The "function" and "notion" of literacy may be considered the keystone, a "filigree" principle underlying the educational, social, and cultural organiza tion of the societies of the twentieth century. It is therefore interesting to try to pinpoint the notion and its implications at the tum of the century by focusing the attention of scholars from various disciplines-sociolinguistics, psychology, psycholinguistics, and pedagogy-on the subject. This is the purpose of this volume, which originated from an inter disciplinary meeting on trends in and problems of research on early literacy through mother tongues and/or second languages, held in Venice under the auspices of the University of Venice, and in particular of the Seminario di Linguistica e di Didattica della Lingue and the Centro Linguistico Interfacolta, and the Municipality of Venice, together with UNESCO and AILA. A first far-reaching question touches on the role assigned to or fulfilled by mass "literacy" in modem society. The concept of literacy considered as a social achievement, an essential component in the process of education to be institutionally prompted and controlled, fluctuates between two opposite poles. A polemic-destructive view considers the notion and the educational "prac tices" connected with it as a potent instrument of social control, a tool for social reproduction and consensus. On the other side, a plurifunctional con structive view considers the acquisition and maintenance of different languages via educational institutions as a concrete possibility for the defense and main tenance of cultural pluralism and identity, be it social, ethnic, or religious.