It's Not the Content, it's the Language
This study locates literacy as being situated within specific social practices which shape and are shaped by writers’ responses to recurrent situations within discourse communities. Therefore, literacy perceptions are often implicated by various dominant practices embedded in the socio-cultural structures of organisations. The paper focuses on the dominant practice of feedback for report acceptance in a South African automotive industry. As these feedback practices often focus on linguistic errors, rhetoric and engineering knowledge are often perceived as separate entities rather than knowledge construction being dependent on rhetorical interaction within a professional community. Therefore, as activated by dominant feedback practices, the participants often construct literacy in terms of correct language, word and spelling use, rather than engineering discourse and rhetorically constructed contextual knowledge. Language, as a result, is often viewed as a neutral and transparent medium rather than a means to persuade and effect action. In addition, in the South African engineering workplace, the appropriation of the required literacy skills is made more complex because of the diversity and complexity of language and identity issues. English is the business language upon which engineering is based with engineering competence often related to English proficiency. Therefore, language problems are often attributed to the inefficiencies of human beings and to L1 standards rather than the participants’ individual knowledge creation. As the institution’s socio-cultural context impacts on writer identity and writing practices or ways of doing report writing, notions of writing as a transparent and autonomous system are also challenged. The paper describes what literacy means to eight predominantly ESL component testing engineers writing reports and how their perceptions of literacy influences and is influenced by dominant feedback practices in the report-writing process.
Keywords: Literacy Practices, Feedback Practices, Language Use, Writing Practices in the Workplace, Identity
Dr. Marcelle Harran
Senior Lecturer, Applied Language Studies Department, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University