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A Year of Transliteracy: Call to Action

It was one year ago today that I first posted about transliteracy. A few days earlier, I had complained on twitter that transliteracy was “a bullshit made-up term for the same old stuff.” Since it’s always been my policy on this blog to offer solutions whenever I identify a problem, it took a few days of thought before I posted the beginnings of the language model.

Over the last year, I’ve done some other transliteracy-related stuff that might interest you:

Starting out, and despite my first tweet calling transliteracy bullshit, I was conciliatory and downright friendly. After putting some positive work out there and being ignored, I chose to approach the topic differently and talk about the controversy. The L&T librarians told me that I had gone too far, so before publishing Redefining Transliteracy I scaled back and was only semi-controversial (if you consider pedantically listing problems with a definition controversial).

Thing is, that post was probably the most popular of the whole lot. It was even the subject of an assignment for a Digital Media Communication class at Rider University (co-instructed by the truly inspirational John LeMasney). I hope most of the post’s appeal was that it offered a compelling case for the adoption of a model for transliteracy that people find useful. I suspect that part of the appeal was the oh-no-you-didn’t out-calling of the PART definition. So screw it, this stuff’s been bugging me…

PART of the Problem

If the original “working definition” of transliteracy were claimed to be proprietary, it wouldn’t be a big deal that my criticisms (let’s call them “bug reports”) and suggested improvements (‘patches’) have fallen on deaf ears. But the seminal First Monday paper on transliteracy refers to it as open source thinking. Professor Thomas calls transliteracy an open source concept in a well-circulated video:

We see it as an open source concept, and we offer it up for you to think about, develop, write about, go to Wikipedia and argue about the definition…

One immediate problem is that Wikipedia is a bad place to argue about the definition, since it’s a place for things notable outside of itself, not original research or discussion leading to development of new ideas. While it might be acceptable to have a discussion of wording on an article’s talk page to some extent, arguing about the definition using Wikipedia as the sounding board will generally lead to NOR, NPOV, and/or CoI issues. It’s precisely why I haven’t personally made any edits to the transliteracy page. If you don’t already have your hat in the ring, I encourage you to edit on the language model’s behalf.

Calling transliteracy open source is really quite hollow. Is the transliteracy blog really all the source? Where’s a clear explanation of licensure for applicable source, besides a CC icon on the First Monday article? Where’s the mechanism for reporting bugs and submitting patches? The fact of the matter is that there is very little open source about PART’s work on transliteracy. It’s a buzzword in a sea of buzzwords.

Call to Action

PART, if you do not wish to explicitly put the transliteracy concept under an open source or open creative license, release source material in the same manner, and ideally explain the mechanism by which the community can contribute to the project, you should publicly clarify that transliteracy is actually a proprietary concept.

Neither PART nor Libraries and Transliteracy have posted about the language model. Since I’m certain that prominent posters of both those blogs have read Redefining Transliteracy, it’s curious to me that they haven’t talked at all about the language model on their respective blogs. To me that’s a lie of omission, or worse yet a faith-based lapse of intellectual honesty. After all, they’ve been presented with evidence to the contrary of their claims:

  1. The things listed in the definition (signing, orality, handwriting, etc.) aren’t established to be platforms, tools, or media either individually or as a group
  2. The property of platforms, tools, and media that allows a literate person to go across or between them is not explained (and I contend, _cannot be explained _– a single unit is necessary for comparison)
  3. All other criticisms aside, the order of the list is nonsensical, yet easy enough to change to chronological, alphabetical, or to delete altogether
  4. Interaction is just a series of reading and writing acts as it applies to literacies, so including it is redundant
  5. Talking about literacy as a function of platforms, tools, and media is akin to telling an auto mechanic over the phone that your car is yellow. Sure, color is an important attribute of a car, but the mechanic is more concerned with the make, model, and mechanical attributes of the vehicle. Literacy is about reading/writing stuff (ie. messages in languages), not where the stuff’s written (ie. medium)

Unless there is some means of reconciliation to which I’ve not been made privy, believing transliteracy can operate under the PART definition requires faith: belief in the absence of (or in the face of contradictory) evidence. That’s not a leap I’m willing to make. I’ve proposed a patch for a definition based instead on language (with thorough explanation of what language means in that context) that eliminates all 5 of those problems. Of course, if there were problems with the language model, I’d be interested in exploring those as well.

Maybe the silence on those blogs is because of personality conflicts with me. But that only goes so far; at some point pointing at me and saying I’m being arrogant or condescending just ends up being a distracting Argumentum ad hominem. If you think I’m an asshole and don’t want to subject your readers to my douchitude, just don’t mention me by name or link to my blog. I don’t care – all I care about is furthering the discussion of transliteracy by putting ideas out there. If you’re unwilling to tell your readers about ideas because they conflict with your pre-formed assumptions, who’s the real asshole?