Writing, language, & consciousness

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Wed, 2 Oct 1996 16:56:54 -0400

In message <199610022002.QAA12964@sumter.awod.com> Jesse S. Cook III writes:

> Yes, of course, "the same sort of mental processing [is] involved". But
> that is beside the point

What exactly IS the point, then? Help me out, here. Interact!!

> It's a little difficult to "interact" with anyone who is dead! Be that as
> it might, the only way that one can "interasct with people thr[ough] their
> writing" is on the Internet, which comes last in the series.

I dunno. If I read something by, say, Mark Twain, I feel we have interacted.
Of course, the interaction is one-way, and I can't provide him with feedback,
nor can he respond. But isn't the initial act of reading at least the start of
an interaction?

> None of the items in the series have disappeared. We have people
> who live in a predominantly oral culture to this day. We have people who
> use ideographic, consonantal, logographic, and/or syllabic scripts to this
> day.

All humans still live in "predominantly oral" cultures. This fact lies at the
core of what it means for us to be Homo sapiens, and, as a preemptive strike, I
will add that it is not trivial.

> Please note that the word "alphabet" is composed of the names of the first
> two letters of the *Greek* alphabet (less the final "a" of "beta"), the
> first of which is a vowel. A consonantal script has no vowels and,
> therefore cannot be an alphabet. It could be an "alephbeth", however.

> Phonemic and alphabetic are not synonyms.

As far as I know, the term "alphabetic" writing is used by linguists to refer to
phonemically based writing sytems, whether those systems represent only
consonants or both consonants and vowels (and I'm gonna be real embarassed if
I'm wrong on this one!). In either case, the targets for representation are
phonemes, which is why I (loosely, I admit) equated alphabetic with phonemic.

> It is "important to point out" that even a bush has a stem. In this case
> the stem is orality, which gave off shoots that became all of the other ways
> that language is manifested.

I would put it differently, and refine my original post in the process. I don't
think orality (and I would include signing with orality) is on this bush at all.
The bush consists of different ways in which language has been represented:
logographic, syllabic, alphabetic, and so on. I'm not even sure that "printing"
and "electronic" are on the bush. They are not different ways of representing
language, they are different ways of TRANSMITTING language which is already
represented alphabetically (as I am doing now). Is there any evidence that
human language itself has evolved IN RESPONSE TO THESE DIFFERENT MEANS OF

To put it the other way: the various forms of writing and transmitting language
are not evolutions of language itself. The equation of "language" with
"writing" is one of the very first myths about language that I debunk in my
beginning linguistics classes, every semester. (And, every semester, another
set of students comes in needing to be debunked...)

Ron Kephart
University of North Florida