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Text & Talk

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies

Ed. by Sarangi, Srikant

6 Issues per year

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Reading Jewish signs: The socialization of multilingual literacies among Hasidic women and girls in Brooklyn, New York

Ayala Fader1

1Ayala Fader is currently an assistant professor of anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Fordham University.

Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Fordham University, Lincoln Center, 113 West 60th Street, Room 916, New York, NY 10023, USA 〈 〉.

Citation Information: Text & Talk - An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse Communication Studies. Volume 28, Issue 5, Pages 621–641, ISSN (Online) 1860-7349, ISSN (Print) 1860-7330, DOI: 10.1515/TEXT.2008.032, September 2008

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Published Online:


In this article literacies are defined as a set of interconnected signifying practices interpreted by semiotic ideologies, that is, cultural beliefs about signs. This approach integrated with a language socialization approach to literacy provides a way to go beyond the reproduction of the normative social scientific categories of religious or secular literacies, orality and literacy, tradition and modernity. The focus of the article is the literacy practices of Hasidic Jews, an example of a nonliberal (fundamentalist) religious community. Hasidic Jews present a particularly relevant case study because their critique of secular modernity includes efforts to dismantle distinctions between the secular and the religious, thus creating an alternative religious modernity. This becomes evident through an exploration of multilingual (Hebrew/Aramaic, Yiddish and English) literacy socialization practices between women and girls. The article focuses on how girls begin to acquire literacy in Hebrew/Aramaic in kindergarten, comparing and constrasting girls' simultaneous acquisition of Yiddish and English literacy. Included are an examination of leisure literacy practices and new genres of English-language books for children. Across contexts, languages, and genres of Hasidic literacy socialization, distinct semiotic ideologies share an interpretive project: to teach girls to decode signs as nonarbitrary, that is, as divinely intended, and to turn what seem to be arbitrary or Gentile/secular signs into Jewish ones.

Keywords:: nonliberal religious community; language socialization; semiotic ideologies; gender; multilingualism

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