Critical literacy despite diglossia: data from Cypriot schools

Submitted by: Stavroula Tsiplakou
Abstract: The Greek Cypriot speech community is diglossic, Cypriot Greek being the naturally acquired variety and Standard Greek the superposed ‘H’ variety. Past education policies dictated strict adherence to the language curricula of Greece, with no reference to linguistic variation, which resulted both in further stigmatization of Cypriot Greek, the students’ native variety, and in the promotion of linguistic prescriptivism and an autonomous model of literacy (Street, 1995) where proficiency in the ‘H’ code was treated as the principal goal of language teaching and learning (Hadjioannou et al., 2011). In contrast, the short-lived curriculum of 2010 proposed capitalizing on variation as a means of fostering metalinguistic and sociolinguistic awareness with regard to the two varieties of Greek spoken on the island within a radical critical literacy perspective. Through the presentation of two pedagogical interventions, which followed that curriculum (Tsiplakou et al., 2018), we show how nonstandard varieties can become a useful tool for fostering metalinguistic awareness and critical literacy. In these interventions, contrastive analysis between Cypriot and Standard Greek was deployed in order to foster metalinguistic awareness not only of grammatical structure and lexis but, crucially, of sociolinguistic / register / stylistic variation. The two interventions took place in a Grade 4 and a Grade 5 elementary school class, one in an urban and one in a rural school, with typical populations of 30 students each; each intervention lasted 2 teaching periods, and authentic teaching materials were used. The analysis of classroom interaction showed not only increased awareness of the extent of the students’ linguistic repertoires but also of notions of appropriateness of use depending on register, genre, tenor, etc.; crucially, standard and dialect features in different genres were consistently commented on by students in terms of their indexicalities. The interventions were therefore instrumental in honing awareness of the social-semiotic dimension of language, which is central to fostering critical literacy skills in the face of diglossia and a linguistically prescriptive educational context.

Keywords: critical literacy, Cypriot Greek, diglossia, language variation

Hadjioannou, X., S. Tsiplakou & M. Kappler (2011). Language Policy and Language Planning in Cyprus. Current Issues in Language Planning, 12 (4), 1-67.
Street, B. (1995) Social literacies : critical approaches to literacy in development, ethnography, and education. London / New York: Longman.
Tsiplakou, S., E. Ioannidou & X. Hadjioannou (2018). Capitalizing on language variation in Greek Cypriot Education. Linguistics and Education 45, 62-71.