, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 173-199
Date: 24 Nov 2006

The role of literacy in the conceptualization of words: Data from Kannada-speaking children and non-literate adults

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Abstract

‘Metalinguistic skill’ has emerged as an important measure of the sophistication of an individual’s mastery of language. Some of the impetus for studies of metalinguistic skills, stemmed from an interest in its contribution to the acquisition of literacy. The central debate in these studies has been the issue of whether metalinguistic skills appear as a product of cognitive development or as a product of literacy instruction. In addition, there is also an increased interest in the cross-linguistic perspectives, given that replication of some of this research in non-alphabetic scripts are at variance with the earlier studies on alphabetic scripts. In the current study, identical experiments were conducted on a group of pre-school children and a group of non-literate adults, in Kannada, to investigate their understanding of the relationship between written language and oral language in particular their understanding of the relationship between the ‘word’ and its ‘referent’ and the effect of literacy acquisition on the same. Overall, the results support the view that acquisition of literacy has a significant influence on an individual’s conception of words, though an interaction between cognitive maturation and literacy exposure cannot be ruled out.