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ILLITERACY

ILLITERACY The inability to read or write, or the actual or perceived state of being uneducated or insufficiently educated. Social judgement is so powerfully built into the term ILLITERATE that scholars now generally use more neutral terms, such as non-literate (for societies and individuals for whom literacy is not a relevant issue) and pre-literate (for societies and conditions before LITERACY emerged or was encountered and adopted). Formerly, the term illiterate was used to describe someone without book learning or a liberal EDUCATION (especially in classical LATIN and GREEK), even though such a person could read in a vernacular language or handle accounts and correspondence. However, the word also carried the connotation of ‘unpolished’, ‘ignorant’, or ‘inferior’, as in ‘the disadvantage of an illiterate education’ ( Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, volume 2, 1781, p. 75).

Attitudes

As schooling moved away from the classical languages, the term came to mean inability to sign one's name (generally on a marriage or a census document) or to read a simple passage. The term illiterate has been widely used pejoratively for usage which, though literate, has not measured up to the standards or expectations of the person commenting. Semi-literate is similarly employed: ‘an illiterate style’, ‘a semi-literate letter’. Because of the prestige of LITERACY and its influence on patterns of speech, some observers have attacked ‘illiterate speech’, and on occasion writers of guides to ‘GOOD’ ENGLISH have employed such phrases to persuade readers away from certain usages: ‘The first principle of illiterate speech—emphasis by repetition—is evident not only in grammatical patterns but also in PHRASEOLOGY; the basement-level speaker frequently iterates an idea and then immediately reiterates the very same idea in slightly different words. He is not quite sure you will understand him until he has said a thing at least twice’ ( Norman Lewis, Better English, 1956).

Statistics

In recent years, the term has been used to describe the condition of people unable to cope with printed materials relevant to their needs (functional illiteracy) and people unacquainted with the canon and conventions of an educated populace (cultural illiteracy). Precise descriptions and accurate estimates of illiteracy of any kind in English-speaking countries are difficult to obtain.

Changing levels

In the 1950s, the inability to read or write was not in itself detrimental to achievement, but in an increasingly technological society illiteracy usually limits employment and advancement. David Crystal has pointed out that, in the developed countries, it is becoming more rather than less difficult for people to achieve an acceptable standard of literacy:
A democratic society and a free press presuppose high general literacy levels. There are now more diverse and complex kinds of matter to read, and people are obliged to read more if they want to get on. People who had achieved a basic literacy are thus in real danger of being classed as illiterate, as they fail to cope with the modern everyday demands of such areas as the media, business, bureaucracy, and the law. As a result of literate society continually ‘raising the ante’, therefore, the illiteracy figures rise, and the gap between the more and the less developed countries becomes ever wider (‘Literacy 2000’, English Today, Oct. 1986
).

The inability to read and write not only prevents people from functioning fully within their communities, but also exerts an influence on national priorities and the use of human and material resources.

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illiteracy

illiteracy, inability to meet a certain minimum criterion of reading and writing skill.

Definition of Illiteracy

The exact nature of the criterion varies, so that illiteracy must be defined in each case before the term can be used in a meaningful way. In 1930 the U.S. Bureau of the Census defined as illiterate any person over ten years of age who was unable to read and write in any language. By the next census (1940), however, the concept of "functional" illiteracy was adopted, and any person with less than five years of schooling was considered functionally illiterate, or unable to engage in social activities in which literacy is assumed.

Since that time, the concept of functional illiteracy has grown in popularity among American educators, but the standards of definition have changed with the increasing complexity of most social activities. Thus, by 1970, the U.S. Office of Education considered at least six years of schooling (and sometimes as many as eight) to be the minimum criterion for functional literacy. In 1990 over 5% of the adult population living in the United States did not meet that criterion.

World Illiteracy Rates

The United Nations, which defines illiteracy as the inability to read and write a simple message in any language, has conducted a number of surveys on world illiteracy. In the first survey (1950, pub. 1957) at least 44% of the world's population were found to be illiterate. A 1978 study showed the rate to have dropped to 32.5%, by 1990 illiteracy worldwide had dropped to about 27%, and by 1998 to 16%. However, a study by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) published in 1998 predicted that the world illiteracy rate would increase in the 21st cent. because only a quarter of the world's children were in school by the end of the 20th cent. The highest illiteracy rates were found in the less developed nations of Africa, Asia, and South America; the lowest in Australia, Japan, North Korea, and the more technologically advanced nations of Europe and North America. Using the UN definition of illiteracy, the United States and Canada have an overall illiteracy rate of about 1%. In certain disadvantaged areas, however, such as the rural South in the United States, the illiteracy rate is much higher.

Combating Illiteracy

Direct attacks on illiteracy take two main forms: adult education and the establishment of public schools with compulsory attendance for children. In the United States, several federal programs have been instituted to combat adult illiteracy; universal public education has almost eliminated illiteracy among the young. Soldiers have been used effectively in Turkey and Mexico as instructors for the general populace.

History

Throughout most of history most people have been illiterate. In feudal society, for example, the ability to read and write was of value only to the clergy and aristocracy. The first known reference to "literate laymen" did not appear until the end of the 14th cent. Illiteracy was not seen as a problem until after the invention of printing in the 15th cent. The first significant decline in illiteracy came with the Reformation, when translation of the Bible into the vernacular became widespread and Protestant converts were taught to read it. Revolutionary political movements from the 18th to the 20th cent. generally included an attack on illiteracy as one of their goals, with the former Soviet Union, China, and Cuba being among the most successful in the 20th cent.

Bibliography

See C. Jeffries, Illiteracy: A World Problem (1967); F. Laubach, Forty Years with the Silent Billion (1970); H. Graff, The Literacy Myth (1979) and The Legacies of Literacy (1987).

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illiterate

il·lit·er·ate / i(l)ˈlitərit/ • adj. unable to read or write: his parents were illiterate. ∎  ignorant in a particular subject or activity: the extent to which voters are politically illiterate. ∎  uncultured or poorly educated: the ignorant, illiterate town council. ∎  (esp. of a piece of writing) showing a lack of education, esp. an inability to read or write well. • n. a person who is unable to read or write. PHRASES: functionally illiterate lacking the literacy necessary for coping with most jobs and many everyday situations.DERIVATIVES: il·lit·er·a·cy / -əsē/ n. il·lit·er·ate·ly adv. il·lit·er·ate·ness n.

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illiteracy

illiteracy Inability to read and write. The eradication of illiteracy is one aim of public and compulsory education around the world, and yet the problem remains huge. It is estimated that about one billion adults in the world (about one in five of the world's population) are unable to read.

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illiterate

illiterate XVI. — L.; see IL-2, LITERATE.

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illiteracy

illiteracy •radiancy •immediacy, intermediacy •expediency • idiocy • saliency •resiliency • leniency •incipiency, recipiency •recreancy • pruriency • deviancy •subserviency • transiency • pliancy •buoyancy, flamboyancy •fluency, truancy •constituency • abbacy • embassy •celibacy • absorbency •incumbency, recumbency •ascendancy, intendancy, interdependency, pendency, resplendency, superintendency, tendency, transcendency •candidacy •presidency, residency •despondency • redundancy • infancy •sycophancy • argosy • legacy •profligacy • surrogacy •extravagancy • plangency • agency •regency •astringency, contingency, stringency •intransigency • exigency • cogency •pungency •convergency, emergency, insurgency, urgency •vacancy • piquancy • fricassee •mendicancy • efficacy • prolificacy •insignificancy • delicacy • intricacy •advocacy • fallacy • galaxy •jealousy, prelacy •repellency • valency • Wallasey •articulacy • corpulency • inviolacy •excellency • equivalency • pharmacy •supremacy • clemency • Christmassy •illegitimacy, legitimacy •intimacy • ultimacy • primacy •dormancy • diplomacy • contumacy •stagnancy •lieutenancy, subtenancy, tenancy •pregnancy •benignancy, malignancy •effeminacy • prominency •obstinacy • pertinency • lunacy •immanency •impermanency, permanency •rampancy • papacy • flippancy •occupancy •archiepiscopacy, episcopacy •transparency • leprosy • inerrancy •flagrancy, fragrancy, vagrancy •conspiracy • idiosyncrasy •minstrelsy • magistracy • piracy •vibrancy •adhocracy, aristocracy, autocracy, bureaucracy, democracy, gerontocracy, gynaecocracy (US gynecocracy), hierocracy, hypocrisy, meritocracy, mobocracy, monocracy, plutocracy, technocracy, theocracy •accuracy • obduracy • currency •curacy, pleurisy •confederacy • numeracy •degeneracy • itinerancy • inveteracy •illiteracy, literacy •innocency • trenchancy • deficiency •fantasy, phantasy •intestacy • ecstasy • expectancy •latency • chieftaincy • intermittency •consistency, insistency, persistency •instancy • militancy • impenitency •precipitancy • competency •hesitancy • apostasy • constancy •accountancy • adjutancy •consultancy, exultancy •impotency • discourtesy •inadvertency • privacy •irrelevancy, relevancy •solvency • frequency • delinquency •adequacy • poignancy

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illiterate

illiterate •gamut •imamate, marmot •animate •approximate, proximate •estimate, guesstimate, underestimate •illegitimate, legitimate •intimate •penultimate, ultimate •primate • foumart • consummate •Dermot •discarnate, incarnate •impregnate • rabbinate •coordinate, inordinate, subordinate, superordinate •infinite • laminate • effeminate •discriminate • innominate •determinate • Palatinate • pectinate •obstinate • agglutinate • designate •tribunate • importunate • Arbuthnot •bicarbonate • umbonate • fortunate •pulmonate •compassionate, passionate •affectionate •extortionate, proportionate •sultanate • companionate •principate • Rupert • episcopate •carat, carrot, claret, garret, karat, parrot •emirate • aspirate • vertebrate •levirate •duumvirate, triumvirate •pirate • quadrat • accurate • indurate •obdurate •Meerut, vizierate •priorate • curate • elaborate •deliberate • confederate •considerate, desiderate •immoderate, moderate •ephorate •imperforate, perforate •agglomerate, conglomerate •numerate •degenerate, regenerate •separate • temperate • desperate •disparate • corporate • professorate •commensurate • pastorate •inveterate •directorate, electorate, inspectorate, protectorate, rectorate •illiterate, literate, presbyterate •doctorate • Don Quixote • marquisate •concert • cushat • precipitate

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