The “Erin Alge Discourse”

In Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses, James Paul Gee discusses a new type of literacy, which he calls “New Literacy Studies”. He would call it something like “integrated social-cultural-political-historical literacy studies”, which names the viewpoint it takes on literacy, if it wasn’t so awkward and lengthy. The big question Gee argues is “What does the word ‘literacy’ mean?”. This is a question that trumps many people including, literate, professional, and even the illiterate people. I like how at first Gee goes into how “language” can be misleading. The fact that one can know the exact grammar of the language yet not know how to use the language still fascinates yet troubles me. Different environments and contexts require one to alter the use of the language. That is why one can know the exact grammar and not use the language correctly, but one can have “quite poor grammar and still function in communication and socialization quite well”. This is where the reading about the “Discourse” became very interesting for me.

A Discourse is a socially accepted association among ways of using language and other symbolic expressions including thinking, feeling, believing, valuing, and acting, that allow people to “get recognized as a given person at a specific time and place”.  Discourses help give meaning to people and their communication, verbally and physically. What really helped me understand this first concept was when Gee said,  “Being in a Discourse is being able to engage in a particular sort…recognized as a distinct sort of who doing a distinctive sort of what”. As he also states, being able to understand a Discourse if being able to recognize such ‘dances’”. First of all, I have been turned onto a whole new way of thinking. Also, Discourses allows an individual and society not only to establish who a person is and what their purpose is, but to be able to recognize them as well.

Discourses are “ways of recognizing and getting recognized”. That is why everyone is born with a “primary Discourse”. This Discourse is how we are raised to become an “everyday person”. It gives one our “sense of self and sets the foundation of our culturally specific language” (a.k.a “everyday language”). While reading this part I thought of my own upbringing. I was brought up in a household of two full-time working parents that like to party and drink on the weekends. I was taught to have manners, be polite and do my homework. For a while, I thought every family had to have been like mine. As I grew older, I soon realized that wasn’t true at all and that other families had different households. I always knew growing up in different situations caused you to become a different person, but now I know it’s actually the different Discourses that contributes everyone being different. This can even apply for siblings in the same household. For example, a first-born female and the youngest male will have distinctly different Discourses.

Secondary Discourses come later in life within a more “public sphere” and are most likely acquired. These Discourses vary from the “primary” ones in the way that they are “acquired within institutions that are part are parcel of wider communities”. My secondary Discourses would be a full-time UNCC student, a Christian, and a fitness/nutritionist fanatic. One day another secondary Discourse I will have is my career. In the example they gave in the reading, the lady altered her primary Discourse to include her secondary Discourse of being a lawyer. This is where our “lifeworld Discourse” comes in. “Our lifeworld Discourse is the way that we use language, feel and think, act and interact, and so forth, in order to be an ‘everyday’ person”. Families incorporate parts of valued secondary Discourses into their primary Discourses as “early borrowing”. “Early borrowing is tool used facilitate children’s later success in secondary Discourses. After I reread this part several times, it made me think of the way my parents raised me to always persevere. They taught me to follow everything all the way through to the end and still today I will never give up on something.

There are so many different Discourses in our lives that shape ultimately who we are, our “lifeworld Discourse”. Our primary and secondary Discourse’s change and become “hybridized” throughout our lives. These changes come from things acquired as well as learned. Discourses change when people “mix them and their mixtures get recognized and accepted”. These changes are mastered only by acquisition not through “overt learning”.

Discourse_Literacies-Fall.2013- Erin Alge-Reading Notes

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