wolf, Maryanne. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. [ISBN-13: 978-0-06-093384-5]

The argument that grounds Proust and the Squid is that the human mind isn’t hardwired for reading the way it is for speech. While the average child left in earshot of others’ speech will quickly and spontaneously learn to speak, a child in arm’s reach of writing can only learn to read after years of laborious tuition and study.

While speaking and listening to speech employ areas of the brain that have become recognized as language centers, reading is much more complex, drawing on the same language centers as well as visual regions, occipital, temporal and parietal areas of the brain.

All these parts are necessary to make sense of images, to dissect heard sounds into their constituent syllables, and to connect all this visual, auditory, and linguistic input with conceptual processing that can decode an author’s meaning. Maryanne Wolf argues that each person who has ever learned to read has had to second already existing and unrelated brain regions in the service of reading. To read we must rewire our minds, and the activity of reading itself changes our neural circuitry. Evidence has already shown that each new skill we learn creates new pathways in the brain, so it makes sense that reading would be no different.

Wolf investigates the reading brain by looking at the earliest systems of writing and tracking how these systems have changed in the past 6000 or so years. She discusses the development of  logographic writing, syllabary systems, and alphabets. In each case she considers how these written forms were taught to new readers, how they developed over time, and the different parts of the brain readers mobilize to make sense of each of these writing systems. [click to continue…]

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Txtng: The gr8 db8

by Heather

Recommended Read

Crystal, David. Txtng: The gr8 db8. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2008. [ISBN-13: 978-0-19-957133-8]

One of the most notable things about texting is the impressive furor that has accompanied its meteoric rise in popularity over the past ten years or so.  David Crystal recounts some of the many dire warnings texting has occassioned, quoting John Humphrys, for instance, who writes in the Daily Mail online that texters are:

vandals who are doing to our language what Gengis Khan did to his neighbours eight hundred years ago. They are destroying it: pillaging our punctuation; savaging our sentences; raping our vocabulary. And they must be stopped.

Hyperbole aside, people are understandably worried about what this new form of communication and orthography might mean for the future of our language. There’s no question that past changes in genres and media—from sonnets to hip-hop lyrics, from scrolls to eBooks—have had real and lasting consequences for language. It’s only sensible to wonder how texting might change us. And for those of you who, unlike John Humphrys, are still making up your minds about texting, Crystal’s book is a great place to learn more. And I think you’ll find that your mind will be put at ease. [click to continue…]


Empire of the Word

by Heather

My awesome parents, knowing all about my obsession with words, recorded the Empire of the Word documentary series that aired on TVO last month for me. It was developed and narrated by the very impressive Alberto Manguel, author of A History of Reading, The Library at Night, and The City of Words among other titles.

I watched every episode in a single sitting, and I have a hunch you’ll be as fascinated as I was. So brew some tea, get comfy, and follow the links below to the Empire of the Word.

Episode one is called “The Magic of Reading” and explores the origins of the written word and our irrepressible desire to read.

Episode two is titled “Learning to Read” and considers the intellectual triumph of reading from the neurology of the human mind to the education of new readers.

Episode three is called “Forbidden Reading” and investigates the authorities who have tried to ban the creation and consumption of texts as well as the people who fight for our right to read.

Episode four, “The Future of Reading,” speculates about how technology is changing the way we read and asks what will become of bound libraries in the years to come.

If you’re still craving more programming about the wonders of language, check out the BBC’s Why Do We Talk? over at the Lingua Franca blog. When you’re done you’ll want to stick around and read some of the really fun posts you’ll find there.

Thanks for watching!