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Transliteracy (pl. transliteracies) is the ability to understand and communicate—i.e., to be "literate"—across all communications platforms, including sign language, speech, reading, writing, mass media, and social media. The term was coined in 2005 by the Transliteracies Research Project.[1]

Transliteracy is now seen as the basic literacy skill to navigate and understand transmedia messages in the virtual universe.[2] It is put forth as a "21st-century literacy" similar to media literacy and digital literacy.[3] The term shifts the focus from reading and writing to the communications skills necessary to be successful in modern society.[4] In practice, much research in transliteracy focuses on digital and online reading and how they differ from print literacy.[5]


While the term appears to come from the prefix "trans-" (across) and the word "literacy," the scholars who coined it say they developed it from the practice of transliteration, which means to use the letters of one language to write down a different language. In the foundational paper on the topic, "Transliteracy: crossing divides",[3] authors Sue Thomas, Chris Joseph, and others explain:

The word 'transliteracy' is derived from the verb 'to transliterate', meaning to write or print a letter or word using the closest corresponding letters of a different alphabet or language.... transliteracy extends the act of transliteration and applies it to the increasingly wide range of communication platforms and tools at our disposal. From early signing and orality [speaking] through handwriting, print, TV and film to networked digital media, the concept of transliteracy calls for a change of perspective away from the battles over print versus digital, and a move instead towards a unifying ecology not just of media, but of all literacies relevant to reading, writing, interaction and culture, both past and present.[3]

The concept of transliteracy was first developed in 2005 by the Transliteracies Research Project, directed by University of California at Santa Barbara professor Alan Liu.[1] It was shared and refined at Transliteracies conference, held at UC Santa Barbara in 2005.[1] The Transliteracies Research Project is still operating today and is focused on the study of online reading.[6] The conference inspired De Montfort University professor Sue Thomas to create the Production in Research and Transliteracy (PART) group, which has now evolved into the Transliteracy Research Group.[6] The Transliteracies Research Project and the Transliteracy Research Group are continuing to develop and refine the concept of transliteracy.

Relationship to other terms[edit]

The terms "transliteracy", "information literacy", "media literacy", "digital (or online) reading", and "digital literacy" have overlapping definitions.[6] The working definition of "transliteracy" is "the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks".[6] Different academic disciplines have developed these and many other terms to refer to these and concepts. For example, the terms "digital literacy" or "information literacy" are in common use in library science to refer to literacy that requires both cognitive and technical skills.[7]

Transliteracy is designed to encompass all of these literacies and provide framework for research and discussion.[6] In "Transliteracy: Crossing Divides", Thomas writes that transliteracy "offers a wider analysis of reading, writing and interacting across a range of platforms, tools, media and cultures, transliteracy does not replace, but rather contains, “media literacy” and also “digital is, we hope, an opportunity to cross some very obstructive divides”.[3] Here, "transliteracy" is similar to another "new literacy" term, metaliteracy. Put forth by scholars at the State University of New York (SUNY) metaliteracy is designed to encompass all of the "new literacies", including transliteracy, under one term.[8] Transliteracy and metaliteracy may refer to the same set of ideas; both are still being developed and may be used interchangeably.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Ipri, Tom (11 May 2011). "Introducing transliteracy: what does it mean to academic libraries?". College & Research Libraries News. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  2. ^ "What is Transliteracy". InfoSci-OnDemand. Retrieved 8 August 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d Thomast, Sue; et al. (3 December 2007). "Transliteracy: crossing divides". First Monday. 12 (12). 
  4. ^ Trimm, Nancy (2011). "Not just literate, but transliterate: encouraging transliteracy adoption in library services". Colorado Libraries. 36 (1). Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  5. ^ Thomas, Sue (November 2005). "Transliteracy—reading in the digital age". The Higher Education Academy English Subject Center Newsletter (9). ISSN 1479-7089. Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Ipri, Tom; Bobbi Newman (2011). "Beginner's guide to transliteracy: where did the term transliteracy come from?". Libraries and Transliteracy. Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  7. ^ Visser, Marijke (2 April 2012). "Defining digital literacy". District dispatch: the official ALA Washington office blog. Retrieved 24 March 2014. 
  8. ^ Mackey, Thomas P.; Trudi Jacobson (January 2011). "Reframing information literacy as a metaliteracy" (PDF). College & Research Libraries. Retrieved 2 May 2016. 
  9. ^ Wilkinson, Lane (1 February 2011). "Transliteracy…or Metaliteracy?". Libraries and Transliteracy. Retrieved 24 March 2014. 

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