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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Metaphorical representations of adult literacy in eight Canadian newspapers 1990-1999 May, Carole


Metaphors and assumptions which underlie them occur in everyday language use, including that found in newspaper articles. Conceptions constructed by these metaphors frame how social issues are thought about and acted upon. Adult literacy is such an issue. These representations influence how readers view literacy, and, in turn, may impel policy and practice. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine how articles were distributed over the 1990s in eight Canadian newspapers, what metaphors predominated, which endured, along with metaphorical representations, interpreted and constructed. Using a conceptual approach within the qualitative paradigm, the method was a blend of discourse analysis and critical linguistics, using the metaphor as the unit of study. Ideas from discourse research, metaphor studies, critical linguistics, critical literacy and conceptual analysis shaped the theoretical framework. Sources for research materials were the University of British Columbia Library, in particular its microform section and its online services, the University of Victoria Library, the Vancouver Public Library, the World Wide Web, and databases. Eight Canadian newspapers provided articles relating to adult literacy. The 284 articles collected in the sample were read for instances of metaphor. Access and Excel assisted in seeing the data; the findings were distilled from resulting tables. A culminating diagram depicted the metaphorical representations of adult literacy and guided discussion. Results showed most articles were published in 1990 and 1995 in conjunction with the release dates of literacy reports and surveys. In addition, metaphorical representations, clustered under the framework of a noun as a person, place, or thing, depicted adult literacy as a complex and often contradictory conception comprised of text personified, eight distinct, contrasting places, and two concrete and twelve abstract things. As a place, literacy is represented as a nation, region, sanctuary, divide, found world, lost world, dark territory and null space. As a concrete entity, literacy is organic, a commodity, a product, or a barrier. Literacy as an abstract entity is depicted as science, a deficit, burden, medical entity, spatial entity, journey or quest, crusade or cause, aspiration or liberation, advertising campaign, condition or disability, battle or competition, or theatrical event. Five stereotypes represented the illiterate: the child, the prisoner, the other, the heroic victim and the good citizen. Finally, most metaphors endured over the ten years with literacy as science being the most prevalent and sustained. The study makes six recommendations. First, newspapers should research and publish significant findings of how they construct conceptions such as adult literacy for their readers. Next, discourse and conceptual analysis should be more widely used by adult education researchers. Thirdly, research stemming from discourse and conceptual analysis should be reviewed by adult educators when they are discussing educational program planning or curricular and policy decisions. Fourthly, adult literacy theorists and practitioners should continue to expand their knowledge of conceptions of literacy by using investigative processes including qualitative research that moves beyond functionalist views. Also, adult educators should examine significant educational conceptions and their representations in the media and compare these to the conceptions discussed in academic literature. The last recommendation is that the representations of adult literacy and the illiterate in this study should be compared with the views of adult literacy practitioners and their students.

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