Negotiating meaning

These reflections were prompted by a colleague’s questions about meaning negotiation and accuracy. He would like to know how teachers working based on Critical Literacy, which advocates for meaning being created in certain context would deal with students who produce inaccurate utterances in terms of grammar and vocabulary.

As I see it, first of all we should consider where this language is being used and ask ourselves if it makes sense to the people who are using it. Secondly, we should ask ourselves if it would make sense in other contexts where this same student tries to communicate his/her ideas to other people.

Even if the student’s utterance does not make much sense to other speakers of the language, I think it cannot be dismissed in such terms. We should try to ask the learner what he/she meant by it till he/she is capable of producing a statement that represents more or less what he/she had in mind and that, at the same time, would be intelligible to listeners and readers – even if the language produced may not be exactly what other speakers or the teacher would expect it to be. I think there is a question of intelligibility here.

What’s more, it’s not just a matter of listeners/readers being open-minded enough to accept the language produced but also a matter of the speaker/writer accepting that what he/she said may not have been understood. Negotiation of meaning must work on both ways. Apart from that, I believe negotiation of meaning – when we think in CL terms – goes also beyond linguistic accuracy. Even when standard forms of the language are used and an utterance can be considered grammatically and lexically ‘correct’, meaning must be negotiated because language does not reflect reality in a straightforward way. The language produced by the speaker/writer must still be analysed to become ‘intelligible’ at a number of levels.


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