Resolved: Literacy is the ability to read/write and to comprehend. It is not one, nor another, only, but all together.
Thank you Death23 for accepting this debate.
I Argument: Is literacy all or nothing?
I.a The Description offered the proposal that literacy in one language does not mean one is necessarily literate in another language. Example, in Latin, we see: Ad proximum antecedens fiat relatio nisi impediatur sententia
This is a legal concept, drawn from Duhaime’s Legal Dictionary
, and if one happens to be fluent in Latin, this may be understood, demonstrating that the person may be literate in Latin. Then again, maybe not, and here is why: the law offers an English definition, using ordinary English words. Here’s the translation of the Latin statement into English: “Relative words must ordinarily be referred to the last antecedent, the last antecedent being the last word which can be made an antecedent so as to give a meaning.”
Those among the legal set may have the sense of this sentence by first pass, and their literacy, at least in English, can be substantiated. Others; not so much. Thus, literacy’s first issue is that it is a matter of degrees. I could have also cited some sentence from a technical volume on nuclear physics, a subject in which I am almost not conversant at all. Does that mean I am not literate in English?
I.b Literacy must be accepted as a matter of degrees of competence. My copy of the Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains 218,631 words, 47,156 of which are considered obsolete [that is, no longer in current use – such as the word “exhort.”]
The 218,631 words comprised the total lexicon, even offering the definitions of “obsolete” words. However, when one asks, “How many words does the average native speaker know of their language,” the answer is something between 15,000 to 20,000 words, if that person is college educated.
This range holds just about regardless of the language; English, French, Chinese, Bulgarian, etc. That person is considered literate, as far as it goes. As for a second language, the same average people “…often struggle to learn more the 2,000 to 3,000 words, even after years of study.”
I.c One should also ask, then, “How many words does one need to know to be literate in any language?” That question has a simpler answer, and my source of citations  and  offers the following: “the most effective way to be able to speak a language quickly is to pick the 800 to 1,000 lemmas
[word families] which appear most frequently in a language, and learn those.”
That is equivalent to understanding 75% of the language used in daily, normal life, and therefore, establishes minimum literacy.
I.d Knowing 3,000 word-families is the equivalent of 89% reading and 94% oral speaking literacy.
Note that although citation  deals with learning Spanish, according to citation , the same literacy rates apply regardless of the language applied [see argument I.b, above]
I.e There is a conundrum that may occur within one language, such as English, where, as Winston Churchill once said of Great Britain and America that we were “…two nations separated by a common language.”
When in Great Britain, I may have a sudden flat tire. A helpful native of that country may stop and say, “I have a tire iron in my boot.” As an American, unfamiliar with British vernacular, “boot,” other than as an article of clothing, makes me justifiably confused. I know what a boot is (in my vernacular), as well as I know what a tire iron is. The two appear to have no nexus. Not in America. But, is my lack of understanding shared with my well-intentioned British acquaintance? Further, if, after installing the spare tire, bragging about the roaring engine under his hood, he further says, “Take a look under my bonnet.” You are sure to recognize my further confusion, seeing he wears no hat.
II Argument: Why literacy is not just reading/writing skill
II.a As demonstrated by the Latin phrase offered in argument I.a, above, even the Latin, let alone the English translation, may be read with perfect pronunciation if one knows how words are properly pronounced by that language’s dictionary pronunciation guide. As such, although I personally understand pronunciation in Latin, and I understand a few words, I do not claim literacy in Latin. However, even reading the English translation, I had to shake my head, pondering what I had just read silently, and then repeated out loud. I was able to ultimately work it out, word by word, but I admit to having to consult my dictionary to understand a legitimate meaning of the word, antecedent. I thought I knew what it meant, but there was a nuance discovered that I previously did not know. Did that mean I was not literate in English? No, because I already knew that I exceeded the typical 1,000-word-family minimum needed to reach the literate threshold.
II.b There is a matter of culture and language that must be understood, and that relates to literacy, for culture ands language are so tightly linked, according to Dr. Hugh Nibley of Brigham Young University, that without understanding a language’s culture, one will always be deficient in understanding the language because culture begets language.
The result of failure to understand a culture: as high degree of literacy fails. Hence, my confusion by the British culture’s use of “boot” and “bonnet” that are not shared by my American culture.
II.b.1 There is an illustration in citation  that illustrates the above point in II.b so well, it was a surprise that the article did not mention the point of II.b. The illustration shows us a young woman with her back to us, standing immediately in front of a large page of text; so big, it is taller and wider than she is. The fascination of the image is that the page is as three-dimensional as the woman; the page has a head, and body, and arms. The latter reach around the woman, embracing her in a hug, and she is likewise embracing the page’s bas-relief body. It is a perfect illustration of culture [the woman] and language [the page].
II.c This second argument also relates to hearing speech, although hearing/speaking was not included in the resolution because there are deaf and mute people who are yet literate because they can still read and write. Conversely, the blind cannot see to read, but by the technology of braille, the blind can read, and they may still be capable of hearing/speaking, and are, therefore still potentially literate as long as comprehension is still an included factor.
III Argument: Why literacy is not just comprehension
III.a It stands to reason that comprehension is difficult, if not impossible, if read/write are deficient skills. If that point is not accepted by Con, I will demonstrate the point so that it is not considered a dropped argument. The resolution states that comprehension is a necessary added skill to achieve literacy. It is, in fact, the singular reason why the resolution is is not a truism, as suggested by an acquaintance on this site, and once competitor in a previous debate, Undefeatable. [see Comments #1] In fact, Undefeatable offered a source I would like to use for this argument, because that source expands the understanding of literacy as a “social construction”
that includes music and art along with text and speech as communication media. The source, in adding these communication types to literacy expands beyond the borders of the resolution, so I offer this as only one feature of this third argument of this round. I will offer other demonstrations in a future round in keeping with the boundaries.
III.b Music and art are obvious modes of communication, but are also modes that can defy successful comprehension. Communication, by its very nature, fails if the send/receive function breaks down. Picasso, for example, a celebrated artist of the 20thcentury, is appreciated by many, even by some who have no clue of what he is communicating. His painting, Guernica,
for example, defies comprehension to an illiterate in Picasso style, or language, if you will. This happens to be my favorite of all paintings, in spite of it being glaringly monochrome. I will resist explanation; that would spoil my point that comprehension is outside of ordinary experience. Ten ordinary people who otherwise are fluent in Spanish or French [Picasso was literate in both] will offer ten different meanings to this painting, so a lexicon, in this communication mode, and without further research, is helpless to comprehension. Well… maybe not. The same goes for gathering a sure comprehension of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
III.b.1 Understanding the basic principles of art and music are necessary to comprehend these communications. Otherwise communication, and thereby literacy, fails. In addition, one must get into the head of each artist, or at least the next best thing, since neither is still alive. To be sure, such research is time-consuming, and more difficult than the understanding of textual language, and that research is going to end up involving text. That means reading, at least, but reading with comprehension. Even if I understood “music theory,” I would be hard-pressed to comprehend Beethoven’s Fifth by mere reading; I must hear it. Hearing it alone, I may appreciate it, and it moves me to tears, and I do, and it does, but as for comprehension? I am lost within ten bars. For all I know, Ludwig is trying to swat flies. In Picasso’s case, the flies may be bulls, but at least I have a greater understanding of illustration theory, so I’m up a few notches, I assume. We’re even, in the end, because some of you have music theory up to your eyeballs. Ears would be more appropriate, yeah? Do you see how this works?
IV Conclusion, Round 1
IV.a I conclude that the dictionary definition of literacy is at least partially correct in that reading and writing skill is necessary to begin down the road of literacy, but I argue that comprehension of the reading/writing is essential for literacy, as demonstrated by the examples offered in I.a, II.b.1, and III.b.1.
I pass the round to Con.
Dr. Hugh Nibley, Temple and Cosmos, Deseret Book, 1992 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOk8Tm815lE by the way, I offer this particular recording because, while having a terrific illustration of Beethoven, the production of this particular recording, I fear, is not a professional orchestra. Even my uneducated music ear identifies errors throughout by the players. However, they play better than I can, so, who am I to criticize?