Re: Writing, language, & consciousness

Jesse S. Cook III (jcook@AWOD.COM)
Fri, 4 Oct 1996 16:53:36 -0400

On 3 October 1996, Ronald Kephart replied:

>In message <> "Jesse S. Cook III" writes:
>> Ron, you must be working too hard. Your logic is in disarray here. Reading
>> is the start of an interaction only on the Internet, unless you have
>> access to the author of a book or other work of literature.
>I doubt that anyone who has studied the reading process would agree with this.
>Reading itself IS an interactive process. Readers interact with what is
>to construct meaning. See any treatment of reading as a psycholinguistic

See my reply to your other posting of this date.

>> Ron, in calmer times you will come to regret the hostility that has
>> interferred with your scholarly habits. The US is a predominantly literate
>> culture; Belize, on the other hand, is a predominantely oral culture. (This
>> is in spite of having compulsory education through the primary grades.)
>Hey, these ARE my calmer times! But seriously, I think we can safely say that
>the US has a very high proportion of people who are literate at at least
the 6th
>grade level (higher than Haiti; not as high as either Cuba or Barbados). That
>does not mean that the predominant mode of linguistic interaction for any
>of these people is thru writing.

Of course it doesn't! Anyone who thought it did should be carted off to the
luny bin.

>Except for really weird people like myself, who
>spend far too much time on this computer, most people use orality far more
>than literacy, I am sure

So am I. So what?

>> You are not wrong, so you needn't feel embarassed. Many people, many
>> linguist among them, use the term "alphabetic" in an imprecise, analogous
>> manner. Some people, more clear sighted, do not.
>Thanks, but our (linguists') use of the term "alphabetic" is not imprecise.

I say it is--want to make something of it?

>use the term to refer to writing systems that use symbols (graphemes, as
>you correctly point out) to represent phonemes. This is in contrast with
>that use symbols to represent morphemes (logographic); it is also in
>contrast with systems that use symbols to represent syllables (syllabic).

When are you going to tell us something we don't know. You're talking down
to us, Ron.

>"Consonantal" systems, such as Hebrew, are essentially alphabetic, since
>they use graphemes to represent (consonantal) phonemes.

They are not alphabetic. They are consonantal.

>They are similar to syllabic systems

But you said above: "We use [alphabetic] to refer to writing systems that
use represent phonemes. This is in *contrast* with
systems...that use symbols to represent syllables (syllabic)." (Emphasis

>but in syllabic systems the vowels are completely predictable, because
>each symbol represents a consonant plus a vowel. In consonantal systems the
>vowels are sometimes, but not always, predictable and must often be filled in
>from context.

Not often--always, unless diacritics are used.

>> *The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language* has this to say: "In a perfectly
>> regular system...there is one grapheme for each phoneme...Languages vary
>> greatly in their graphemic/phonemic regularity. At one extreme, we find
>> such languages as Spanish and Finnish, which have very...regular system[s];
>> at the other [extreme], we find such [languages] as English and Gaelic,
>> [which have] a marked degree of irregularity." (p. 202)
>Actually, Spanish is not all that regular

Are you contradicting *The Cambridge Encylopedia of Language*? On what basis?

>altho it is more regular than English.

Nice of you to confirm what we already know.

>> That's not a bush; it's only one branch of the bush! The bush is called
>> language. Language is manifested (not "represented") in signing, in speech
>> (orality), in writing: by hand, by printing, and electronically. Each is a
>> distinct branch of the bush.
>Absolutely not. You are conflating ways of representing and transmitting
>language with language itself.

Ok. Tell us how one represents language and how it differs from
transmitting language.

>> They are not different ways of *representing* language; they are different
>> ways of *manifesting* language. I would suggest that you look up
>> "represent" in your dictionary,[...]
>I looked up "represent" and I got this as the first definition (American
>Heritage Dictionary 3rd ed): 1.a. To stand for; symbolize. b. To indicate or
>communicate by signs or symbols.

That's funny. My dictionary (*Webster's New World Dictionary of the
American Language*) gives this: "1. to present or picture to the mind 2. a)
to present a likeness or image of; portray; depict b) to be a likeness or
image of, as a picture or statue may be 3. to present in words; describe,
state, or set forth; specif., a) to describe as having a specified character
..." And it goes on in a similar vein for 13 more lines--without once
mentioning "communicating with signs or symbols"!

>I think we are safe to claim that both oral
>language(s) and sign language(s) are manifestations of Human Language. Writing
>systems are representations of particular languages, not manifestations of

Illogical! If oral and sign languages, why not written?

>Language can be represented by written symbols (graphemes) and that
>representation of language can be transmitted in a number of ways, including
>print and electronically.

Illogical again! The transmition is the manifestation!

>> How can
>> you call yourself a linguist and not be aware of the evidence [that language
>Sorry, I know of no evidence that the nature of human language has changed in
>any way as a result of these things.


>Languages such as Proto-Indoeuropean,
>which we reconstruct from historical and contemporary evidence and which
>prior to written representation, were just like contemporary languages; they
>were not on a different level of language-ness.


>Contemporary languages that
>have little or no written tradition, such as Yanomami, Creole English (which I
>am working on), etc. are, likewise, as far as language-ness goes, on the same
>level as English or Japanese or any other. If you have evidence to the
>contrary, I'd really like to know about it.

Reread your Bickerton!

Jesse S. Cook III E-Mail:
Post Office Box 40984 or
Charleston, SC 29485 USA

" is not for our faults that we are disliked and even hated,
but for our qualities."--Bernard Berenson (1865-1959)