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I present the result of a two-year research project developed at the “Instituto de Estudos de Linguagem” (IEL/Unicamp, Brazil) and also of action research I have been organizing since 2006 when I started to work as a professor at the “Universidade Federal de Sao Carlos”, in Brazil. Relying on recent developments in New Literacy Studies, I explore the concept of the continuum illiterate-literate and argue that it implies elements of transformation, as well as conservation. I also argue that three intersecting continua must be considered together: the continua oral-written, rural-urban and restricted-full literacy, always taking into consideration ethnicity as a variable (Cohen, 1974). Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Brazil, I show how elements of restricted literacy (Goody, 1968) are presented on the threshold of the twenty first century; how they entertain relation with the rural to urban migration and with a marked contrast between different ethnicities; and in what sense this fact may be visible in the everyday use of language and in the style inherent in it.