No subject

Fri Jan 5 02:46:25 UTC 1996

The idea that meaning is 'constructed' by the reader, rather than 'decoded'
is virtually universal-in some form or another-in school
language/literature syllabuses AND teaching practices thoughout the English
speaking world.  To quote from the position statement of the Australian
Association for the Teaching of English:

"Students...learn that meaning is made in the interaction between the
individual and the text, rather than existing in the text itself. ... The
idea that meaning is actively constructed rather than passibely found in
the text is fundamental to the composing and comprehending activities which
take place in classrooms.",

This can be taken to be the "default" understanding in education of how
meaning is derived from texts, right around the world.  And not only in
education:  the perspective is fundamental to much contemporary work in
literature, film, advertising, journalism, criticism etc etc.  That so many
linguists could be 'surprised' to find this understanding of the reading
process prospering in Massachussetts schools ought to be surprising but
sadly it is not.

I would agree with my Massachussetts colleagues that there are problems
with this understanding of the construction of meaning (without endorsing
the simplistic 'decoding' theory).  A review, for example, of German
mother-tongue learning policy statements, reveals a more balanced
understanding of meaning which acknowledges the social, held-in-common
nature of linguistic signs, and the perspective that texts are composed of
such signs, as well as the active nature of interpretation.

However the MA linguists' comments display a certain 'detachment' from 30
years of developments in mother-tongue English curricula (and thus from
mainstream developments in contemporary society's understandings of
communication) that does not bode well for establishing a dialogue with

Mark Durie

From:  Mark Durie,
       Department of Linguistics and Applied Linguistics,
       University of Melbourne
       Parkville 3052

       Hm  (03) 9380-5247
       Wk  (03) 9344-5191
       Fax (03) 9347 7305

M.Durie at

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