Verbal Art sample essay

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“All literacy practices can be considered creative.” Discuss.(2000 words)Prior to any discussion on the topic, it is imperative that the definitions for the key terms are given so as to ensure complete clarity.Literacy practices refers to “people’s everyday practices of producing and interacting with texts.” (Papen and Tusting, p312) This can include basic and tedious practices such as filling in forms, to more interesting practices such as writing a newspaper article, or composing a song perhaps.Creativity refers to “making something which is new, which did not exist before the creative act,” or “making something which is original, which is unlike things that have been made before.” (ibid, p.315) While the term is particularly fluid and open to different interpretations, this definition will suffice here for the purpose of this assignment.Although there are various approaches to the study of creativity – Carter (2004, cited in Maybin, p. 414) coined the term inherency model for creativity relating to the “formal aspects of language as an abstract system of sounds, grammar and meaning” – for the purpose of this paper, Carter’s second identified approach to understanding creativity in language – the sociocultural model – will be utilised.

In this model, creativity in language is seen as determined to a greater or lesser degree, by social, cultural and historical factors.Studying specified texts and drawing out elements of creativity, in for an example a poem, is a specific task with a specific purpose, and is generally something pupils may do in school, but the real creativity, as highlighted by Camitta (Papen and Tusting: Reading A), is the collaborated effort to create a poem, song or rap purely for personal reasons.In her case study over three years at a Philadelphia high school, Camitta studied varieties of literacy among students who believed that “writing is central to transacting social relationships,, to making meaning out of their lives, and that the act of writing signals that the truth is being told about them.” (Camitta, cited in Papen and Tusting, p332) For them writing was an active form of self-expression, much similar to music, dance, and drawing.

The types of texts they produced were vernacular – unofficial and closely related to culture, and as such, collaboration and performance were central processes to producing the texts. The author, in his/her free time, would read out or perform their text – be it rap, song, poem, letter – to an audience, who would then collaborate and suggest changes. This highlights the author’s creativity in the first instance, but also the creativity of the audience. As is evident, this is quite different to the classroom setting, as these are texts that the collaborators can make suggestions about for changes which will actually lead to amendments, as opposed to commenting on set-in-stone texts. Context is an important factor in creating creative literacy practices. Camitta’s study focused on pupils who were constrained to a degree by the need to be in certain places at certain times, and hence had to fit their writing around that, but there are people who are much more constrained, and in that sense, their creativity is much more astounding.

Wilson’s research focused on prisoners’ use of creativity. While the Philadelphia high school students used language as a form of self-expression, and also for play and innate creativity, Wilson states that “the vast majority of innovation in the prison setting is used not for play, humour or dalliance, but in order to “keep your mind” … “and to encourage a sense of mental agility in a world designed to reduce everything and everyone to conformity and orthodoxy.” (Wilson Papen and Tusting, Reading B, p.341)Wilson goes on to highlight an important factor, that creativity and language are situated and contextualised by the environments, spaces, times and cultures in which they are located. In the case of the prisoners, their creativity was evident in the spatial and material forms as well. Spatially the prisoners formed a “third space” for themselves, which was separate from the prison and the “outside,” in which to “live” out their sentence. (Wilson, 1999, p.20)

In terms of material creativity, Wilson gives examples of pressing mugs against heating pipes, using the toilet bowl for communication, hiding notes inside tennis balls, and “swinging lines.” (Wilson, Reading B, in Papen and Tusting, p.344) In terms of creativity in literacy practices, prisoners write letters, poems and raps, in a sense similar to the high school pupils. The difference here is that their literacy practices are a result of the “third space,” i.e. to retain a sense of individual identity and a “desire and need to maintain a sense of self agent and not just as subject to other people’s desires and rules.” (Papen and Tusting, p.322).“The possibilities associated with a setting do not determine what is created within any given context; but they do shape what is possible.” (Papen and Tusting, p.320) With this in mind, the reader’s attention is not turned to a different type of affordances and constraints – that relating to new technologies.Bodomo and Lee (2002, cited in Papen and Tusting, p.323) claim that new forms of language and literacy emerge from the introduction of new communicative tools and media,” which in turn give way to the introduction of techno jargon, literary jargon and new types of digital literacies.

The literacy practices associated with new technologies can be categorised into two concepts of creativity as outlined by Kress (2003, p.36). The first is the concept of ‘transformation’, which is the way “the producer of a text can alter and adapt the forms of signs within a mode in relation to their needs and interests” (Kress, cited in Papen and Tusting, p.323). This can be found in modern literacy practices such as emailing or texting. The use of emoticons is an altering and adapting of signs to create a new meaning in a situation where the texter/emailer is constrained by the symbols available to him via the keyboard/keypad, for example, when a colon and a closed bracket are put together thus: : ) they produce:  – a smiley face.Kress’ second concept is that of ‘transduction’ which “refers to the moving of ‘semiotic material’ across modes, where meaning that was originally configured in one (or several) modes is moved across to a different one” (Kress, cited in Papen and Tusting, p.323).

Papen and Tusting cite the example of the students in Reading A, who “performed” the poems they wrote, changing from the written to the oral mode. Another very clear example is that of online chatting. Friends usually make plans to meet up in the evening at the local McDonalds for example, but now via internet chat rooms and other forms of internet relay chat (e.g. MSN, Skype), friends can virtually meet up with each other while individually remaining in their own homes. Speech becomes writing, and in many cases still has the feeling of verbal communication, for example with the use of certain greeting words, acronyms, code switching, etc. The author’ has her own experiences of transduction as three of her brothers live abroad and her main communication with them, although previously was via face-to-face or telephone conversations, is now via computer-mediated-conversations. It becomes immediately apparent to her if one of their spouses is pretending to be a brother and is chatting to her from their use of language and the individual creativity inherent in it.

Although the examples above highlight literacy practices that are constrained through the medium (for example, the limited number of symbols on a keyboard/keypad), new technology also offers many affordances for the user. In the practice of ‘blogging,’ “blogs can include visual and other material, producing a kind of virtual scrapbook” (Maybin, p.266), thus drawing on the affordances offered by the Internet. Maybin comments on the dialogic nature of blogging (page 269); in the blog ‘The Story of an Aspiring Romance Writer’, the author’s posts are answered by other ‘bloggers’, who discuss the points raised and provide support and feedback for the author. One act of creativity present in this type of feedback and response is “the dialogic construction of the self” (Maybin, p.269), which is “the shaping of self in the course of responding to others” (ibid). Collaboration – discussed previously in the paper – plays an important role in this particular literacy practice.

Creativity also exists in the chosen medium of a literacy practice; for instance, advertising in Katutura is written on whatever material is to hand, whether it is wood, cardboard or on the wall of a house. Papen notes “creativity here has a material aspect” (p.352); this is clearly evident in Colour Figure 10, which is an example of heteroglossic diversity; this sign contains not only a multitude of voices, but also a multitude of genres. The phrase “Just find me here anytime…” is deliberately informal, even friendly in nature. It implies that the owner is an easygoing person, ready to help whenever is most convenient for his customer. This contrasts with the final line, “Thank you so much for your cooperation”, which adopts a typically business-like ‘official’ voice. Papen sees this sign as containing “a bricolage of genres and registers” (p.352) that is the result of “some careful thinking and creative appropriation of a new language” (ibid).

There may be some parts of speech, or literacy practices, which are seen as creative “in the moment”, but perhaps not deemed creative later on, because there is no knowledge of what went before or after or the context. (Maybin, p.415). A poignant example of this is the author’s mother who came to England from India in her teens with very little knowledge of English, verbal or written. A very clear memory remains of shopping lists on the fridge door. In terms of “material creativity,” as discussed previously, the shopping list is not at all Indian in nature, and most people in India probably do not write them, but having come to England, the author’s mother was creative in that she adopted this simple practice for herself. Furthermore, bearing in mind her little knowledge of English, instead of writing in her mother-tongue Gujarati, she would write in English, in her Indian scroll, spelling items the way she heard them: shugr, bred, weetbiks, etc.

The statement at the heart of this paper was: “All literacy practices can be considered creative.” The approach taken to explore this was the sociocultural model which allowed certain aspects to have a bearing on literacy practices, such as collaboration, performance, context, transformation, and transduction, highlighting that cultural and social change have caused creativity within literacy practices, but it would be a gross misjudgement here to fail to acknowledge that writing and literacy are also causal factors in the process of social change.Crystal distinguished between amateur and ‘professional’ users and uses of playful language. Amateur creativity is in the form of everyday language in riddles, jokes, limericks, playful uses of accents and dialects, nonce words in popular songs and sayings, while ‘professional’ creativity refers to language play in the work of headline and advertising copy-writers, professional collectors of ludic language, comedians and writers of humorous texts. (Crystal, in Carter, R. p.72)

Regardless of which of these a literacy practice fits in to, as Papen and Tusting highlight: “There is an argument that all meaning-making processes have a creative element” (p.315). Furthermore, if one thinks about “language as […] a system that is constantly created and re-created, changed and adapted, then creativity even at this level turns into a normal event.” (Papen and Tusting, p.324)Hence, as a final note, one may state, that every literacy practice, whether for personal pleasure, or for needs, in open and also restricted contexts, to more or lesser degrees are indeed creative..


• Carter, R. (2004), Language and Creativity: The Art of Common Talk, London Routledge.• Kress, G. (2003), Literacy in the New Media Age, London and New York Routledge,• Maybin, J. (2006) “Locating Creativity in texts and practices” in Maybin, J & Swann, J. (eds) The Art of English: Everyday Creativity, Palgrave Macmillan, The Open University. • Maybin, J. (2006), “Writing the self” in Maybin, J & Swann, J. (eds) The Art of English: Everyday Creativity, Palgrave Macmillan, The Open University. • Maybin, J. & Swann, J. (eds) (2006), The Art of English: Everyday Creativity, Palgrave Macmillan, The Open University.• Wilson, A. (1999), “Researching in the third space – locating, claiming and valuing the research domain,” in S. Goodman, T. Lillis, J. Maybin and N. Mercer (eds), Language, Literacy and Education: A Reader, London, Trentham.