chapter  37
Literacy
ByDoris S. Warriner
Pages 12

While defining the scope and purview of applied linguistics, Cook (2003) noted that applied linguists investigate ‘problems’ (educational and social) in which language is implicated, and he divided the different kinds of ‘problems’ that are systematically examined in the field into three broad categories: language and education; language, work and law; and language, information and effect (2003: 7-8). While Cook’s account depicts central concerns of the field, it does not represent some of the more recent shifts that have moved away from an emphasis on so-called ‘problems’ and towards an understanding that all language and literacy practices are situated within particular social, historical, political contexts and are therefore potential resources which might be differentially valued and supported depending on situation, place, audience, and goals. The purpose of this chapter is to explore questions such as what does literacy have to do

with applied linguistics? And what does a view of literacy as a social-cultural-historical practice contribute to the field? I argue it is important to consider ‘the relation of knowledge about language to decision-making in the real world’ (Cook 2003: 5) through a ‘theoretical and empirical investigation of real-world problems in which language is a central issue’ (Brumfit 1995: 27). I further argue that it is necessary to understand the dynamic ways that literacy and literacies (including multilingual literacies and digital literacies) influence processes and practices that are of growing concern in current and emerging applied linguistics research. Although language teaching and learning remain dominant areas of inquiry, the field has branched out into new areas, and this branching out has required new methodologies and theories. According to Widdowson (2003: 14), applied linguistics ‘does not impose a way of thinking

but points out things which might be worth thinking about’. With this in mind, I consider the position of literacy studies within the field of applied linguistics by revisiting their shared concerns, shared priorities, and shared questions. Before getting to that, however, it is necessary to provide a brief account of how particular views of literacy emerged, the context in which they emerged, and the lasting consequences of new theories and approaches to the study of literacy and literacies.