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What Is Transliteracy?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 23, 2024
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Transliteracy is the idea of being literate across multiple media or platforms. In the past, this has meant literacy in formats like handwriting, printing, typewriting, and cursive. Today, transliteracy usually refers to literacy in different media, such as books, television, and the Internet.

To be literate in a certain type of media, the individual must be able to intake all of the symbols, syntax, and semantics for that particular media and understand them coherently. In many cases, syntax and lexicon are the same for different types of media in a given language. Some of the symbols and syntax that are used, however, can in subtle ways across different media platforms, which is why linguists look at issues like transliteracy to define how people use modern technology and modern media. For example, the technical text “coding” that is used in social media platforms can cause an individual to misunderstand elements of those media before he or she becomes familiar with it.

Those who want to truly understand what transliteracy means need to contrast the word with the idea of “transliteration,” which has a different meaning. Transliteration is simply translating the characters of one language or literacy set, into the characters of another. This is not what transliteracy means; instead, the term describes the ability to understand and express one’s self through different media.

Some professionals have pointed out different terms to help others understand transliterate outcomes. These include “people to people,” “documents to documents,” and “people to documents,” where understanding how speakers interact with speech and words, in print and digital formats, can help someone understand transliteracy. In general, the word is most often used to assess literacy in digital media, since these new technologies have changed how we view media in general, and are taking up more of the total “readership” of the global community.

Certain specific linguistic projects further illustrate issues of transliteracy. For example, the Research Oriented Social Environmental program at the University of California Santa Barbara addresses this idea through specially prepared research initiatives. Efforts like this will help experts further define and experiment with transliteracy and learn more about how humans train themselves to use new media as they become available.

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