This word derives from the word literate, which comes from the Latin word literatus, from littera (letter), and -tus (suffix denoting possession). So the basic meaning is possession of (knowledge of) letters. A modern definition of literacy is "the ability to read and write," and it can also include the idea of competence or knowledge in a specified area. No surprises here.

It's in that second, expanded definition of literacy that the real richness of the word arises. In fact, because the ability to read and write tends to have separated the haves from the have nots over most of human history, we can readily conclude that any kind of readily available knowledge that gives one an advantage, that makes one more useful to society, could be called "a literacy." In 2004, UNESCO released a definition of literacy, encompassing this expanded concept, that has been adopted by many other large organizations:

Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society. Generally, literacy also encompasses numeracy, the ability to make simple arithmetic calculations. The concept of literacy can be distinguished from measures to quantify it, such as the literacy rate and functional literacy.

From this, we infer that literacy involves:

Thinking. Identifying, understanding, interpreting

Communication. Creating, communicating, computing

Learning. Developing knowledge and potential

Participation in community and wider society

We'll look closer at each of these below. First, though, consider the definition of functional illiteracy: Lacking the literacy necessary for coping with most jobs and many everyday situations. Thus, literacy is essential for a bright outlook. Which literacies have been identified as being more and more essential in our modern age? In my research, I've identified many common ones, a few unique ideas, and some that deserve further attention.

Basic literacy is more than reading and writing

Thinking and communication are closely connected. The act of written communication requires thinking. In fact, writing itself is an excellent tool for refining thinking.“Writing about a text proved to be better than just reading it, reading and rereading it, reading and studying it, reading and discussing it, and receiving reading instruction” (Source) On the other hand, though reading requires less thought than writing, merely understanding words on a page are not enough for reading to be of benefit. The reader must cultivate critical thinking skills in order to truly benefit from the information. Hence, this basic definition of literacy, variously called traditional, foundational, functional, or textual literacy, encompasses these aspects. Other closely related literacies include:

Critical literacy

The ability to actively analyze texts and media to identify underlying messages, taking into account context, perspective, and possible biases

News literacy

Knowledge of how to find and read the news, but also how to analyze, interpret, and evaluate it

Not requiring knowledge of reading and writing, but similarly important, is:

Visual literacy

The ability to understand, interpret, evaluate, and create photos, videos, infographics, and other visuals, including symbols and body language

Many of the "new" literacies are technology-related

Digital/information literacy

Being able to use computational devices to locate, access, critically evaluate, interpret, create and share information

Media literacy

Knowing how to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using various forms of communication. Closely related to visual literacy

Data/statistical literacy

The ability to gather, interpret and analyze data, and to communicate insights and information from this analysis

Online security literacy

Understanding how to navigate the online world while managing one's reputation, privacy, and risk

Less commonly cited but potentially useful literacies include:

Gaming literacy

Considered valuable in a world where "gamification" is being increasingly used, and considered by some to correlate with above-average scores in math, reading, and science

Coding/computational literacy

While not required by most jobs, understanding how computers solve problems can bring many advantages such as increased automation and more effective use of technologyThe latter two were mentioned here

Literacies that aren't necessarily linked to technology

Financial literacy

The capacity of an individual to understand available banking products, services, laws, and obligations, and make informed decisions on financial assets. Being an informed consumer and contributing to economic development by fostering innovation and entrepreneurship

Health literacy

The ability to locate, manage and make appropriate use of information to help promote and maintain good health and to become effective partners with one's healthcare providers

Literacies related to participation in society

Civic literacy

Understanding one's rights and responsibilities as a citizen and being aware of opportunities to actively participate and effect change in the local community and society

Global/multicultural/ethical literacy

The ability to understand and appreciate the parallels and differences between customs, values, and beliefs of groups that are different from one's own, along with understanding how to deal with conflict

Historical literacy

Knowing and understanding historical events, having the ability to identify bias, authority, and reliability in historical information

Legal literacy

Knowledge and skills needed to effectively navigate the legal services and resources available

Developing concepts of literacy

These "literacies" are still developing concepts, but I cite them here because they are just as important, if not more important, than many of those listed above. I will be writing more about these in the future.

Disaster literacy

Yes, this is a real thing. It's defined as "an individual's ability to read, understand, and use information to make informed decisions and follow instructions in the context of mitigating, preparing, responding, and recovering from a disaster."

Emotional literacy

Reading emotions? Yes! This one is worth a bit more attention.

Emotional literacy is "the capacity to register our emotional responses to the situations we are in and to acknowledge those responses to ourselves so that we recognise the ways in which they influence our thoughts and our actions." The goal is to identify and communicate precisely our feelings and inherent in this, our needs. It's also been identified as the attempt to take responsibility for personal emotions. It is considered the foundation of emotional intelligence.

Value/values literacy

"The ability to read a situation (real or virtual), to make a value judgment on it and to enact that value judgment." It involves knowledge and understanding of a wide spectrum of values and one's ability to choose and skillfully apply appropriate values within different settings in real-life situations. One of the largest obstacles to the spread of this literacy is the lack of a common language to talk about values.

What did you learn? How many of these literacies have you heard of? Which ones do you need to focus on improving?

As with any list, this one is probably not complete.For example, several sites, such as this one, list 13 literacies. However, many of them seem redundant or irrelevant. Recreational literacy? I need more convincing. We don't know what we don't know. Can you think of any other "literacies" that belong on this list?