2.2 Language and shopping
The concept of self-service has reduced the use of spoken language dramatically, and nowadays shopping transactions may involve no more than the exchange of a few words. However, uses of literacy in shopping are probably increasing, as the next Activity shows.
Activity 3: Shopping and literacy
Think back to a recent visit to the supermarket. Walk through it, in your head, from arrival (maybe in the car park) to departure. List the ways in which you used your literacy skills while you shopped.
Writing is everywhere, from the shop's name over the entrance, through the signs above the aisles, to the packaging of items. The evaluations you make about nutritional quality and value for money are only possible because you can read the relevant words and figures. Advertising around the store emphasises positive words – ‘value’, ‘fresh’, ‘free’, ‘new’. The signs over the aisles work because you use language to sort things: ‘Home Baking’, for example, leads you to the flour and dried fruit. You may have used the same kind of categories to organise your thoughts when writing your shopping list.
Some of the signs that guide your shopping are not, strictly, writing. Symbols, like that identifying the disabled parking spaces, do not represent language directly, but have much in common with writing as an established and recognisable way of showing meaning. In the same way, you may recognise particular brands of goods from a distance by the colour and style of lettering on their packaging. When you pay, you may sign your name – a formal recognition of how your use of language is personal to you and a symbol of your identity.