Alternative perspectives on orality, literacy and education: a view from South Africa.

20 Oct 2011

The question of the 'great divide' between orality and literacy has been critically addressed by various scholars of literacy, including social literacy theorists. This paper uses the notions of primary and secondary discourse across both oral and literate contexts to examine this 'divide'. Using evidence from the oral tradition of the Xhosa, it is shown that 'traditional' societies have well-established primary and secondary discourse types. Against this understanding, the issue of 'access' to Western academic literacy is examined. It is argued that within the changing context of South African society and as a direct result of former apartheid policies, individuals may have failed to acquire the cultural capital of both oral secondary and literate secondary discourse types. The literate secondary discourse practices of Xhosa-speaking students at univer¬sity are explored through an analysis of student writing. This paper then reports on several projects which attempt to address some of the concerns of academic staff with respect to student writing. In particular, this section argues for a broadening of the notion of 'academic literacy' and suggests some ways in which texts derived from the oral tradition may be used to develop awareness of secondary discourse types.