It's Not the Content, it's the Language

Dr. Marcelle Harran
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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
Stream: Libraries
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. Marcelle Harran

Senior Lecturer, Applied Language Studies Department, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Port Elizabeth, South Africa

After completing my BA Degree and Higher Education Diploma at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1974, I continued with my studies at Rhodes, completing in BEd in 1984 and MEd in 1994. I commenced with my PhD studies at Rhodes in 2004 focusing my research on literacy in the workplace from the perspective of the engineers. I completed my PhD at the end of 2006, entitled: A critical ethnographic study of report writing as a literacy practice by automotive engineers. I am also a NRF Thuthuka research grant holder for Researchers in Training. I have taught for 19 years at secondary schools in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape and joined the Language Department at PE Technikon (PET) in the Communication and Educational Studies Faculty in 1995. In 2005, PET merged with UPE and Vista, and the Language Department became part of the Applied Language Studies Department in the School of Arts at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU). As a language lecturer for diplomas, I teach and co-ordinate Communication in English A and B to various faculties and courses at the NNMU. Since 2005, I also lecture sociolinguistics to BA Hons students. I am also involved with the English Proficiency Assessment (EPA) design for assessing language proficiency of students entering the Diploma courses at NMMU and the Post Graduate Proficiency Assessment (PPA) for BTech and MTech courses.

Ref: B07P0046