Mirabelli and Gee

Blog ยป Mirabelli and Gee

Posted on 13 Mar 2013 01:22

Tony Mirabelli is the author of "Learning to Serve: The language and literacy of food service workers". He wrote about the discourse community of waiters and waitress as he has seen from the Italian-American diner "Lou's Restaurant". He chose this community to defend waiters against readers of bitterwaitress.com who made comments saying that waiters are dumb because their job only requires a ninth grade level education as opposed to a college degree. Mirabelli studied the community to find the distinctive language and literacy used by waiters. He gathered information from his own experience working at Lou's and from two other waiters.

An important document for this community is the menu. He found that the waiters needed to know the meanings of the words on the menu in order to describe how a certain dish is prepared. Part of a waiter's literacy skills is comprised of how he talks to customers and handles different situations. For example, if a customer wants a slightly different option than given on the menu such as double order of vegetables instead of a starch and a vegetable with their main course. Mirabelli says waiters must be able to read the menu and read the customer. A waiter has to know how to describe the menu items as appetizing to the patron so they can have an easier time deciding what to order. Mirabelli's conclusions show that it is best to find discourse communities that you are or have been a part of and to research by interviewing other members of the community.

Gee describes discourses as communities in which you know what to say and what to do because they become part of your identity. The saying-doing combination is similar to the discourse of waiters because they must know what to say to the patrons and behave in a courteous manner while doing it. Unlike Gee's description, I don't believe Mirabelli's discourse can go as far as to say it is part of a person's identity. You can be a bad waiter because you have mastered the literacy but you are still part of the community. A bad waiter may be considered what Gee calls a "pretender", someone who is not really in the community and is an outsider wanting to get in. I think both authors can agree that a waiter is a secondary discourse because it is learned later in life. Gee's definition of literacy is the control over the use of language in secondary discourses. I think this fits Mirabelli's example because he describes the use of reading, writing and social communication as the literacy of his discourse.

I am not yet sure which discourse community I am using for my project. After reading these authors I believe it is best to chose a community I am a part of or a community that I can get "insider" knowledge of in order to interview members and interpret the documents they use. I also think it is helpful to point out the Gee's "saying-doing" characteristics that are particular to a certain discourse.

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