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transliterate

adjective

able to read, write and communicate using a range of different media, including printed, electronic and online media

transliteracy

noun [uncountable]

'Students are increasingly transliterate, communicating across a range of technologies. Can academics keep up?'

Times Higher Education Supplement 14th August 2008

'For others, … the way forward (or sideways) is precisely to abandon our print fixation. This is why she rejects the term "e-lit" … in favour of "new media writing" or, better still, transliteracy – which covers all forms of literacy ranging from orality to social networking sites.'

The Guardian 24th September 2008

If you're a regular, or even occasional, reader of BuzzWord, the likelihood is that you're a proficient Internet user, comfortable with the prospect of sitting at your computer and whiling away a few minutes perusing the web. However you might be equally happy to pick up your favourite tabloid or broadsheet, or read yourself to sleep with a bestselling paperback. If you're comfortable with reading the written word in any form, whether that be printed or electronic, then you're not just literate – you're transliterate.

A person who is transliterate is able to read and communicate using a range of different media. This can be handwriting or the conventional printed or spoken word, but also any kind of electronic platform, from documents on a PC through to online material, social networking and texting from a mobile phone. The ability to read and communicate on all such levels is correspondingly referred to as transliteracy.

Thomas's research highlights the need for academic institutions to fully incorporate digital technology in order to complement and enhance traditional teaching methods

In the UK, the emerging concept of transliteracy is chiefly associated with Sue Thomas, Professor of New Media in the Faculty of Humanities at, Leicester. Thomas believes that transliteracy has a particular impact on teaching strategies within higher education, where some academics are not as familiar with electronic media as their students. She argues that a lack of transliteracy among academics may make teaching less effective for today's students who, though used to handling data from a variety of electronic and digital sources, are often still communicated with via pieces of paper. On the other side of the coin however, students who struggle with traditional forms of communication (e.g. inappropriately carrying over the foibles of text and e-mail speak into conventional writing) are also not fully transliterate.

Thomas's research highlights the need for academic institutions to fully incorporate digital technology in order to complement and enhance traditional teaching methods. In this sense there is a relation between transliteracy and the concepts underlying blended learning.

Background – transliterate

The new meaning of the word transliterate combines the adjective literate ('able to read and write') with the prefix trans- ('across'). So if you are transliterate, you are able to read/write across a variety of media. I say 'new meaning' because the word transliterate already exists in the English language, though with a different pronunciation and word class. Transliterate the verb dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. In this homograph, the prefix trans- means 'changing' (compare translate, transform), and literate derives from Latin littera, meaning 'letter of the alphabet'. This sense of transliterate also has a related noun transliteration.

The new adjectival use of transliterate evolved from a plural noun transliteracies, coined in 2005 by Professor Alan Liu of the Department of English, University of California Santa Barbara. Liu developed and formalised the Transliteracies Project, which is dedicated to researching the cultural, technological and social aspects of online reading.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 1st July 2009.

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