Hi there tout la gang,

We don't have much to say about research in practice at the Café right now

but we are talking policy and practice over here now: Literacy Enquirers.

Friday, June 20, 2008

ancient literacies

I visited the Book of Kells exhibit at Trinity College. One of the first exhibits were examples of the old Irish script called Ogham. Ogham writing looks like a long vertical line decorated with cross hatches. There are 20 letters named for trees. Pretty nice.

With the introduction of Christianity to Ireland came the Roman script and the transcribing of the books of the Bible in the Book of Kells, the Book of Armagh, the Book of Durrow, the Book of Mulling and the Book of Dimma. The Book of Kells was transcribed by Celtic monks around 800 CE and contains the four Gospels of the New Testament in Latin. It is an illuminated text decorated with an extraordinary array of pictures, interlaced shapes and ornamental details of great beauty and delicacy.

After looking at the books and videos about the binding and inscribing processes, you can go upstairs to see the Long Room. The Long Room is an absolutely beautiful library containing the oldest books in Ireland. In the 1800s the library was full so they raised the roof in order to accommodate more books. I am not sure why but it feels almost cosmically wonderful to enter this room and stroll its length.

Last night Sheila Rosenburg opened the RaPAL conference with a talk about English and why people can't, don't and won't learn English. She finished by speaking about whose language is English, referring to the history of colonization and imperialism that brought English to so many places and imposed new names for everything on the people who lived there. Ireland is, of course, one of those places. In the play Translations, Brian Friel depicts how as the British Army mapped Ireland linguistically as well as geographically, as they renamed everything, they were conquering the land from within and using language as a means of oppression. As Sheila was talking about how imperialism then and now intersects with the practice of teaching English in different places, I wondered what it might feel like to be an Irish ESOL instructor teaching newcomers the language that came to my country in such a brutal fashion but has been and continues to be used so beautifully and creatively by a legion of great Irish authors. What place in history do we teach from? Is it the same every day and in every classroom?

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