Loss of language is significant because of the importance of language in people's lives. But it is also significant when discussing literacy, because literacy models and practices flow from language and culture.

3.0 Language and Literacy

Literacy is a social practice, so to understand it, we need to understand the groups and institutions that socialize people into different literacy practices16.

According to Trevor Cairney, who has researched different literacies17, 'as a social practice literacy cannot be separated from the people who use it'. He goes on to say that this socio–cultural view of literacy suggests that 'teachers, students and parents construct their own models and definitions of literacy' according to the social and cultural groups they belong to. Cultural teachings and the communication patterns of different languages give rise to the particular understandings, norms, expectations, and roles that define what it means to be literate. In other words, different groups, including different cultures, socialize their members into literacy practices in different ways.

The kinds of literacy models and practices that we see people using in their homes vary from family to family, but tend to reflect the language and social practices of their culture. The purposes for which people use literacy, the ways families support children's literacy, attitudes towards literacy and the role that family members play in literacy development also vary, but again reflect their culture. So, for example, in a hunting culture, where visual literacy is important, we might expect people to be able to 'read' the sky to tell the weather, or to 'read' the land to find signs of animal tracks. In a home from a culture with an oral literacy tradition, we might expect to hear stories being told, and not to see many books. This means that a person may be highly literate in one situation, like on the land, but not in another. It also means that parents and teachers in the NWT may have different understandings of literacy.


16 Cairney, Trevor. Developing Partnerships: The home, school and community interface.
17 Cairney, Trevor. Literacy and Diversity: Have our observations of difference made a difference?